my boss sent a chat message I wasn’t supposed to see — but it popped up on a shared screen

A reader writes:

Something happened to me at work and I honestly have no clue what to do.

My coworker (let’s call him Mark) and I have been equally working on a project for over a year, developing some software for our specific job function. My boss all of a sudden decided that he wanted a different team located off-site to do the development. We do not understand his reasoning for this and it honestly doesn’t make sense, as we do very niche work and it would be hard for an outsider to do this, so we needed to be heavily involved anyway.

When it came time for the first planning meetings, I was excluded from the invites by my boss. I gather he implied it was because our other coworker wastes time with long-winded, off-topic explanations, and just having Mark there would be more efficient. When my performance review (which was a stellar rating and I was highly praised) came up, I said I would like to be involved in the project again as I felt I had a lot to contribute and that time would not be wasted since the other coworker had retired. My boss said that was fine and that I could bring the new team member up to speed and she could attend too.

At the next meeting, I was a participant and the head of the other team doing the project asked who needed to be on the project update email list. I asked for me and the new team member to be added, and she looked kind of incredulous and asked if we were sure, but did it.

At the next meeting, someone asked a question and I was directly answering the question succinctly, as it was in my area of expertise, when a chat message pops up on the big screen we were all looking at. It was my boss with a message that said, “And this is why I didn’t want her on the project.” It was a shared screen from the project head’s computer and someone else was controlling her screen.

I am almost sure he thought the message would be private to her. I saw it and just sat there avoiding looking at my boss for the rest of the meeting and left right away. He avoided me completely for about two weeks. In a phone meeting with my boss and Mark, he heavily implied that only one of us need attend the software meetings and said, “Mark, why don’t you go?”

I asked Mark and others afterwards what I was doing or could change, but no one thinks I was doing anything wrong or inappropriate. It hasn’t been brought up, but since then my boss has excluded me from other projects. I was once the star of my team and am a very hard worker who gets things done. I just let it go since I didn’t think I could respond in the moment professionally without getting angry, but what could/should I have done?

I’m sorry — that must have been awful to see!

If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that you’ve gotten a glimpse of something your boss thinks but wasn’t saying to you directly. Which can be painful, but ultimately still useful. Unfortunately, the meaning of this glimpse isn’t entirely clear.

You noted that your boss originally excluded you from these meetings because he thinks your coworker wastes time with long-winded, off-topic explanations. Is there any chance … he was referring to you, not your coworker? Or to both of you? One interpretation of what happened is that he excluded you from the meeting originally for that reason but re-invited you when you directly asked to be included, and that’s what he was commenting on in the chat message that popped up while you were speaking. That could also be why he decided to have a different team do the project development, despite not having a reason that made sense to you and Mark. This might have been the reason.

Or not! It’s hard to know, because your boss isn’t being up-front with you. (More on that in a minute.) But clearly he meant something by saying “this is why I didn’t want her on the project” while you were talking. (Or, complicating this further, maybe that wasn’t about you at all! Maybe it was about someone else, and the timing obscured that. But his awkwardness afterwards suggests it was about you.)

It really, really sucks that your boss didn’t talk to you about this afterwards. It also really sucks that he hasn’t been straight with you about what’s going on. If you are in fact too long-winded, then it’s his responsibility as your manager to share that with you, so that you know and can work on fixing it. Of course, many managers are terrible at giving feedback or feel like it would be unkind to tell say something like that (it’s not), but in that case he needs to keep it entirely to himself, not make snide comments about it to other people, especially while you’re in the middle of speaking at a freakin’ meeting. He’s acting like an annoyed coworker rather than a manager with agency and responsibility.

And then, after putting you in an incredibly awkward and undermining position, he avoided you for two weeks and now is excluding you from other projects! He should have come to you right after that meeting, apologized for the chat message, and brought into the open whatever concerns are on his mind. Instead, he left you with no information, stuck wondering what’s going on, and getting shut out of projects. He’s terrible.

The best thing you can do is to refuse to let this remain a weird, awkward thing that no one is talking about. Insist on talking about it! It’s affecting you at work, and you’re on perfectly solid ground in raising it. Go to your boss and say something like this: “At a meeting a few weeks ago, a chat message from you to Jane popped up on her shared screen while I was talking, saying ’this is why I didn’t want her on the project.’ I should have asked you about it right afterwards, but honestly, I felt awkward! But since then, we haven’t talked as much as we normally do and I’ve been left out of projects like X and Y that I’d normally be part of. I’m concerned that there’s a problem with my work that I don’t know about, and whatever it is, I’d much rather be able to talk openly about it. If you have concerns about my work, I’d be grateful for the chance to talk about them so we can figure out how to move forward.”

If he’s evasive and doesn’t give you a real answer, it might be worth saying, “Can I ask — do you feel I’m overly long-winded? That was the sense I got, and it would be really helpful to know if that’s the case since it’s something I can work on.”

(And of course, do your own self-assessment of that too. I know you’ve asked coworkers about what you can change, but peers often won’t feel comfortable sharing this kind of thing, so I wouldn’t rely on them for definitive answers. You’re better off doing things like comparing how much air time you use versus how much others do, whether you give quick, to-the-point answers without tangents or fillers, and how engaged or distracted/impatient people seem while you talk. More on that here and here.)

But ultimately what you need is an open conversation with your boss about what’s going on. He should have initiated it, but since he didn’t, it falls to you to do it. What you shouldn’t do is let this go on being the elephant in the room that no one is willing to touch. It’s your career! You’ve got to touch it, awkward as it may feel.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 428 comments… read them below }

  1. Clementine*

    I would embark on a serious job search before doing any direct conversations with your manager. I feel this could go from bad to extremely bad any second, based on what has been posted here. As such, my focus would be on keeping my job rather than trying to improve the situation, while I scrambled to get out of there. I feel for the OP, and I hope I’m not right in thinking this sounds very bad.

    1. tink*

      My knee jerk response was also “start job hunting” since OP says they were once a star performer and is now being excluded from all projects.

      1. MechanicalPencil*

        I had that same reaction. Time to dust off that resume, which is so unfortunate. Hopefully this is all just a big misunderstanding.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          Same. He doesn’t value you and your career isn’t going anywhere there. He won’t talk about it, much less give you the chance to change whatever it is. Time to go.

      2. MicroManagered*

        Honestly though? I feel like this community reaches for “start job hunting” wayyyyyyy too easily. It reminds me of the way relationship advice comments can go to “break up” with lightning speed.

        We don’t live the OP’s life and we only know this one story from her job (and, while I believe OP, we only have her side of it). There might be a ton of reasons why OP would rather work on the situation with the boss, instead of immediately jumping ship.

        1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

          I think many of us just have pattern recognition. We’ve seen this kind of thing before and don’t want the OP to be caught off guard. No one’s saying to quit on the spot, only to start the search for a new job. Better safe than sorry.

          1. A Person*

            Agree. Something similar happened to me in a job where I was a high performer in a speciality area who started getting uninvited from meetings and pulled off projects. I was being slowly pushed out by my boss and I didn’t have the benefit of literally seeing the writing on the wall, or screen in this case.

            I think it’s worth having the conversation to figure out if there’s something the LW can be mindful of not doing in their next job to get on the wrong side of management. And maybe there is a chance the situation can be salvaged. But from the information given in this letter, it sounds like it’s time to look for another job.

            1. AnnaBananna*

              Yeah….I sadly think her boss is way past coaching her comm style or more trying to evasively coach her out of her role. If it was me, I would go grab drinks with Mark, wait after he’s had a few, and then get his honest opinion about whether there’s any hope. Because technically he’s still an outsider to the drama but he will have some closer insight than strangers on da ‘web.

              And I also disagree that he jump to ‘youz in danger, girl’ all the time. Frankly I’ve seen a lot of letter writers over the years that are given hope for a obviously dying situation. I think it’s prudent to inform Alison’s LW’s about what we would do in their shoes – and the majority think that this is not a sustainable position any longer. That despite being a high performer, there’s significant indication that her boss has gone to the dark side with no way back, and that she should cut her losses. It is still 100% her responsibility to take the advice or leave it, after doing her own soul searching (and due diligence, should she want to stick around).

        2. Life is Good*

          No. I’ve been in a similar situation, though the whispering was behind the scenes (I found out later). Instead of letting me know they didn’t like me in the position I was in, the managers of the company that bought us out simply excluded me from meetings that all the other managers were invited to, conference calls, etc. after awhile. Everyone knew about it but me. When I figured it out, I was humiliated. That’s when I quietly started job hunting. I now have a much better job.

        3. Clorinda*

          People who are happy in their relationship and/or job generally don’t seek outside advice, though. Things are already pretty bad for most of them before they ever sit down to write the email. When you’re looking at a group of dissatisfied people, it is not unreasonable that the advice to many of them would be “make a change, you know you’re ready.”

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            This. There’s a reason Alison doesn’t draft columns from “My workplace is good, full of reasonable people, and if something arises we talk about it in a straightforward way and resolve it.”

            1. AnnaBananna*

              While hopeful for humanity, that might make for a very boring column. Sadly.

              1. BeenThereOG*

                It would make an excellent job hunting source, I would like something that is more honest than Glassdoor.

          2. Sloan Kittering*

            I also think there are very few downsides to job hunting, since you don’t have to take a job even if you get offered one unless it’s a clear improvement over your current situation. It’s not like breaking up with a partner, which you can’t undo. And there’s definitely disadvantages to being caught flat-footed with nothing even in the works if you get unexpectedly let go, since it takes so long to get up to speed in a job search (at least it does for me, to find my mojo).

            1. AnnaBananna*

              I mean, if we’re going to use analogies, interviewing could be viewed as cheating on your partner and then deciding not to continue the affair. Just sayin.

              1. EinJungerLudendorff*

                If you think of your employment as a romantic relationship, you have bigger issues than a premature job search.

                Like, that would be a whole parade of red flags.

              2. Agatha_31*

                But Sloan said its NOT like breaking up. Which is true. The very idea of viewing looking for a new job as “cheating” makes my skin crawl.

              3. Massmatt*

                It is viewed as cheating on a partner, or some sort of treason or betrayal, only by bad managers who prioritize their own convenience and welfare over the careers of their employees. “Just sayin”.

              4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                You cannot cheat in an “at-will” relationship, where your partner reserves the right to kick you out and cut off your source of income at any moment with no explanation given. Thankfully, this kind of relationship isn’t a thing that I know of. But if it was, I’d say the other side does not owe the partner any loyalty.

              5. Ethyl*

                No, it really, really, really is not. And I hope you don’t manage people because that mindset is incredibly toxic.

              6. Anoncorporate*

                Sloan Kittering is *not* comparing it to relationships. That’s the whole point.

                1. Sloan Kittering*

                  I should have been clearer, I was responding to the comment “AAM readers always advise quitting just like Captain Awkward always recommends breaking up” but should have clearly stated that I don’t think a job should be considered like a relationship.

        4. EinJungerLudendorff*

          I see your point, but I think that in a lot of cases it’s quite warranted to at least look around for alternatives.

          Many of the problems people write in for can actually be serious problems if they’re not resolved in the long term. Having a back-up option would be very useful in that case. Not to mention that a lot of LW’s have been dealing with their problems long enough that it’s actually doing real damage to them.

          And for this LW, being actively undermined by your manager is a very serious problem, which makes working there a very bad idea.

          1. Hills to Die on*

            Exactly that. He is doing damage to your professional reputation. You need to go before other people see you the same way. If they don’t already.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              Also being shut out of meetings for any reason is a clear indicator of being pushed out in every career article I’ve ever read. Also you’re surely someone who doesn’t deserve that, and you need to find an employer who appreciates you.
              I also want to say, your boss is a backstabbing jerk. Talking about you behind your back to your colleagues is more than unprofessional, it’s toxic, destructive and disrespectful. No one should be treated like this.

        5. Squid*

          Just because the OP starts job-hunting doesn’t mean that she has to quit without attempting work through the situation. If this situation blows over after a direct conversation, then she can always choose not to pursue any outside interviews that may have come up. But if (as some commenters suspect) it turns out that there is indeed a major problem here, then it might be comforting to have gotten a head start on seeking other job options.

          1. ChimericalOne*

            Right. Job hunting is not the equivalent of breaking up: quitting is. The commentariat isn’t saying, “You should quit.” They’re saying, “Have back-ups ready if you get fired.” Which is a perfectly reasonable thing to say to someone who is either A. in a bad situation, B. about to take a bit of a risk, or C. both (which is simply an acknowledgment of the “danged if you do, danged if you don’t” situation people in bad workplaces find themselves in — not a suggestion that OP shouldn’t take Alison’s (very good) advice).

              1. Wonderer*

                Just be careful not to get upset by what your manager says in the meeting and announce “Well, I’ve already started job searching so screw you.”

                1. EinJungerLudendorff*

                  Although going home, accepting that good-looking job offer, and announcing your resignation the next day is a perfectly legitimate form of “screw you, I’m out”

        6. Turquoisecow*

          Maybe as a general thing, but in this case, OP is being left out of projects she was once very involved in. Her boss is not talking to her. She has no idea why either of those things are happening and she has little chance of fixing them. She’s not being allowed, basically, to do her job. Looking for a new one is a reasonable response.

          Best case scenario, Boss says “oh that message was for someone else” and gives some sort of plausible reason (I don’t know what) for why she’s being left out of things. But I honestly don’t see that happening, and even if Boss admits to this mistake and comes clean, it’s still going to be an awkward and uncomfortable place for OP to be. Why not move on to somewhere where she’s included and given major projects, and allowed to keep shining?

        7. TootsNYC*

          The thing is, in some relationships, there really is a commitment for the long-haul.

          There isn’t with a job.
          So there’s not the same cost to getting out–it’s just a matter of leaving sooner rather than later, because even if you stay now and work it out, you likely WILL leave in the future.

          Whereas in a marriage or a truly serious relationship, there’s more to leave; if you can work it out, you have a lifelong relationship. (and if it’s not a truly serious relationship, people are likely to say, “get out now”)

          1. c56*

            There are reasons OP may feel like they need to stay at their job. Pay/benefits might be better than at other companies and taking a pay cut is not feasible; OP could be in a niche industry.. Point is advice to get a new job isn’t always useful. Of course there’s no harm in seeing what’s out there.

            1. Karo*

              They’re not saying get a new job, they’re saying look for a new job. That’s a pretty big distinction – it allows the OP to look around and confirm (or disprove) her assumption that pay/benefits are better than at other companies, etc. They’re not saying to take the first thing that’s offered.

            2. AspieGirl*

              I’m in a similar situation to OP at work right now with management freezing me out for no apparent reason (other than I disclosed I have a disability and needed accommodations) when I’ve historically been a high performer. However, what you described is why I’m still stuck at my job. I work in a niche role within my industry and my skills are not readily transferable to another role. I’d literally have to start in an entry level role again, and I cannot afford to lose my FMLA protections let alone take the financial hit. My disability is expensive, so I’m stuck in an environment where my boss has told me to my face I’m a burden and he doesn’t want to deal with me and my ADA accommodations are ignored while I am denied the opportunity to work on projects relevant to my role.

              1. lnelson in Tysons*

                Have you talked to HR? Sounds like you have a discrimination case there.

                1. AspieGirl*

                  Yeah I’ve had HR involved. After an incident involving HR, my boss, and me at a meeting over my accommodations where my boss was openly hostile toward me, my boss basically just stopped speaking with me at all until they promoted someone else to be between us a couple of months ago. Now things are a shit show with the new boss since my new boss has basically told me they don’t want to be involved with my accommodations. The old boss is still pulling a lot of the strings and I’m getting the impression my new boss is my manager in name only. Because I have a non-visible disability, no one wants to deal with it or accommodate it, and it is making things hellacious for me.

        8. Angela*

          Sadly I have to agree with the other suggestions- and many of us have seen this before. People are people, and sometimes they let emotions, bias, and other petty things get in the way of how they do work. Ideally OP should be able to talk things out or see if something can be improved, but it’s highly likely their boss doesn’t like them (for whatever reason, justified or not) and may even want to ruin OP’s chances of success just out of spite. It’s immature, rude, and wrong, certainly. But managers aren’t immune to high-school levels of petty drama. It’s just reading the situation to see if the boss is doing things out of personal bias vs. professional reasons.

        9. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          In this case, I think there’s a pattern of exclusion, side commentary, and a cowardly boss. It can’t hurt OP to be prepared for other options or to formulate an exit strategy in case this goes Very Badly.

          OP can still work on the situation while being prepared. The advice is more about risk management than it is about “you must quit!”

          1. Batgirl*

            ‘Cowardly boss’- yup this would be my deal breaker. You can’t follow a non leader.

        10. Psyche*

          Part of that is because “job hunting” does not necessarily mean “quit your job”. Making sure you have options is always good, especially if the situation could get worse.

          1. Inch*

            And it can make you feel stronger for the difficult conversation that you and the boss must have. If you’ve updated your resume and familiarized yourself with the extent to which other opportunities are out there, you are likely to be more confident in that conversation because you will know you have laid the groundwork for a “Plan B” should “Plan A” (your current job) not work out. And while you cannot exercise control over that conversation, you will have exercised control and demonstrated pre-planning, which may minimize negative self-talk . It can be very empowering to remind yourself that you can do other things for other people, even if you ultimately decide not to pull the trigger and leave.

        11. Decima Dewey*

          Nothing wrong with seeing what’s out there. And getting interview practice.

        12. Tinker*

          I mean, the bar for “should I start job hunting” is somewhere around “do I have any interest in talking with other people about doing work for a place other than my present employer” and in some ways at “do I think that at some point in the future I am likely to not lack that interest, even if I lack it at this particular moment”.

          OP can always decline an offer, if at the time they receive it they feel like it’s not as good a prospect as continuing in their then-present job. The reverse scenario is less desirable.

        13. Beth*

          Sure, OP shouldn’t immediately take advice to jump ship without considering their situation holistically. But I doubt most OPs would do that anyways! We bring it up when it seems like a possibility that things won’t work out because it’s the kind of thing that’s generally better to at least consider early on than be caught wishing you’d started earlier when things explode.

        14. Eukomos*

          I agree, there are a lot of situations where the best solution to the problem is getting the heck out of dodge, but that’s often not possible. My current boss is fully in “your boss sucks and is not going to change” territory but leaving this job is not a great solution for me because it’s a very important career development opportunity, and it’s one of the few jobs that both develops my career and accommodates my grad school work. So if the only answer anyone can give me is to quit, and that’s a really bad option, what else is there to do? Just buckle down and tolerate it? There has to be some way to at least moderately ameliorate the situation that doesn’t involve walking out the door and blowing up my relationship with a person I really need a good reference from.

          1. voyager1*

            A reasonable boss wouldn’t do that kind of behavior. He lacks maturity and is passive aggressive.

        15. some dude*

          If the boss is talking smack about her in texts AND excluding her from projects AND giving her the silent treatment, the odds are that the situation ain’t gonna get better. I think she should at the very least have her resume up to date. Maybe it will turn out ok, but from what she’s described it seems like a situation that is going to be hard to salvage.

          1. MommyMD*

            Very hard. For whatever reason Boss doesn’t like her. Another Boss May appreciate her.

        16. Anoncorporate*

          This is definitely a situation that warrants job hunting. OPs boss had turned against him/her for some reason. It’s not clear why. But when your boss doesn’t like you, it’s time to worry about job security. Of course, OP should ALSP try to solve the issue internally to the best of their ability, but in my experience, once
          your boss has a bad opinion of you there isn’t much recourse.

        17. audenc*

          I think these are some serious red flags, ones that I’ve seen a toxic boss of mine use to try push people out when they’ve fallen out of favor (sometimes for good reasons, other times not).

          The goal here is making the person so miserable that they quit, or so miserable that they start really messing up, allowing for a more abrupt firing. In certain managers’ minds, this is preferable to the hard work of putting someone on a PIP and trying to get their performance up, or ultimately firing them but potentially having to give a severance.

          If OP feels there’s something to salvage, maybe it’s worth trying. But to me, these are classic signs of being pushed out, or at least a boss who is extremely immature at best.

        18. Bee*

          I mean, people will usually write to Alison when they’re having problems, so it makes sense that we get this sort of response a lot.

        19. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          OK how about “start job hunting so you at least have your skills and your resume up to date and a few new places lines up when the axe falls”. Because this is what I suspect may be happening here. I mean all the signs are present. Boss is excluding OP from projects and badmouthing her behind her back, while giving no explanation to her of why he is doing it. At the very least, I’d look into transferring to a different group.

        20. TardyTardis*

          Some of it is a reaction from a few years ago, where people almost had to put up with horrifically toxic situations just to eat; having a choice also means people like to exercise it. Bosses picked up some really bad habits and got away with it because their workers had almost no choice (and some people in rural communities who desperately need health insurance often still have little or no choice). So, payback’s a b for some bosses. Too bad for them.

      3. Engineer Girl*

        This isn’t just a red flag. It is a red flag plus a klaxon horn.

        The boss is setting her up to fail.

        It’s possible sexism or maybe something else. But you need to get out n

        1. MommyMD*

          Yes! In fact I’d job hunt right away and see if anything turns up and then just quit and move on. Maybe without even having the talk.

        2. HarperC*

          Due to my own current situation, sexism was the first thing that popped into my head.

      4. MommyMD*

        I would politely bring it up with manager but ultimately I’d start looking for another job. Sorry OP.

    2. CatCat*

      Yeah… boss avoided the OP for two weeks (!!) Not sure how fixable this is on top of the boss excluding the OP from projects.

      You have had a stellar review and were the star of the team. Time to capitalize on that rather than put up with this hot nonsense.

    3. Kaaaaaren*

      Agreed. OP — Get your resume ready and start searching for a new job. Your boss seems to have some kind of issue with you and while you definitely should at some point talk to him directly about what that is, I agree that the situation seems to be escalating already and if it goes from bad to terrible (as it might, if you have a come to Jesus moment with your boss), you want to be well into job searching already.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I mean, maybe, but it sounds like everything has been fine and she’s had good feedback until recently. This reads to me like a boss who knows he messed up with that chat message and is now hiding because he’s uncomfortable. There’s a decent chance the OP can fix this by getting it out in the open. At least she should try that before assuming it’s absolutely the end of her career there.

      1. Clementine*

        But it sounds like a lot more is going on than this unfortunate chat message, and if the boss is like many people, he would prefer to cover over his errors by getting rid of the evidence (in this case, the OP).

        1. Anna*

          The boss would have to fire everyone in the room at the time, because they all saw it.

          The OP has questions that need answered and the only way to have them answered is to have the awkward talk with their boss. Additionally if there IS a chance the OP has some…long-windedness issues, they wouldn’t be fixed by finding another job. Frankly, I’m a little skeptical of someone being long-winded as the reason they’re pulled from all their projects. I think there might be a bigger issue at play, but the only way to know is to start the conversation.

          1. Annie Dumpling*

            It might not be long-windedness. It could be more of a forest/trees situation. I had a coworker who was a total rock start in the breadth and depth of her knowledge. She was a deeeeeeep resource. But her manager did not include her in many meetings because minor issues would be treated with the same concern as major issues. In the early planning stages this was seen as derailing, even though her comments were “succinct” – they stopped the momentum. (For (very) minor niche issues she could’ve said “we will keep an eye on that as we move forward” or “something to consider as we move ahead”, or “maybe we could sidebar that”)

            1. MommyMD*

              Derailing over minor issues is so annoying. Or getting off track into some other area. And the people who prolong meetings with endless needless comments and questions. Enough already.

            2. smoke tree*

              Either way, though, these are very specific, straightforward issues that the boss could easily address with the LW just by having a conversation about it. So either the boss is completely devoid of management skills, or there is something else going on that the boss doesn’t want to bring up. Either way, the boss isn’t looking good here.

              1. Boss Adult*

                Assuming of course that boss didn’t have a conversation with LW. Sometimes honest feedback goes in one ear and out the other.

      2. LawBee*

        Much like a lot of the forum advice on CA is “dump the dude”, it seems like a lot of AAM commenters are quick to recommend quitting.

        1. Clementine*

          No need to quit immediately, but my concern here would be imminent unemployment.

          1. Autumnheart*

            Yeah, it sounds like the boss is trying to justify getting rid of OP. You bet I recommend quitting before that happens.

            1. my two cents*

              eh, it sounds more like they’re going to gently keep squeezing OP until she walks herself out. OP produces well, so they’d certainly never fire her for being ‘too long winded’. They’ll instead annoy her by cutting off opportunities and growth (and likely pay raises) until she goes somewhere else. That’s what basically happened at my first gig…after 8 years, it was clear they were not going to pay me appropriately and then they started policing some Very Stupid Things and eventually I became so irritated that I went somewhere else (and got a 40% bump in pay to boot)…and then the office closed, the end.

              That manager sounds like a sexist dick with terrible judgement in work-appropriate communication. I’d give a $5 bill to be able to be OP, for just that moment that the message popped up, and loudly say something like THANKS FOR THE FEEDBACK BIG GUY.

          2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

            Yes, and there’s a way bigger chance of serious consequences for pushing back on something at work, vs. pushing back on something with a significant other. It’s a lot easier to sideline/exclude/push out/BS fire an employee who says something uncomfortable, and have them lose their income and health insurance, and possible reputation in the field. Unless your significant other is abusive, you really don’t risk that sort of consequence from having the awkward conversation.

          3. Arts Akimbo*

            Yeah, I think we just want her to stay ahead of the game by casting out for more options elsewhere rather than be in a reactive, diminishingly powerful position with this company. When you see the writing on the wall, you don’t put on a blindfold.

        2. Lobsterman*

          I feel like the big thing I get from AAM is that within the current system, being ready to job hunt is the only way to have any sense of personal security as an employee.

          1. MissDisplaced*

            Unfortunately, it’s kind of true, at least in Corporate America where employees have few protections.
            There are certain signs and gut feelings of “wrongness” at play. Could be finances, losing customers, key people leaving, being removed from projects or excluded, revoking privileges, adding or enforcing policies, etc., etc. Sometimes you’ll know why, other times you won’t. Could be boss wants to hire his buddy, or is sexist (and I do suspect that here).

        3. Kaaaaaren*

          No one told the OP to quit, but just to start job searching now in case the situation at the job gets worse, which it already is since the IM Message Incident, as it seems the boss is now systematically removing her from all projects.

        4. Sloan Kittering*

          Unfortunately, check the update below – OP was then passed over for a promotion and basically felt that her best option was to resign. Sometimes maybe we jump to job search but TBH it’s often the case that a better option is out there.

          1. Psyche*

            There is also a selection bias in who is going to write in looking for help. Most people don’t write in about small problems.

          1. Perse's Mom*

            Captain Awkward, another (usually personal relationship-based) advice column.

      3. Feather*

        I definitely think she should talk to him first, and if it can be fixed then that’s great!

        But reading the letter I would also have significant concerns that this behaviour arises from, to be totally honest, the boss being uncomfortable with the LW in a way that rings very much in the pattern of sexist sidelining of a high-performing female employee, and that means that I’d want to be seriously prepared for this to be a case of “and it was all downhill from here” rather than putting my hopes in it getting fixed and having them dashed.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yeah. This whole thing read to me as a textbook sex discrimination case. I’m not saying that’s what happened, but the awkward interaction doesn’t explain why the boss removed OP from other desirable projects. It sounds a lot like constructive termination.

      4. Turquoisecow*

        It’s not just the message though. It’s that she’s being left out of projects and not included on things she has been in the past. If she wants to work on the sorts of projects she’s done in the past, she may have to move on to a place that lets her.

        It seems unlikely that her pointing that out to the Boss is going to change things. It sounds like she’s already said things like “I’d like to be included on that” and advocated to be included in meetings, so I doubt he’d be like “oh I thought you didn’t want to be involved.”

      5. ChimericalOne*

        The thing is… if you’re right that it’s a question of long-windedness, then I agree that OP can fix this. But my sense was actually the opposite: Boss thinks she’s curt / bossy /rude (the stereotype of female high performers) and gave the whole “You don’t want to be in a meeting with him, he’s long-winded & inefficient” because he knew that she prizes efficiency and cutting to the chase (which she seems to emphasize in her letter several times) and he thought that’d be effective at deterring her. She says she was answering succinctly and suggests that she was doing so confidently (it was her area of expertise, she says). If Boss finds that to be irritating, and views her as having a “temperment problem,” then her confronting him in even a mild way may cement that. I think it’s always better to get things out in the open — it could turn out to be any number of things! — but it doesn’t seem unlikely to me that Boss has been hiding his sexism due to her performance, and now that it’s out in the open, he may just decide he finds dealing with her to be more trouble than it’s worth (since she’s a “b” in his eyes and now is awkward to be around, too).

        1. UsernamesAreHard*

          This is on the money. My first thought was that his ego is being threatened in some way.

      6. MommyMD*

        He’s excluding her. I’m not so sure he thinks he messed up. More of an he is off-put because she saw his message. I do agree she can try and talk with him but I don’t think he likes her communication style and is now in a place of high irritation. So now anything she does may annoy him.

      7. Elizabeth West*

        I agree that the boss is uncomfortable, but the fact that he’s leaving her off projects while including Mark strikes me as rather ominous. I do think she should have a chat with Boss. If nothing else, what he says–or doesn’t say–will reveal information she probably needs to know.

    5. Singin in the Rain*

      I agree. I was once in a similar position where a client forwarded an email chain to me and deep in the chain, my boss had said something of a similar tone regarding me. I already knew I was leaving because that guy was a jerk in so many other ways, but it kicked my job search into high gear, and not long afterwards, I was able to find a new, much better paying job.

      To me, that sort of behavior indicates that they have a narrow view of you that’s unlikely to change no matter how well you do. And people like that often aren’t honest even in face-to-face conversations. I think you can have a conversation like Alison suggested, but you should also be looking at new and better options for employment.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        I feel like it is *so* difficult to change someone’s bad opinion of you once they’ve decided you’re a certain way, too. Even if you’re not long winded for the next year, the first time you slip up that’s going to reinforce the view.

        1. Deranged Cubicle Owl*

          Even if you’re not long winded for the next year, the first time you slip up that’s going to reinforce the view.

          This is so true.

          1. sunshyne84*

            That’s exactly what I was thinking. Whatever the issue is, it doesn’t seem like he’s done his job as a manager to discuss it with OP and get it resolved. That’s one thing I can’t stand!

    6. Lilysparrow*

      The thing about job hunting is, it can give you a realistic perspective on your options *while* you work through a situation.

      You might discover that you’re earning the top of the market, there’s not a lot of opportunity elsewhere, and it’s worth it to put up with the embarrassment to keep moving up in your company.

      Or you could discover that there’s several better opportunities open, and you’re a strong competitor. Just knowing that can give you an added boost of confidence in standing up for yourself.

      Job hunt doesn’t always mean quit ASAP.

      1. Mama Bear*

        Agreed. I had a situation that was going south. I asked for a meeting with my manager and instead of it being a clear the air and everyone get on track meeting, it was made very very clear to me that nothing was going to improve. I began job hunting in earnest. Either it will resolve or the OP will know for certain to find something else. I am much happier at my new job – it is a better fit in many ways and I no longer feel depressed and incompetent. No one should have to work on eggshells.

        1. Windchime*

          This happened to me, too. First I was given a bad performance review after years of getting the highest marks possible in all categories. Then I was demoted to a lesser job. Then one manager screamed (literally) at me in a meeting and the other manager started micromanaging my work. Then I was placed on a PIP. I started looking, found a great job, resigned, and then was hauled into HR and told that I couldn’t work out my notice.
          The only way to win in these kind of situations is to find a new environment where there is balanced, reasonable management. Once a manager decides that you are a bad apple and starts trying to encourage you to quit, it’s game over. Or at least it was for me. It was terrible at the time, but in retrospect I should have left at least a year sooner. And I’m much happier now.

      2. Tinker*

        There’s this too.

        I’ve been bothered for a bit about some things I… don’t find ideal, let’s say… at work, and it’s taken me a good long while to unpack the six years of accumulated “n+1 days since someone last hired me for something, maybe it’ll never happen again” impostor syndrome and deal with the six years of accumulated not updating my resume. Now I’m seeing that those tasks will have an actual end relatively soon, and also I’m receiving recruiter emails that aren’t based on my resume from two years out of grad school anymore.

        From this I’ve found that I do need to do something about the issues I’ve been bothered about — basically, the content of my work has slid into being problematically mismatched with my skillset and also, oddly enough, my salary and title — I’m seeing it as more of a solvable problem rather than a horrifying chasm of mystery, and also now the conversation I will have with my current manager goes from “hey can I do something vaguely like X maybe?” to “so, the next couple steps I’m looking at are Y and Z which require experience A, B, C, and D; where are you looking to be in this picture especially given that I know you are one of the five places I can point to who need a Y to do A, B, and C?”

    7. Game of Drones*

      Yes! I totally agree.

      At the very least, OP’s manager is ineffective at communicating. That creates a no-win situation.

    8. Clementine*

      The OP responded below that matters worsened and she had quit to go back to school.

      My job-hunting suggestion was based on the facts as presented, which looked to me like the OP would soon be forced out. In that case, one does not have a choice about whether to keep one’s current job. If you have any sense that your job is in jeopardy, start job hunting if you don’t want to be jobless. I have seen people scapegoated and forced out, and the situation is not generally remediable. If you live in a jurisdiction where people do not lose their jobs at the drop of a hat, then the advice to try to work it out might be more applicable. In this case, though, it is clear from the OP’s update there was no working this out.

    9. Fortitude Jones*

      My gut instinct said the same – boss doesn’t want OP there anymore for whatever reason, so she’d be better off pulling the plug on her own.

  2. Ptarmigan*

    This is awful. I’m sorry this happened to you. In-meeting pings that show up unexpectedly on shared screens are a constant worry of mine.

    1. President Porpoise*

      I have my skype set up to prevent people messaging me when I’m sharing my screen for exactly this reason.

    2. sacados*

      It’s not even just with shared screens!
      My office uses Google suite, and therefore hangouts for our intra-office messaging. If you have hangouts desktop notifications enabled, then the chats will pop up even if you don’t necessarily have Chrome open on the computer.
      It happens ALL. THE. TIME. You have your laptop in the meeting, but also logged into the desktop machine in the meeting room to present, etc.
      And any time someone messages you, it pops up with a little message preview on the main screen too!
      Fortunately I’ve never had it happen to me where the content of the message was something private/awkward for others to see. But it’s still so incredibly awkward and embarrassing!

  3. Autumnheart*

    So, to recap, you were once the star of your team, but now your boss:

    1. Excludes you from projects and meetings
    2. Assigns your work to other people
    3. Undermines you to your colleagues
    4. Actively disparages your expertise
    5. Doesn’t explain any of the above as a performance issue that you could address, and pointedly avoids you
    6. Gives you conflicting messages, telling YOU that you should be included and that it’s fine for you to participate in these ways, while doing 1-5 behind your back

    Time to get a new job. Your manager sucks. Whether you’re long-winded, need to change your approach, or are doing anything that would lead people to believe your manager’s narrative over what is going into your performance reviews–who knows? Your boss will apparently go to great lengths to avoid telling you, but he will, and is, telling everyone else that you aren’t capable of doing this work. It’s time to get out before any further damage to your reputation occurs.

    1. Kaaaaaren*

      Yeah, OP needs to freshen up her resume and start applying for new jobs. Maybe her boss does have legit complaints about her work or work style, but the way he’s behaving toward her is so unacceptable that it makes any valid criticism of her or her work pale in comparison.

    2. TheOtherLiz*

      Yep, agreed. I am a people pleaser, and I too would be gravitating towards how I fix what my boss and others seem not to like about me. But Autumnheart lays out a compelling case for what seems objectively true: your manager sucks. So objectively, this isn’t a person whose opinion you should take to heart too much. They’re clearly not invested in helping you improve, if there’s anything you’re doing wrong. You know you’re good at your job; you’ve had great feedback to inform that self-confidence. Rather than looking for input on your interpersonal skills with a crappy manager who has crappy interpersonal skills, look for a job where you’ll be treated with respect!

      1. Kaaaaaren*

        Exactly. The manager’s handling of this situation is so poor that he’s kind of lost any ground to tell the OP how her comportment could improve (except in the sense that he’s her boss, so he can do what he likes). But it’s objectively ridiculous at this point to take lessons in behavior and interpersonal skills from this person.

    3. Jerm*

      Agree 100%. Sometimes employees shine too brightly and become targets after while – even from their bosses. Find another job.

      And your manager sucks. You would come to this conclusion sooner or later, even without this incident. Better it be now, before you pour your energies into your job only to find out the time and effort wasn’t worth it because of who leadership turned out to be. :)

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        I did wonder if it was the employee’s good performance that put the target on her back. Sometimes bosses are threatened by their own workers and it sucks and they suck.

    4. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      Let’s see, we have:
      Male boss: check
      Male dominated field (software engineering): check
      Experienced, high performing female employee being told to stop showing off and excluded from assignments: check

      Hmmm…I wonder what the problem is. HMMMM.

      1. Robin*

        This was my thought as well. Especially given the gender dynamics that make it such that when women participate equally with male peers they’re seen as speaking more than those peers.

        1. KayEss*

          Yup, my first thought was “this is a man who thinks all women talk too much.”

            1. Tempestuous Teapot*

              Agreed. Source: a woman in natural resources going through the exact same thing

        2. Lizzy May*

          First thing I thought of. It could be that the OP does need to change how she communicates but there’s a strong chance based on multiple studies that she’s communicating just fine and sexism is the problem here.

          1. Mama Bear*

            Plus her MALE coworker is being given all the work and being included instead. Does kind of make one wonder…

        1. my two cents*

          In my case, they told me my (lone female support engineer) pay was not aligned with the (all male) dev engineer team pay because… “they contribute differently”. They were going to offer my buddy (that had interned for 2 years while finishing his degree) a full time gig at the same rate I left at after 8 years, both having electrical engineer degrees from the same college.

          Loved that job, hated the way I was treated.

      2. TeapotDetective*

        Ding ding ding, we have a winner. Or a loser, which is a better description of this dude.

        Chin up, OP. This looks like a him problem, not a you problem.

      3. Nanani*


        I’m honestly surprised the answer is “are you sure he’s not right about you being terrible?”

        The flags, they are red.

      4. YetEvenAnotherAlison*

        The problem is SEXISM. This guy cannot handle a woman who is smart. The same actions that OP exhibited coming from a man would likely be applauded. I am one of a team of 21 engineers and the only woman on the team that is an engineer. On my team, what is happening to OP does not fly. But we are managed by a professional manager who knows how to manage and NEEDS all his engineers performing as a TEAM to be successful. The OP needs to know that even if she was long winded – something that many MEN are known to be – her manager is the issue here – frankly he is acting like a little child. I am so sorry OP – get out – don’t waste your time trying to apply your talents to a place like this. Go where you are wanted – not tolerated.

    5. Autumnheart*

      It’s so demoralizing to realize that your manager is actively antagonistic to your success, when they should be advocating for you and/or helping you address problem areas. Even if OP were able to address the flaws in her communication style (perceived or actual), her boss is actively damaging her relationships with these teams and colleagues. How could she begin to overcome that?

      If OP has good relationships with any of her colleagues and could expect a constructive answer, maybe she could ask them if she does come off as long-winded or whatever, and address that on her own. If nothing else, it would allow OP to demonstrably refute what her manager is saying about her, and preserve her reputation while she job-searches.

    6. Seal*

      This list is pretty much exactly why I left my previous job. Luckily for me, I not only got out but also moved up in the process – better job with greater responsibilities and much better pay. Not to mention a better manager!

    7. Bridge Builder*

      You have summarised it perfectly and what you’ve described is a classic case of work place bullying.
      OP I’ve been there and it’s awful. You are great at your job and he hates it.
      Unless your company is great at supporting people I suspect you’re not going to win this one. But start now by documenting everything you’ve experienced so far, and keep records of new issues.
      Alison is right you do need to approach him, maybe he’ll step up and own his behaviour, maybe he won’t.
      Good luck, and if this carries on please find another job and protect your own well being.
      This type of work place bullying is exhausting.

  4. Hiya*

    I wonder if there is any tinge of this being because you are a woman? There are men who don’t think women have authority to speak. No way of telling from your post but if no one else thinks you are a problem and you can’t figure out the problem that kind of leaves that hanging out there.

    1. Kaaaaaren*

      I wondered this, too. I don’t want to jump to sexism (or any -ism) right off the bat, but something about this situation and how OP’s boss is behaving makes me wonder if there isn’t some element of sexism involved.

      1. Not a Blossom*

        Except for the fact that the message that the OP assumed was about her said “her.”

      2. MissBliss*

        The OP believed the message “And this is why I didn’t want her on the project.” was about them, which I think is an indication that at the very least the boss perceives the OP as woman.

      3. Bye Academia*

        The boss’s message about the OP used “her”, and the OP uses “he” pronouns for the boss. I think it’s pretty clear that the OP is a woman and the boss is a man, and that certainly could play a role, but it’s hard to know for sure without broader context we can’t get in a letter.

    2. MuseumChick*

      This was my first thought. I mean, it’s possible that it has nothing to do with gender but my gut feeling is that it does.

      1. Petty Editor*

        There have been scientific studies proving that if women speak a fraction of the time of a meeting (35% I believe), men think they have spoken too long, too much, and dominated the conversation. I’d take a real careful eye over how this manager treats other women.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          Yep, I was definitely thinking about this exact thing reading this letter. We obviously don’t have enough info to know if that is the case but it seems like something the OP should sit with as they have way more info than we do.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yeah—this is a well-worn playbook, especially in male-dominated fields.

    3. Ben*

      This. This whole thing reeks of gender discrimination. Letter writer, you are probably underpaid, undervalued, and certainly disrespected. While I agree with Allison’s ideas for self assessment, it feels incomplete without a recognition that this seems very strongly gendered.

      1. Nanani*


        As others have noted, women are often perceived as talking “too much” whenever they speak at all.

        No amount of self-analyzing can solve it.

    4. KWu*

      I got this sense too, and especially because the work is software development. My somewhat circumstantial read is, “this is why I didn’t want her on the project, because she demonstrates having knowledge by answering questions” :eyeroll:

      It would be useful to do the work of canvassing to see whether you could be more concise than you think you’re being, but otherwise, you can only get away from this manager.

    5. ContentWrangler*

      I definitely thought that right away. Especially since it’s been shown that men perceive women as dominating the conversation even when they only use 50% of the airtime.

        1. LizB*

          Yep. This topic fascinates me so I went looking for the source for your numbers, because I knew I’d seen them somewhere. The stat you’re talking about comes from Australian researcher Dr. Dale Spender from a book written in the 70s. Dr. Spender wrote that in a mixed-gender conversation, men perceived the amount of speaking time to be equal across genders when women spoke 15% of the time, and perceived that the women were dominating the conversation when women spoke 30% of the time.

          Apparently that research is a bit out of date at this point/there are other complexities at play (as there always are!), but research shows pretty much across the board that men take up more speaking time than women in professional settings, expert interviews on TV, etc., and that people often perceive that women are over-represented when they’re actually not even close to 50% represented. I’ll drop some links in a reply to my own comment for anyone else who’s interested in further reading.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              Thanks Liz. I didn’t have the energy to go looking for the info today (med procedure this AM wore me out).

              As it was I had to *force* myself to go lie down because this topic pisses me off so much that I *can’t* stop commenting. LOL

    6. ginger ale for all*

      She had received stellar reviews so I think I need more information/explanation to declare sexism.

      1. Veggiesforlife*

        Not really. It’s illegal to target someone based on their sex, so most would avoid the obvious and then participate subtle sexism. Pulling a women off of projects and criticizing her behavior being her back that isn’t an actual problem IS sexism.
        Do we need more info? Sure but there’s a lot there to show sexism.

      2. Jaybeetee*

        Eh, important to bear in mind that most instances of sexism (or racism, or classism, or…) are unconscious. IF LW’s boss is sexist, he’s probably not “sitting there twirling his mustache looking for ways to undermine The Woman.” More like unconscious biases. So he might give her great performance reviews because he legit thinks she does good work… but then judge certain mannerisms or personality traits she has differently than he would a man (such as perceiving her as “long-winded”, when perhaps male colleagues give similarly detailed explanations for things, because unconsciously “talking female in a professional setting” is unusual enough to be more noticeable to him, whereas “talking men in a professional setting” is literally business-as-usual.)

        Nearly everyone walks around with some biases like these, because that’s just how human brains are, and it’s unfortunately an aspect of the conversation that often gets missed when discussing discriminatory behaviour. As a result, people perceive these biases as a moral failing and get defensive… instead of a challenge nearly everyone has to deal with, and actually examining themselves.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Female person talking in a business setting …in 2019… should in no way be unusual to anyone under 90!

        2. NorthernSoutherner*

          *If* LW’s boss is sexist, he’s the one who needs to examine himself. Yes, we all have biases. My bias is against straight men who think what they face is anywhere near the level what women and minorities (of any kind) face. So I guess I’m biased against you and your long-winded defense of this boss. Thanks for the analysis, Sigmund!

          1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before*

            That wasn’t any kind of defense of the boss, it was an explanation of how unconscious bias rather than conscious choice is an enormous factor in almost all cases of everyday sexism (and racism, etc)- exactly like what this boss is doing.

    7. Librarian of SHIELD*

      And it feels even more telling that the boss wants “Mark” to participate instead of LW.

      1. Yorick*

        Especially since he seemed to imply that Mark is a better fit because he’s worse (too longwinded, etc)? Or maybe I misunderstood that part.

        1. my two cents*

          I think it was the now-retired coworker that she had originally thought the boss was calling long winded.

      2. RUKiddingMe*

        Yup. If it quacks…it’s a freaking duck. Full stop. We so need to stop the whole “maybe it isn’t sexist…” BS when 99.999999% of the time, *it* is sexist.

    8. Observer*

      I was wondering about that – but then why did he bring in a team that was being lead by a woman?

      1. JG Wave*

        Like Jaybeetee said above, sexism is often unconscious. The boss probably doesn’t consciously think “all women talk too much and therefore I won’t hire a woman,” it’s just that when seeing OP speak in other scenarios, that filtered through his bias and his conclusion was “OP talks too much.” Another woman on another team doesn’t necessarily filter the same way, maybe because he doesn’t interact with her as much, she’s on a similar level to him and not his direct report, or because he likes her personal approach better.

        Think of it this way–a lot of men who catcall women would be FURIOUS to see their daughters or sisters catcalled. They think of the women they catcall, and the women in their family, as totally separate categories of people who deserve different treatment. Similarly, a lot of men today wouldn’t say that women should do all housework, but they just never think to take the initiative and do the laundry themselves. The result of their actions is sexist, even if their intent is neutral.

    9. CM*

      Yeah, the dynamic feels skeevy to me, too. Female developer has her project reassigned with no explanation, gets excluded from meetings, finds out her boss is talking smack about her on IM and apparently got forced to put her on the project. Then he’s embarrassed and she’s the one punished for the embarrassment by being excluded more…

      For people saying it can’t be sexism because X — remember that, from a sexist’s perspective, he’s not treating a woman differently because she’s a woman. He’s treating her differently because he thinks she just sucks, and he may or may not even be aware that the reason she bugs him so much is that he’s biased against her gender.

  5. Shinobi*

    It is good to get feedback from your boss if you can, and find out what his issue is, and see if there is room to improve.

    See what he says and give it some consideration. But his behavior makes me think that it may also be time for you to seek another role elsewhere.

    It is never pleasant but sometimes we have bad managers who let personal bullshit and their own failure to develop employees take over any judgment they might have. It could be any number of things that have everything to do with him being a big baby and nothing to do with you.

    I have worked with people who took a dislike to me in the past. (I get the phrase “attitude problem” a lot which I have interpreted as “you are smart, assertive and female which gives me a sad” after much consideration.) you deserve better. You should thoughtful and conscientious so any company would be lucky to have you.

    1. AnonyMouse*

      This was my thought too, get the feedback and then use that feedback to decide if it’s time to leave or if this problem can be fixed.

      I also get negative comments from my (male) boss because I… share opinions in meetings? The word he uses though is “critical.” It annoys the heck out of me because it makes me sound mean and demanding, when that’s not my approach at all!

    1. Autumnheart*

      Sure do. I have to wonder if OP has had this boss the whole time, or if this is a new boss.

      1. Not a Blossom*

        Although there have been studies showing that men overestimate the amount of time women spend speaking. They also often view unbalanced gender distributions as equal.

        1. Mazzy*

          But even if that were true, in that moment, the boss didn’t say anything about long winded. Maybe they thought the person was going off topic, or giving TMI, saying things they didn’t want the whole meeting to know about.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          That doesn’t mean that aren’t plenty of women who are legitimately overly long-winded and who could benefit from that feedback; I’m sure we’ve all known some of them (along with men as well, of course). There’s a very obvious read of this situation that isn’t gendered. It’s possible that it is, but there’s nothing here that indicates that’s definitely the case, and we don’t do the OP any favors by presenting it as if it is.

          1. Not a Blossom*

            I’m not saying it’s necessarily sexist, but I’m saying that it’s possible that it is. The OP might be long-winded and no one will tell her, or the OP might not be long-winded but the boss perceives her as such because of biases that appear to be fairly prevalent. It’s just something to consider.

          2. Feather*

            Yeeeeah but the same thing can be said of “aggressive”, “bossy”, “pushy”, etc: there are genuinely women who are legitimately aggressive, bossy, pushy, and otherwise poor performers in these social areas who could benefit from that feedback.

            And there are also a metric craptonne of times when those are codes for “is a woman and is not silently fetching coffee.”

            So while no I don’t necessarily feel it’s useful to assert without question that this is the case, I do think it’s worth directly discussing that it could be.

          3. Sloan Kittering*

            I actually don’t know we have evidence that OP was being long winded from the facts. If OP’s gut instinct is that they were being succinct, I’ll defer to that – was there anything about the content of what you were saying that might explain the comment? Were you bringing up issues and jumping to Why We Can’t Do This, or were you focused on a pet element of the system that might not be what they wanted to address? Doesn’t mean OP is wrong in any way in what they said, just mean that it might not be the windedness.

            1. Myrin*

              Yeah, I think the long-windedness is a total red herring and I was quite surprised to see Alison put such an emphasis on this in her answer – I think it was quite a misdirection in this case. (Sorry, Alison!)

              1. Yorick*

                I think so too. In fact, the OP said her answer to the question was direct and succinct

              2. Jasnah*

                Same, I think it’s not nearly as relevant as the boss making snide rude remarks, removing her from projects, ignoring her, etc. It doesn’t matter whether OP is long-winded or not, that’s not the cause of this behavior from the boss. A good boss wouldn’t do those things even if OP was super rambly.

            2. Jules the 3rd*

              If OP’s correct and succinct answer was ‘the technology can not support the function you want’, that is often an unwelcome statement. I definitely lean towards the content was the concern, not the delivery (because, trusting the writer).

              OP – think about the content, and whether you spend a lot of time seeing the blocks to implementing something. I had to train myself out of a tendency to see / say why things wouldn’t work, and focus on how to work around limitations. One key: anytime I saw a block, I would write it down and try to think of 2 – 3 options for dealing with it. If a block came up as a direct question, I trained myself to say, ‘I don’t see a way to do that right now, but let me dig into it and see what might be possible.’ I still revert to ‘no, won’t work’ in times of stress, but that pause to check for options has really been a career-saver for me.

              Whatever the cause, the manager’s method of dealing with it is just wrong wrong wrong, huge red flag. He should *not* be talking like to anyone, and should not be discussing this with anyone other than OP!

          4. PVR*

            But there is nothing to indicate that OP was long winded. In fact her letter was concise and eloquent, lending weight to her own assertion that she was succinct. (Aren’t we supposed to take OPs at their word?)

      2. Wintermute*

        I’m with you “long-winded” doesn’t scan as gender-coded to me. “abrasive” (read “doesn’t soften everything like we expect a woman to”), Aggressive (“doesn’t put up with our sexist BS”), “too forward” (“speaks her mind rather than making nice”) and so on all read as gender codewords but not “longwinded”

        1. Feather*

          Mmm see I have often encountered “long-winded” or variations thereon in company with all of those things you mention: it means “opens her mouth to do more than agree with the men at the table”.

          It is entirely possible for women to be long-winded. And abrasive. And aggressive. Genuinely. But I’ve found “talks to much” or “dominates the table” or “long-winded” just as often in company with the other stuff.

        2. bibliospork*

          There’s a recognized phenomenon where women are perceived to take up more space and time in a situation than a man does. When women speak they are perceived to have talked longer than they actually have. In equal gender situations, men speak 75% of the time but people perceive it as being equal. So yes, a woman talking and seeming long winded is actually potentially a (possibly inadvertent) sexism problem.

        3. Librarian of SHIELD*

          People don’t usually say “long winded” in a gendered way. It’s usually something like “chatty” or “nattering on” or “nagging” or some other word, but the meaning is still the same, that people think she’s doing an inappropriate amount of talking or instructing, and that’s a really common thing that people think about women.

        4. Nanani*

          It does when you consider the fact (not anecdote, FACT) that women are perceived as talking too much and dominating the conversation when they are actually speaking 1/3 or less of the total time.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Yes. Or at least feeling that a “not senior enough” employee shouldn’t be speaking up in a meeting – even if it’s her area of expertise. It’s *much* more common for that to pop up when the not-senior expert happens to be female.

      1. Mazzy*

        Is it? My company skews male because almost all of our applicants are male for many technical roles, and we have all of the issues letter writers say could be due to sexism.

        1. Shinobi*

          Sometimes female employees are just viewed more harshly for things we accept from male ones. I have seen it. I have had people ask to speak to my male subordinates assuming they would keep me in line. (lol)

          Ultimately it is very subtle and it isn’t helpful to assume any behavior exists only because sexism. But it is useful for women to realize that sometimes no matter how perfect you are you won’t win because you are a girl. Because that is just how it is.

    3. Jennifer*

      No. He was sending the message to another woman, who must agree that OP shouldn’t have been included in the meeting. I doubt he would have sent it to her otherwise.

      I think many of us have been in a meeting where someone either asks a question or gives an answer that seems unnecessarily long-winded and makes the meeting go on another 35 minutes when you’re ready to go. It can be aggravating. It just sucks when you’re the coworker, were unaware people felt that way, and find out people have been talking about you behind your back. The boss should have told her she needed to be more succinct in her responses if that’s the problem. I think the issue is that he fears confrontation.

      1. Shinobi*

        Women can also dislike other women for sexist reasons. It’s very common and women are some of the strictest policers of appropriate female behavior. Sometimes to keep them in line or to curry favor with men. So I don’t think who she was talking to matters.

        I agree with you in general though that I don’t think we have enough evidence that is the problem here. It’s her boss’s stylr, for sure.

        1. Jennifer*

          I agree. I thought that came across in my post. The boss is a man and the person who received the message is a woman who probably doesn’t like the OP either. I’m guessing the boss sent her the message because she agrees with him.

          1. RVA Cat*

            This. I’m thinking she is grandboss’s Bitch Eating Crackers for whatever reason – which means get out.

        2. MommyMD*

          As we saw with that terrible female manager who harassed her pretty report into criminal charges and a lawsuit.

        3. alphabet soup*

          Yup, this tends to happen a lot in male-dominated fields– women who have achieved a position of power in male-dominated fields tend to exhibit more “queen bee” behavior towards other women, either because they feels as though roles for women are limited and they don’t want to lose their place, or because they don’t want to be seen as favoring women and thus appear to men as being weak or biased.

      2. KayEss*

        Or he just thinks the recipient will/ought to agree. Lord knows I (a woman) have gotten private messages or side comments from plenty of men suggesting that another woman in our vicinity is being annoying/inappropriate, thinking I’ll join in on their exclusionary gripe-fest, when really it’s clear to me that he’s feeling threatened or put off in a sexist way by totally normal behavior (usually something he does himself, but is massively offended to see a woman doing).

        1. Jennifer*

          Fair enough. The only time I’ve gotten a message like that was when we were talking about it previously.

        2. RUKiddingMe*

          Well if they (makes) can keep us divided we eont come together to fight their unearned entitlements…

      3. my two cents*

        It could be that the female project manager actually did NOT agree with the male boss’s previous comment, so that the dude decided it was reasonable to send that message to ‘point it out in the moment’.

        And it’s possible the project manager STILL does not agree that OP is ‘long winded’, but perhaps the project manager doesn’t have authority over the assigned teams, or maybe the dude is just telling everyone OP isn’t interested.

    4. Earthwalker*

      Yes. When the male employee speaks it’s good advice but when the female speaks she’s annoyingly mouthy. That might not be the right perspective (it’s hard to analyze a situation from a short description) but if coworkers can shed no light on what the LW is doing wrong, it seems likely. Back to the advice above: seek a better workplace. Changing a passive aggressive sexist’s mind is a bad hill to die on.

    5. Shinobi*

      It was a very subtle wiff. Hard to say without knowing more. But one way or another get the hell out.

    6. Troutwaxer*

      I definitely get the whiff of sexism.

      But other conflicts can erupt over software as well. Frequently managers are much less educated in software than programmers, and this frequently causes conflict. It’s hard to give a good, short example for people who don’t code, but managers can make decisions which range from subtly dumb to egregiously stupid, (often they’re simply relaying decisions from higher up) and programmers can get in the way of management decisions simply by implementing good code… The problem may be that the OP gives very logical reasons for doing things a particular way, and this is causing some kind of problem for the manager, either real or imagined.

      “Being long-winded” may be the way the manager expresses his dislike of technical explanations which make clear why the software can’t/won’t/shouldn’t do what he wants, and the OP needs to consider this.

    7. Boomerang Girl*

      The part that might be sexism is the where the manager did not give LW any direct feedback about performance. That is a known issue for some men who are fine with giving feedback to other men. Not sure there is any evidence in this case, though. This guy just sounds like an all around coward.

  6. WellRed*

    How awful! I agree it’s time to look for another job because you are being excluded. I also think there is a possibility you aren’t as succinct as you believe yourself to be (just something to think about for the future), but this is on your boss, who is being a total jerk.

  7. Ginger*

    Did your boss give you the glowing performance review? I’m so confused.

    Sorry, OP. Your manager sucks and you had to see it, in front of other people and then he acted even worse after the fact. But Alison is right, there is a huge silver lining here: Now you know.

    1. fposte*

      One annoying thing about this is that the manager’s wussiness means that that glowing review is now under question–was he just blowing smoke?

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I was going to say that OP needs to add that to her conversation when confronting the boss because he’s sending mixed messages. He gave her a great review, and is treating her like she’s the worst employee in the company. Regardless of his reasons, he’s an ass who has no business being a manager because he’s playing the avoidance game instead being up front with you about any issues he may have with OP and her work.

  8. 1234*

    It seriously sounds like Boss is trying to push OP out of the company for whatever reason. It also sounds like Boss has been talking about OP to other people based on this phrase: “The head of the other team doing the project asked who needed to be on the project update email list. I asked for me and the new team member to be added, and she looked kind of incredulous and asked if we were sure, but did it.”

    Conspiracy theory says Boss wants this project to fail for some reason he’s not telling OP.

    OP – Run. Beef up your resume and start applying to other jobs ASAP.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      “she looked kind of incredulous and asked if we were sure” – this to me is a piece of the puzzle that doesn’t fit. Just because someone is long winded, that wouldn’t make it surprising they wanted to be added. Long winded people love to be added to things where they can Hold Forth. It makes me wonder if there’s something else at play. It’s clearly something pretty openly discussed if she didn’t try to hide her reaction from you.

      1. DKMA*

        I agree, this was the part that made no sense. Either there is an open secret that the boss secretly hates her or there is something odd going on with this project.

      2. boo bot*

        Yeah, the whole story kind of didn’t make sense to me (by which I mean, there are some contradictions happening – the OP was perfectly clear in her writing). I think the boss is saying different things to different people.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          To act visibly surprised when someone asks to be added, to me, suggests that you think they already know why that wouldn’t make sense or would be surprising.

      3. Jules the 3rd*

        This makes sense if the boss has been talking to her about not wanting OP on the project.

        Boss and Project Manager have had some conversation about OP that lead to his message. That was not something you’d say out of the blue. And this is why OP should be job hunting while also trying to talk to Boss. Because he’s seen a problem, and instead of coaching OP through it, he’s undermining her to her coworkers.

        Whether or not the problem is real, whatever the problem is, this Boss is handling it incredibly badly. *Maybe* OP can manage upwards enough to work it out, but it would be really hard.

    2. Beth*

      This confused me too. If OP and the other coworker are on the project, it shouldn’t be at all surprising for them to be added to the update email. The fact that the head of the other team on the project found her request so hard to believe makes me think that something else is going on here. I don’t know what exactly, but something’s weird, and I’d be pretty confused and wary too if I were in OP’s shoes.

  9. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    It was my first thought. Actually, my first thought was ‘I’ll bet OP hasn’t done anything wrong and the boss is freezing her out for no real reason’, and my second thought was ‘probably because she’s a woman’. The ‘this is why I didn’t want her on the project’ was pure bullying to undermine OP, not because she actually shouldn’t be on the project.

    Sorry this is happening, OP, and hope that things work out well for you. Please keep us updated, you deserve far better than this!

  10. Ops manager*

    Something similar happened to me once. I was at an admin job I was a poor personality fit for, my work was fine, but my boss was very critical over very small things, and it became clear he just wasn’t a fan of my personality.

    I walked to the bathroom once, and overheard him in someone’s office talking loudly about me. I heard a very small part ‘x’s professionalism is not there,’ ‘I don’t think me and her are really jiving well’. I went to him and told him what I heard, and asked what I needed to improve on.

    He basically just acted invasive and said I should be eavesdropping (lol).

    I think you should ask your boss, you might not get a good answer (I don’t think you will, because he seems like a child), but you will get insight. My insight was I didn’t want to work there anymore, because I got vague nonsense and felt I couldn’t improve.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      You weren’t eavesdropping jeez. When I’ve worked in large offices, I usually tell people that if they’re speaking loud enough for me to hear, be prepared for me to offer my 2 cents. You did the right thing by telling him what you heard, and he had no business being a manager if his first line of defense was to get defensive. Glad you got out of there.

  11. Jennifer*

    I don’t think the boss is the sexist devil incarnate, but a wuss that can’t sit down with one of his employees and give direct feedback. I’m baffled by how many people like this decide management is for them.

    It’s going to be a mad awkward convo, but you should talk to him. If you like the job otherwise, it would be a shame to leave because of this.

    1. dramallama*

      Or somebody who not only can’t suck it up and apologize to one of his employees after humiliating them at a meeting, but has doubled-down to depriving them of opportunities because he’s to embarrassed to speak to them. To me that’s the most disgraceful part of this.

      1. Jennifer*

        Wussy behavior all around.

        I hate confrontation too so I can almost sympathize, but that’s why I’m not a manager.

    2. J E*

      I think this is possible. I’m a little surprised (maybe because I have a long tenure at a large company) that no one seems to think the OP shop for a new boss at her current company. Bad and inexperienced managers are everywhere, but why should this one drive her out of a work place that she’s been highly successful in?

      I recommend doing all 3 things: be politically smart but straightforward with current boss. Update your resume and start networking/hunting, including, if the org is large enough, within current company.

  12. Pontoon Pirate*

    Alison, I read your proposed script to myself (under my breath, so my timing might be a bit off), and, well, it feels a little long-winded itself. I’m not sure that is the vibe OP wants to give if she’s concerned she might be talking at length too frequently. Any suggestions on a more succinct script that distills the problem she needs to confront?

    1. Alianora*

      I agree. Maybe it would be better to break it up into more of a conversation – you can write out the talking points so you don’t forget, but pause and let the manager respond to some of it. For instance, “At a meeting a few weeks ago, I saw a chat message from you pop up on the screen that said, ‘this is why I didn’t want her on the project.’ Can I ask if there’s a problem with my work that I don’t know about?”

      After he responds (adjusting based on his response ofc): “Since then we haven’t talked as much as we normally do, and I’ve been left out of projects like X and Y. I’d much rather be able to talk openly about it so that we can move forward.”

      Then if he asks why you didn’t bring it up before: “I should have asked you about it right afterwards, but honestly, I felt awkward!”

      Original script for reference:

      “At a meeting a few weeks ago, a chat message from you to Jane popped up on her shared screen while I was talking, saying ’this is why I didn’t want her on the project.’ I should have asked you about it right afterwards, but honestly, I felt awkward! But since then, we haven’t talked as much as we normally do and I’ve been left out of projects like X and Y that I’d normally be part of. I’m concerned that there’s a problem with my work that I don’t know about, and whatever it is, I’d much rather be able to talk openly about it. If you have concerns about my work, I’d be grateful for the chance to talk about them so we can figure out how to move forward.”

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        “For instance, “At a meeting a few weeks ago, I saw a chat message from you pop up on the screen that said, ‘this is why I didn’t want her on the project.’ Can I ask if there’s a problem with my work that I don’t know about?””

        He’ll deny it. Or, conveniently “forget” that it ever happened. Can’t win with this.

        1. Alianora*

          Then I would ask why I’m being left off projects that it would make sense to have me on. From the LW’s update, yeah, he’s not reasonable, but if it happened to me with a mediocre but not sexist manager, I’d at least try to have the discussion.

      2. dramallama*

        My first instinct was that it’s okay if the script is a little long, because a conversation that’s guaranteed to be this awkward needs some padding. But I like this; I think the kindest interpretation of the boss’s behavior is that he’s a wuss who can’t stand to give his employee negative feedback, and letting the silence hang after a direct question can often goad a wussy person into stating the awkward truth just to end the awkward silence. Plus saving those elements of the original script gives OP a way of putting him back on the subject if he tries to duck and weave.

        1. dramallama*

          I want to take this all back, I just read OP’s update below and the boss doesn’t deserve even a shred of the kindest interpretation.

    2. Me*

      I’d say something along the lines of- I’d like to talk about the message that popped up in the meeting. It was insulting and degrading. That aside, it appears you have an issue with some component of my work. I would appreciate you being forthright with your concerns so that I can work to improve.

      Then after the meeting I would write a summary of the meeting and email him with it to ensure your on the same page aka cover your behind.

      Boss is a snake and a coward among other things. Bluntness often scares them back into their hole for awhile. Also look for another job.

  13. LaDeeDa*

    First and foremost this manager sucks! Someone who screws like the manager did, and doesn’t it own it right then and there, is not only a sucky manager, they are a sucky person.
    It sounds like the performance review was recent, so I don’t understand how OP got a stellar rating and no bad feedback, but the manager has removed her from the project. He is not communicating her performance truthfully, and that is a big deal (another sign this manager sucks). This would be part of the conversation if I were in OP’s shoes. “In my review, you rated my performance as above average, so am confused why I was removed from the project. If my performance during a team meeting is not what you would like to see, then that is feedback I want to hear. I would like to develop and grow my skills, and would appreciate your honest feedback about my performance on the project and in team meetings.”

  14. Adelaide*

    I just want to say that the OP has my full sympathy. What a truly horrible thing to happen, especially in a group setting like that. Your boss is seriously in the wrong here.

  15. OP*

    The original comment about long windedness was specifically about our retired coworker. He was famous for his long repetitive stories. I do not think I am that long winded in meetings I was hyper aware of retirees wasting of time.

    For a little more clarity this happened several months ago. Ever since then no matter what small project I asked to help or participate in or offered to do in meetings got the response from my boss of “No thats ok, Mark can do it”. It got to the point that I was not included in anything anymore and I had nothing to do all day despite asking for more work. Mark was swamped and I helped him as best I could but there was only so much I could do.

    I never approached my boss because he is the type to gaslight me or turn it on me. He is extremely unapproachable and bringing it up could have hurt my career even more. I eventually decided to pursue some schooling opportunities and told him. In that conversation he told me that he would help me make my decision by telling me that at the end of the month he was promoting Mark over me despite him knowing I have wanted it for years. (It was a really small position, really more of just a point contact person, no management of people responsibilities). I have had the organization pour money into me through a prestigious internal leadership program I was selected to attend and I have more education than Mark. Mark is completely competent and will do a great job, but it certainly would have raised eyebrows to external teams as I was being set up by the organization to go far. My boss’s response to me asking why I was not getting it was that Mark was more “hands on” (Of course he is, he had all the projects despite my trying to be more involved) and that I was too black and white. While this can be true it is pretty much irrelevant to the type of work I would be doing in that position. He has known this was going to happen for months as he also said he had been dreading having this conversation with me for a long time. I feel set up to fail with no good professional reason why. After that news it was clear this was a dead end job and I took up the schooling opportunity which I am currently very happy in.

    I am a female and I didn’t want to believe it was sexism, but after speaking to other more seasoned coworkers they said Boss is kinda sexist. Thank you all for your kind commiserations. He really does suck.

    1. LaDeeDa*

      OP, I am so sorry. He completely and totally set you up. What a dick. I am assuming HR hasn’t been involved in any of this, because any decent HR team would see right through this BS and he would be getting in trouble. By “pursuing educational opportunities” I take that to mean you left – good for you.

      All of this, the original letter and this update says more about him than you. I hope you are able to move on from this. Thank you so much for the extra details and the update. All the best!

      1. Clementine*

        I’ve never had an HR department that would have helped out with this, after many years of working. So if such HR exists, I’d be glad, but also astonished.

        1. LaDeeDa*

          My HR does, in fact, this is a huge part of what my team oversees. We do talent management, performance management, and leadership development. If Mark was being given a promotion over someone with seniority, who had participated in a leadership program, and had a stellar review we would be asking questions. Also, people aren’t just given promotions in my organizations. Promotions- even level promotions, not just management promotions, have to be approved- there is an entire process to make sure things like this don’t happen.
          This is the difference between having a HR that functions strictly as employee relations and a HR that functions as talent management.

        2. drogon breath*

          Agreed…maybe any decent HR team would see right through it, but decent HR teams seem to be pretty few and far between

          1. TiffanyAching*

            I mean, I think good HR is like good managers. There’s a mix of both types out there, but you mostly hear about the bad ones.

      2. Sloan Kittering*

        “too black and white” – hmm, this is only the slimmest glimmer of feedback, but I wonder if there’s anything at all to this. Think back to the comment you were making when the IM came up … was it very black and white? Is your boss a nuance / people guy? Is Mark? I ask these questions only in the effort to glean anything useful from this garbage show – your boss very much handled this terribly and sexism probably is at play also.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          No, this is the sort of BS ambiguous explanation women get when they question something.

          1. Elbe*

            Exactly! The fact that he gave her a glowing review tends to support the notion that he knew that there was nothing explicitly wrong with her performance that he could document in writing. I also suspect that the reason he didn’t directly confront her with issues is that… there weren’t any, really. Not anything major.

            It sounds like he just wanted to work with Mark instead due to his own sexist preferences but didn’t want to say that outright. This kind of behind-the-scenes drama and undercutting is common when people are being forced out for reasons that are shady.

          2. D'Arcy*

            Yeah, this is absolutely, “Sexist boss is actively sabotaging the OPs career to advance Mark’s, because Mark is a man.”

          1. Sloan Kittering*

            I think I’m just tortured by the chat – “this is why I didn’t want to add her to the project.” That suggests that the boss was commenting on some specific thing to the other person, and that the person likely recognized what they were referring to – and it wasn’t her gender. However, I think ultimately the chat is a red herring that should be let go, as hard as it is. Ultimately the boss was a jerk who sucks and yes gender.

            1. Batgirl*

              Yep. Gaslighting and red herrings are supposed to torture; to keep you up all night wondering what does that mean? Is there any truth to that? What a jerk.

            2. MommyMD*

              I’m glad OP moved on and that Boss was a jerk but I do think there was something there and it cannot all be blamed on sexism. He approached it the wrong way.

              1. D'Arcy*

                There is no reason to believe that there was “something there” beyond the boss being a sexist ass.

                1. Caribbean*

                  I am so disappointed at the writings of “Mommy MD”, who repeatedly belittles people, adopts a hostile/questioning tone towards letter writers, makes unwarranted assertions, etc. This is a great example (WTF does she mean by “I do think there was something there” that could POSSIBLY justify this abuse?). I really, really wish she’d stop and that Allison would do something about her unkind comments. She is usually so good about keeping a civil tone here but this MommyMD poster seems to get a pass because she is a “regular”.

                2. Wow.*

                  I can’t reply to “Caribbean June 6, 2019 at 2:21 am” so I’ll hope this goes under that comment.

                  I am disappointed at the writings of people who keep jumping on MommyMD’s back just for saying something that might need to be said. Just because you disagree with what she says does not make it “Uncivil.” You are way over projecting here.

                3. I agree with Caribbean*

                  I agree with Caribbean. Generally I ignore it as best I can but I have noticed exactly the same pattern.

              2. Boss Adult*

                The LW has a meandering writing style, which is the only data point we have to judge her overall communications skills, so I think it’s possible the boss has a point. Boss may also have had pressure not to let LW go or put her on a PIP — the onscreen message indicated “this is why I didn’t want her on the project,” which suggests he voiced objections and was overruled.

                1. alphabet soup*

                  I don’t see any meandering here. She’s explaining a complex situation, which requires more than a few lines.

                2. Nous allons, vous allez, ils vont*

                  The OP never got feedback that she was too long-winded or meandering. That was her former co-worker who retired.

              3. learnedthehardway*

                It’s entirely possible that the other female project manager’s reaction was based on incorrect perceptions of the OP that were fed to her by the OP’s Boss, rather than on actual problems with the OP.

                I mean, if I’m a project manager and someone’s boss tells me that they aren’t interested in being on my project, for example, and then that someone puts their hand up in the meeting and say, “I should really be on this project”, I’m going to do a bit of a double take, because I was already told they weren’t interested.

                That’s one entirely reasonable way in which the female project manager’s reaction makes sense without being either sexist or there being any alleged problem with the OP’s behavior.

                As for the chat, it could be simply that the Boss had texted earlier that the OP was being tasked to several other projects (so wouldn’t have time for this one), or several other things (from innocuous to legitimate concerns to outright slander).

        2. Close Bracket*

          It’s possible that the boss is a sexist and also that OP is too black and white. There are definitely environments where being “too” black and white can hold a person back. I put “too” in quotes bc the right amount of black and whiteness is highly subjective. If one’s level of black and white is higher than the organization’s, it becomes a problem, and the employee will be held back.

          This is all written assuming OP is not an OSHA auditor or something where black and white is built into the job.

        3. Paulina*

          Issues of how personalities mesh often come down to implicit gender and/or cultural bias. If you’re used to working with people who have similar perspectives to your own, it can be easy and comfortable to sink into that. If you’re in the more senior position, you can then chalk up others’ differing approaches to an issue with them, rather than your own limited viewpoint and inflexibility.

          Trying to figure out what issue the junior, different-style employee actually has? That’s a mug’s game. Especially when there’s gender involved, because it colours interpretation for many. “Too black and white” may be how the boss is characterizing “being confident and knowledgeable while female.” If she was less decisive, though, I expect she’d be judged and passed over for that too.

        1. Not A Morning Person*

          Or pursuing a higher degree through an educational reimbursement or other financial support program by her employer?

    2. AngryOwl*

      Well, damn. I’m sorry OP, this must have been a really demoralizing experience. I’m glad you’re somewhere happy now, though!

    3. Elbe*

      Ugh, your manager sounds truly horrible. I’m so sorry that you had to waste time being managed by this person.

      I’m glad that you decided to pursue other opportunities and that you’re happy

      Given the comment that your coworkers made, it sounds like this could be a case where it’s less about demoting you and more about just promoting Mark. If this guy just feels more comfortable around men (or sees Mark as a younger version of himself), it was always probably his goal to orchestrate things so that he could focus on Mark and let his attention drift away from you. As hard as it is, I would try not to take this too personally. The next place you land will probably be a much better environment for you.

      1. Autumnheart*

        Feeling more comfortable around men and working to promote them, while actively undermining and excluding women, has a name: sexism.

        1. Elbe*

          I agree that it’s sexism – her coworkers saying her boss is kinda sexist is the comment that I referenced in my last paragraph.

          My point was just that this likely isn’t personal in the sense that this probably isn’t about her specific performance. An experience like this can, unfortunately, sometimes make people doubt their own capabilities, even though their actions weren’t actually a factor in situation. Sexist people behave how they do for their own sexist reasons, and the LW shouldn’t think that her boss thought that Mark was a better employee in any type of genuine way.

          1. EinJungerLudendorff*

            Isn’t sexism inherently impersonal though?
            OP gets judged and mistreated purely because of her gender, not because of anything she personally does, says or think.
            It by definition flattens people down to one or two shallow traits, and then assigns disproportionate value and influence to those traits.

            1. Jasnah*

              The frustrating thing is it’s incredibly personal for the sexist. People don’t usually think “women are…” or “people with X trait are…”or other impersonal generalizations, they think “Jen just doesn’t seem as X as Ben”. We think we’re comparing only what people do, say, or think, but our judgments are swayed by the well-worn grooves of stereotypes underneath.

              1. Frankie*

                THIS. That’s the real issue at play. “I don’t know Ben just seems more confident than Jen.” “Wow Jen was a little too aggressive there,” etc.

            2. Elbe*

              Yes, it is inherently impersonal. That is my point.

              It feels very personal to the people who have been the target of it, but they should try to keep in mind that it doesn’t reflect at all on their personal traits or the value of their skills.

      2. Nous allons, vous allez, ils vont*

        “If this guy just feels more comfortable around men (or sees Mark as a younger version of himself), it was always probably his goal to orchestrate things so that he could focus on Mark and let his attention drift away from you.”

        I had exactly this happen at a former workplace. A new guy was hired on to one of our teams. He had less experience than every other person on the team and was genuinely bad at his job. He got promoted within a matter of months over the other extremely competent and experienced women on his team because the (white male) boss could personally relate to him. Literally every other person on that team quit, and it’s not hard to see why.

    4. Sam Sepiol*

      I’m so sorry to hear this. I guess at least you know where you stand?
      Please update us in a few months!

    5. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      Wow, he’s cowardly trash. It must have hurt so much to be pushed out like that. You deserve way better and it sounds like you’ve got it. Congratulations on the new position! Please do update us if bad things happen to that former boss, we could do with a party post. I wish you all the success in the world from now on!

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, I’m hurting so much for OP and super angry at the boss. What a dastardly person, especially for someone in a management position where he has such power over people.
        (As an aside, OP, if you don’t mind my asking – your time as a rockstar with glowing reviews and opportunities, did you have another boss then? Or was your superstar time period with this same guy as your boss? Because that would make it even more incomprehensible to me.)
        I’m wishing you all the best in your future endeavours!

        1. OP*

          Thank you for your commiseration! It was the same boss! He doesn’t spend a lot of personal time on performance conversations, but the notes he wrote were good and I did talk with him about doing well and wanting to be able to expand my knowledge and skills. He seemed supportive at the time and the two years before. The grandbosses were also very supportive and offered praise all along. (I was lead technical expert in a very large high profile project that went very well.) In fact when I left a great great grandboss came to see me and told me he was very sorry to see me go ()In his words, “We think you are a rockstar”) and he wanted to make sure I wasn’t pushed out. I really needed a reference from my boss on the way out so I didn’t want to stir the pot at that point. I just said the schooling opportunity was too good to pass up, but I appreciated my time working there. Although I really really wish I could know what Boss’s issue with me was.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            I really wish you had spoken up about why you left, but I understand why you didn’t. It just sucks that this guy will still be in the position to derail another woman’s career down the line – he needs to go.

          2. Perpal*

            So weird. Were you the favorite while you had the soon-to-be-retiree coworker, then Mark was hired and you were pushed out? That’s about the only “logic” I can find in this. Sorry you had such a horrible experience.

          3. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

            My guess is that he hid his own insecurities and prejudices until he couldn’t stand hiding them anymore. It wasn’t about you personally. It was most likely because you were a woman doing very well for yourself and receiving praise for your hard work. He faked being nice until he could get away with pushing you out.

            Do you think it’s worth letting the great-great grandboss know the truth? You have your reference now and it might give you peace of mind. And it might prevent him doing this to someone else.

            Many years ago, I had a boss cut my hours to zero for no reason. It was a part-time job, so nothing like what you dealt with. But it hurt so much to be cut off with no warning, especially since she’d had nothing but praise for me before then. The issues were hers and had nothing to do with me personally, but it still hurt a lot.

            1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

              I’d got a step further here. Given your sterling reputation and the company’s investment in cultivating your leadership skills, I bet he was worried he’d end up working for you some day and, since he’s not a particularly great human, he couldn’t handle that.

          4. merpderp*

            As a person who follows this blog because I very much do NOT know office norms – would it make sense to go back to the great great grandboss now, (or whenever you don’t need the reference anymore,) and clarify your reasons for leaving? Something like “I appreciated your kind words when I left OldJob and I wanted to share some feedback that I didn’t feel safe sharing previously since it might put my reference and future income at risk…blahblahblah”. Because you’d be conveying two kind of important messages 1) one of your employees is behaving in a way that puts your company at risk 2) this kind of casual “wanting to make sure you weren’t pushed out” (which – btw, is an assumption that raised my eyebrow, what did you hear that made you think I was being pushed out? And why didn’t you do anything?), isn’t exactly an effective way to get honest answers for exactly the reason you cite. Depending on your rapport with grandboss and your own energy level it might be worthwhile.

            1. learnedthehardway*

              I think this is a good idea. Two reasons – first, that it’s true and the grandboss needs to know (in fact, the grandboss may already suspect, which is why he asked the question about whether the OP was pushed out – I mean, who asks that question if they have no reason to do so, kwim?)

              Second – I would want to use grandboss as my reference, and skip using Boss, who already has demonstrated sexism very egregiously, and can be anticipated to continue to self-justify by running down the OP in a reference. I mean, he’s hardly likely to say “Oh, the OP was an absolutely stellar employee, but I wanted to promote her junior, less experienced, less skilled male colleague over her, and I did my very best to run her out of the company by denying her work that she was qualified to do.” The fact that the OP left for an educational opportunity gives the Boss a good out – ie. he can say she left for that reason and was stellar and a loss to the company. But can the OP really rely on him to say that? He’s already said something (presumably negative) to another manager about her (given the incident with the chat message).

            2. PJs of Steven Tyler*

              I agree – this is a good idea if the OP can give it the emotional bandwidth. I made sure to be BRUTALLY honest when I left my last place because the boss had been letting one employee literally scream at the rest of us for years, and I wanted the boss to know that his refusal to get rid of the bad employee was why I was leaving. After I left, everyone else did too (except the yeller) and afterwards I was told they all thought that if I was leaving, it must be a really bad situation since I am notoriously loyal. It feels good to let them know once you are in a better place and they can’t harm you any more, and it’s also helpful for the people following after you. Sounds like the higher-ups already know there’s a problem, and some confirmation would be helpful. BUT I do understand that sometimes it’s impossible to actually do it.

              1. So anonymous for this*

                PJs – I’m in a similar situation, except I went to another division in my organization rather than leaving. We knew others had left completely/retired early due to evil boss. More than one of us left, but internally and when at a safe distance made sure to tell the big boss what was going on (the problem with not saying anything is that most of us left for fantastic opportunities that we would have taken anyway). Turns out boss was trying to badmouth us to their current reports and to others in the organization. Apparently, we were the first aside from a coworker of the boss, to report issues. I understand why that happens, but it is so frustrating. I’m now in a supervisory role, and the only positive spin is I would NEVER treat people the way I was treated. I know how it feels.

          5. DKMA*

            Probably too late for you to see this, but I think this is the only real lesson here. You had supporters and options here and for some reason you felt like you couldn’t use them.

            Once you decided to leave your cost/benefit analysis probably made sense, but if you had “grabbed coffee” or “wanted to get your advice on something” with your grandboss after the initial incident there is a very high chance you could have nipped this in the bud.

            Imagine if you had gone to GrandBoss and said “Hey, I need some advice, my workload has been dropped really low and the other day BadBoss badmouthed me on IM to OtherBoss in front of a whole meeting. I haven’t gotten a clear answer on what the issue is, but you know me pretty well, is there something you’d recommend I do to navigate this?” A few things could have happened. 1) GrandBoss would have WTFed to the bottom of it. 2) GrandBoss would have given you clear advice on next steps or helped you think it through. 3)GrandBoss would potentially consider if there are other roles that you could move to. And you didn’t accuse anyone, you just asked for advice about a tricky situation from someone you trusted. This carries some political risk, but not much and your alternative was to leave the company!

            I raise this so you are aware of it for the future. You seem to be good at performing well and building a network of supporters, but you seem to lack either the confidence or the mindset to use the political capital you’ve built up.

            (P.S. It’s totally reasonable to just decide to nope out of a bad situation, but I want you to be able to do that because you chose to, not because you didn’t see any other options)

    6. Liar Liar Pants Dracarys*

      Ugh. I was hoping the letter came recently enough that you might be able to pull in HR for some mediation. Not that it would have done any good.

      This guy is a complete ass. I hope he gets chronic jock itch.

    7. Sleepytime Tea*

      So I have been both the receiver of a message sent about me meant for someone else. Not from my boss, thank god, but from a coworker when it was intended for another coworker. I was just doing my think writing an e-mail to “Bob” when “Janet” sent me a message intended for him asking if I was sending him “another nasty gram.” I gotta say, I was super hurt. I was the unofficial team lead and I trained them, and yes, I would regularly talk to them about mistakes they made to coach them and things, but I was never “nasty.” It was *so* awkward, but I immediately had a conversation with them. I asked if I was coming off as too harsh or as unprofessional or unhelpful. Granted, I didn’t get super honest answers, because they told me everything was fine, which if it were it doesn’t explain the message, but yeah… it’s terrible. I commiserate. And it’s so much worse that this was your boss.

      I think Alison is right that you have to get this out in the open. Hopefully if there are concerns about your work your boss will open up when you talk to him about it directly. But if he doesn’t, I have to agree with commenters that it is time to job hunt. It sounds like you have gotten great experience and have some significant accomplishments to put on your resume, so time to polish it up.

      I’m so sorry.

      1. IL JimP*

        I doubt it would make you feel any better but most people in my office call anything that’s not positive a nastygram especially if it’s corrective in any way. It has nothing to do with the tone or content of the email at all just the fact of it’s existence.

        It’s basically insider jargon not literal at this point.

    8. irene adler*

      Glass Ceiling 2019.

      Hope the school opportunity results in 100X greater career growth for you than this boss will ever realize.

    9. hbc*

      So, it sounds like he’s a cowardly, sexist jerk, which explains pretty much all of it. He was already acting like Mark was in the new position but not willing to admit that the decision had been made.

      I’m curious: Does his comment about black and white thinking explain the original message, at least from his point of view? For example, if they were talking about fudging their way past (in their minds) a technicality and you explained the letter of the law, then he might have put his mental eye roll into text.

      1. OP*

        Its possible. I don’t think so in this exact case, but it could have been the overall time before that would lead him to get to that comment. Still, he could have just told me not to be so literal if he really had a problem with it rather than give me a glowing performance review.

        1. Support our being upfront*

          Yes. But there is a lot of good advice, in line with Alison’s, that give you a more empowered response. Regardless of the outcome, you learning to address these types of difficult moments can pay off during the course of a career. Good luck!

        2. Jules the 3rd*


          It can be really easy for tech experts to see / talk about the hurdles, when what the project lead wants to know is if the finish line is in the right place. As a tech-business liaison, I’ve struggled with that.

          But how your boss handled it was totally wrong. If he saw a problem, he needed to talk to you and coach you through it, not shut you out.

          I’m glad you’ve moved on.

      2. Batgirl*

        ‘Not willing to admit it’ because he couldn’t until he’d excluded OP and made her less ‘hands on’. You can’t tell someone you’re going to murder their career while youre still sneaking up behind them with your knife poised. He knew exactly what he was doing to a good, well respected employee the entire time.

    10. Squid*

      OP, this sucks and I’m so sorry that it happened to you–but glad that you’re doing well in your new pursuits. Good luck!

    11. Librarian of SHIELD*

      Your boss is an asshole. He is a bad boss, and not a very good human. I hope you get the educational opportunities you want and that you can get far away from this garbage fire boss as soon as possible.

    12. Beth*

      Your boss is/was an asshole, and I hope your future without him is bright and shiny, as well as exciting and lucrative!

    13. Crowpocolypse*

      When you are at a point that your boss is shit-talking you via DM to other employees WHILE you are talking, you are in a situation that is not fixable. You have someone as a boss who is a bad manager, a bad person and doesn’t value you….talk about no-win. Throw in the refusal to communicate directly with you about issues and it’s just a horrible situation. I’m glad you are the one who took the initiative to get out. Your boss was true to form until the end. “Oh you’re leaving? Well, I was already planning to do something that was going make you want to leave anyway”. Uhm, OK…..JERK.

      Congrats on getting away :)

    14. Engineer Girl*

      My only question: did you let Your boss’s boss know what was going on? They poured a lot o money into you and someone sabotaged it for their own personal agenda.
      You can pretty much guarantee that your boss is acting the gatekeeper on info to his boss.
      And now we know why he pulled you off the projects. He was trying to justify Mark’s promotion.

      You might want to write an email to your boss’s boss now on why you left. They need to know something this blatant is going on.

      1. Observer*

        Yes, this is a good idea. Properly done, this might even lead to some opportunities for you down the road. But even if it doesn’t you’ll be doing any women that this guy deals with a big potential favor.

      2. learnedthehardway*

        I’d take the grandboss out for coffee and discuss this verbally. I wouldn’t put it in an email unless grandboss requested it with the express purpose of disciplining boss for sexist behavior.

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        You’re right. Didn’t occur to me until now, but boss’s behavior is a lawsuit waiting to happen. If he did it to OP and got away with it, he’ll continue doing it to other people. Hell, he already has a reputation amongst the “seasoned coworkers”, meaning he’s done something like this (maybe not as blatant) before. One day, he’ll mess with the wrong woman and the company will get in all kinds of trouble. I’m sure the company does not want that.

    15. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’m glad that you realize this is a dead end and that your boss is just a horrible human, who sucks. I’m also glad your schooling opportunity has made you happier. You deserve it. You will be so much better off without this nonsense.

    16. Officious Intermeddler*

      Your manager really was a jerk. I had a boss who did something similar once–out of nowhere, he froze me out and basically stopped acknowledging me in the office. I was still working on projects with him, and it was incredibly difficult and awkward. I was job hunting at that point anyway, and it was only with a few years’ distance from that workplace that I realized how bad he was as a manager. Interview your next boss carefully! Good bosses care about your professional growth and don’t gaslight you.

    17. Nanani*

      This is pretty textbook sexism.
      Excluding the woman, giving all the projects to the male counterpart and then using his experience -that he was given because he is a man- as a reason to keep centering him, insinuating that women talk too much, escalating when a woman demonstrates competence and adds credentials: It all adds up to stinky sexist stew.

      You may be best served by getting out of there.
      Don’t gaslight yourself with bad advice about MAYBE ITS REALLY YOU. It’s not you.

      1. Batgirl*

        Yeah, all you need to complete the stereotype is boss leaving OP to cover the phones while he and Mark play golf. (I think the only reason this didn’t happen is that Mark is a good egg and the company was otherwise good)

    18. Oh no, not another Jennifer*

      Thank you for this update. I hate that you are going through this situation. I hope you end up in a place where your talents are appreciated.

    19. DKMA*

      Hi OP, thanks for commenting. For what it’s worth, it sounds like you boss is (was) both sexist and sucky. It sounds like you had a lot of success at this company and were recognized as such with the internal leadership program. I’m assuming this occurred before or after you started working with the sucky boss.

      I do wonder if there are possible lessons about yourself for the future. I’m not close enough to your personal situation to be too prescriptive, but there are two possible big takeaways:
      1) You had a lot of political capital built up at this organization, but it’s not clear if you tried to use it. If you didn’t cultivate your network and mentoring relationships as part of your leadership program, it would be good to seek those relationships out in the future. If you did, this was as prime scenario to use them. That could take the form of bouncing ideas off of people, or asking for advice, or doing the former with an implicit or explicit call to action that the whole thing is messed up and maybe more senior contact person can help you. Sometimes a person knowing that their shoulder will be looked over can matter.
      2) Second use of political capital would have been to do internal job searching. I’ll hire someone who is vaguely qualified for a role if they are a known quantity who is recommended by someone I trust. The benefit of company specific knowledge and lower risk from clear vetting can outweigh finding someone who is better on paper. This is dependent on skill sets that are reasonably broad and transferable, so doesn’t apply in all situations.
      3) If your work is fairly specific so the above isn’t really an option, you may not have much choice other than to suck it up or move to a new company. In this case the question for you is whether you want to broaden that skill set, or become more confident in your judgement calls so you don’t get stuck in a months-long soul suck.

      Good for you for getting out and holding your head high.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        You had a lot of political capital built up at this organization, but it’s not clear if you tried to use it.

        This is what I was wondering, especially after reading OP’s response above that her great grandboss asked her if she was pushed out. That company clearly invested a lot of resources into her, and I think maybe she would have had some allies above her shitty boss who could have helped her transition out from under him. I had a horrible manager four years ago, but because I’d gone through a trainee program at my large company where I got to rub elbows with C-suite types in 11 different divisions, I was able to transfer to another division with a promotion. All I had to do was send the hiring manager of the new division (the AVP) an email asking about his job post, he invited me to lunch the next day, and he offered me the position the day after that. It was only after I landed in my new spot that I realized how truly important it is to network internally, especially with the executives who can shut down a middle manager’s nonsense.

      1. Blue Horizon*

        Yes, I was going to say that.

        Whether that actually means anything actionable depends on where the OP is located and the legal protections available to workers there. But it’s pretty much a textbook example.

    20. Cows go moo*

      I disagree with you. Boss is not “kinda” sexist. This whole thing rings SEXISM SEXISM SEXISM from every corner.

      I’m sorry this happened to you. You come across as competent, reliable, and hard working; and I hope you find an organisation/boss worthy of your skills.

    21. Tabby Baltimore*

      When I learned you had moved on, my greatest hope (in addition to you getting a better job after your schooling is over) is that *all* the money your organization was getting poured into it as a result of your prestigious internal leadership program dried up and blew away, so much so that your awful boss realized only too late that losing you meant also losing 20% (or more, I hope) of his budget. I want your departure to hamstring him.

    22. Elizabeth West*

      Ugh. I had a feeling, reading your letter. Good riddance to a horrible boss.

      OP I’m glad the schooling is going well!

    23. Holly*

      Honestly, this sounds like a textbook discrimination case if you’d like to speak with an attorney about it. Even if you are currently in schooling.

    24. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

      OP, I am so sorry! I wish you all good things and I am sending you all good thoughts.

    25. Fortitude Jones*

      That guy is a tool. I hope you excel in school and move on to a much better opportunity.

      And if I was Mark, I’d be brushing up my resume and looking for my own opportunity. If this guy was so sneaky and malicious enough to push his star employee out the door for REASONS (none of which were explained), he’ll do the same to Mark once the shine wears off.

    26. Bridge Builders of the World unite*

      He gas lights you! This man is a bully pure and simple. It might be sexism to but my guess is he’d do this to anyone who was super good at their job.
      Good luck with your new endeavours in so glad you’re moving on.

  16. Elbe*

    I feel really bad for the OP that this is something that they have to do with. Part of being a manager is being able to have difficult but necessary conversations with the people you manage and this guy is falling down on that responsibility.

    As always, Alison’s script is great and I hope that it will encourage the OP’s manager to step up. If not, I agree with the other posts here that the OP should consider looking for other jobs. This likely isn’t a place that is going to hone the OP’s skills and help advance their career.

    Additionally, depending on the OP’s relationship with the project head, they could consider asking her directly for feedback. The content of the text makes it clear that this is something the boss has discussed with her in the past and that she’s in the loop about his feelings regarding the OP. If the OP has a good relationship with her (and she seems less cowardly than the boss) it may be worthwhile to have an informal chat about how the project is going and how the OP could better contribute.

  17. SigneL*

    LW, living well is the best revenge. Take your rock star skills and find someplace that appreciates you, because I’m afraid your current boss doesn’t – and it doesn’t even matter why.

    Yes, I’d probably ask him what’s going on, but someone who avoids you for two weeks….maybe should;dn’t be managing.

  18. zeldafitz*

    I see OP’s update above, but I’m curious more broadly in a situation like this if there’s any room to take the issue to a grandboss?

    It sounds like there was no chance OP was getting anything useful from her boss, but after having the conversation that Allison laid out, would it have been an option to request some time with the grandboss, describe the whole situation, emphasize the stellar performance review and complain that she’s not getting clear feedback on her performance? I know there’s a chance the rot goes up further, but perhaps there was a chance to be moved to a different manager or ding the boss’s reputation in a way that makes his complaints about her a little less valid.

    I was in a similar situation, and honestly, even with the benefit of hindsight, I still don’t know how I would have dealth with it.

    1. OP*

      Good idea, I wanted to do this, but the week after this happened Grandboss (who I trusted) left our division and new Grandboss was a previous subordinate of my boss. It would have made things VERY messy. Boss would likely have retaliated against me if he got spoken too by a previous report as he was passed over for promotion for a 3rd time.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        So, touching back on the higher level comments discussing patterns, there are patterns of immaturity, insecurity and non-communication with your boss. I guess it’s just your turn to experience it first hand. He got passed over because he’s inept. He’s kept employed because he has good people under him. At least your company recognizes that and promotes them. If you think you can get out from under him, then yeah, stick it out. If you don’t, this is a bad situation and you should start looking.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          He got passed over because he’s inept. He’s kept employed because he has good people under him. At least your company recognizes that and promotes them.

          And this is the crux of the boss’s issue with OP. If she was seen as a rockstar, as noted by the great great grandboss, she was most likely next up to be promoted over him, so he had to shut her down to stop that from happening. Poor Mark was used as a pawn to do it and will be set up to fail next since he’s no longer needed now that OP as a threat has been neutralized.

          This guy really needs to be demoted. He does not need to manage anyone, and it sounds like his subordinates succeed at this company despite him, not because of him, which is also a source of professional jealousy.

          1. alphabet soup*

            Bingo, this hits the nail on the head. Boss is insecure, so he surrounds himself by competent people who are not so competent that they prove a threat to boss’ position (i.e. Mark). He’ll keep Mark around as long as Mark continues to a. make boss look good, and b. not pose a threat.

      2. I'd Rather Not Say*

        OP, so you’re saying your boss has been passed over for a promotion several times? That would appear to be evidence that others in the organization know of his deficiencies. It could be why he was treating you poorly is that he considered you a threat (in addition to his sexism). I wouldn’t at all be surprised if he deliberately sent that chat knowing you could see it, as some sort of passive-aggressive power play. Anyway, I’m sorry that happened to you, and wish you all the success in the future!

        1. irene adler*

          Yeah, being passed over does look like there’s others in the org that recognize the boss’ deficiencies.
          If true, then the unfortunate thing is: no one took measures to shield OP from any abuses from her boss. There’s shame on more than just one manager here.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            It’s possible none of the C-suite knew about what he was doing. A lot of executives are busy with higher level things and don’t pay attention to what goes on in the day-to-day workings of their staff.

      3. zeldafitz*

        Whoa, your boss sounds like a certified jerk. Lots of sympathy and I’m glad you’re moving forward. Also shame on that company for knowing that and not doing anything about it.

      4. DKMA*

        Hey – It’s not clear from the above if the educational opportunity is you noping out of the company or taking advantage of a program through your company.

        If the latter, great – good use of the tools available! If the former, you should consider using your network more in the future. Just because Grandboss moved divisions it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have gone to him. He knows you are great and would be pissed about this idiot driving a good employee out of the company – he would likely still have some standing to intervene.

        And very messy could be OK. In this specific scenario new grandboss may be thrilled to have something as clear as retaliation to rid himself of an asshole on his team.

        I don’t want to come off as scoldy, but if I were you I’d consider whether you had more power in this scenario than you felt. When situations suck it’s OK to push the boundaries sometimes.

        1. Jasnah*

          This. I wish OP could have talked to Grandboss anyway, or HR, or another woman higher up in the company–even someone who doesn’t seem like they have a good handle on the situation, maybe saying “can I ask your advice on how to handle this” could have tipped someone off that something was wrong. I understand OP feeling helpless and I have definitely been in that spot of “if this company lets stuff like this go on then I’m out,” but I didn’t have the capital, track record, and connections that OP did, and it would have been cool if OP could have taken advantage of that.

          1. Resist*

            I was I a similar situation and did go to HR. The experience was akin to throwing gasoline on a fire to put it out. I ended up being fired for “poor culture fit” and they fought me on unemployment to boot! So please try to understand that “trying things” is not always an effective solution to these types of problems, even when social capital is involved. It’s a lot less “squeaky wheel gets the grease” and a lot more “a nail sticking out will get hammered down.”

  19. Mill Miker*

    I’ve worked some places where the more skilled you were technically, the less management wanted you in meetings, especially planning meetings or meetings with clients.

    They wanted to get a timeline and budget nailed down, and/or really give the customer a hard sell, and comments like “We’d need at least three times that many resources” or “The frameworks don’t support that functionality” or “Trying to add that feature would put us in a constant arms race with the browser security teams” were considered somewhere between “unhelpful” and “actively combative”.

    Much better to have the feature list, timeline, and budget set in stone first with the real team players.

    So, my point is it’s not unheard of for people to get shut out of these things for actually doing their jobs well when reality is inconvenient.

    1. Ginger Baker*

      ^This seems very possible. “Too honest” could definitely have been the undertone to that comment; reading it that way, it makes more sense to me than anything else posited.

      1. MommyMD*

        Yes. Something to consider. I had a very black and white manager. Never a shade of gray. She didn’t control me at all but she was horrible to others.

    2. OP*

      This is definitely possible and honestly probably played into it a little bit overall, but this was a specific technical team meeting. The kicker is the software team said “I need more detail about this aspect so please tell us more” I answered in less than 2 minutes and didn’t stray from the topic.

  20. SigneL*

    Oh, OP, I’m so sorry. It IS a well-kown tactic not to give projects to someone and then complain that they don’t accomplish anything. Wishing you the best of luck!

  21. Marie*

    Removed because off-topic. (Sorry — if I allow off-topic comments, they take over.)

  22. RB*

    I got the sense that this was less of a long-windedness problem and more of a gender issue or a boss-playing-favorites issue, both of which are extremely common in the workplace. The LW felt that the long-winded person was a different co-worker who has since left the company, so we should take her at her word on that. Either way, the boss sucks and I like Alison’s language on which conversation you need to have with him, although I don’t have high hopes for him becoming a better boss. This is a really unfortunate situation because the LW says she does niche work so it might be really hard to find a comparable job in that same niche.

    1. fposte*

      Huh? I’m not sure if your name is a sly way to set yourself up as devil’s advocate, but this seems to be a lot of projection and not much supported fact. Sure, it’s possible that the OP wasn’t working at the level she thought, but one reason she thought that is that her manager told her so; he also dealt horribly with the chat comment. So he’s failing at his job in managing her either way.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        I didn’t see the post but I imagine it was a “females imagining sexism” type?

    2. London Calling*

      Only you can really answer that, OP. Is your ex-boss in the habit of writing badly punctuated and ungrammatical prose?

  23. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Yikes. This reads to me like a boss who has no actual excuse to give you a bad performance review given the guidelines he has to follow. But is a back biting piece of work who is talking behind your back because of some weird unexplained reason [he just doesn’t like you, for some reason, maybe he instantly dislikes blondes, maybe he instantly dislikes the sound of someone’s voice or how they pronounce their vowels]. So I’m curious as to what else he has to say since he’s tucking his tail like the coward he is and avoiding you. Just yikes.

  24. OhBehave*


    Feel free to add this to the Open Thread on Friday so as not to derail this topic.

  25. NotMonkeyNotMyCircus*

    I hate to bring this up, but could it be that gender plays a role here? When a woman, (particularly in a field that is heavily male dominated – software engineering), explains something, she is being long winded, she is just flapping her jaws, gossiping, etc. She is making some fragile male ego feel threatened. Does Mark explain things at these meetings with the same details and length? So does the boss want her to attend meetings, but just sit in the corner and be quiet? I also wonder if she is a minority? I am not trying to raise unnecessary issues, but I have seen this play out subtly over the course of my career as a female working in a male dominated organization.

    1. Maya Elena*

      I don’t think “OP as long-winded”, in reality or perception by her boss, is at issue; OP specifies both in the letter and in comments that that comment was a one-time excuse to have only Mark go to some one single meeting with a different, now-gone long-winded co-worker.

  26. Finally Back In A 'Proper Job'*

    Urgh – this sucks so much. I am so sorry.

    If you feel comfortable, it would be great to get an update from you down the line.

    Best of luck both addressing this with your awful manager and/or finding a new role.

  27. tangerineRose*

    Your boss has clearly showed he isn’t stellar (and seems to be stuck in a junior high maturity level (at best)), so I think the problem is him, not you.

  28. RUKiddingMe*

    Are we just going to gloss over OP being a woman, the former coworker being a woman…boss and Mark both being males and boss excluding the women?

    1. LaurenB*

      I would. You don’t know if it has anything to do with anything, and frankly it’s tiresome that the moment a woman gets mentioned in an AAM comment, everyone jumps to sexism. It doesn’t square with my world, in which women run major companies and make big decisions and aren’t little wallflowers who have to timidly ask “can I sit at the table, pretty please?”

      1. MommyMD*

        It does jump to sexism very very quickly. It’s a shame because sometimes there could be something to actually learn. If I’m annoying the heck out of someone I want to know why. I think it’s best to address it early on in a calm, professional, let’s get over this problem, way.

        1. OP*

          I agree and I was loath to go there for months, but after my network (who have known him decades) kept pushing it I had to at least consider it since my soul searching of professional behavior wasn’t turning up anything nearly serious enough to deserve the treatment I got.

      2. valentine*

        It doesn’t square with my world
        It doesn’t have to.

        The boss’ sexism is so blatant as to be cartoonish. He even excluded the woman who replaced the retiree and it was OP who asked for her to be included in project emails.

      3. RB*

        If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, etc. I’m not sure what is to be gained by assuming it’s NOT sexism. That’s nice that you’ve had a non-sexist environment your entire career but that doesn’t negate everyone else’s experiences.

      4. Frankie*

        Wow if a few women run major companies I guess we’ve solved all the sexism then, I guess I still don’t have people tell me how weird it is that I’m good at technology because I’m a woman or get shoved out of conversations when louder, more opinionated men are talking.

    2. Maya Elena*

      Whether or not that is the factor, it’s probably not actionable from a sex discrimination standpoint, because there seem to be other women in the story towards whom the boss seems not to have exhibited sexist behavior, and this particular set of behaviors crept up on LW out of the blue, rather than as a long-term consistent pattern.

      Anyway, it’s probably not 100% pure unalloyed sexism in the simplistic way painted here, even if it colors the boss’s actions.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Unless there’s some rock hard evidence to make an EEOC case, it’s sadly just redundant. Unless someone isn’t clearly seeing this guy is a *blankity blank blank* and therefore needs to leave to get away from his shady grossness, it’s not really worth mentioning in my experience. What is there to gain by saying “Yep, sexism is happening.” when there’s nothing we can take action on?

      Just like when we know it’s due to any discrimination that these people are so good at skirting around, sigh. It’s good to be aware so you can look out for it avoid it but discussing it, without actual laws or a person within your organization that will care, then what? It’s just screaming into the void about how the world is unfair and unjust.

      The best thing is to realize he’s bad and to remove yourself from it, don’t let him benefit from your skillset, leave the companies that harbor these people in the dust and be done with them.

      1. LizB*

        I think there’s value in just validating the fact that sexism is still bad even if it’s not EEOC-actionable*. This is the insidious shit that makes navigating male-dominated fields so exhausting for women (thereby keeping those fields male-dominated), but which society doesn’t take seriously at this point. By talking about it and naming that it’s bullshit, we tell other women reading that they’re not crazy and they don’t have to put up with it, and we try to expand society’s definition of what is “bad enough” sexism. I don’t think it’s necessarily an every-comment-thread-worthy topic, but just because we can’t get the boss fired for discrimination right now doesn’t mean it shouldn’t get discussed.

        *Also, if this boss had done the same thing with other women, it’s possible we could end up with an EEOC thing. We don’t know from the original post, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if the OP came back eventually with an update of, “Actually turns out this same thing happened to Susan too… and Margaret… and Alyssa…” and then there’s maybe something to do.

      2. smoke tree*

        For what it’s worth, I think it is worth pointing out as a possibility, even if it might not have any practical value for the LW. Particularly when you’re getting mixed messages and being shut out like this, it can be helpful to consider explanations that will provide some clarity. And sure, we don’t have all the facts, so our take on the situation may not always line up with the LW’s experiences, but it stands to reason that LWs will filter out comments that aren’t relevant anyway.

      3. alphabet soup*

        I find that it’s good for my own peace of mind to recognize when something is sexism versus when something is due to my own actions. I’ve spent years wondering, “what happened? why did this go wrong? why was that interaction weird?” and beating myself up over things when I didn’t have to– the answer was sexism. It had nothing to do with me, other than my gender. That gives me a weird sense of relief.

  29. Oh So Anon*

    This really sucks, OP.

    Something I’ve seen happen at a couple places where I’ve worked is that someone who is a high performer in specific yet important areas will get an excellent performance rating in spite of their weaker areas largely because they’re not perceived as being able to improve upon their weaknesses. Everyone goes along with the situation until someone more well-rounded joins the team as that person’s peer. Then contrast effect issues kick in, management starts evaluating everyone by the standard that the new person sets, which sets up the original high performer for failure.

    I can think of people I’ve worked with who seem to have maxed out their soft and/or hard skill potential – either because they don’t want to keep developing themselves or, unfortunately, they’re hitting the ceiling of what their personality/beliefs/comfort zone will accommodate. Some managers do the right thing by leveraging the strengths those employees do bring to the table, but they set the bar so low for them when it comes to their weaknesses that they never really catch on to the tangible problems their weaknesses create.

    It’s one of these things that can get handled very badly when you have a performance management process that prevents you from really rewarding someone for being exceptional at some things while holding them accountable for growth goals they may not realize. None of this is to say that sexism isn’t at play in the OP’s situation, but she may be a victim of a management culture that never gave her the kind of feedback she needed to grow.

  30. WakeRed*

    This is one of those situations where you can only control what you can control, which is what makes Alison’s advice really sound. OP, write a script and practice. Think about the questions you’d like to ask your boss, and edit them into questions you can handle asking your boss as you approach this forthrightly. If he wants to continue to hide things from you, then I suspect you’ll want a new job. This situations is so crappy and if your boss can’t come clean, it’s time to exercise your control once more and seek better opportunities.

  31. Sharon T*

    This whole thing smacks of misogyny to me, Mark’s not getting frozen out, the male boss is freezing out the woman, in IT, a male-dominated field. Right? Feels that way to me, just like engineering.

  32. RUKiddingMe*

    I have to say that I love the fact that this dick’s current boss used to be his report.

  33. Former Employee*

    Boss is male.
    Boss excludes stellar performer who is female.
    Boss mentors/brings along male subordinate who is competent, but not the stellar performer OP is.

    Gee, I wonder what that was all about./s

    Reminds me of “Sex and the City”. I believe it was in the first movie that Miranda talks about her boss (senior partner, I think) who says he hates the sound of her voice and will hold his hand up like a stop sign when she speaks. She later finds happiness in another law firm that just happens to be run by women. Duh!

  34. Essess*

    It may very possibly be sexism as pointed out by many others, but I don’t see many people suggesting one other possible scenario… do you tend to take over and answer all the questions in the meeting instead of letting others have a chance to ask/answer as well? You might be answering ‘succinctly’ but are you jumping in over others? You mention that you were a ‘star’ so that implies you were the central guiding person so do you have a tendency to take the center stage in the meetings? I have a coworker who does this. If they are in a training session, they ask non-stop questions without taking a breath so NO ONE else gets a chance to ask questions. They’ll even say “if any of you also have questions, just jump in” but then literally continue talking without a pause so even then we can’t say anything because we are drowned out until we just give up and end up unable to get the information that we need. If someone asks a question, the coworker will jump right in and answer even though other people would have additional perspective that we wanted to be able to hear. So we try not to invite the coworker to meetings/trainings unless absolutely necessary. If you are being excluded from all future projects, then there is something seriously wrong that your boss needs to answer for, but if you are being excluded just from some projects then it might be a chance for your coworkers to have an opportunity to show their ability to shine on their own.

    Were the questions that you were answering in the meeting things that the others would have been able to answer since they had been attending earlier meetings so it gave the impression that you were taking over from the people that had been working on the project?

    Your original impression could be completely right… I just wanted to offer alternative possibilities.

    1. OP*

      Thanks for the thought! I do like to be the one with answer, but I am aware and try to reign it in professionally. (I trivia for an outlet ). I might not being doing a good enough job at it, but I don’t think its that extreme. I also asked the other people in the meeting and who I work with, they said I wasn’t doing that then and it was overall not a problem. I am good friends with Mark outside of work and I trust him to tell me the truth as he has been honest before about unrelated things.

  35. Let's get Visible.*

    IT would be interesting to know what it was and exactly how you said it. Knowing that would give us more insight to if you are long winded. I have a coworker who really adds in so many words and uses words that don’t fit we spend our time trying to decipher what she is truly trying to say. We love her and accept this but she could be better if she used plain language. There is something to be said for being succinct and clear . Not using jargon and office language. But speaking styles are hard to change.

  36. Paige*

    I’m surprised that no one brought up the possibility of sexism here: it immediately sprang to mind. It is possible LW is long winded, and that’s why she specifically stated she was answering a question “succinctly” when she saw the message but this sounds to me like it very well could be a pattern of sexist behavior on the manager’s part — and more subtle complaints about women, like them talking too much, tend not to get the criticism they deserve.

    1. Remote Worker and Dog Lover*

      FWIW there’s a lot of sub-comments in threads above yours about it! Plus the OP posted an update of their own with more info. Based on everything they said, it sounds like there’s sexism at work here from this boss, also really bad management skills!

  37. Camelid Accoucheuse*

    This was odd that the response and so many comments honed in on the LW being “long winded” when nowhere in her letter did she suggest that was a possibility for her. She brought up the now retired co-worker as being long-winded and because of such, she made sure to point out she was succinct. This was clearly a letter that discussed her being pushed out, denied opportunity she was qualified for, and talked about behind her back, probably for being a woman who knew her shit in a tech role. I’m not too fond of the advice on this letter, it skews in the wrong direction for what this LW was asking about imo. LW has a bad boss in a bad environment. She definitely should be looking for greener pastures, this place isn’t it.If her boss is such a coward that he avoided her for weeks I highly doubt a conversation would do her any good, and on top of it, I high doubt that it would ever be a tenable situation when you confront your boss for talking about you and they were previously avoiding you for knowing they were and now you’re putting it in their face. He won’t get over that, he will use it as fuel to ruin her career even more. This reeks of sexism and favoritism. LW needs to get her resume out and start looking.

    1. nutella fitzgerald*

      Agreed. I went back and reread the letter because I was confused about why the response was about LW being long-winded, not the former colleague?

  38. Anoncorporate*

    The boss is jealous. OP was once the star, and now – oops! – her plum projects are getting reassigned, she is getting left out of meetings, and her boss is badmouthing her behind her back. Even if she IS “long winded”, a sincere boss would tell her matter-of-factly and move on. This boss is purposefully setting her up to fail. You don’t ignore your direct reports! WTF

  39. It's mce*

    When my job was at risk, I noticed that more and more I was being left out of office conversations and assignments. Don’t wait; start applying for jobs, make any doctors appointments while your insurance is still good and see if you have any vacay/personal days left for payment.

  40. Saucy Minx*

    It sounds like the great-great-grandboss had suspicions, since s/he asked whether the OP was being pushed out.

    The company has invested time & money in the OP & might well have been able to use that info effectively, but it is not the OP’s responsibility to clue them in if they have not been sufficiently watchful.

    Still, it’s a shame that OP was not in a position to be candid w/ that boss.

  41. AJ*

    1. Get additional education.

    2. Get great job where you are respected and valued.

    3. Get headhunted by old job – for position over old Boss as new Grandboss.

    4. (If you take new old job position) Watch old Boss’s insecurities come to a boil and his head explode (figuratively).

    Well… in Hollywood perhaps. :D

  42. Luna*

    “And this is why I didn’t want her on the project.”
    You don’t have to give a professional response, or even an angry one. I believe a genuine, immediate reaction of, “…WOW.” would be okay. It puts attention to it, and it definitely puts things into the open. It requires your boss to have to explain this, and not push any responsibility onto you to ‘get’ what is maybe implied.
    But get a different job. If the boss asks why, “Well, you didn’t want me on this project, you obviously don’t want me on other projects, so I’m do myself a favor and taking the oar outta your hands.” (Of course, this means you will not use this guy as a reference. Wouldn’t want to, if it were me, anyway.)

  43. agnes*

    I could sit here until the cows come home speculating about why your boss is doing what he’s doing, but the only way to know is to ASK. Yes, it’s hard-AND–it’s necessary. You don’t really know what will happen if you ask. Maybe it will open up a dialogue that will improve things. And maybe it won’t. In either case, you will get additional information that will be helpful to you in deciding what to do next.

    Best of luck to you. I’ve been in a similar spot. I asked— and I didn’t like what I heard—so I found another job. And it’s better than I ever could have imagined. I finally realized that my former boss just did not value what I could offer. My current boss does. Without taking that step to talk to my old boss directly, I probably would still be working at that place and would be miserable. Instead I am the happiest I have ever been in a job, and my boss says frequently how happy he is that I am part of his team.

    Sending you good thoughts and a dose of confidence!

  44. lnelson in Tysons*

    In addition to the manager can’t manager, I can’t help but wonder (whether this is conscious or unconscious) on the part of the manager “Mark” is okay, but the OP a “she” is not.
    In way too many “how to behave in the office place training videos” I can seen example of how the genders are treated differently.
    I can’t say that this is the case here, but on some unconscious level this could be happening.

  45. AnonyMouse*

    So it’s not letting me reply to the OP’s update, but I just want to commiserate that I’m about to leave a similar situation this week. Boss found out I was applying to other jobs so he moved all of my responsibilities on to my coworker. It was literally exactly as you described, coworker was swamped while I just sat there most days asking for her to allow me to help with projects. It’s definitely a tactic to push people out. Glad you have moved on to something that is better for you!

  46. JustAnotherHRPro*

    A good manager isn’t going to tell one of their direct reports his negative issues with a peer. so that comment about Mark being long-winded was SOO inappropriate.

    not that you’re asking for advice, but i would GTFO – he is a shitty manager and this is a huge red flag.

Comments are closed.