how can I get my boss to talk to me in person instead of over chat?

A reader writes:

I work in a small office that has had a pretty liberal remote work and flex hours policy for years, and about one-third of our employees live out of state and are thus permanently remote. Due to this, a lot of communication between employees has historically taken place over the office chat / instant messenger system. Video calls do happen, but usually only during formal, scheduled meetings. Recently, our flex time was revoked and all in-state employees were required to come into the office all day. My primary manager and I are both in-office; my sometimes-manager is remote.

I have been told privately that poor communication was one of the issues this change was meant to address. I have also been told in my last annual review that I need to be more mindful of when conversations should take place face-to-face instead of via chat, so that is something that I have been trying to work on the past few months.

Despite being in the office together for most of our working time, I find that my manager is still relying on chat messages for most of her communication with me. Sometimes this includes conversations that I do not think are best handled via chat (e.g., discussing my performance as an employee). She also has a tendency to simply stop replying to the chat, and I’ve noticed this happens with more than coincidental frequency when the conversation involves some level of difficulty on her end (like if she doesn’t know the answer to a question she probably should, or she has to criticize, chastise or apologize to me). My sometimes-manager also stops replying in similar circumstances.

I know that tone is nearly impossible to convey via text, and so I am often left confused by the outcome of these chat conversations about deeper issues — especially when they stop replying and the conversation is left without closure. What is the actionable takeaway? Was a conclusion reached? Was it meant to be a stern talking-to about something I have done wrong, or a simple question in good faith?

I would like to be able to move these sorts of conversations to being face-to-face, but I don’t know how to best make that happen. It seems like the usage of chat is very ingrained into the office culture, and harder to escape when I am talking to someone that is remote. My manager also has a habit of sending chat messages to people while in a meeting or on a phone call, so I cannot be certain of not interrupting her if I were to just walk over to her desk. What’s the best way to handle this? Is there some kind of script I can use here, to transition these conversations out of chat when they seem to be going awry?

P.S. I was recently diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, which is almost certainly contributing to some of my confusion. I have disclosed this to the company’s owner, with the understanding that he would meet with my managers to discuss how it affects communication with me. I did not want accommodations to be the focus of the question, but I do want to include the information for additional clarity.

P.P.S Yes, I do see all the bad management red flags; that could be a whole separate letter!

Yeah, this sounds like a problem!

A lot of people — managers included — over-rely on text or email because it’s easier for them. There are some legitimate ways it’s easier: they can send things when it’s convenient for them without having to line up with your schedule, and you can respond when it’s convenient for you; sometimes it’s useful to have things documented in writing; etc. But there are also ways it’s easier that we shouldn’t be indulging, like that people sometimes feel more comfortable saying something difficult or awkward when they’re not face-to-face. Managers in particular shouldn’t be indulging that impulse — part of the job is having difficult conversations with people directly and not shying away from them or hiding behind text.

It’s particularly egregious and ineffective to use chat messages for discussing performance. That needs to be a real-time conversation where tone can be heard and expressions can be seen, and where the employee can ask questions and respond and not be left hanging with no reply. And the fact that your manager is just abandoning those conversations when they become difficult is really messed up.

She sounds like someone who doesn’t want to be managing, or at least shouldn’t be managing.

As for what to do, I’d address it head-on. Say something like this: “I’m finding that it’s easier for me to fully process your feedback and ask questions when we talk face-to-face. Could we try to do any substantial conversations in-person instead of over chat?” (Also, if you don’t already have standing weekly or biweekly check-in meetings, suggest them now — because that way there will be a natural place for those conversations to live.)

But if that doesn’t solve it, which I suspect will be the case, then when your boss starts using chat for something that feels better suited for a real conversation, it’s fine for you to say, “This sounds important and I want to make sure I don’t miss any nuance. Could I stop by your office later today to discuss it?”

{ 87 comments… read them below }

  1. Washi*

    Was it your manager who told you in your annual review that you should be more mindful of some conversations that should happen in person as opposed to over chat?

    If so, 1) it’s weird that she gave you this feedback but keeps chatting you regarding serious matters, so I don’t blame you for being confused and 2) I think you can also bring this up by referring back to your annual review. Maybe something like “I’ve been thinking back to the feedback I got at my review around having certain conversations face to face instead of by chat, and I’m realizing more and more how helpful that was, and how face to face conversations do work better for me when getting detailed feedback” and then use Alison’s script to ask for whatever might be helpful. I think you could also ask for your manager’s sense of how you’re doing incorporating that feedback from the annual review, which might give you a better sense of where her head’s at.

    1. SunnyD*

      Right? How messed up is it they they told her this on her review and then are doing this crap?!

      1. Close Bracket*

        Maybe the manager is autistic. /s

        Really, allistic people are *not* the communication geniuses that they are made out to be. There are two people in every interaction, and whatever communication challenges OP may or may not have (bc that is just one part of autism and not everybody is impacted in that sense), the manager clearly has communication issues of their own.

        1. SunnyD*

          This is not very empathetic to all the people with communication issues that aren’t your own particular ones. But I’ll bet you’ve dealt with some crappy people who made you feel less than, which sucks.

          1. Close Bracket*

            Oh gracious. In a society that blames the autistic person for every incident of communication problems, the burden is not on the autistic person to show empathy to the communication deficits of allistic people. If I may draw an analogy, don’t tell a gay person that they aren’t showing empathy to the struggles of straight people.

            1. SunnyD*

              That’s a loaded comparison. You bitterly denounced everyone-not-you for not being perfect, when clearly lots of other people are not-perfect for reasons that have nothing to do with your thing. Yeah I got annoyed, I started running down my list of loved ones with non-autistic communication problems that don’t deserve your scorn. Sorry you have a rough road, genuinely, but being bitter and scathing of everyone not-like-you is… ironic in a bad way.

              1. SunnyD*

                You know what? I think I’m the one being oversensitive. You seem reasonable elsewhere. Sorry bout that.

            2. JM60*

              As a gay guy, that analogy doesn’t fly with me. The reason why telling a gay person to empathize with straight people (as a class) is wrong is because homophobia is ubiquitous, while ‘heterophobia’ is practically non existent. On the other hand, communication deficits are more common among those with autism, but are still fairly common among everyone else.

              I’ve never been diagnosed with autism (although I’m sure I’m sure I’m somewhere on the spectrum), but I have been diagnosed with Auditory Processing Disability. Although my APD is mild IMO (it wasn’t much of a problem academically in college and grad school), it still affects how I communicate in person (I hated phone interviews when job hunting). Even someone without any diagnosable disabilities may still have communication imperfections, because communication skills often fall on a spectrum. My point is that communication struggles are ubiquitous, and therefore empathizing with non-autistic individuals because of their difficulties trying to communicate is unlike asking gay people to empathize with straight people.

        2. Glorg*

          Haha yeah, that’s true. I feel that communication is actually one of the most important skills that’s taught explicitly to almost nobody. Instead we’re out here learning, “don’t end a sentence with a preposition!” or “spelling is so important you will get marked off if you don’t know whether that’s two ls or just one!”

        3. KoiFeeder*

          Insert my constant, quiet complaint that things would be marvelous if all the allistic people went to social skills classes too.

          1. Another fine product from the burnout factory*

            I’d totally agree with this. I’m pretty personable in most circumstances, but things like, say, meetings, really throw me.

            And, well, not to stereotype, I’ve totally got the millennial adversion to phone calls (like, there’s no searchable log of what was said??? How is that efficient?)

          2. JustaTech*

            I’d take them in a heartbeat. Sure, most people figure most of it out eventually through trial and error, but what if we could skip most of the “error” part? Think how much more smoothly life would run! think how much more time and energy everyone would have for other stuff.

            My office had us take “personal communication style” training, and while some of it was inevitably silly, the part that was really helpful was giving us a *structure* to talk about how best to talk to each other. This was helpful with a new coworker, but almost more helpful with a coworker I’d been working with for years. There were important things where coworker 2 and I had been talking past each other for *years* and had come to some erroneous conclusions about each other in the process.

      2. AspieGirl*

        What OP is going through with communication being pointed out in the review as something that needs to be worked on and then management not supporting the changes they requested is entirely too common. It’s really obnoxious as an employee to have the burden of fixing something placed on you and then have management turn around and thwart your efforts/not support your efforts to correct it.

        1. SunnyD*

          Someone I know with a learning disability had a similar situation – told to fix X, asked for a very reasonable ADA accommodation that would enable X and was flatly refused, and then was fired for not doing X.

          1. AspieGirl*

            Yeah it is really horrifying that things like that do happen, and it is not uncommon for them to happen either. I hope that person was able to quickly find a better job that was interested in seeing them flourish to help their business!

    2. Rose Tyler*

      I was just coming in to say this! Totally co-sign, and OP this gives you a natural opening (and standing) to try to move things to face-to-face if you position it as you’re just following through on the suggestions they gave you for performance improvement. Good luck!

    3. Text Letter Writer*

      Our annual reviews are set up such that they’re a compilation of feedback from a few different people, and then delivered by the company owner. Sometimes my manager is also in the meeting, but she does not lead it and she was not present at the last one. So I don’t know who the feedback came from, specifically. If it’s the owner he would only have others’ side of the story; I haven’t had an opportunity to formally give feedback on my manager in a while.

      Someone else mentioned weekly meetings/check ins – that isn’t something that’s done here. I asked for quarterly check ins at my last review but it’s become clear they will not happen unless I am the one to keep track of time and reach out to people to schedule them.

      1. Sam Sepiol*

        I asked for quarterly check ins at my last review but it’s become clear they will not happen unless I am the one to keep track of time and reach out to people to schedule them.
        Yeah that’s how I’ve always found these have worked. In your shoes I would just… put them in. Stick in the next 4 up to summer next year. If they get cancelled that’s fine! Just rearrange them.

        1. SunnyD*

          Me too! Make a status doc and update it weekly, schedule a recurring time with your manager, and reschedule if they cancel. All with cheerful helpfulness.

      2. Close Bracket*

        My reviews are similar. The owner doesn’t give them since we are 10s of thousands large, but they are a compilation, so you don’t know who made what complaint or what it is based on.

        So, Washi’s point 1 doesn’t apply, but their point 2 is still a potential take away with some changing of the wording to accommodate your special office structures. From their script, you could leave about the part about getting feedback at your review, since your manager wasn’t the one saying it to you, and keep the part about how face to face interactions are helpful in getting detailed feedback.

        I think you know what to do regarding the quarterly check-ins, assuming you want them—you have to keep track of time and reach out to people to schedule them.

        Keep track of dates and times and conversations for your next review so you can write up when you shifted conversations from in text to f2f. It’s frustrating that the onus to make this change happen is on you. That’s what it is, though, and you can only change your own actions, not your managers’.

      3. Qwerty*

        Go ahead and schedule the quarterly reviews! They affect your performance, so you have the most vested interest in them occurring. It might feel awkward at first, but once you push past that it can become really helpful. It aligns with the company’s (secret) goal of better communication, so you have that to lean on if you get any pushback.

        My current company has monthly check-ins for most employees, with some projects being weekly, but even there it is the employee’s responsibility to send the meeting invites and to drive the conversation. It’s easier to have you keep track of when you need your check-ins than for a manager to keep track of when each of their reports had the last check-in.

        1. Washi*

          Yep! Especially if you asked for them, the manager might be assuming you’ll take the lead on scheduling them, while you’re assuming that she should be scheduling them.

          Even when I had weekly check-ins with my manager, it often fell on me to make sure they happened – noticing when she had conflicts and proactively rescheduling them. It’s a weird mind shift to make if you’re used to very directive, prescriptive managing, but part of “managing up” is figuring out how to professionally get what you want/need out of you manager.

          1. Cat Meowmy Admin*

            I totally agree! However, this backfired on me big time at Old Job many years ago. I asked one of my direct managers if we could meet briefly to go over the status of my work, status of in-progress items, basic feedback and suggestions on how I could improve and what I was doing well. So that we would be on the same page. It was a very productive meeting! I asked if we could continue to meet every 2 weeks in the same way. He was very receptive to that. Especially when I expressed that we could really work well together as part of my goal in meeting his needs.
            I went ahead and scheduled meeting invites for the next couple of months. As we discussed. Next thing I knew, he was giving me the silent treatment. I got a call from HR that he issued a formal complaint about me, about this specifically. I tried to clear up the matter with the HR Director; thankfully she understood. She stated that he felt that “I was trying to tell HIM what do do”. The whole thing left me confused and a bit demoralized. I never trusted him again (for this and many other reasons).
            That said, I totally feel for the LW! Talk about mixed messages!

  2. 2 Cents*

    My go-to line: “This sounds like it would be better discussed over the phone. Can we jump on a call now or block out 15 minutes today to do so?”

    1. JR*

      Or if the manager sits nearby, just walk over and say, “I thought it would be easier to respond in person.” And launch into whatever you would have written back. If this goes poorly, reconsider, but I’ve done this plenty of times for no other reason than my reply was going to be kind of long to type out, and it’s always felt totally normal.

      1. Sleve McDichael*

        +1 to this.
        At my workplace people will be in the middle of a call or IM chat and just say “I’m coming over.” This may be too informal for some workplaces though.

        Our team is split in half by two flights of stairs but nobody thinks anything of people coming down to look for my boss, discovering he’s in a call and then returning 15 mins later. It’s a nice opportunity to stretch one’s legs! The general rule here is check twice, then send a message to set up a time.

      2. Avasarala*

        This!! As someone working in a remote branch, I often get emails from people at other branches about something the person next to them would know. I always want to say, “This is something I’m working on with someone who sits within yelling distance of your desk. Why don’t you walk over and ask them?”

    2. Quinalla*

      Agreed, if the conversation starts in chat and it seems best to talk in person (or at least on the phone for your sometimes remote manager), just say something like “Can we continue this conversation in your office/on the phone?” if they say they are busy, tell them you’ll schedule 15 minutes on a open spot on their calendar for later that day.

      And my sympathies on this poor management, glad that you recognize it, but yeah, gotta work with it best you can!

  3. Zapthrottle*

    #1- I agree that having a positive, constructive conversation about meeting in person as Alison suggested is best. But there’s some wonky management there…that is, your managers avoid having professional conversations unless they are easy and rely on chat to make difficult messages easier to relay. I think that if you were to attempt to suggest a F2F, they would, literally, type back in chat, “No, we are ok going this way.”

    I suggest that you grab a notebook, notepad and zip over to their office and just airily say, “I thought I’d pop by and we can continue the conversation in person” and have your trusty pen and notepad jauntily at the ready. This isn’t 100% foolproof because, as you mentioned, they might be in a meeting. But you must be able to catch them a couple of times this way and their choice is to have the F2F conversation or literally send you away to continue the conversation via chat.

  4. WellRed*

    Logistically, I understand why they didn’t revoke WFH for out of state employees, but how do people feel about only part of the staff having WFH when it sounds like it was an across the board problem? Is that not the best idea/red flag or simply practical?
    And as this letter notes, bringing people into the office won’t by itself improve communication.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      It’s a side track, but – even moving part of the staff to in-office all day would help with communication issues *if* they followed up on it with better management processes.

      It takes extra work to manage people you don’t see daily. Moving people back in-office reduces some of that. They really ought to be having 1x/week or 2x/month meetings with each employee to talk over goals / progress / issues. That’s a critical part of remote managing that, if they aren’t doing it, would have been a better solution than bringing in-state employees in-office.

      Yeah, managerial flags all over this, though more yellow to me than red. Red would be if OP asks for weekly meetings and doesn’t get them.

    2. Megalopolis*

      There are some people and jobs that mesh well with WFH and some that don’t. I have seen blanket policies in both directions, a company I worked with closed down a site to save $ and everyone had to WFH or take severance. Many of them struggled with it. Another location moved to a smaller office and asked for volunteers to WFH or desk share to reduce footprint. This was all for cost-cutting. Most volunteers liked it and were successful.

      A new regime came in that was just… bothered by WFH, and demanded that people come back to the office, which was no longer even large enough to accommodate them. This was (supposedly) a very numbers-oriented, looking for results type business, but when it came time for layoffs the WFH people were targeted, regardless of productivity. Many good WFH people left or were laid off and many mediocrities stayed working in the office, all because the new regime seemed to have an attitude that if I can’t see them here, they must not be working.

      Sensible employers look carefully at what jobs and people fit with WFH and structure accordingly, vs making and revoking blanket policies.

  5. SunnyD*

    So… You say you know there are red flags. I hope that means that you’re brushing up your resume and applying for jobs, actively. This has ‘run away’ all over it!!

  6. hiding*

    My last manager was horrible with chat stuff. I got some praise face to face but all constructive criticism or feedback entirely came via IM. We’d have catchups after every major event throughout the year and I got vague feedback like “keep doing what you’re doing” but anything else would be via IM. It’s like he had trouble having those conversations with me, which was just the tip of the iceberg in lackluster management that I didn’t notice until it was too late. I was blindsided with feedback I’d never heard before when passed over for a promotion, and that’s ultimately why I left the company.

    I definitely suggest requesting face to face meetings. Moving forward, if I’m ever put in the same position, I’m definitely going to try to nip important IM conversations in the bud early. A good manager should be able to communicate clearly, directly, and face to face, good or bad.

  7. Tinker*

    On the intersection of “recent autism diagnosis” and “visible red flags of suboptimal management”…

    This is something that I’m in the process of working through as well, and I’ve been looking back at things from earlier stages in the process with a certain degree of rueful hindsight:

    1) Despite being heavily on team neurodiversity on an intellectual level, I’ve still found it a pitfall to slide into more of a deficit model in the context of The Gosh Dang Work Problem — that I have an official document that says I’m not good at the social, so if social is going wrong around me it must be me, or that while there are those visible red flags of suboptimal management I must be more affected by these than others because Certified Area Of Weakness, things like that. Even not sliding into the deficit model, there’s still “I do things differently from other people, so if I have a problem with this thing it may well be unique to me”.

    More neurotypical folks do tend to be good at things I’m not good at (and vice versa) but there’s not any particular neurotypical magic that would make “having a performance discussion over chat, and the manager just walks out without responding” not a problem.

    2) The difficulty I have with navigating the complexities of what being autistic means, particularly in some ways from the position of being adult-diagnosed having gone through my education and various jobs without that diagnosis, is clearly magnified for the people I disclose to who have differing or nonexistent contexts for that. I disclosed to my managers at around the time I got diagnosed, and it was part of ongoing discussions around “the way you are assigning work and the way I’m doing it is not working out, what do?” In retrospect I don’t think it added all that much to the effectiveness of communication and it may well have been detrimental in some cases — there were several times where I mostly ended up feeling like I then had to walk the conversation back from Very Special Episode territory and the person didn’t end up understanding anything more about me afterwards than if I’d said “I’ve found that I work better using noise cancelling headphones, so I’m going to do that”.

    I don’t exactly regret disclosing and sometimes it’s necessary — if the conversation ends up needing to be about formal accommodations, say — but I think that had I to do over again I would lean more on the pillars of “things that are objectively bad ways to work” and “things that deviate from the way I tend to do my best work” without as much reference to particular diagnostic labels.

    1. Close Bracket*

      I have an official document that says I’m not good at the social, so if social is going wrong around me it must be me

      Nope. Allistic people have social deficits, too. And autistic people don’t necessarily have strong social deficits. There are NTs who score quite high on the autism quotient and autistics who score quite low.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        It’s entirely possible that the LW is being scapegoated, though. It is not hard for someone to assume “disability with a stereotype for communication problem” = “all communication problems in the office are LW’s fault.”

        A lot of people are just jerks.

        1. Close Bracket*

          That’s basically my point. “Allistic people have social deficits, too” = “all communication problems are not the LW’s fault.”

        2. TooManyEmails*

          Or as someone said at my work yesterday.

          ‘Don’t medicalise the fact that he’s a dick.’

    2. Tau*

      +1000 from another person on the spectrum. I honestly try to avoid disclosing my DX if possible because I’ve found it’s far, far more likely to hurt than to help; as you say, the spectrum is sufficiently diverse and the stereotypes about it are sufficiently off again that the chances that the difficulties you actually have match up with whatever the person you’re talking to thinks autism involves are miniscule. And you leave yourself very open to the conversation focusing on how you are “defective”, even when the behaviour would be difficult for neurotypical people to deal with as well. I know exactly what you mean about the assumption that if miscommunication happens between an autistic and a neurotypical person, the autistic one must have been at fault.

      Obviously too late for OP to not disclose at all, but I’d definitely keep the conversation very focused on what she needs to work well (not doing performance-related conversations over chat!) and avoid bringing up the diagnosis.

    3. SunnyD*

      That sucks, and I’m sorry that’s been so hard. Neurotypical people should be better about that, and we’re as a group, not.

      As an aside, I personally find it hugely helpful to know. It lets me change my thoughts from being upset at them, to realizing that there is no malice, and that I need to change what I’m doing.

      I can’t rely on body language or hints, I have to use much more direct words than I’d otherwise be comfortable doing.

      (Btw if you’re not using something like that as a script for what you need from others, you might try it. A lot of us are good with short, simple things we can do – the unknown causes anxiety which can come out in weird ways.)

      But also… Lots of folks are just jerks. Sorry you’re dealing with crap.

    4. Quill*

      I’ve got a panic disorder that can make me unable to speak a comprehensible sentence.

      The only places where I disclosed it and it was a problem were otherwise toxic workplaces overall, but I agree that I’ve had more luck with “I absolutely need to have this conversation in writing so I can refer to it later” and “Headphones are a requirement for being in a cube farm because other people’s phone conversations are too distracting” than trying to explain the underlying cause.

      1. Washi*

        Yeah, I think of this as kind of saving people from themselves. Most people theoretically want to make accommodations and be understanding of differences, but biases and stereotypes get in the way, often unconsciously. If you can ask for a specific accommodation without disclosing the underlying issue, you’re kind of doing them a favor by removing the most fraught part of the exchange. Similar to how in a job interview, a lot of people would prefer not to hear about your kid’s medical issues or whatever because they can’t use that information, but now it’s in their heads.

        It sucks that that’s the case though, because disclosing can also help remove stigma…but you don’t have to sacrifice yourself for the cause if you don’t want to.

    5. Avasarala*

      Agreed. I’m not sure OP being autistic is relevant to the cause or solution of the problem… but may be relevant to others’ perception of it.

      1. Smim*

        Well, it is related to the cause and solution, but most people wouldn’t know that because they aren’t intimately familiar with the diagnosis like those of us who live with it are. The cause is simply that she lacks any intuitive sense of who, when, and where to speak about job related (or other) topics. That’s part of Autism. You can’t really know those things intuitively if you can never tell what anyone is thinking. To cope with that, she relied on intellectually-constructed personal interaction rules and educated guesses to navigate her workplace, and received this performance review because she guessed wrong. And now, because she doesn’t know when and where to get her managers off the chat and F2F, she’s asking Allison for a specific phrase to use that will help. By explaining that she’s Autistic, she can avoid the pitfall of getting judged by people in the audience thinking “most people can figure this out, why can’t you?”

    6. Coffee*

      Yes, the manager messaging them to start a conversation while in a meeting with someone else is rude and bound to fail because you can’t keep track of two conversations at the same time.

  8. Interplanet Janet*

    Maybe you’re overthinking it? I do a ton of communicating over chat, and it’s not at all odd for someone to just say “can I come talk to you?” or “can I call you?” I think it’s implied that it means that for whatever reason, in person seems like a better idea for this conversation. Sometimes it’s even just because the answer is long.

    Have you tried just saying it in the moment?

    1. AspieGirl*

      Implied meanings often go completely missed by people on the spectrum. It’s one of the easiest ways to guarantee a miscommunication with us.

      1. Avasarala*

        I’m not sure if it matters if OP is the one saying it? And if the result is they have the talk in person?

        I’m not super familiar with autism but a conversation like this:
        Boss: “About your work performance…”
        OP: “Can I call you?”
        or even if the people were reversed, I think it’s pretty easy to conclude that one person wants to have the conversation over the phone/in person.

  9. drpuma*

    OP it’s such a bummer (and sounds super confusing!) that you have to deal with this. That element of your managers seeming like they prefer chat doesn’t help. If I were in your shoes, when a difficult or complicated chat just sort of peters out I would send a message wrapping things up after 10-20 minutes of no responses. “Okay, my understanding of the situation is A and moving forward I’ll handle it by doing B. Please let me know if that’s not right.” And then bring it up with my manager the next time I saw them in person or we spoke over the phone – “I just wanted to make sure you saw how I’m handling situation A, does that still work for you?” But at least that way we both would be clear on how I’m proceeding in the meantime.
    I hope you get some clarity soon!

    1. LilyP*

      I second this. Or, if you do still have outstanding questions (like “what is my actionable takeaway?”) go ahead and ask them into the silence! And if you don’t get an answer, bring it up next time you see your manager in person, or wait a few hours and follow up on the chat again — just a “hey, just wanted to make sure you saw my question earlier — I need to know X before I can finish up Y, so let me know as soon as you can” or “well, I’m going to assume [best guess Z] going forward, let me know if that’s not right”. If you manager wants to handle stuff over chat she better actually handle stuff over chat!

  10. AspieGirl*

    For some of us on the spectrum, face-to-face meetings are just awful. Some of us have serious auditory processing issues and cannot understand tone/body language no matter how much we practice. Following up any in person meetings where there is feedback in an email confirming the most important points of the feedback is immensely helpful when stuff easily get lost in (literal brain processing) translation. That way we can make sure we actually understand what was being communicated.

    1. Washi*

      I’m not really sure how this connects to the letter? The OP says she wants to move these chats to face-to-face for multiple reasons, and it doesn’t seem like she’s looking for an accommodation regarding having in-person conversations, she just wants to get them to start happening. Following up meetings with an email is a great practice in a lot of cases, but that’s not the issue at play here.

      1. AspieGirl*

        It’s two part.

        1) Alison mentioned hearing tone and seeing expressions are helpful. With OP disclosing they’re on the spectrum, it is good to clarify that piece of face to face conversation is not necessarily relevant/sound advice for a reason to have a face to face conversation for everyone on the spectrum. People read that the OP is on the spectrum and then sees Alison recommending why face to face conversations matter without the reader realizing that might be bad advice for someone on the spectrum and that individual communication needs are very nuanced for those who are autistic. For OP, they want face to face at this point for some things, but for anyone trying to generalize this advice where neurodiversity comes into play, it might not work.

        2) Newly diagnosed on the spectrum comes with a lot of things to work out as an adult. It is easy to think face to face communication will be really helpful at work when it very well may not be in the end, but the suggestions I made can help if you’re still struggling. In the end, the more that is documented in writing, it gets harder to blame the autistic person for all communication difficulties and shifts the burden to a mutual problem that needs to be solved. As an employee, once autism and communication problems are brought up, it becomes very difficult for all communication challenges to not be just your problem that you need to deal with. People just decide you’re autistic so it is clearly your issue and not mine. Having a track record to show “no this is what you told me to do and here is where I did it,” can be really helpful in protecting yourself.

        1. Close Bracket*

          Yeah, my manager told me that people complained that I wasn’t enthusiastic and suggested I show more enthusiasm. I told him several things about that, the most relevant to this discussion being that people needed to learn how to interact with someone who doesn’t display emotion in the way that they are used to.

          FWIW, I also thought the advice to have more f2f discussions was odd to give to an autistic person. LW didn’t say anything about having trouble with in person discussions, though, so I let it be. I’m glad you said something.

    2. JSPA*

      Following up with a brief summary email, of the “I wanted to make sure we ended up on the same page on our chat, is the following correct?” flavor, could be useful in all kinds of ways, here.

  11. Hallowflame*

    When your boss tries to start a chat with you that you would rather have face-to-face, you can say “I think this would be easier to cover face-to-face. Are you free right now to continue this in your office, or should I schedule a meeting?”
    In addition to the big-picture conversation Alison suggested, it’s going to take some reinforcement to re-train your boss into holding these conversations off-line.

  12. Aquawoman*

    I think this column puts me in danger of overestimating my ability as a manager :) I can’t imagine giving any significant feedback on performance by email/IM (other than something like, hey look out for typos, I think you have the wrong figure for annual teapot sales, minor corrective things).

    1. RandomU...*

      Amen… Yes, I have a chat open with my direct reports all day/every day. It’s for quick things, and like you said minor corrections (Hey, that email you just sent, I think you forgot to add Fergus). Most of the time it’s for the quick stream of conscious things that usually happen by sticking your head in someone’s office or cube. (All of my employees are remote from me). When I’m on site I almost never use chat with them.

      Chat should never be used for substantial coaching or course correction! Even when working with remote employees those conversations should happen via video or phone.

      Chat in general:
      I get so annoyed with people who want to compose Moby Dick sized chats, I’ll just call them mid chat without prompting (as long as they aren’t showing as in a meeting or on a call). Otherwise I’ll just break in with ‘Can I call?’. I don’t have all day for you to compose your dissertation, when a 5 min call will address it.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah corrections are different than feedback on performance as a whole! So it’s one thing to say “Hey this report has some errors, I need you to redo it, thank you.” but if it’s an on going issue and that’s the fifth time they’ve done that report wrong, you have a real conversation over the phone if you can’t see them in person.

      Chat is for casual back and forth things for daily tasks or questions that may come up. Instead of calling to say “Hey Jane, what’s the sales figure from 2009?” you shoot a message instead because it’s something you can just come back to, etc. Or if they’re out of water downstairs, they’ll shoot me a message saying “we need more water down here, just put the last jug on the dispenser!”

      It’s not for important discussions. Even when someone calls in, I go down and tell the manager to their face because they may want to discuss something about said employees attendance etc. If I do send an IM about something casual and it turns into something not as casual as I expected, guess what…the person who got the IM picks up the phone or swings by my office to discuss fully.

  13. Environmental Compliance*

    So, the revocation of WFH was meant to improve communication, and in your annual review you were told to work on recognizing when things need to be face-to-face rather than in text form…. and your manager is 1) doing the majority of communication over chat and 2) even then not responding to chat questions? That sucks, OP.

    What I would do is when the conversation starts that you want to be face-to-face, is to either send a chat back to let them know that you think this would be better hashed out face-to-face and then send over a meeting request, or to ask if now would be a good time for you to walk over and talk about [issue]. But also, brush up your resume.

  14. AnonAcademic*

    I agree that redirecting to an in-person conversation or at least phone call is the way to go. I worked for someone who would use group meetings to aggressively call people out about performance concerns. The best strategy I saw someone come up with was an icy “this sounds like a performance concern we should talk about offline in our one on one meeting.” It was unimpeachably professional while still conveying “F you buddy, I’m not playing this game.”

    1. SunnyD*

      Oh wow, perfect. I’m gonna guess that person was never singled out again because bullies don’t like to look stupid when humiliating people.

  15. mark132*

    “My fingers are hurting from all this typing”.

    That’s the line I use sometimes when it’s taking too long over IM, after I show up at their desk. I like IM for quick questions, short discussions, or matters that can be handle asynchronously. But otherwise it can be an awkward and time consuming.

  16. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Our go-to is that if someone messages something that’s better spoken about in person, is to follow up with an appearance at their door. “I got your message, this is something easier to explain in person.”

    If you’re so steadily working and they arent’ the kind of person you can drop in on like that, the response to their initial IM should be “can we schedule a time to talk about this? This is something that is best discussed with a live conversation!”

    1. MicroManagered*

      Yep! This! It doesn’t have to be a big “I’ve noticed you often tackle issues over chat that I’d really prefer to discuss face-to-face” thing (unless this doesn’t work). But I often switch up communication channels (going from chat to phone or over to the person) for this reason.

      For stuff where your manager stops replying, you can pop over to her desk and say “I wasn’t sure if you saw my message about X. When do you think ______?” (whatever the question is).

  17. voyager1*

    No offense but, you are way over thinking this. When I get conflicting information in a annual review I always try to pin down what the manager means so I have something that is actionable. Many times the manager who couldn’t give me something actionable I just take whatever he said as a suggestion and don’t internalize it. I also just assume that manager in question writes a review based on how they feel at that moment, so one day they may love me the next not so much. I have a manager right now who is this way, so I internalize very little she says. The downside is I can’t always trust what she says, which is bad.

    In your situation I would ask for concrete feedback on how your manager would like you to communicate with her. I am willing to bet you are going to get a wishywashy vague answer. At that point you are going to have to decide if you can deal with that as your situation or look for a different job.

    Sounds like you covering your bases and trying to get feedback, which is good.

    Hope it works out.

    1. Kella*

      OP replied to one of the comments above and explained that the annual review is feedback compiled from a bunch of different people, so they have no way of knowing who said it. I’m unclear on how they would be held accountable for making that change, especially if their manager isn’t on board with it, but if the annual reviews affect their ability to be promoted, then it doesn’t matter just what their manager thinks, they still have to make the changes to get a good annual review.

      Plus, it sounds like it’s not just that OP thinks they *should* have these conversations in person but that having some of these conversations via text is making them more confusing and stressful and sometimes the conversations end before everything that needs to be addressed has been. That’s a problem regardless of the feedback they are receiving.

  18. Phillip*

    Long shot, but is it possible that “be more mindful of when conversations need to happen in person” means the opposite of what is being assumed here, given the manager’s predilection for chat, and the letter-writer’s predilection for face-to-face? Because it sounds like “try to better understand the difference” to me, not necessarily “let’s have more face-to-face.”

    1. SunnyD*

      I’m thinking a different person (their manager?) said to do in person and these managers hate the idea.

  19. thinkofanamelater*

    The manager does difficult conversations about your performance as an employee over chat (written record) with no actionable take-away and then stops replying when it gets difficult? Plus you are on the spectrum. Call me cynical, but I would not be surprised if your manager is trying to create a written trail of performance issues in order to justify a PIP and then terminating you–when it gets hard, she’s on the phone with HR or legal to determine how to best respond without tipping her hand.

    1. AspieGirl*

      As someone caught in a similar game with their employer, yep this definitely could be taking place.

      Best to make sure that written trail goes both ways and keep it documented if they try to fire you.

  20. Mary*

    You say that your manager often uses Chat during meetings with other people, which makes sense that she’d drop it when she hits a difficult question. It’s all very well using Chat for a quick, “just thinking, need to catch up with you about XYZ” whilst you’re in a meeting, but it’s obviously not possible to get into something more deep or sensitive when your attention could be called away at any moment. Since your manager seems to be Bad at setting that boundary, you can do it more firmly straight away.

    How bad would it be if you just … stopped using Chat? What would happen if you stopped using it completely, and instead only used email and F2F?

    Are there certain conversations which are better on Chat? How about instead of trying to work out when you *shouldn’t* use chat, you identified the few things that are better in Chat, positively opted for Chat when that’s the right option, and then for absolutely *everything* else, you cut it off straight away?

    So whenever you get a message on Chat, check whether it’s on your Top Ten List Of Things For Chat, and if it is, carry on. If it’s not, take it straight out of Chat. Don’t even reply in Chat: instead, send an email saying, “Got your message about XYZ–I am free all afternoon and tomorrow AM, let me know what time would be good for a conversation about this.” Taking it to email straight away sets a firm boundary, and makes it harder for your manager to unthinkingly reply in Chat. She’s now got to make a conscious decision about whether this is a topic for email, F2F or Chat.

    You might find that your manager doesn’t like this, and actively asks you to use Chat more. If so, that’s a good opportunity to say, “I’ve had mixed messages about this–I got asked to use Chat less, and now I’m being asked to use it more. How about we make a list of topics/types of conversation that work best on Chat, and why they are better on Chat? ” If you’ve got that clarity, it’s much easier for you to comply.

    But right now, you have been told to do less in Chat but your manager keeps defaulting there, presumably because it’s easy and habitual for her–so set yourself some rules about when you want to use it, make it a little harder/more conscious, and see if that clarifies things.

    (I know Chat isn’t a brand or anything, but it was a lot easier for me to write this out if I treated it as one than if I down-capped it!)

  21. staceyizme*

    I’m in favor of communication that works, whether chat, email, phone or face to face. Does face to face work better for you?

    Also- do they stop replying at an odd juncture or is there a sense of back-and-forth that goes on too long/ is unnecessary?

    I hope that you can find a way to communicate with your manager that is effective and low stress, no matter which channel you wind up using!

  22. Little Tin Goddess*

    I actually keep copies of all important chat messages with my boss. I email them to myself and have a folder in my emails for them. This way, I have a permanent record of what was discussed (or in your case – left hanging without closure) so I can go back and review it later if needed.

    If it’s just a silly, long running chat throughout the day, discussing our kids or whatever and nothing important, workwise is on it, then I will close those out at the end of the day without saving. Maybe you need to do something like this to prove to the company owner you are trying to have face to face convos but others aren’t willing to participate. Sounds like your manager’s manager isnt managing your manager correctly. Unfortunately shit flows downhill.

    1. Catalin*

      +1 on saving chat messages: we communicate peer-to-peer a LOT on Chat, including file transfers, project instructions, critical links, etc., so I figured out that pressing Control-S while inside the chat saves it to my Outlook in the Conversations file. Absolutely required so I can come back to it later for reference or CYA.

  23. mm218*

    My boss sits next to me and almost exclusively emails me to talk, which frequently results in me turning to my right and asking for clarification. I feel this pain, so so very much.

  24. Terry H*

    I prefer to know if someone is on the spectrum. That allows me to treat them with extra kindness. I have 5+ relatives who are on various parts of the spectrum. And with effort and patience, they are productive people who can get things done. Kindness to others really makes a world of difference.

    As for the instant messaging. I am a outlier in this. But I cannot bear to have my train of thought interrupted by IMs. I am usually doing complicated things. And usually I am advancing several complicated things down the field at a time. Unless it is an emergency, I will not respond to text messages or even email until I get to a designated communication time, of which I have 5 throughout the day. If you need me for something quick, then call me. It isn’t as rigid as it sounds, but it is a standard I like to keep.

    For someone on the spectrum, my observation is that they like a routine. If they can setup a set time with their boss for a face to face, that will go a long way.

    Since i have experience with people on the spectrum, here is what I do for my guy: (each person is different, so tailor to your own situation )

    Any directive or request for specific tasks is presented in person and then immediately followed up in an email.
    I have regular face to face meetings with him to track progress on tasks.
    Rule Number 2: I do not take offense to any issue with him communicating.
    Rule Number 1: I go to bat and protect him from bosses and customers. If a client has a complaint about him, I handle it. I give him the facts in an unemotional way, and we figure out how to fix it. But I don’t let someone just sail on him at all.

    Seems to work well for us.

    1. only acting normal*

      You don’t *have* to respond to IMs until your designated communication time. They’re asynchronous communication (as are emails), but a shorter, less formal, more to-and-fro format than email. As you say, phone calls are for “must interrupt now, emergency”; not emails, not IMs.
      I also work on a lot of complicated things and hate interruptions; unfortunately I also work with a few people who are apparently allergic to emails and IMs, who prefer to turn up at my desk unarranged and/or phone whenever the fancy takes them, emergency or no. I *wish* they’d IM me instead!

Comments are closed.