I joked about a coworker’s slowness — and he overheard

A reader writes:

I am the first-level manager of a small group of about half a dozen people. I sometimes work with non-management-level staff outside my group, one of whom is an exceedingly capable, but highly idiosyncratic, person, “Karl.” He is very focused on any work that he does, and will go far above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that everything is clear, organized, and exactly right. For example, one of his jobs is reviewing documents to make sure that they conform to certain standards, and he provides outstanding copy editing while doing so simply because he cannot just let errors pass. This is great if that’s what you want, and is perfect for his primary work responsibilities (which often involve planning and executing tasks that could be unsafe if done improperly), but he can be a bit slow in getting things finalized and his intensity for his work can be a bit off-putting sometimes.

A few days ago, I was discussing some work with my immediate supervisor, “Bill,” who also supervises Karl’s supervisor, in a meeting in his office. I was telling Bill about what a great job that Karl had done on a project that he did for me as a bit of a favor, and how Karl’s thoroughness had led to a good result. I also commented that it took longer than expected, which caused Bill to smile and laugh a bit, knowingly, since he knows Karl well.

I then did something foolish and unprofessional: In parting, I made a joking comment about not expecting speedy work from Karl, and I did so in a slightly louder voice than normal. (I can’t remember my exact phrasing, but the comment was something like, “Well, Karl’s who you go to when you want thorough, but definitely not when you want fast!”) I then turned around to leave and saw Karl through the window of the closed office door, speaking to the admin. Karl looked up at me, looked away, and left. I wasn’t sure if he had heard my joke, but he has rather obviously dodged me in the hall several times since. My comment seemed fairly gentle to me at the time, but from Karl’s perspective, I can see why it might have been upsetting to hear.

Prior to this, I had a good working relationship with Karl, and I enjoyed talking to him. I feel terrible that I (probably?) offended him with my thoughtless, stupid joke. The lesson from this for me is clear, and one that I’m embarrassed has not yet become sufficiently internalized: Do not make jokes about colleagues while at work. Period.

I would like to try to repair the relationship, to apologize to him and express that I appreciate his work greatly. (Which I do!) I don’t know how to approach this, though. Should I try a direct approach, knocking on his office door and apologizing in person? Should I do something less direct, like sending an email to him, copying both his manager and mine, expressing my appreciation for his excellent work on the project in question? (Such a letter is justified, regardless of my contrition.) Or should I just let it drop?

Oh no! Yeah, I can imagine how that didn’t feel insulting when it was coming out of your mouth, but landed that way with Karl. It might have sounded far more insulting to him than you meant: you felt like you were praising his thoroughness while noting that it comes at a cost (a cost you might normally consider small), while he took it as you denigrating his work.

If you weren’t sure he’d heard you, I might have different advice — but it sounds like he did, since he’s been avoiding you since then. So you probably need to address it head-on.

I’d consider going to him and saying something like this: “I want to apologize to you for a comment I made the other day. I’d joked to Bill about you being my go-to person when I need something done well, but not when I need it fast. I so value how thorough you are — you’re amazing at making sure things are clear, organized, and accurate. You’re better than anyone else here at that! It does mean things sometimes take a little longer because that level of care takes time. But I didn’t mean to sound as if I were denigrating that. My phrasing was thoughtless, and I want to apologize to you.”

The keys here are that you’re not trying to deny what you said or twist it into something else; you’re owning it, but you’re also trying to put it into context, and you’re telling him with sincerity what you appreciate about his work. (If you didn’t actually think his work was strong, you’d need a different approach, more like this letter where the framing is “I do have some concerns, but I was wrong not to talk to you directly about them.”)

Your thought of copying his manager and your own on an email praising his work would be a good follow-up to this … although rather than writing to him and cc’ing them, I might write to them and cc him. That email can reinforce to him that you do value his work and are trying to make amends — and will also let him see you’ve corrected the record with Bill, since Bill was the one you were talking to when you made the remark.

Both of these things should go a long way toward resolving this. After that, give it a little time and keep being warm and considerate toward him, even if he remains standoffish for a while. I suspect things will eventually be okay.

{ 135 comments… read them below }

  1. Amber Rose*

    Reminds me of the old: Fast, High Quality, Cheap. You get two.

    When you talk to him, maybe mention that you appreciate that he doesn’t rush through his work, because it means you get good results that have no errors and need no corrections, and that you really rely on his thoroughness, and you meant your comment in a teasing way rather than an insulting one, although you realize it didn’t come off that way and are very sorry.

    Something like that.

    1. SezU*

      Yep! I work with a guy just like this. He is extremely thorough. And then often explains it all to me (his edits) so I am really really really clear on what he has done. While it can seem tedious, I have learned to appreciate his efforts. It makes my job much easier. HIs boss, OTOH, provides crap that needs completely rewritten every time. I’ll take the thorough guy any day.

    2. JM in England*

      Once had to say something along these lines to an early boss of mine. He kept on at me about having to work faster. I replied that I could but with a commensurate drop in quality. Btw, I had one of the lowest error/ repeating work rates in my then team….

  2. Wing Leader*

    Definitely apologize to him face to face. That will go a long way because, when other people make mistakes like this, the usual response is to ignore and pretend like you never said it, which just allows things to fester into resentment and awkwardness. It will be awkward to talk to him about this directly, yes, but it will feel so much better after and I guarantee you that he’ll be pleasantly surprised that you did so.

    1. No Green No Haze*

      Absolutely, the in-person apology is the way to go. It’s going to be awkward and it might stay that way afterwards for awhile, but Karl will ultimately respect you for being straightforward and for doing the hard thing.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Thank you for this.

      All the times I knew about someone saying something crappy about me when they thought I wasn’t around, I never got an apology. I either heard a denial or the person acted completely normal or the person downplayed everything.

      It was so insulting to my intelligence so please don’t do that to Karl.

      As for me, I quietly pulled away from those relationships as a way to protect myself, and there’s one former boss I’ll never go above and beyond for again. When I see that guy now, I leave the room when he enters because I know his kindness is fake.

      1. OrigCassandra*

        In That Toxic Ex-Job, I even pulled away from people I heard badmouthing people who weren’t me. Often the targets didn’t remotely deserve it, but the larger issue was the general orientation to backstabbery.

        I suspected those people were backstabbing me too. I wasn’t wrong. So glad to be gone from there.

        OP, what you said isn’t on the level of That Horrendous Place and the Horrendous People Who Ran It, but in your shoes I might examine my own conduct for more incidences of casual talking people down. I might also look around to see if it’s endemic in the workplace, and if so, orient myself to work against it by talking people up.

  3. Gerta*

    Yeah, awkward and something I can see easily happening to many of us! My sympathies, OP. In addition to Alison’s wording, it may also help to mention the context before that throw-away remark – that your main point in the conversation with Bill was in fact on what a great job he had done. Good luck!

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      Yes, I would definitely add the context! Not to excuse what you said, but I do think it’s worth telling him that you had actually just been telling Bill how much you appreciate Karl’s thoroughness, and that you both agree that the trade-off for speed is absolutely worth it.

      I think if you apologize sincerely – and quickly – and then behave as normal afterwards, you should be fine. Is there an assignment or project that you can reasonably assign to Karl in the next week or so, to reinforce the message that you are happy with his work?

  4. StaceyIzMe*

    He did you a favor but you decided to peg him for a known quality that is admittedly a strength. Yeah, he’s not going to trust you and any compliments coming from you are going to be suspect. You don’t feel very good about this and you shouldn’t. It was unintentional in that you didn’t mean for him to hear it but you took a cheap shot because it seemed funny at the time and you didn’t expect that he’d hear it. Maybe turn the situation around and ask yourself how you’d feel if one of your signature traits that usually delivered amazing results were criticized? Perhaps your strength is that you’re an extrovert, a bit of a people person and usually good with a joke? Now imagine that someone complained that they weren’t quite sure about your professionalism because you’re a little too jokey or a little too good at getting people to do favors for you. Those traits might serve you very well in your role as a manager, but could come across as inconvenient or ill suited to other contexts. I have to admit I’m hopeful that you went to Karl and apologized and that you owned your mistake to his boss’ boss. You just don’t have the right to garner social points for a well aimed jab at someone else’s expense in the work world. At least, not without the loss of some face when the target of your jest overhears. That is probably going to sting a bit if you’re conscientious.

    1. Myrin*

      I don’t think anything in the letter suggests that OP isn’t already aware of all this?

      1. CameronT*

        Yeah, this comment makes it seem like the OP wrote in complaining about Karl being too sensitive or something. To the contrary, the OP is owning up to their mistake and clearly has capacity for empathy. An in turn, we should try to have empathy for the OP.

      2. RUKiddingMe*

        True, however I can see @StacyIzMe’s point a bit.

        “…and is perfect for his primary work responsibilities…”
        —So what’s the problem?
        “…his intensity for his work can be a bit off-putting sometimes.”
        —Which sounds a little…judgmental(?)…maybe. It’s almost like “ok he does a great job but he is soooo slooowwww that even though he does me favors and it’s great, he takes soooo much time that it’s annoying.”

        Then to make a joke about it, (which why does anyone even think it’s necessary to make a joke at all?) “good, but slow hur hur hur” seems kind of tone deaf and if I was Karl I’m not sure I’d be very inclined to trust going forward either. I’s just too much like a slap in the face feeling.

        1. Kitty*

          Yeah but what’s done is done, and OP is trying to fix it as much as possible. Don’t think piling on is particularly helpful.

          1. Phoenix Programmer*

            This has started to happen a lot here recently, but elaborating as to why something is a problem is not piling on. Now adding the value judgements of, you just want to feel good about yourself, not helpful or warranted ever.

            But giving context like – it’s problematic because x, y, z. I think helps people get some emphathetic insight.

        2. Not Rebee*

          FWIW, I didn’t read the “intensity for his work” bit at all like you seem to have. Your reading seems to indicate that his slowness is the intensity and is what is off-putting but I came away from my read thinking that it’s his attention to detail that is intense (rather than the slowness) and because it is maybe beyond a reasonably expected level of attention and, after, explanation, that this is what is offputting. Sort of an “oh, this dude is like /really/ into what he does for a living” when most people aren’t that into whatever it is. This might be slightly judgemental, but isn’t hypocritical, which is what you may have meant by your statement.

    2. Matilda Jefferies*

      Ouch. OP wrote in specifically because she feels awful about what she said – I don’t think it’s necessary to hammer the point any further.

    3. JB (not in Houston)*

      I’m not sure we need to convince the OP that they should feel bad when they clearly already do. But you’re right that Karl probably won’t trust him, at least not for a while. Following Alison’s advice can help the OP start to put things right, though.

    4. Compliance Guru*

      This is a bit much and to me the “slow” comment isn’t really that offensive. Some people work fast, others work slow. Anyone who I know who works at a slower pace is well aware of it. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and if you’re too naive or not self aware enough to know your weaknesses and act differently towards someone when called out (either a direct convo or overhearing), then it’s that persons’ issue. Sure OP shouldn’t have done that and an apology is needed, but I completely disagree with your commentary.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        I feel like this is a bit different though, because Karl works thoroughly. I’ve got coworkers who are slow and sloppy.

        1. valentine*

          (either a direct convo or overhearing)
          These are opposites. They didn’t call him out; they were embarrassed he caught them making fun of him. If OP needs Karl to speed up or to be less intense, they can say so at any time, but they’ve not even said it here.

      2. Fergus*

        I am a software engineer. I am not slow or fast. I want to the job right based on the requirements. Many of people have a problem because it is completed slowly. It is not done slow it is done accurate. My work is always 99.9% and no one can say otherwise. I get paid to do it right. If a coworker or boss does not like it, there are plenty of bosses who do.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          Agree. The so called fast people almost always have to do it over. And rework results in a poor product and extensive costs due to retest.

      3. Phoenix Programmer*

        I get where this comment I coming from though. It points out specifically why the ops comment is problematic, which is very different then – i can see how it can be hurtful.

        Honestly I felt the OP and Alison overlooked the impact of the fact that Karl did OP a favor, so above and beyond, and delivered great work to boot, but OP still felt the need to further denigrate Karl for slowness?

        The spin on this is OP is trying to say it was more about complimenting his thoroughness but I don’t see it TBH.

    5. Amber Rose*

      I feel like this is overly harsh. It sounds like the LW was meaning it in a teasing way rather than a mocking way and that they really do appreciate their coworker and legitimately already feel bad about hurting him. They don’t need to be guilted further.

      1. Washi*

        I agree. It would be different if the OP had just thrown this out as a random standalone joke, but in this situation, I think the real problem is that Karl didn’t overhear enough. If he had heard the full conversation, as Bill did, it would have been clear that he is highly respected for his work and that everyone knows that he’s slower because he’s so thorough. I think the OP should definitely apologize, but there’s no need to self-flagellate over a careless flub that I’m pretty sure she will be careful to avoid in the future!

    6. ChimericalOne*

      This isn’t very kind. OP seems well-aware that her words were hurtful — and, to be honest, it was not a harsh remark or a “cheap shot.” It was a mistake. But it was a pretty mild joke, and a face-to-face apology should clear the air pretty quickly.

      1. Phoenix Programmer*

        Eh I think it was a cheap pot shot.

        It was an easy thing to criticize as it’s a known factor – but why do that? Why criticize someone who did you a favor and by your own admission was super thorough for being “slow”? Also why end the discussion that way. Closing remarks stick.

    7. Karen from Finance*

      To the above comments, I’ll just add that for someone who puts so much focus on stepping in other people’s shoes, you are notoriously not doing this for OP (who has already reflected on their mistake enough to send a letter to a popular blog asking for advice on how to amend it).

        1. Karen from Finance*

          Ah, meant that to say “notably”. As in, “I found it striking”. Got those words mixed up, sorry about that. Thank you for pointing it out.

    8. Mammo-anonymous*

      I don’t think being so slow that everyone knows you are slow is a strength. Lots of people are thorough and quick.

    9. Samwise*

      I disagree with the other commenters here who are defending the OP. OP writes: “My comment seemed fairly gentle to me at the time, but from Karl’s perspective, I can see why it might have been upsetting to hear.”

      No, this was not a gentle remark: it was mean, and it went right to the negative aspect of Karl’s approach. If I were Karl, I’d be humiliated to know that the managers are making jokes at my expense AND doing so where others can hear (now not only does Karl know that’s what they think, others within earshot know it too). I’d also be wondering, if that’s what they say where people can hear it, what are they saying when the door is closed?

      OP gets props for recognizing that they were wrong and wanting to do right from now on, but I think OP also really does not get why it was a bad thing to do. Unintentionally bad, sure, but bad nonetheless.

      OP, Karl may not trust you any more even if you do apologize sincerely and recognize his work quality. That’s the cost of a mistake like this.

      1. Karen from Finance*

        seemed, fairly gentle to me at the time

        Which OP then admits was misguided. This is why we’re defending OP. Also, there’s an entire context of OP talking to the boss about how terrific Karl’s work is, his slowness being the single negative aspect.

            1. Engineer Girl*

              The OP didn’t immediately try to correct the situation, in spite of knowing it was wrong. That’s why many of us fault her. Everyone is stupid at some point. But you need to make it right as soon as possible.

              1. Karen from Finance*

                Because OP doesn’t know HOW to fix it, which is why they wrote to Alison. That’s why they didn’t do anything yet. It wasn’t because they didn’t care. It happens. If it didn’t we wouldn’t have this blog.

                Again: OP KNOWS they’re in the wrong. No neeed to rub it in.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Engineer Girl: Yes. This is particularly awkward and lots of people would seek advice on it. You’re coming across as pretty aggressive toward the OP here; please give her more benefit of the doubt. Thank you.

                2. Karen from Finance*

                  If they knew how to handle it they wouldn’t have written to Alison, now, would they?

      2. KHB*

        If you’re saying that you don’t think managers should ever have closed-door discussions about the positive and negative aspects of employees’ work, I don’t think that’s actually a reasonable thing to expect.

        1. Sam.*

          That seems to be the take a number of people have, and I’m a bit surprised to be reading it. Telling another manager with some responsibility for distribution of work, “This person does great work but is slow,” is not only accurate, it’s important information to share. Yes, the way it was said wasn’t good, especially if there was any chance anyone could hear, but OP seems well aware of that.

          I will say that I don’t think Karl is likely to take any praise from OP seriously and may see it as her trying to buy him off, so to speak. That doesn’t mean she shouldn’t give the positive feedback to his boss, but I might address it with Karl preemptively and make clear that this is feedback she’s already shared – it’s not just being said now to smooth things over.

      3. gilthoniel*

        I agree. I’m sure the OP feels bad, and I wouldn’t want to make the OP feel worse, but they are also not being quite honest about what happened.

        I don’t see the comment as being teasing or joking – it was simply denigrating. Teasing is done to someone’s face – this is not what was happening. There was also no joke – it was simply a put down. Perhaps not meant nastily, but a put-down nonetheless. Cloaking the comment as a ‘joke’ is rug-sweeping. And the denigration is both personal, and also at the very idea of taking time to get it right. That strikes to the heart of Karl’s values.
        This will need fixing, which the OP rightly understands and is seeking advice on.

    10. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      The OP isn’t looking for validation and a “way out” of feeling bad about what happened, I don’t understand where you’re getting that spin. They want to know how to apologize to the man who they offended with their insensitive words. So why rub their nose in it? They already learned the lesson.

      Also being “slow” isn’t a good attribute, saying someone is “slow” is always a poke at them. What Karl is is attentive, thorough and detail oriented. Which he happens to do at a slow rate of speed, which isn’t ideal in most situations and is a “weakness” you’d list for someone in that situation but the strengths greatly outshine that bump in the road because of the high quality work.

    11. hbc*

      So, I *have* had people essentially complain about the flip side of one of my strengths (which is what the OP basically did, not complain about the actual strength.) And I took it in stride, because it is true that I’m pretty much constitutionally incapable of giving a simple yes/no answer. I’ve always got some conditional or “yes, assuming that…” or even an explanation of why I’m saying yes so that the person has the context to make the decision for themselves next time or push back against my assumptions.

      A lot of my former and current employees love that I give the explanations, except for the times when they just want a damn decision quickly. So hearing what seems to be a complaint about the downside of my skill isn’t something I love, I don’t consider it an insult, especially when they’re acknowledging the positive right there in the same sentence.

    12. Engineer Girl*

      I agree with you totally, in spite of what others say.

      The root cause here is passive aggressiveness.

      • You went behind Karl’s back to talk about a problem with your boss. If you had any problems then Karl should have known about it first. (Exception: seeking advice on how to handle Karl’s slowness, but you weren’t doing that)
      • You turned Karl into a joke, which is classic passive aggressive strategy
      • You failed to immediately own up and talk directly to Karl about it.

      Note that all of these things are about talking to the individual about problems before going to others about it. That is one of the key components of being a manager. If you can’t talk to your reports about issues then management isn’t for you.

      Karl doesn’t trust you because you went to others first.

      Worse, Karl heard you joking about him to his grandboss before you talked to Karl about it.

      The only way to repair this is by being honest and open with Karl about your lack of candor. And then you’ll have to earn Karl’s trust back by being honest and open with him. That’s going to take a very, very long time.

      BTW, that’s why passive aggressive responses are so damaging

      What you did was enough to cause a good employee to start job searching.

      You need to fix it now and fix it fast.

      1. Oof*

        The OP wasn’t talking with his superior about a problem at all. They made a comment about how it took longer than expected – but not that it was a problem. I agree that the OP should explain and apologize, but if this and this alone caused an employee to start searching for a new job, I would wonder at that more than the original error.

        1. Karen from Finance*


          OP went to the boss to PRAISE Karl, and made this stupid (and yes, wrong) comment. But they weren’t going in there to complain about a problem which would be an entirely different situatio, as Alison herself has pointed out.

        2. Engineer Girl*

          Longer than expected is by default always a problem. It is a negative and Karl should know that it is a problem first.

          Joking about a report behind their back is a serious serious issue.

          1. JSPA*

            Going to someone to badmouth or joke about a report is serious, intentional, and seriously pass-ag.

            Going to someone to praise a report, and drifting into a “flip side” conversation is one of those things that can happen, if you’re not explicitly looking to avoid it. That’s to say, awkward, unintentional, and not necessarily serious.

            You’re seeing deep disrespect where just about everyone else is seeing “people who do things a bit differently can be worth their weight in gold, but it’s concurrently true that just about everyone around them will need to recalibrate their default expectations, which can, in turn, create moments of awkward awareness around that difference.”

            There are so many ways that people differ. Correspondingly, many of us (maybe most of us?) might as well decide to be OK with the idea that, in some way or another, we’re not within two standard deviations of the norm. If someone’s teasing us cruelly about it, that’s cruelty. If someone’s sharing a moment of awareness about it, though? In many ways, that’s the hallmark of being paid attention to, known, and found valuable, in the context of not being an interchangeable peg.

            If you’re used to being mocked for being the one square peg in nothing but round holes, it is hard to understand how beloved and valued someone can be, as the one square peg in the one square hole.

            This is a square peg, square hole situation. And, yeah, the fact that the square peg sure isn’t round, is a fact that the round pegs will notice. Nothing prejudicial about it–we don’t serve jobs and people well by assuming that we’re all equally naturally talented, focused and oriented in/on the same things.

        3. Engineer Girl*

          Joking about someone behind their back shows a basic lack of respect.

          If my boss doesn’t respect me I’d be looking.

          1. gilthoniel*

            I agree. Respect is key – I suspect that engineer girls (fellow traveller here) are especially attuned to the impact when it’s not there.

          2. Karen from Finance*

            Depends on the joke.

            There’s a type of joke that’s laughing AT people, mocking them, demeaning them, that is certainly disrespectful. But there’s a type of joking that comes from the kind of place where you tease a loved one or others you’re close with – gentle teasing, banter – which actually shows that you have a good relationship with them. Yes, even if they aren’t in the room, it depends on what is said and with which degree of warmth. It depends on the purpose of

            What OP said wasn’t mean-spirited, specially in context.

            1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

              But out of context, it can easily be taken by Karl as mean-spirited. Karl heard none of the praise, only the one comment which was delivered in flippantly. If I were Karl, I would have taken this comment to be mean-spirited.

      2. RUKiddingMe*

        Agree with all of this. Plus I’d add that OP shouldn’t be making jokes about her reports, Karl or others. It’s not a good look .

        1. Myrin*

          Karl isn’t in OP’s chain of command – he’s “non-management-level staff outside [OP’s] group”.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Ok well change “her reports” to “coworkers” then. Particularly any coworkes junior to her, whether in her chain of command or not.

          2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

            But the joke was made to someone who supervises Karl. There’s a power imbalance there that can make the joke seem even more unfair.

      3. Name of Requirement*

        Being late is a fault. I know, I often am. Karl needs to be reassured that his manager is happy with his work, and he deserves an apology, but the fact that everyone knows he’s often late with his work shouldn’t be a secret, as it will often require others to work around it.

      4. Grace*

        From the letter: A few days ago, I was discussing some work with my immediate supervisor, “Bill,” who also supervises Karl’s supervisor, in a meeting in his office. I was telling Bill about what a great job that Karl had done on a project that he did for me as a bit of a favor, and how Karl’s thoroughness had led to a good result.

        How on earth does that add up to “You went behind Karl’s back to talk about a problem with your boss. If you had any problems then Karl should have known about it first.” and ” If you can’t talk to your reports about issues then management isn’t for you. Karl doesn’t trust you because you went to others first. Worse, Karl heard you joking about him to his grandboss before you talked to Karl about it.”

        OP didn’t go to her supervisor about a problem with Karl, so everything you said about how OP should have gone to Karl first about her problems is irrelevant. She was having a conversation with her supervisor in which she was praising Karl’s work and passing on compliments about his thoroughness and the fact that he did her a favour. Yes, she made a thoughtless and pretty insulting comment, which she now feels terrible about, but it was after an entire conversation about how wonderful his work was and how much she appreciated him.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          If you have any issues with anyone you talk to them about it first. That’s basic respect toward others.
          You don’t make jokes about them behind their back.

          1. Ra94*

            Sometimes, gentle ribbing about people’s quirks- in the context that you respect them and value their work- is its own type of social bonding exercise. Yes, it’s really important it not cross over into bullying or gossip, but I don’t think this does.

            1. Engineer Girl*

              Gentle ribbing is done to someone’s face. It isn’t done behind their back or to an audience.

              1. JSPA*

                People (kindly!) discuss other people’s quirks and preferences and modes of operation all the dang time, though.

                You seem to be assuming that “slow” was a complaint. In this context, it was a descriptor. You need it perfect, you go to person A. You need it fast, you go to person B. No value judgement, and no desire to make person A go faster, as the expense of reliability. There’s literally NOTHING to go to person A about; you don’t want them to change a thing. If someone’s slow and their work is borderline, THAT is a complaint.

          2. fhqwhgads*

            It seems to me that the boss, by starting off by reacting to the initial discussion with a knowing smile and a brief laugh basically set this whole thing in motion. It set the tone of “we’re laughing about this speed”. So if there’s a problem here, and other than a minor foot-in-mouth I don’t actually think there is, it’s with BOTH OP and OP’s boss.

      5. Myrin*

        I think you might have misread a few things here:

        – OP didn’t go behind Karl’s back to talk about a problem with the mutual (grand-)boss. She was “discussing some work” with her boss which is an entirely neutral thing. It also sounds like the general conversation about Karl was strongly positive, outlining his thoroughness and attention to detail, with the one negative being that he took longer than expected on the specific project they worked at together. I think that’s an entirely fair comment and hardly qualifies as “talk about a problem [with Karl’s work] with your boss”.

        – OP isn’t Karl’s manager. She is a manager and “sometimes work[s] with non-management-level staff outside [her] group” with Karl being one of them. Which basically makes all of your points about managers talking directly to their reports moot since we have no idea how OP interacts with her own direct reports (and she might not even have standing to give orders to Karl directly even if she did have a problem with his work).

        – I’m also not seeing where it says that Karl is job searching. Or are you speaking generally, that people have started job searching because they heard a joke at their expense?

        Overall, I’m somewhat surprised by the (few!) comments here speaking like this is The Worst Thing. OP made a mistake, realised it was inappropriate and felt embarrassed because of it, and even explicitly says that she’s learned her lesson, which is, if you ask me, the perfect outcome. And I can understand that Karl might be hurt and embarrassed by the comment, but it’s completely possible that after hearing the contextual explanation, he’ll take it in stride (and maybe they’ll even have a follow-up discussion about his speed in general, if one is warranted).

        1. Washi*

          I agree with all of this. A lot of people are reacting as if there’s some kind of history of toxicity and disrespect, but there’s no evidence of that in the letter. In a healthy, collegial environment, I think what the OP said is fine for a private conversation – her mistake was not making sure the conversation was private.

          I’ve heard coworkers joking about how whenever anyone asks me for help with a certain thing, I ask if they’ve checked the instructions I wrote up. Same sort of thing – not flattering, but not untrue and not necessarily a weakness. And you know what? It’s fine! It annoyed me a little, but it’s completely true and because it’s an overall good environment, I’m not afraid that everyone is conspiring behind my back and secretly hates me.

        2. Engineer Girl*

          Joking about someone’s work behind their back to their superior is quite serious.
          It’s also disrespectful.
          It’s worse when it comes from a manager, someone who not only has standing in the organization, but also should have the people skills to discuss work issues.

          1. Myrin*

            Aha, I think I’ve identified why I disagree – to me, this would never fall into the category of “joking about someone’s work”. Like, I understand why you’re viewing it that way but I just can’t bring myself to do the same since it came at the tail-end of a whole discussion about how helpful and valued Karl’s contributions were. Additionally, like someone else said, what OP said honestly doesn’t even feel like a joke but just like a factual observation said in a jokey tone which makes me even less inclined to follow the disrespect/serious angle.
            But I feel like we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one!

            1. Engineer Girl*

              The key takeaway: did OP discuss Karl’s slowness with Karl before they talked to Karl’s boss?
              A basic sign of respect is to talk to someone first about any problem, allowing them to correct it first.
              Passive aggressive is when you go to others first.
              This is a manager so the standards are higher.

              1. Lance*

                That depends as well if it needs correcting; by my read, OP is fine with it taking a bit longer since they know they can expect high-quality work from Karl.

              2. Washi*

                This assumes that everything in the workplace is so…adversarial and us vs. management. I’ve been training my coworkers on a new system and when my boss asks how it’s going, I’ve given her an honest assessment about how people are doing. I don’t feel the need to tell my coworkers who are struggling “hey, you have to start getting faster to learn this or I’m going to tell Boss!” In a healthy workplace, it’s just information. It would be awkward if my struggling coworkers overheard that, but that doesn’t mean it’s disrespectful for me to say.

              3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                The OP isn’t saying it’s a problem; in fact, it doesn’t sound like it is one. She made a joke about someone’s work habits; that’s it.

                1. londonedit*

                  Yeah, I mean, there are people I work with who are slow. Usually because they have a huge workload to get through, but still, they’re slow and it can cause problems when we don’t have the things we need when we need them. I have absolutely had conversations with colleagues where I’ve said things like ‘Oh man, yeah, George is a brilliant designer, but don’t ask him to do something unless you’ve got a ton of time for him to turn it around! We’re still waiting on stuff we sent last month!’ Is that ‘joking about his work behind his back’? I don’t think so. It’s just sharing information in an informal way. And it’s truthful! In this case, Karl does do great work, but he’s slow. That’s a truthful observation.

              4. Stardust*

                Why should she discuss the slowness with Karl though? The idea that his slowness is a problem or something that needs corrected is something that YOU brought up, it’s not actually mentioned anywhere in the OP.

              5. KHB*

                I’m late to the party, but I completely disagree. When I see a problem in the work of one of my team members, my first step is very often to loop in the boss – both to see if he’d like me to handle it in any particular way, and to check to make sure what I’m seeing as a problem isn’t actually something he’d specifically told them to do. That’s not disrespect. Disrespect would be leaving my team members with uncoordinated and contradictory instructions because the boss and I weren’t talking to each other.

    13. Name of Requirement*

      He’s late, often, with work- enough that people can share a joke about it. Sometimes that’s not ok, even if it’s flawless work. The OP feels clearly already bad, and acknowledges she needs to apologize, but she didn’t make fun of his hair.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        OP doesn’t say he’s late, she says he’s slow. Being actually late would be a concern, but still not a joke.

      2. Name of Requirement*

        You’re right, she didn’t say late, just slow and that he took longer than expected.

  5. Meet Me in Montauk*

    I think this is a bit strong, the LW clearly feels very bad about what happened and had a moment of misjudgement – she’s now actively taking steps to apologise and seems to have learnt to be mindful and not make such flippant remarks in future.

    1. Sallyslow*

      “The lesson from this for me is clear, and one that I’m embarrassed has not yet become sufficiently internalized: Do not make jokes about colleagues while at work. Period.”
      Really? How about do not make jokes about colleagues. Period. ??

  6. MuseumChick*

    I feel like, in this case, you could say something like “Karl, I realize what I said landed in away I absolutely did not intend. I had just been telling Fergus about how much I rely on your attention to detail and thoroughness. I realize what I said about the speed of your work probably came off as a criticism and I wanted to be direct with your that I did not intend it that way.”

    My script here is pretty clunky but something along these lines.

  7. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Yes, please do this in person. It’ll allow to show body language and tone. It was an insensitive joke that fell right when you said it to the person you were just then praising him to, as an afterthought. But in Karl’s mind, he may be thinking you were in there complaining about his speed and trying to get him in trouble =( When you only hear the last part of a conversation and it’s a joke at your expense, it’s a double whammy of “woah, what else did I miss?” You don’t expect that they’re in there saying “Karl is great, we love Karl but lol boy is he slow.” Especially if your mind plays awful tricks on you, now he may think you dislike him =(

    1. Karen from Finance*

      Yes, this. I feel bad for Karl. And for OP. :/

      But I do think it’s salvagable following Alison’s advice here, and with time.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I think that unless OP has a history of being insensitive or something like that and a reputation for being flippant, that this is 99% salvageable. You have to allow for the possibly that Karl doesn’t shake things off or this just severely explodes his trust but that’s usually not the case if it’s a one-off time!

        I am still reminded of the time I had to eat my own hat and apologize for a remark that landed wrong with one of my colleagues. He forgave me quickly and from the time we spent together, it actually made us stronger because he realized that I’d immediately own up if I was called out on something. It wasn’t a comment about him, it was just a snarky comment thrown out while explaining I was in the middle of some not so pleasant [when it is ever] collections calls. He objected and I apologized for the insensitivity and letting my mouth get in front of my brain. And of course it never happened again, which is always key.

      2. KinderTeacher*

        It also sounds like Karl’s slower pace is well known to others. OP reported discussing what a good result the project had as a result, in part, of Karl’s work but also that the project had ended up taking longer than planned. The boss she was talking to laughed *then,* after that statement of fact about how the project took longer than originally planned, because they knew Karl and Karl’s pace well. If Karl’s pace is that well known it seems less likely that Karl wouldn’t be aware that this is a widely known characteristic of his working style. Hopefully that will help once OP makes it clear that they appreciate his valuable contributions & were not intending their comment as a criticism, and apologizes for making an insensitive joke about it. If I were in Karl’s position I think (after hearing an apology and the assurance that the joke I heard wasn’t a criticism), I would find it easier to forgive/maybe even laugh off the whole awkward occurrence if it was about something that was such a characteristic quirk of mine as to be something my boss’s boss would know about/smile knowingly about. I hope OP is able to make amends and repair their relationship with Karl!

    2. Heidi*

      I agree that the in person apology is owed. It is up to Karl whether he wants to forgive and revert to your prior cordial friendship. To be honest, if I were in Karl’s place, I’d be a bit hurt. It doesn’t seem the OP has ever given Karl feedback that his work is too slow and needs to improve, and yet is willing to joke to others as if it is common knowledge that his slowness is a burden that OP needs to factor into his/her decision-making on a routine basis. And even if my boss told me that my work was fine and I didn’t need to change, I’d always be thinking, “Then why did OP even say it?” Depending on Karl’s personality, he might not care that much, but if he does, we can’t really fault him for not getting over it.

  8. LGC*

    Did I black out and write in? Because I swear I don’t remember writing this letter.

    Anyway, one more point – I know that intent doesn’t matter as much as impact, but LW, don’t tear yourself down for this. You said something mildly regrettable, but it’s not something gravely offensive. And I don’t think you meant harm – it was just thoughtless.

  9. Ihmmy*

    Affirming the face to face suggestions. I had a manager make a similar kind of comment (though a bit more insulting, it was/is a genuine fault of mine) to a coworker and I happened to overhear… it took a while but my manager did end up apologizing to me for his phrasing and explained, and by then I was able to admit it is also a fault of mine too. The face to face discussion of it really meant a lot to me though, and helped reaffirm our working relationship.

  10. Jennifer*

    Oh no! I have been there. I think you’ve gotten great advice already. Just know you aren’t alone in making this kind of mistake. Just learn from it and do better. Most of us have said something privately we wouldn’t want the subject to find out about. Hopefully, the comments don’t turn into a pile-on.

  11. giraffe*

    This is not really related to the LW’s situation, but just recently someone sent me a thank you email for some work I did and cc-ed my boss. It’s a baller move and I appreciated it so much. To everyone out there, even if you’re not trying to make amends for anything, do this often! Think of someone today you can thank for their work and also tell their boss!

  12. OP*

    An update: I am now less certain that Karl actually heard my comment. The last couple of days, he has interacted with me in a perfectly normal manner, and dropped in to my office to ask for a small favor without any sign of weirdness. We are both socially awkward people, and I definitely have a tendency to think people are angry at me when they’re not, so it’s possible that he did overhear. I was prepared to make an in-person apology, but now I’m not sure.

    As for my personal culpability in all of this, I agree completely that I behaved badly, whether or not Karl heard what I said. It is never appropriate to joke about absent co-workers in a negative way, regardless of how gentle it feels at the time, and I feel like a complete ass for doing so. I will be very vigilant in the future about confining any comments, especially those with content that could be perceived as negative, regarding co-workers to professionally-appropriate contexts.

    Regardless, after a discussion about the organizational need for positive recognition of employees and the opportunities for such, I took the opportunity to commend Karl’s dedication and the quality of his work to higher-ups. I was partially motivated to do so out of guilt, of course, and I know full well that doing so does not entitle me to any sort of absolution, but his work entirely justifies praise and recognition; I will be making future efforts to make certain that the exceptional work of other folks does not go un-noted.

    1. BadWolf*

      It could be that after a couple days, he thought “Well, yeah, if you want me to give a thorough review, it is going to take longer” and decided it wasn’t really a Thing to be upset about.

      I’ve stuck my foot in my mouth more than once at work, I feel you OP.

      At one point, we hired a new person in our department with the same name. I called him New Karl a couple of times…which somehow morphed into existing Karl being referred to Old Karl. I tried to counter it by saying he should be Karl Prime which didn’t really fly. Anyway, time passed, we’re still friends, I did specifically apologize that I had not thought about the ramifications of the New/Old name dynamic.

    2. RUKiddingMe*

      He may have still heard you but decided to be a professional about it. In this context I’d say let it go as long as things are back to normal. I like that you commended him to the higher ups, regardless of the reason (guilt…etc.). Maybe be mindful going forward not to make jokes abut your reports?

      1. mamma mia*

        OP already said that they know it’s not appropriate to make jokes about their reports and is clearly very remorseful of their behavior here. So your comment to be “mindful” seems unnecessary and borderline condescending. Like, what else could you possibly want from OP at this point?

        OP, I don’t think you need to self-flagellate any more. You’re fine. Karl is fine. Leave it be.

    3. Karen from Finance*

      I’m glad things are back to normal with Karl, OP, and that you’ve managed to turn this unpleasant experience into a learning opportunity.

    4. LDN Layabout*

      My reaction to overhearing someone senior to me denigrating me to their boss would be to pull away, but the fact that they’re senior to me would mean I would know I’d have to swallow any hurt and work with them, no matter what my opinion of them would be.

      You need to apologise.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        No. It would make things far, far worse if OP apologizes and Karl did not overhear. The best thing OP can do in this situation is treat Karl professionally and respectfully and ensure that he knows OP appreciates his work.

        1. LDN Layabout*

          Yeah, but in Karl’s mind, if they did hear, all they’ll hear is ‘Oh of course OP is nice to me to my face.’

          I wish there was a way to address it without risk if he didn’t hear, but I can’t think of it :/

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Yeah that’s the problem. If he didn’t hear then OP doesn’t want the be all “oh hey by the way…” Since he’s acting like everything is okie dokie, I think OP’s best bet is to just act as if nothing was heard. Like you say since OP is the senior employee, if Karl did overhear he knows he has little option other than to just roll with it.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Absolutely not. You start playing with fire then and end up with an even worse issue when it turns out Karl had either not heard at all or buried his own hatchet, only to have you go dig it up again and bring it back to him like a dutiful golden retriever.

        This was such a unfortunate situation and an unkind, insensitive thing to say but it’s not something to really dig heels in and start thinking that Karl will never feel safe again.

      3. Engineer Girl*

        Yup. Apologize anyway.
        If he didn’t hear the remark he knows that you are the kind of person that reflects on your words and makes it right.
        If he did hear you then you’ve made it right and worked at restoring the relationship.

    5. Lance*

      Hmm. If you’re now not sure that Karl did in fact hear the comment, I’m really on the fence about bringing it up in any way after the fact. I think the best thing you can do now is be careful about such comments (as you say), don’t beat yourself up too much about it, and keep at it in terms of giving recognition where it’s due, regardless of other factors (especially if you’re already expecting it to take a bit of extra time, I’m doubting it’s that much of an issue).

    6. The New Wanderer*

      I once apologized to someone a few days after the fact for making a kind of mean joke at their expense – it had been part of a teasing interaction that (in my mind) took on a sharp edge. The person I apologized to said they didn’t remember the specific exchange or that I had been mean, but still expressed appreciation for the apology.

      Because you suspect what you said might have come across negatively, I’d still go with an apology – something like “I’m sorry that I gave you the impression that I find your thoroughness to be too slow at times. I really do think you do a fantastic job.” Either he’ll be surprised because he didn’t overhear you, or he’ll be relieved that you cleared things up. Even if he’s surprised he may still feel some reassurance that you are explicitly telling him you appreciate his work.

    7. Skeeder Jones*

      I think it is great to be able to look at your behavior and recognize that it wasn’t the best choice. Having said that, were I in Karl’s position (and I have been in similar situations), what I have to do is ask myself “Is it true?”. And if it is, like it is in Karl’s situation, then that is for me to own. I have a conversation with myself about the fact that it did hurt my feelings but that it is true and it is how people perceive me and if I don’t like hearing it, I had better change it because you made one comment, but that means there are 10 other people thinking it and not saying it. The fault for this (whether he overheard it or not) is not all in your lap. Karl needs to own his own behavior.

    8. StaceyIzMe*

      I’ve said stuff too that later made me think “umm…when did I have that lobotomy again?”. Hope it’s all smooth sailing at your office OP in the days ahead, for you and for all.

    9. voyager1*

      Not really owning it, but okay. Personally I would still assume that Karl heard it. And what is worse is who you said it too, Karl’s boss’s boss.

      I would assume Karl is probably looking for a new job. Guess you will find out if he moves on and mentions this in the exit interview, if where you work does those.

  13. Aquawoman*

    I really don’t understand the whole line of thinking that recognizing people’s traits and how they work in certain situations is mean or negative or throwing them under the bus. I don’t think of (most) traits as “good” and “bad” but as suited or not suited for particular tasks and contexts. What’s stubborn in one situation is persistent in another, what is excellent detail-orientation in one situation is getting lost in the weeds in another. The job of a manager is to match the situation to the traits as well as possible, which we can’t do if we’re required to pretend they don’t exist. The problem comes when you don’t value the valuable aspect and expect them to be two opposing things at once. FWIW, I joke about my OWN foibles with my staff (I’m curious, which is a good thing except when it makes me ask too many questions and go off on a tangent).

    1. KHB*

      I agree. “Karl is good at X, but that means he’s not so strong at Y” is the kind of conversation managers are supposed to be having with each other. OP was (very, very slightly) flippant about it, which was (very, very slightly) unprofessional, but I have a lot of trouble seeing it as some big shocking scandalous thing.

      1. Yorick*

        Right, to me this doesn’t feel all that flippant or jokey. It’s not like she compared him to a turtle or mentioned the passage of centuries or whatever. It seems like she noted his strengths and weaknesses in a laughing tone. Unless there’s some context we’re missing (like Karl is often treated badly by coworkers for taking his time), he probably wouldn’t be upset about this. Maybe he just felt awkward for a few days.

        1. KHB*

          Well, depending on how much Karl heard, he might or might not feel offended – which is exactly what makes this whole thing so difficult. But the offense, if any, would be because he overheard the incomplete conversation and took it out of context, not because what OP said was objectively terrible.

          And since OP now isn’t sure that Karl overheard anything at all, I think her best course of action is probably to pretend that the exchange in question never happened, but to make an effort to praise Karl directly for his strong points.

      2. mamma mia*

        Agreed 100%. I think the OP is a very nice and sensitive person for thinking so much about this that they wrote into an advice column about it, but it strikes me as unnecessary. This kind of interaction would fall within the “seven second” rule for me, where it’s admittedly awkward, but you permit yourself seven seconds to think about it….and then move on and don’t think about it again. Apologizing would just make it weirder.

    2. Close Bracket*

      It depends a lot on the trait and how the situations are evaluated. Lots of traits are evaluated more frequently as “bad” in women and ethnic minorities and “good” in white men. Actually, even some “good” traits are evaluated more prominently in women and ethnic minorities in a way that becomes discriminatory. For example, women and black men are frequently praised for their interpersonal skills. That’s good, right? Everybody wants to have good interpersonal skills and have that recognized, right? Well, the way it works out is that putting the emphasis on interpersonal skills for one group and not another is 1) that one group is under a microscope that other groups are not and 2) other skills receive less attention. Then, say you are matching up traits with situations, and you send all the women and black men to deal with the situations that require good interpersonal skills, and now they aren’t getting other opportunities that they might benefit from, AND, the white dudes, who might even have fine interpersonal skills but aren’t under the interpersonal microscope so nobody comments on that, are ALSO missing out on opportunities they might benefit from.

      When you realize that judgments are built into the water we swim in, hearing about a particular trait can come across as a judgement even when it was not consciously meant as one.

      And then there is tone and phrasing. Hearing your weaknesses in a neutral tone with matter-of-fact wording is a lot easier than hearing them in judge-y tones.

      I joke about my OWN foibles with my staff

      That’s a whole different ball game from joking about other, more junior people’s foibles. You and your staff are not on the same level. Everybody gets to joke about their very own foibles which are theirs, but not everybody gets to joke about other people’s foibles. If you joke about a staff member’s foibles, even they are someone else’s direct report, you are punching down. Punching down is going to sound judge-y.

  14. Sal Wolffs*

    This is weird because I could easily be Karl, and I don’t know what kind of apology I’d want. Prefacing the apology by thanking him again for the great quality he delivered might be a good one, as well as stressing (like Alison suggested) that you know full well that quality takes time, and you’re happy he’s willing to take that time, and that you shouldn’t have phrased your remark like that. Maybe something like “I wanted to thank you again for helping me out with Project X, and would like to apologize for the joke I made to Bill about you being ‘good but not fast’. As I was telling him, I was thrilled about the quality you delivered, and know that kind of quality takes time, time which I’m very grateful you were willing to invest, and I shouldn’t have phrased that the way I did at the end, and I’m sorry. Making a joke about a coworker at all was in poor taste, and making one about one of your major strengths was just stupid. Again, I’m sorry, and I’ll try to think before I speak in the future.”

    1. Sal Wolffs*

      “Could easily be Karl.” That is, I know I tend to work slowly, and I like to think I’m thorough, although apparently not thorough enough to put this in my initial comment. However, I’m not sure I’d even want an apology, because depending on circumstance I might just take it as a blunt but generally favorable assessment of the kind of work I do. But he did seem to take offense, and given the phrasing has reasonable cause to, so an apology does seem in order, and a deep apology given the context of him having just done you a favor.

  15. Dan*

    OP wrote in with an update and said she’s not sure Karl heard the comment. That said…

    I do think Karl’s supervisor owes Karl a conversation about the perception of him in the office. Not in a “Level 1 Warning” type of way, but an FYI. I work with many “Karl”s, and I can even be “Karl” from time to time. Knowing how to level-set the quality and timeliness of work completion is a skill that takes a long time to master. One message that can be helpful to Karl is to know that not all task require thoroughness. Or, if one is going to be spending time deep diving into weeds, knowing where to focus is helpful. My projects don’t have unlimited amounts of resources, and my boss and I regularly go back and forth about where we think things need more exploration/deep-diving. We meet in the middle. Most of the time we’re both happy :D

    At the same time, if Karl is who he is and he’s valuable to the organization despite that, then focus on giving Karl “Karl” tasks. Everybody will be happy that way.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      It sounds like Karl’s work style is well suited for his primary responsibilities so I think having a conversation with him would be unnecessary. If he had time sensitive tasks that weren’t getting done, that would be a problem. If he’s meeting his deadlines and providing an excellent product, leave him alone.

    2. LGC*

      Man, to flip it a bit, I have a Karla! (And a Karl. Have I mentioned that my employees are interesting? And my project is fairly time-sensitive?)

      I actually sat down with Karla this morning – I think she might have misheard me when I asked her to do a spot check to make sure her work was accurate! (She said she was reviewing her work again, and if she’s doing a full review…) What I did was assure her that her work was great, she just needed to worry less about perfection since the deliverable just needs to be usable – not pristine.

      I think that once OP has some distance from this, she should probably point out that while his work is immaculate, his speed could use improvement – if that’s important to his work (which it sounds like it might be). Sometimes, the Karls of the world are so afraid of making mistakes that they make the perfect the enemy of the good (or even the great).

  16. Sylvan*

    OP, I’m sorry, but I think your best bet is to apologize to Karl. Don’t explain yourself or add any “I didn’t mean it that way” comments (you did mean it), just say you’re sorry you said that about him and you won’t do it again. Then don’t make any more comments like that. It’ll be okay, everyone has to learn this lesson sooner or later.

  17. Utoh!*

    I’ve had to bite my tongue from time to time because I have a coworker who is exactly this same way. Even when we agree on how to do something, he will invariably find another thing to change, so that the entire process drags on and on…very frustrating! I appreciate attention to detail, and I am the same way, to a certain extent. I feel certain things can be left go until a phase two, or forever. My coworker does web development, and he’s very good at it, but it’s almost as if he needs to find a way to say “See? Look what I can do!” as a way to impress people with his skills. If you ask him when something will be done, he can never, ever give you a specific date. I don’t work with him too often in this way for which I am very grateful.

  18. AMT*

    Oof. I did something similar once. There was a small emergency and they closed my workplace for a day and also closed the campus of a law school a few doors down. I joke to my boss that it was the first time that someone hadn’t been able to get into Local Law School. He laughed, knowing the school’s reputation, but unbeknownst to me, my coworker had a) come up behind me, and b) just applied to Local Law School. She took it with good humor, but I still felt bad.

  19. Kohlby*

    OP, even if Karl did not hear your comment, you should apologize. Do it, because it’s the right thing to do. It will help you as well. Everything matters.

  20. NorthernSoutherner*

    Oh the good ol’ days when I ate my foot more times than I care to count, and others did likewise. One example I recall is overhearing someone in the office say “Northern never has a clue.” Ouch. Today she’s one of my best friends. I had to learn the hard way to zip it, but I did learn. I read somewhere, to paraphrase — ‘ask yourself, what good can come of saying ________?’
    It sounds like something Ma Ingalls would counsel, but it stuck with me, and that’s the internal process I go through when tempted to spew.

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