my employee keeps correcting my work

A reader writes:

I manage a team of eight, all of whom have worked for the company much longer than I have. One of my employees has developed the habit of editing documents that I hand out during team meetings. She uses a red pen and makes a show of doing so. These are not corrections, but stylistic edits.

She usually hands them back to me after editing them. She’ll often say something like, “Here, I made a few notes for you.”

The last couple times she held them out to me, I didn’t take them. I just picked up all of my things, then said something like, “Thanks for coming, everybody” and walked out without it.

Last month, at her annual review, she did the same thing on her review! (My practice is to have the team member read their review first, then I verbally walk them through it.) As she read the review, out came the red pen!

I’ve not said anything yet, although I do push back on some things. It’s one of those “pick your battles” situations. Much of this kind of behavior from her has come and gone in the past three years. However, this practice isn’t ceasing, and now another team member is doing the same.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 285 comments… read them below }

  1. Lily in NYC*

    Alison, am I imaging this or did you tell a funny story here a few years ago about how you didn’t like your HS principal and used to edit her announcements in red and then put them in her office mailbox?

      1. Lady Scrub*

        My dad is basically a professional proofreader, and he did this to all of the papers that I brought home from school. And then he would send them back to the school. I remember one packet in particular – it was for our 9th grade projects and was maybe 40 pages long? He hand delivered that one back with a comment that it was unacceptable, especially coming from an English teacher…

        1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          My aunt used to sit down with the newspaper and a red pen every day and edit the entire paper. It was like her version of doing the crosswords.

          1. emmelemm*

            I love it.

            My mom edits published books she’s reading. (In pencil, but enough to be seen.) Not library books, her own books, to be clear.

            1. Legal Beagle*

              I’ve read library books with reader pencil-edits in them. I know it’s wrong but I sort of love it (only when the edits are correct, of course).

              1. LQ*

                I kind of love it too. Or used books where someone has written in notes. It’s a little voyeurism of sort of a glimpse into someone else’s world in a lovely little way.

              2. Bee*

                Heh, there’s a Twitter bot that corrects incorrect uses of “its” to “it’s” – except half the time “its” was correct in the first place! If you’re going to be a pedant in public you have to be POSITIVE you’re right.

                1. Spencer Hastings*

                  Yup. I generally don’t correct people in public because it’s hardly ever worth it — but if someone else makes an incorrect correction (especially if they’re being a jerk about it), you can bet I’m going to correct *that*.

            2. smoke tree*

              You’d be surprised at how many people like to inform publishers whenever they notice a typo, often with the assumption that we’ll hire them on the spot. Personally I found that itch to correct the world eased up a lot after I started getting paid to do it.

              1. londonedit*

                Oh yes, the ‘I recently read one of your books, and spotted the following thirteen errors contained within. I am available for proofreading work and my rates are enclosed’ letter. Less common now than they used to be, in my experience, but always good for an eye-roll among the editorial team.

              2. Super Admin*

                I understand the urge. The book I’m reading at the moment (part of a fairly popular series) is riddled with errors – mostly missing words or punctuation – and part of me really wants to ask for my money back and a copy that is correct. But I doubt it would get me very far and I don’t fancy being That Person.

                1. smoke tree*

                  In that case, the publisher probably just really cheaped out on the editorial process. I wouldn’t blame you for expressing your annoyance, but I doubt it would change much. In my experience, it’s usually the big publishers that are worst for this. Also for books that fall apart in your hands as you read them.

              3. mdv*

                So … I have occasionally sent an AUTHOR a note to say “hey, I think you might have a typo here”, but only since it has become so easy to self-publish via digital platforms. In every case, I approach it as a “you might not have noticed, I know editing is hard” note, and never mention that I do work as a proofreader.

          2. many bells down*

            Back about 30 years ago, my local paper had a new feature where they’d have a big weekly magazine-insert about someone local that had become famous. The very first issue was about a local guy who had a new wildlife show documenting his work with … lepers.

            You know, those big cats that live in South America. Lepers. The ENTIRE 10-PAGE MAGAZINE had that error.

            1. Former Employee*

              I thought there was a silent “d” and that it was pronounced “leper”, but spelled “leopard”.

              (That was in a movie, show or book, but I can’t recall where.)

            2. Argye*

              A former (now deceased) colleague wrote a paper for publication about feral pigs on one of the islands off of California. He was asked if he wanted to review the page proofs, he said NO, I know it’s perfect!!

              Someone at the press ran a spell check that changed every instance of feral pig to *fetal* pig. Throughout the article. Including the title.

              Always check your page proofs.

                1. Robbenmel*

                  Instant time-snap back to high school biology. Ugh. (Oh, sorry, this isn’t about the way my brain works. Carry on.)

          3. C Average*

            My mother is a writer and is pretty scrupulous about spelling and grammar. She used to write a weekly column for our local paper. She wrote once about winter storm preparation, noting that we had a local forecast of seven inches of snot. The whole family still gives her hell about it.

            1. LittleRedRidingHu..?*

              I’m sorry, but this made me snort-laugh so hard, I may have dislocated something and don’t even care. :)

          4. Just Another Manic Millie*

            I constantly find errors in the obituaries in my local newspaper. The deceased are said to be “formally of my hometown” instead of “formerly of my hometown,” and obits generally say, “Her and her husband were married for 40 years” instead of “She and her husband were married for 40 years.”

            1. Consuela Schlepkiss*

              At my paper, those were written by the families, and they are charged to have them run, so it’s a different thing to edit that stuff too much. Grieving can take precedence over grammar.

              1. pentamom*

                And in that situation they’re actually classed as ads, not editorial content, so they’re printed as provided.

          5. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

            This is one of the reasons I don’t subscribe to the local paper – I’d feel compelled to do this every day, and also offer commentary on which wire stories they should have farmed out localized versions of to actual reporters rather than run as-is, and generally be obnoxious at length. (My favorite is still when, back in the 90s or so, they ran a wire story on “tabletop Christmas trees” and how they were so very much cheaper and a legitimate option if you only wanted to spend $75 or so on a Christmas tree since you could just get a festive tablecloth to put the thing on to make it taller. In Oregon. Where we grow Christmas trees and where a full-size tree can cost, particularly at the time, as little as $20, and no one will even sell tiny trees like that so if you really want a tabletop tree for some reason you buy a bigger one, cut the top off, and use the rest as boughs or make a wreath. I may not remember much about the news events of the 90s, but I will remember that stupid poorly-chosen east coast lifestyle article about Christmas trees until I die.)

            It’s been over 20 years since I’ve been an editor of a (school) paper, and I work in a completely different field now (thanks, internet!), but I would still feel the call…

          6. calonkat*

            There was a retired teacher who used to do that in the small Kansas town I grew up in. The newspaper finally published a notice that they wouldn’t be reading grammar/spelling corrections sent to them anymore.

        2. TootsNYC*

          I’m a professional copyeditor, and I remember having to “un-correct” a mark on my daughter’s book report, because the teacher had marked her off for something that she’d done correctly.

        3. BigLo*

          My mom was a math teacher before I was born and she used to double check my math teacher’s corrections of my homework. She sent me back to school once with a VERY long explanation about why my answer that 9/10 = 90% was correct when it had been marked wrong.

          1. Pomona Sprout*

            Your teacher marked “9/10 = 90%” as WRONG? WTF was wrong with her/him? I’m a math [whatever you call someone whose math education was stalled at a much lower level than it should have been], and even I know better than that!

      2. ToS*

        And most importantly, you did it on your own time…for your own peace of mind, maybe? I can see personal development here, too. You had enough sense not to send the corrections back to the principal.

        We have impulses. Managing them well is a path to career success.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I’m pretty sure I signed them. It was multiple times. We were locked in battle my whole senior year. I was the editor of the school newspaper and I used it as my pulpit to hassle him. My reason? He was trying to curb senior class drinking, and we thought it was an outrage. (I know.)

              He’d send letters home to the parents about the seniors’ drinking, and they’d have grammatical errors that I’d mark up and put back in his in-box. Then I’d quote the letter in the school paper, and I’d use “(sic)” to point out his errors.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                P.S. In addition to being the editor of the school paper, I want you to know that I was also the editor of the underground school newspaper. Both of them. I decided to be my own competition.

                1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

                  That’s delightful! All I ever did (as a fellow HS newspaper editor) was also set up a Yahoo! email account as an anonymous message drop to organize a group of students about something. (I sent out an email with the username and password to a select group of my fellow students, and then everyone would send mails from the account to the account so we could use it as a messaging system to organize some protest that I’ve now forgotten the details of but which felt very justified at the time…)

              2. smoke tree*

                I was also locked in combat with my high school principal, and I wish I had found some more creative ways to harass him. Sadly I just organized many ineffectual petitions and he would retaliate by mocking me in public. I remain convinced of my righteousness.

              3. Desperately seeking a cute kitty*

                As someone who works in a professional writing field and is very petty, I am cackling right now.

      3. pandop*

        I so, so want to do this to the signs at the residential home where my Mum lives. Some of them are so bad. Mum also wants to get to a relationship with the staff where they ask her before they print a sign (she had this at her last job, after she refused to put up a particularly bad sign)

    1. The other Louis*

      I’ve had people do that to me (and they’re usually wrong). Hand it back to her when she hands it to you, saying (very calmly), “Never do this again.” And then walk away.

      1. Daniela*

        I feel like so many situations at work could be resolved by simply saying “never do this again” and walking away!! I’m going to file that away for future use.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          I actually do say this (not often, but I’ve had to pull it out a couple of times at work within the last five or six years), and it does work at shutting nonsense down. Bonus? The person also never does the thing again, lol.

        2. Artemesia*

          The only thing that kept my mother from revisiting a slight for decades was to say ‘I never want to hear about this again’; there is power in clarity.

      2. Former Employee*

        Thank you. I hope the OP takes your advice.

        If the employee does it again after that, then it is clearly insubordination and the OP can ratchet things up accordingly. When you disobey a direct order from your boss, you are just asking to be written up and warned that the next time it happen you are out the door!

      3. Anita Brayke*

        We should start a post on a Friday about this…situations where you should say “Never do this again!” And walk away.

        1. Tabby Baltimore*

          The link didn’t quite work the way I was expecting it to, so I’d advise anyone using it to then expand the comments section, then do a CTRL-F search for the name “laurely,” the letter writer’s name, who posted responses throughout the thread.

        2. AKchic*

          Thanks! It’s definitely something, even if it’s not a full-blown update. I hope it stopped for that LW.

  2. Autumnheart*

    Next time she edits her performance review in front of you, ask to borrow her red pen, cross out her raise and then hand it back to her.

    1. SarahKay*

      YES! This!
      Okay, no, don’t, but it’s the perfect description of what I’d want to do in OP’s place.

    2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Or just revise one of the rankings if you have that sort of system — “Professional Communication is now a 2 — needs improvement. So Mary your goal for this coming quarter is to work on receiving feedback and processing information in a more productive manner. First and foremost is to learn to read for comprehension of the content rather than make unnecessary stylistic changes to the text. I’m worried that you’re missing the key points of a document when you start coloring on it instead. Do you think that you can do that?”

    3. fhqwhgads*

      I was sort of wondering why the performance review itself didn’t already mention that something that needs improvement is not editing documents she was not asked to edit. Obviously, OP needs to actually tell her that first directly. It shouldn’t come up for the first time in there, but it probably should be in the next one.

    4. Fortitude Jones*

      I’m sorry, but the thought of the employee correcting her performance review in the actual meeting cracked me up, lol. That’s a level of foolishness that’s almost awe inspiring.

    1. MOAS*

      I used to want to edit my boss’s emails b/c writing wasn’t his strong suit but this is not something I would EVER have done. People who are constantly correcting and judging another person’s grammar/spelling/writing are so obnoxious. I am more than happy to do it if someone asks me but this is not one of those things that you just do unprompted.

      1. Caitlin Burrows*

        I found one thing one time from a coworker and it was on a mock-up of a donation slip from our organization’s latest campaign. I didn’t embarrass him, I didn’t loudly point it out and I didn’t make him feel like an idiot. (I think two of the words were spaced weirdly.) It was really well done, so many compliments were shared from our team, as well as suggestions from others. Not that one, so I quietly mentioned the spacing thing and he was grateful for the note.

      2. Nom the Plumage*

        Oh, it’s even worse when you’re trained in Technical Writing and non-writers try to edit your work. I have to fight myself from saying ”I actually studied this subject … did you?”

        1. Elitist Semicolon*

          Yesssssssss. (No substantiative comment here; just wanted you to know that I feel your pain.)

        2. MOAS*

          ha! I’m an accountant now but I was an English major in college, with a concentration in creative writing. I actually loved writing a lot in elementary and high school as well. My coworkers get a kick out of it, and some of them will ask me for help writing something (mostly communication related items). I’m happy to help but I will never volunteer to write anything.

        3. MsChanandlerBong*

          I have been an editor for 15 years. In my current role, I often have to collaborate with other people on writing projects. One of my colleagues has a frustrating habit of editing things solely so they sound more like him. He’s not correcting mistakes, just making stylistic changes. The problem is that he often has comma splices, “sentences” without any verbs in them, and other issues in his writing, so his “fixes” actually make the content worse sometimes. He also has no ability to adjust his style/tone for the intended audience, so marketing emails that are going out to a target audience composed of college students/young adults end up sounding like they were pulled from a doctoral dissertation ($10 vocabulary words, lengthy sentences, more sentences than necessary, etc.). Sometimes it’s hard not to get annoyed.

        4. Róisín*

          Man, one of my favorite things ever is when my girlfriend or my favorite shift lead or my best friend get into it with me over some point of language usage and I get to pull the line “I have a degree in this argument!”

          I studied linguistics. It’s everyone’s favorite response because it’s joking enough to not annoy people and true enough to make them realize I’m probably right, and it usually ends said argument with laughter.

          God, I love saying that.

        5. londonedit*

          My favourite is when I post something on Facebook and someone just has to come along and try to nitpick the grammar, just because they know I’m an editor and they somehow want to ‘get one over on me’ by claiming that something in my writing isn’t clear or isn’t correct. One, it’s Facebook for goodness’ sake, not The Times, and two, 99% of the time it’s them being stupidly pedantic for the sake of it (‘Ooooh, you split an infinitive!!!’)

      3. Clay on my apron*

        Embarrassed to say I used to do this. It was a looong time ago. I know better now. (I still want to, but I don’t.)

      4. dealing with dragons*

        I “correct” other peoples grammar – but I always say “whomst” when they say “who” instead of “whom” because I like the reaction. Always takes a second to figure out I said whomst lol

        1. Róisín*

          I can correctly use “who” and “whom” (and have a shorthand explanation for people who inevitably ask “how do you use these words you seem to know please help”) but I do use “whomst” in a very particular way. “Whomst” is my shorthand for “who are we talking about right now?” when I enter a conversation halfway and everyone’s just using pronouns, or when someone is trying to tell me something about a person without specifying the person.

          I have no idea how this started, and I have no intention of changing it. “Whomst” = “Who is the subject of this conversation”

    1. JessicaR*

      I do all my notetaking in red pen because I like the way it stands out from black printed text, and it’s just a more fun color than black or blue. To me, red does not mean I’m specifically “correcting” something. It’s just the color pen I use.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yeah, I edit things in colored pens as well but I hate red, given it’s old connection to grading in school. So I go with green but I also order the supplies. I know a lot of places only order black, blue and red pens.

        1. seahorsesarecute*

          You’ve just reminded me of a teacher from my old high school. He corrected everything in green ink because red was too negative. One class made sure they all took the final in green ink so he had to correct those in a different color. He liked the prank.

          1. TootsNYC*

            I worked with an editor who was often aggressive and hostile. He wrote in definitive letters and the marched into your office and almost threw the corrected proof on your desk.

            And he did it in red felt-tip pen.
            People on my team were getting furious; it was really a problem. They’d get upset, and then they’d spend several minutes complaining as a self-soothing tactic.

            I went to his boss and said, “Can you make him use blue? And maybe not a felt-tip pen? Because this thick red line is making this even worse. If he can’t be collegial, at least make him change his pen color.”

            She did.

          2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            That’s the perfect prank, it’s so lowkey and not at all like some of the mean things kids can come up with to “get” their teachers with.

          3. Mellow*

            “…because red was too negative.”

            Says who, I wonder. I’m sorry, but that’s a bit much on the part of your teacher.

    2. Fortitude Jones*

      I actually love her for this, lol. It’s incredibly obnoxious, but I like her moxie – she just probably needs to not do these things at work.

  3. Dust Bunny*

    What on Earth?

    I’m a far better writer than my boss and am also a raging grammar control freak (and daughter of possibly the biggest grammar control freak in history) and there is no way it would even occur to me to do this. If my boss asked me to look over something he was writing and suggest edits, sure, I’d do that, but editing private stuff without being asked? [hands flailing in exasperation]

    1. Yvette*

      Completely agree. Especially something that is done and handed out!! Totally rude and uncalled for. The only exception I might make would be if there was a glaring and important factual error, like a phone number or sales numbers. But she isn’t even doing that, it is “style”.

    2. Captain Raymond Holt*

      I’m the resident grammarian at my company and I keep my $.02 to myself unless asked. We’re a very small company (~40) and people know where to find me if they want me to review something. Occasionally I offer, but I know that correcting things unprovoked will make me look like an ass!

      1. Mostly Anonymous Business Student*

        Oh, man. The obnoxious “gunner” in my class got into a whole thing with the prof the other day over an inconsequential thing that was basically the oral equivalent of a typo. (“But you said X! It’s not X, it’s Y!” Flames on the side of my face.)

        1. Captain Raymond Holt*

          I also teach part time at a local college and those students are obnoxious. It is obvious that they’re not trying to “help” but to undermine the instructor. I had one email me before the semester started to “correct” something I’d posted two minutes earlier!

          Like many problem employees, this was the beginning of the problems with this student. Their work was subpar, they “declined to complete” some assignments and were an overall killjoy in class. Imagine that.

        2. Hlyssande*

          I used to do that…in second grade. With the teacher who hated me as it was.

          I still remember that she said ‘woon’ instead of ‘moon’ and I stand by that.

    3. The Original K.*

      Yeah, my former boss knew I was a better writer and editor than he was so I was the last set of eyes on a lot of his public-facing work – but that was part of my actual job, and I only edited the stuff he asked me to edit. Whipping out a red pen and editing something no one cares about, like a meeting agenda, is just rude and a waste of time. No one cares about the style in which a meeting agenda is written.

      1. Blue*

        Right, I do a *lot* of stylistic editing on things my boss has drafted, but she’s asked for it! When we first started working together and I was still figuring out how much editing she wanted/was open to, I tread super lightly because that’s the polite thing to do. This employee is just being obnoxious for the sake of it. If this kind of thing is spreading to other employees, I suspect OP has much larger problems on the team – which may be why they’d been picking their battles up to this point.

    4. emmelemm*

      I dunno, I’m pretty sure I’m the daughter of the biggest grammar control freak former English teacher on earth and I’m an only child. :)

    5. Curmudgeon in California*


      The only times I edit stuff are:
      1. When it’s on our wiki, and the edits expand or clarify (we have a lot of ESL writers.)
      2. When I need to fix the formatting on our wiki because I or someone else got a markup wrong
      3. When someone in our group circulates a draft email that will go out to a broad audience (then we all edit for clarity and completeness.)

      I make a lot of typos, so does my boss. Fixing typos on the wiki comes under the heading of mutual aid, not editry.

      But once it goes out, or is printed? No red pen nonsense. That’s childish.

    6. Jackalope*

      I mean, I would totally *think* about doing it (because my internal proofreader never sleeps!), but would never actually do something like this.

  4. Jedi Squirrel*

    OP, this is absolutely not one of those “pick your battles” thing. This employee is being rude and disrespectful and it’s spreading to other members of your team. If this is what she’s doing your face, imagine what she is doing behind your back. It’s quite possible that there are some fireable offenses either going on now or potentially in the future.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        The employee has already recruited a second rogue stylistic editor from amongst her coworkers, who have seen how well this tactic worked for Rogue Editor 1. Arguably she’s doing a great job of picking her battles.

        1. Mellow*

          I find this disturbing.

          I’m not defending the employee’s behavior, but why speculate about whether there are “fire-able offenses” occurring? That’s a really dangerous avenue for anyone in leadership to follow. You handle what’s before you, and, while the situation might be part of a larger context, in no way should a single situation serve as a lens.

          “If this is what she’s doing your face, imagine what she is doing behind your back.”

          No, OP, don’t imagine that. It’s the kind of thing children do. Tell her to knock it off and why, but don’t waste your time going down rabbit holes that might not exist. Giver her the benefit of the doubt until she proves you wrong. That’s what people in leadership roles do. Adults, too.

  5. Clorinda*

    The lady might soon find that she has the opportunity to edit and proofread her own resume to her heart’s content. Just saying ….

  6. Jo*

    I have an employee I have to correct constantly. English is her first language and she has a degree in it – I’ve seen the certificate! and yet, her work is messy and colloquial. It’s frustrating from both ends.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      An English degree is most likely actually English literature. While reading good literature can help your writing, and indeed for certain types of writing is almost a prerequisite, it is no guarantee of good writing. These are different skill sets.

      1. fposte*

        And interest in grammar dissipates more the higher you get. It comes up more in high school than in college and more in undergrad than in grad.

        1. Pommette!*

          Yeah – from what I have seen, the grammar lovers tend to move into linguistics or similar fields, rather than English.

          1. Jadelyn*

            …damn, you didn’t have to call me out like that.

            (childhood book nerd and writer, went to college intending an english degree, wound up going into linguistics instead because I found it fascinating.)

          2. Becky*

            Yup! I was going to say my college courses had a much greater focus on grammar than any high school class I ever took but I was majoring in linguistics with a minor in editing!

          3. Chinookwind*

            When it came to my English Education degree, the only time I learned about grammar was when I took classes focusing on Linguistics and English as a Second Language. My inner nerd loved the classes where I learned how to parse a sentence (in English as well as any other language I understood) as well as all the sounds the human mouth and face are capable of making but are lost as we focus on one language.

            My actual “English” classes were all about literature except for the one where the professor hated how we wrote so badly that she dedicated a week of the semester to remedial essay writing.

          4. Anon for this*

            And then when they find out that real linguists are descriptivists, their minds are blown! Some in a good way, some in a bad way.

            1. Róisín*

              I got a degree in linguistics and I’m still somewhat of a prescriptivist. Most of my linguistic major friends are highly derisive, but I’m comfortable with my balance of “this is the way people use these words” and “this is the way these words were designed to be used”. I’ll argue either side depending on context.

              And I will still, always, forever, correct “who” to “whom” in appropriate contexts.

            2. char*

              I’m one of those whose mind was blown in a good way. I used to be an obnoxious prescriptivist who was always “correcting” everyone’s grammar… and now I’m constantly fighting the urge to be an obnoxious descriptivist who picks a fight over every needless “correction” someone else makes.

        2. TootsNYC*

          fourth grade.

          That’s when the bulk of grammar is taught, and when you are judged on it most.

          (in the U.S.)

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Or, if you’re like me, when you take Spanish. Everything I learned about English grammar I learned from foreign language classes. (But misplaced modifiers were on the high school exit exam, so we got a preview of that and logical fallacies in 11th grade.)

            1. TootsNYC*

              I learned all the hows, but not the terms–until German class in college.

              Oh, that’s called a GERUND!

      2. Fortitude Jones*

        Agreed so much. I hate when people say, “Well, I was an English major” because that can mean anything. The university I attended had an English major where all they really did was read and critique other people’s writing – that doesn’t make you a writer.

        1. MOAS*

          *guiltyyyyyyyyyyyy* lmao. I’m the worst “english major” though b/c I majored in writing and my job has nothing to do with writing– i’m an accountant. I do some writing here at work, but it’s far beyond what I actually majored in. My college had 3 concentrations in the English major: writing, literature and teaching.

          May be more of a friday/weekend thread topic but anyone else get “You’re an English major? Oh you should teach!”

          1. Becky*

            I was a linguistics major and I constantly get “Oh, you must know so many languages!” which…no not really. You don’t have to be a polyglot to study linguistics.

          2. Fortitude Jones*

            LOL! You’re probably not annoying with it, though. The worst offenders are the ones who are actually terrible writers, but because they majored in English, think they know everything about spelling and grammar. When I run into them in my daily life, I simply ask, “Have you been published?” If the answer is no, I say, “Okay, then. Good day.”

  7. Falling Diphthong*

    As insane as this is, the lack of pushback has probably convinced her that this is a valuable contribution, and future recommendations from you will make glowing mention of her on-the-fly editing brilliance.

    1. Kathleen_A*

      Maybe, but I strongly suspect that she at least halfway knows she’s being obnoxious. There are people this clueless, I guess, but not many. I mean, correcting documents unnecessarily is one thing, but *correcting* her *evaluation*? That’s just ridiculous.

      1. ellex42*

        I’ve had at least one coworker this clueless in every job I’ve had. Hilariously – or sadly – none of them were nearly as expert as they thought they were.

        1. Kathleen_A*

          People who chronically over-correct are indeed often wrong. Truly knowledgeable editors know that while there are some things that are wrong, there also is usually more than one way to be right. So anybody who is arrogant enough to think that his/her way is THE right way is going to be wrong quite a lot!

          1. Former Employee*

            Yes, Dunning-Kruger has to do with performance, usually on the job, but it can also apply in an academic setting. A person believes they are doing really well when, in fact, their work is mediocre at best.

            An interesting corollary is that many people who are above average or better at their work are often the ones who doubt themselves.

      2. many bells down*

        I myself do have the knee-jerk reaction to immediately want to correct an error I see. But that’s for legitimate mistakes like “their late to every meeting”, not for style choices. And I can certainly restrain myself from ACTUALLY doing it anywhere other than in my head.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I have this problem, too, but did not have the ability to become a linguistics major.

          The solution was I became a journal editor in law school, and I would geek out with the guy who was in charge of grammar and “line” editing. We would not make our colleagues suffer with our geek out about whether to hyphenate an adjectival phrase that contained an adverb, etc.—we’d talk on the side or in a location where it wouldn’t bother others. To this day (over 10 years later), we still geek out and share grammar columns with one another. We both love On Language and the NYT grammar quiz. It’s like the hammer-nail problem (if you have a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail.).

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I agree that it’s gone really too l0ng, the first couple of times I would have been like “LOL what?” and then after it was a shown pattern, it requires a conversation.

      I think this may be a ‘new manager’ sort of issue. Since they prefaced saying that they’re newer to the company and the person has been there longer. It’s that awkward acknowledgement phase of “You’re in charge, you need to stay in charge.”

    3. TootsNYC*

      I think she doesn’t intend it to be valuable. And I think the lack of pushback has simply told her that her boss is weak, and she can keep going.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        Agreed. It’s meant to be undermining, not helpful. It’s the employee repeatedly saying this is how I’d say/write things if I were the manager, which I should have been instead of you.

        I wish the OP had asked this employee straight up, “What are you hoping to accomplish by doing this?” Especially in the moment that the employee marked up her own review. It’s just so self-sabotaging.

  8. I have a theory...*

    I am dealing with this with my own children, AND within a parallel department that does not report to me.

    My theory is we are now in a culture where feedback is expected, and even solicited, in many contexts, such as purchasing and places like Yelp and TripAdvisor.

    My kids are learning to read the boundaries and roles, and have been told that unless it’s a REAL GAMECHANGER, or and EMERGENCY. It slows us down from what we’re trying to get done in a group setting. The first question is…how important is it? Ask a question. Wait for a one-on-one, as well.

    Some of this is boundaries, come of this is social skills, and yes, there are egos involved, too. Including the one you have to reckon with on who-reports-to-who. They are not your manager because of spelling and grammar, and some of editing is a matter of opinion. Know who leads, and learn how to travel well with the pack.

  9. ArtK*

    This is not good. She’s publicly correcting you which undermines your authority. Alison is right, you must get ahead of this one. If it goes on after you’ve told her to stop, that becomes insubordination.

    As an aside, I’m not fond of the “I need you to …” phrasing. I’d prefer to phrase it so that it is something that the employee either needs or must do: “You need to …” or “You must …”. Change the focus because it’s clear in situations like this that the employee doesn’t really care what the manager needs.

    1. Yvette*

      And please don’t forget the “Going forward, I need you to stop doing that.” part of Alison’s script. Because without that it can come across as more of a suggestion.

      1. Reality Check*

        I agree. I took a parenting class once, and they told us to never put the word “I” in the sentence. It should sound more like “this is unacceptable” or something along those lines. It is then about the behavior, not the speaker, and conveys authority. I think the same principle applies here.

        1. fposte*

          There’s a lot more room in management, though. I think wording matters more to us in comments because we don’t have tone, but face to face management includes tone that can make seemingly weaselly wording implacable or firm wording mushy.

        2. TootsNYC*

          I once said to someone I was correcting, “The job needs you to do X.”

          Idea being, it wasn’t ME who was asking for some PERSONAL reason.
          It was what was necessary for the job to be done well.

        3. Devil Fish*

          That parenting class explained it wrong. Saying something is unacceptable implies it’s objective rather than a preference, which works well on very small children who haven’t developed enough cognitive skills yet to understand acting differently in different contexts and are still pushing boundaries to figure out what the rules are. “I don’t want you playing in traffic,” invites more questions than “It’s unacceptable to play in traffic.”

          As a general rule, adults aren’t toddlers and we’re generally able to operate within different contexts without difficulty as long as we have reasons for why we’re doing what we’re doing. A manager who gives instructions with an “I” statement speaks with more authority than one says “this is unacceptable” when they’re just explaining a personal preference.

          1. Reality Check*

            I used “this is unacceptable” as a possible example, not the only one. Saying to my kids, “After breakfast you must clean you room” worked a hell of a lot better than saying “I want you to clean your room.” I realize OP is not a parent speaking to a child, but the employee’s behaviour is obnoxious and needs to be shut down firmly. I think this is a better way to do it.

  10. merp*

    Cannot believe another coworker saw this behavior, thought it was normal and a good idea, and started doing the same. The initial behavior is definitely weird and terrible, but that it’s catching on is the most baffling part to me.

    1. Reba*

      I know! I remember thinking that the first time this ran. The behavior is so aggressive imo I can’t imagine thinking “that’s clearly going over well, I should pick up the habit too”!

    2. fhqwhgads*

      I immediately wondered if the first one told the second the OP appreciated it or something? Either that or they found a kindred spirit in a very specific brand of jerk-behavior coupled with inability to read a room.

    3. TootsNYC*

      that coworker may not have thought it was normal and a good idea.

      That coworker may have thought “here’s a good way to needle the boss–she gets away with it, I can too, and my efforts will be amplifying hers.”

      Maybe I’m just really jaded. Comes from my junior-high and high-school experience.

    4. irene adler*

      Maybe it’s reinforcement of some kind. The first employee comments that boss isn’t heeded her edits, so the second employee joins in, to reinforce the “need” to heed them.

  11. Reality Check*

    I would never do this to a boss or coworker, but sometimes when my son’s school teachers send out work sheets, spelling lists, etc, with spelling errors and with apostrophe’s on plural noun’s, I will sometimes pull out my red pen.

    1. texan in exile*

      A friend returned a permission slip to her daughter’s second-grade teacher with the “Pier Marquette park” corrected to “Pere Marquette park.” I mean, there is a pier at Pere Marquette park, but still.

      1. MsChanandlerBong*

        You wouldn’t believe the stuff I see from teachers and school administrators. One assignment asked the students to write about the Japanese interment (it was not a typo, as interment was used several times in the essay prompt). The local superintendent sends out email newsletters that would make your eyes blood. Just terrible grammar, punctuation, and spelling throughout.

        1. IOnlyWearClogs*

          I’m a Pre-K teacher and I once had to sit through a slideshow in a college course about child development that I needed for certification where the professor had used the word “martial” instead of “marital” eleven whole times. I kept giggling really inappropriately because every other slide would say things like, “Martial relationships and communication can become more difficult with an infant” because, well, yeah, babies definitely make terrible soldiers.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            *splorfle* Oh, I’m glad I wasn’t drinking when I read that.

            I agree that kids make couples fight more, though…

    2. Auntie Social*

      I was born with a red pen. I never corrected anyone like this woman did but I did review things when asked. But when I got to be a client and caught typos in the pleadings, boy did I correct—including the fact that she’d gotten my name wrong throughout the documents. Poor elderly partner was mortified.

  12. Pamela_love*

    I suspect that she thought she should have gotten your position when whoever had it previously left.

    1. Coldbrewinacup*

      This is my guess, too. This person is upset about having to report to the OP and is being petty to get back at the OP.

      OP, please put a stop to this now, or you’ll be dealing with worse behavior from her in the future.

  13. Pamela_lov*

    I suspect that she thought she should have gotten your position when whoever had it previously left.

  14. C Average*

    I was born with a spell-check in my brain and a red pen in my hand, I’m convinced. I mentally proofread every piece of writing that crosses my field of awareness. I wish there were a kill switch for this feature, I sincerely do.

    In college I had a part-time job at one of the campus copy centers. Professors would bring in handouts and exams, and students would bring in assignments. I’d casually glance at them and blithely ask, “Say, do you want to fix that typo before I run off 90 copies of this?”

    One day my sainted boss said to me, “Please assume that people do not want editorial feedback unless they specifically ask for it.”

    This may be the single most useful thing I learned in college.

    (That said, it still hurts my heart when I see bad spelling and grammar out in the wild, and it’s hard to restrain myself at times from saying something. I’d be mortified if I wrote something important for others to read and it had errors. I have to constantly remind myself that other people just don’t care the way I do, just like some people are probably horrified that I leave the house without makeup and I have cat hair on my clothes.)

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I think part of this was that you had no business really reading things so in depth that you were copying. I’d have appreciated the heads up personally and never would have complained but yeah, I think that’s more of the issue on that one!

      Just like it’s not the person’s job to be editing these documents that she’s given by her boss unless it’s flagged for editing. My boss has me edit plenty of things and other things I don’t even bother to bring things up because if it mattered, they’d ask. And I’ve seen some fun clerical errors over the years.

      1. C Average*

        Yeah, I definitely get all this now!

        The thing is, I don’t have to read something in depth to see the typos. The documents were usually boring things I didn’t know or care much about, but the errors just stuck out to me. When I look around, it’s almost like spelling and grammar errors are highlighted: they just stand out to my eyes.

        I learned a few years back that I have an autism spectrum disorder–nonverbal learning disorder–and that a freakish eye for spelling and grammar is a not-infrequent symptom. I also spot four-leaf clovers on a regular basis as I’m out walking. I’m not quite Rain Man counting the toothpicks, but I definitely have some weird pattern recognition abilities.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Oh I totally get it. I read everything on habit and notice a lot of random things, even when I’m supposed to be not doing that. I just thankfully knew all along that I had to keep my mouth shut ;) I have a confidential kind of job though often times, so I’m just used to being privy too much information and holding it in confidence.

          It reminds me of the years we had to develop photos by hand and all the things those poor techs had to see *sobs* Think about that. They would never comment either since it’s a “shhhh you didn’t actually see it” even if it’s just their flower garden.

        2. many bells down*

          I don’t spot errors as quickly as you, but when I do it’s like an itch in the corner of my brain that just won’t stop. And of course I sometimes make my own errors, and those are even more annoying. But I also recognize that it’s MY problem to deal with in 99% of circumstances.

        3. Pommette!*

          That is very interesting!
          I have both of these traits. Things that differ from the expected pattern (the clover with a fourth leaf, the noun with a missing ‘s’, etc.) feel wrong in a visceral way that makes them extremely, and unavoidably, noticeable.
          I would like to think of this propensity as a talent, but it’s one for which I have yet to find any meaningful use.

          1. Meepmeep*

            I’m a lawyer, and I never need to worry about embarrassing errors in court filings – it does come in handy for some things.

        4. Llama Face!*

          Hi twin! *waves*
          I haven’t been diagnosed as on the spectrum but I have the same editing and clover abilities as you. I had collected over 100 four-leaf clovers, several five-leaf clovers, and one eight-leaf* clover by the time I was a teenager. I would just walk by a lawn and the oddball clovers would be easy to identify from standing height. Like you, I don’t have to deliberately look for spelling and grammar errors; I glance at a piece of text and they pop out like a Magic Eye picture.

          *Technically it was three conjoined clovers with two lobes that had also fused together.

          (I’m sure there will inevitably be a typo or two in my comment since it seems to be a variant of Murphy’s Law that any comment about spelling or grammar will contain that exact mistake.)

        5. Meepmeep*

          I’m one of those too. Probably autism spectrum, though I never got (or wanted) any sort of diagnosis. Spelling errors jump out at me – I literally need just a glance to spot them. I started correcting my parents’ spelling at the age of three. And I was this kind of obnoxious person in elementary and middle school – thankfully, I’d acquired enough social skills by adulthood to know that correcting the grammar in your performance review is a bad idea.

        6. smoke tree*

          Have you ever taken an editing job as a result? I am similarly good at spotting typos and things that stand out, and it’s pretty useful in my job as an editor. And it’s been helpful to have an outlet for my perfectionism, actually. Probably makes me more bearable in my civilian life.

    2. Goldfinch*

      When I worked at a copy/printer company (like a mom-and-pop Kinko’s) we were strictly forbidden from commenting on customer spelling. I sent orders for thousands of business cards with ridiculous typos. Your choice was to get yelled at by the boss to mind your business if you pointed out the error, or get yelled at by the customer for letting the order go through without catching the error. Yay for Schrödinger’s apostrophe.

      1. MsChanandlerBong*

        At my first job out of college, I noticed on my first day that my boss’s business card listed him as the “Chef of Operations.” I was a bit immature, then, so of course I immediately said something about it. Turns out he’d had those cards for like three years and nobody in our company ever noticed.

    3. Pommette!*

      That is a good lesson to have learned!

      A kill switch would be wonderful. Or even just a volume switch that let me direct less of my attention to proofreading documents I haven’t been asked to proofread.

      That is all.

    4. MissDisplaced*

      I think it’s one thing to point out a genuine typo or misspelled word, but quite another to rewrite snd edit.
      The first is oftentimes appreciated as a good catch whilst the other is annoying if unasked for.

  15. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    What the actual fu…

    Yeah, this is awful behavior and she’s doing it to try to diminish your authority, which is such strange behavior. I wonder if she was passed up for your job, since you mentioned they’ve been there longer than you have. Yuck and yikes, Alison is right, this has to be addressed sternly and immediately. Then she needs to be disciplined if she can’t fix her nonsense.

    If she has actual things to say, she needs to learn to do that instead of just editing documents that don’t require it.

    1. Close Bracket*

      If she has actual things to say, she needs to learn to do that

      If OP has actual things to say about the edits, she needs to learn to do that instead of walking out when somebody is handing her things.

      And how do we know the documents don’t require edits? OP doesn’t think they do, but OP has suspect judgement.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Why are you coming for the OP suddenly? Now I’m judging your judgements here.

        Internal documents usually don’t matter that much, not enough to act out and treat her like a child turning in school work.

      2. Zombeyonce*

        If the documents required edits, OP would ask for editing. OP is not asking, therefore the handouts they’re giving out do not need edits. You can have a meeting handout full of typos and mistakes, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be edited.

        If it’s able to be understood sufficiently, not needed after the meeting, and/or not for larger public consumption, there’s absolutely no need for anyone to make edits to these documents.

        1. TootsNYC*

          plus, if they could have used edits before they were distributed, the proper course is to say to your boss, “I noticed some error are creeping in to your hand-outs. Would you like me to give them the once-over next week before you copy them? I have a knack for that kind of thing.”

          Not to correct them in red and hand them back in front of everyone.

      3. Jadelyn*

        Unless there are wild factual inaccuracies (like, “we’ll be talking about the Johnson project, which Wakeen will be leading” when Wakeen is actually the lead for the Peters project), there are never edits required on a meeting agenda. It’s an internal working document, not a published book going to the Library of Congress, ffs.

      4. sacados*

        I think the issue is that these are internal documents. Unless we’re talking about the sort of glaring error that would cause confusion/ change the meaning or purpose of the document then Red Pen Coworker needs to let it go. As annoying as typos or awkward repetition of words might be to the grammarians among us, it’s just not a productive use of anyone’s time to be making edits instead of actually paying attention and participating during the meeting.
        And even if there *are* the kind of errors in meaning that need to be clarified, OP’s team member is going about it in entirely the wrong way. If these edits were really being made in good faith, then the person should have raised it specifically– either in private afterwards or even during the meeting– like “I see you wrote X here, but that doesn’t seem to make sense. Did you mean Y instead?”
        Instead of making it into a passive aggressive criticism.

      5. TootsNYC*

        the documents have been printed out and distributed. Everybody has seen the errors, and the documents’ life is over and their purpose has been served. The edits aren’t useful in the least now.

      6. Observer*

        No, the OP doesn’t have “suspect judgement” here. There is simply no reason to think that an agenda for an internal meeting actually needs edits. Same for the performance review.

        And even if the documents do need edits, that IS NOT HER JOB.

  16. Mukbangfan*

    I have a coworker who prides herself on correcting others. She’s told me stories about going to work meetings and other events, and correcting the speakers whenever they said something she thought was wrong. I think she’s obnoxious, so whenever she shares one of her stories, I respond with some form of “was that really necessary?” She’ll ask questions just to test people to see how they answer, so I’ve stopped feeding into it. I know that after she tries to correct me, she’ll then approach me with a question when she doesn’t know how to handle a task. The know-it-all who ends up not knowing as much as she thinks she does. I just laugh to myself.

    1. Heidi*

      I think the contradictions are really interesting in these cases. Trying to make a show of superior knowledge, but coming across as insecure. Trying to demonstrate helpfulness by editing people’s work, but communicating hostility instead because it was not invited or warranted. Trying to seem like a valuable resource, but making people feel they’d be better off without you.

      1. Mostly Anonymous Business Student*

        Yeah, the confidence thing is sort of an interesting paradox. I mentioned being in a class with a “gunner” earlier in another thread, but having them around has actually led me to something like the realization you mentioned. Everyone (students, professors, whoever) seems to think that speaking up a lot in class is a sign of confidence, but I feel like the older and more mature and confident I get, the *less* I have the urge to do so. In high school/early college, I viewed the students who always had something to say as good role models; now, as a grad student, I’m more likely to think that such behavior comes off as insecure and desperate for approval. I guess I’m thinking of it as more like the workplace, where you give your input on things that affect you or are in your area of expertise, and someone who had to chime in about absolutely everything would be seen as kind of ridiculous.

    2. Former Employee*

      Maybe you could start repeating her question and then answer it. And do it just loud enough for the neighboring co-workers to hear.

      “Mary, you said you need to know how to spell the former President’s name. It’s spelled…”

  17. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I would deliberately take her notes, then go and shred them while she watched.

    Then I’d print her out an unmarked up version and be all “This is yours to keep, Nancy. Do whatever you want with it but don’t think about giving it back to me.”

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I’m in an aggressive industry thankfully ;)

        It’s what I tell everyone when I’m doing handouts for various nonsense. “I know you don’t want this, guys. But you have to take it, it’s the law. So make it into an airplane when we’re done but take it out of this room with you.”

      2. Eillah*

        People that rude and clueless deserve aggressive responses. Mild responses create little monsters like this in the first place.

        1. Jadelyn*

          So, calling them “monsters” is marginally better than “pieces of trash”, but still way disproportionate. You’re way over the top with the hostility in these comments.

  18. Close Bracket*

    The last couple times she held them out to me, I didn’t take them. I just picked up all of my things, then said something like, “Thanks for coming, everybody” and walked out without it.

    Passive aggressive much, yo?

        1. anonymous 5*

          OP is a manager, and has the right to try the non-response. It doesn’t seem to have worked, so it’s certainly wise to do more than walk away. But if the edits aren’t the job of the employee, OP is under zero obligation to accept them unsolicited.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Yeah. That might have worked as a response the very first time she tried this nonsense, if she felt embarrassed and never did it again. This late in the game it is *not* coming across as a firm directive to cut it out. To everyone in the meeting, not just Rogue Editor 1.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I guess she could say “no thanks” instead of ignoring her? It’s not like you can discipline someone in front of their peers, so the best thing to do is ignore it in the moment unless you want to pull a “Why don’t you come to my office so we can discuss this.” which is pretty aggressive.

      1. Close Bracket*

        No, ignoring it is not the best thing to do, and a request to discuss something privately is called management.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          You ask someone to speak with you privately, when they’re not surrounded by others.

          Or you’re wading into the mucky water where you’re going to be accused of bullying them and embarrassing them. Regardless of their behaviors that call for it. I’ve seen it escalate to that with people like the OP is dealing with. To the point it got brought up in unemployment hearings afterwards.

        2. Jadelyn*

          You know, based on this weird level of aggressive judgment of the OP, I’m starting to wonder if you’re the employee the letter was written about.

      2. fposte*

        It’s preferable not to discipline in front of peers, but it’s not unacceptable to give pushback there, especially when the disease here seems to be spreading. Ideally the OP would have said something to the offender outside of the meeting first so that this would be just a reminder, but it’s fine to say something like “We’re not taking staff edits on this process.” It’s similar to shutting down a line of questioning that’s getting away from the meeting’s purpose–you don’t have to wait to do that.

    3. Zombeyonce*

      The rogue editor is being passive-aggressive by doing this in the first place. OP has written in asking how to handle this so they’re obviously trying to make the best choice before doing something that could make it worse. Why aren’t you giving them the benefit of the doubt?

    4. chi type*

      I mean it seems pretty obvious she just didn’t know how to respond in the moment at all. Her writing in for advice asking how to respond is your first clue.

  19. JDC*

    I in no way condone violence but I don’t even know this woman and I’ve never wanted to throw something at someone more.

  20. Scout Finch*

    Flashbacks of Mrs. Fernandez making us grade our OWN papers in red pen. One did not show up in her (high school English) class without a red pen.

    She expected much of us. We graded ourselves tougher than she would have.

    But…NO…I would NOT edit a colleague’s documents unless I was assigned to do so.

    This is creepy and antagonistic.

  21. Public Sector Manager*

    It always makes me cringe when managers see bad conduct and swat it away with a “pick your battles” pronouncement.

    You have a fantastic employee who doesn’t have a client facing role who is consistently 10 minutes late–that’s a pick your battles moment and the answer to that one is to let it go.

    You have an employee who edits your work in front of coworkers with a red pen, even so far as to do the same to the employee’s own performance evaluation, and that’s met with crickets. That’s when you step up.

    Really enjoyed and hated seeing this one again!

    1. Close Bracket*

      That’s when you step up.

      Yup. There’s more to managing than bossing other people around and collecting a high salary.

        1. MOAS*

          Theres nothing in OP’s post that indicates she’s just bossing people around and collecting a high salary.

    2. MOAS*

      I agree with you but I dont’ see OP dismissing it as “pick your battles” and hiding from the problem. After all, they realized it was wrong and came to us for help. Part of the learning curve of being a manager is knowing which battles are worth it, especially for new managers. And the battles aren’t consistent across the board, I know at some companies, coming in late would definitely be an issue. It’s easy for us on the outside to look at a situation and say that it’s wrong, not so much inside I think.

  22. Poppy*

    I struggled with something similar – but I was at least pushed into the problem by my boss.
    We sent out fundraising letters/materials regularly. She had a bad habit of asking me to “look them over for edits” when what she really meant was “make sure there are no spelling errors or missing punctuation”
    We went back and forth over this several times because for many items when she sent me things for edits the goal was to edit the content to make it stronger.
    We got to a point where she snapped at me that she wasn’t looking for feedback/changes on the content just spelling errors. I attempted to explain that she used the same phrasing for both scenarios and could she clarify which it was when sending me work. (the answer was no I was expected to know the difference inherently)
    Eventually I settled on just asking her what she was looking for everytime – it’s annoying to not get the instructions all at once but I lived with it.

    I do wonder if the (inappropriately timed) corrections & edits come from a similar place. Was there a previous manager who asked this person for editing to make things stronger and she found that it was a skill she liked using? She needs to stop either way but I might approach the conversation differently if she’s stuck in a habit of “this is how I contribute/prepare for meetings” and it happens during them because she didn’t get to do so ahead of time as was her custom.

    1. Observer*

      Stylistic edits in red pen to a meeting agenda being used in the current meeting and her performance review? Highly unlikely.

  23. Jennifer*

    Ignoring her when she handed you the edits and leaving the room is such a deliciously Regina George thing to do. I mean that as a compliment. But Alison is right. It’s too passive. This needed to be addressed head-on.

  24. A Nony Mouse*

    Oh wow. This isn’t behavior I would address later in private. She is deliberately undermining you in front of your team. Time to exercise your authority in front of the pack:
    “What are you doing? If I ever need you to edit ANYTHING I produce, I will assign you to do it specifically. Now, put that pen away. In fact, throw it away. You don’t need to be contributing anything here in red pen.”

    1. MaxiesMommy*

      I’d make her *hand* me the red pen (in front of everyone) because I wouldn’t trust her not to fish it out of the trash.

  25. Nanani*

    The fact that these are stylistic edits is what cinches it as pure obnoxiousness and not in any way meant as helpful.

    “Not the way YOU would say it” is not the same thing as incorrect, and any *good* editor knows it.

    1. ArtK*

      That *really* stood out for me. Not factual issues, not grammar or spelling issues, but style. Unless the employee’s name is Strunk or White (in which case, I’d still probably ignore them), they have nothing to contribute here.

  26. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

    Definitely have the conversation that Alison recommended. Make it clear to this person that you are the manager and she is not. Sounds like she is trying to undermine your authority, as others have stated above. She’s being a bully. I’ve worked with people like that, who try to act like the supervisor when they are not, and nobody ever did anything about it. People who pull crap like this need to stop getting away with it. Good luck and keep us updated!

  27. Hiya*

    This type of behavior also often means they are not focusing on what they should be focusing on. They can be so focused on “catching” mistakes they aren’t listening to the information being conveyed. It’s like people who while you’re talking are forming their response in their head instead of really listening.

  28. CM*

    This seems like something that’s weird but not a big deal. You can really easily say, “I’m not really looking for edits on this, and I’m confused about why you’re giving them to me,” or even, “I’m starting to feel kind of insulted that you’re editing casual documents like this,” if that’s how you feel. But the one thing I wouldn’t do is make a blanket statement like, “That’s disrespectful,” since reasonable people can always disagree about what is and isn’t disrespectful.

    1. A Nony Mouse*

      In this setting, the OP is the manager, and she gets to determine what she finds disrespectful.

    2. fhqwhgads*

      Editing something you weren’t asked to edit in red pen and handing it back is like saying “you’re wrong; I noticed; here’s an itemized list of all the ways you’re wrong”. It’s really difficult for me to fathom an employee doing that to their boss wouldn’t be interpreted as disrespectful by 95% of professional adult humans. This employee seems to be one of that 5% who needs this pointed out. Even if the employee disagrees that it’s disrespectful, the boss and the company set the standard she’ll need to follow while working there.

  29. mlem*

    In my first professional review, my supervisor took me to an office and told me to look over what she’d written. It was riddled with grammatical errors, so I fixed them as I went and signed the document as required. She finished the review discussion; we left the room; and she then came over and chewed me out.

    I honestly hadn’t known better, so … learning experience, I guess. Didn’t affect my raise (and shouldn’t have; I was the top performer in the group by far).

  30. RUKiddingMe*

    When the red pen comes out put your hand up with a “stop” motion. Say, “I’m not asking fir edits/corrections. I am directing you to read it before we discuss it.”

    1. Pommette!*

      I like this, a lot. It gives the OP a way to address the editing right away, when it happens, provides straightforward directions about what she should be doing, and puts the focus on the behaviour, rather than on the employee’s supposed reasons for engaging in it.

  31. JKP*

    I teach a class where we intentionally have some minor spelling mistakes/typos in the materials. Every new class, someone points out the same mistakes. We never fix them, because the point is to get the students who think this way to self-identify so we can teach more effectively. It’s really useful information to know about someone and indicates a lot about how they think.

    1. fposte*

      Oh, that’s interesting–what field is this in? What do you think it indicates that would need to be corrected for this field? I’m not usually a fan of deliberate traps but I could see that in some social services-type fields, for instance, it might be useful to refocus people.

      1. JKP*

        The students are learning how to read people and work with clients to change behaviors, beliefs, emotional reactions, etc. So part of teaching the class is figuring out how each student naturally thinks, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and then what skills and changes they need to make in themselves to be more effective with their clients.

        Typically, the students who notice the typos need help with letting go of details and seeing more of the big picture, they need practice with matching the outcomes they want rather than getting distracted by the small differences and exceptions, and they often need an adjustment to their relevancy filter. Pointing out the typos in front of the class can indicate that they need to prove they’re the smartest one in the room, and so they’ll need to feel safe enough to make mistakes. They don’t know in the moment that the typos are deliberate, it’s just a little flag that lets me know I should check for those things.

    2. nonegiven*

      I had an English teacher hand out a syllabus from a math class and proceed to rip it apart. It gave the grading scale in mathematical terms, which seemed to really insult her.

  32. AllegraTempe*

    While I agree that this is profoundly rude and undermining, I’m curious about one thing: is she *right* about any of these edits? Do they make the document more concise, clearer, memorable? Does she catch things were inadvertently missed? The fact she’s going about it hellishly wrong doesn’t necessarily mean her input is invalid.

    1. fposte*

      For an internal document in a team meeting? It almost certainly does.

      And even if this is the annual company prospectus blast-emailed to a million news outlets, this person isn’t doing the job she’s paid to do; she’s doing the job she’d like to have. That’s invalid as well. It demonstrates an ironic failure to understand the importance of structure–in editing workflow and in job performance. And she’s not doing editing right even if her words are better, and she’s doing it instead of the work she’s paid to do.

      So no, not valid.

    2. fhqwhgads*

      If it’s an internal document for a meeting, the lifespan of that document is probably an hour. Anything she makes clearer or more concise in the doc isn’t going to matter once the meeting is over – because they’ll have discussed it in the meeting. It’s just not that important to do an extra pass at a doc that’s being used literally right now in the meeting you’re in and then it’s over.
      If she were tweaking things for publication, even if she made them better, if it’s not her job to do that then she’s wasting time better spent on the work actually assigned to her. It’s not like she’s going to gumption her way into an editing job. Or if she’s already an editor, she’s way out of line.

      1. Clisby*

        If the internal document had some glaring factual error, like Project X will require Y, when it really requires Z, somebody should speak up and say so. However, it sounds like these are just corrections in style, which aren’t worth anything.

    3. The New Wanderer*

      It seems to me that the employee’s entire point is to make it blazingly clear that “This is how I would be doing Manager’s job” and not to provide useful feedback. I mean, according to the updates, the employee literally said “I could do your job better” except of course, she didn’t get promoted to that job so she doesn’t have standing to provide that kind of input.

      It’s totally a power play intended to be undermining to the manager, not to be helpful in the slightest. The employee thinks she found a loophole via this editing gambit, but the action itself negates any possible value that could be found in the content. It needs to be shut down, not evaluated for contribution.

  33. Former Employee*

    If the OP still wants to try to avoid having a conversation with this rogue employee, I suggest doing something similar to what Becky Lynch recommended. Becky’s idea was to walk over to the shredder and destroy the item (s) in front of the employee. I would go ahead and tear it up and throw it in the trash in front of the employee -include a lip curl if OP can pull it off. I think Becky also said to tell the employee: “Never do that again.”

    If the company ever asks the OP who she can spare in case they need to cut back, this “gem” is the obvious choice.

    1. fposte*

      I’m guessing this is a joke, but just in case–no, don’t do that. Management by contempt is a bad plan. It’s an especially bad plan to be contemptuous instead of stating in words what you want from the employee.

  34. Mukbangfan*

    Exactly. People who behave in this way end up coming across unapproachable to the very people whom they are trying to “help”. At this point, this coworker has actually been confronted about her behavior by one of our supervisors, but when she relayed the story to me, she framed it to make it seem as though the supervisor was just insecure. No, the supervisor isn’t insecure, because there are other employees who feel the same way. I guess all of these people are the ones with the problem and are projecting their insecurity onto her.

  35. TootsNYC*

    I had someone who worked for me who seemed to always be sniping, and undermining. (Once I had passed on a query from the top person, and later I said, “What was the answer to Alex’s question?” She said, “I told Alex.” I was like, “Yes, and now you can tell me, because I’m asking.”)

    And I was a young manager; we were close in age. And I didn’t know how to handle it.

    Eventually some aspect of it (some confusion because she refused to tell me something that I later looked stupid for not knowing) came to the attention of one of our top execs, who called me in and said, “You are her boss. You have the power here. You can tell her.”

    So I had a meeting with her and just flat-out said, “I am your boss. If I ask you a question, you need to answer it. If there is information I need to do my job, you are to tell me. If you don’t want to work for me, you can always look for a new job. I’m speaking to you with the backing of people over my head, so don’t look for someone to complain to. Is this clear?”

    She took great pleasure in telling me, at the end of our meeting, that my pants zipper was down (it was), but she stopped. (Then she started coming to be chummy, but only to ask me what job I might go to from the one I had. After about the 6th time of fielding a “what are your career plans after this job?” I said, in an informative tone, “I’m not leaving. I like the work, I’m respected here, and I have 3 weeks of vacation this year. If you want to move up, you will have to move out, because I’m not going to move on and leave my post vacant for you to apply to.”)

    Sometimes I just like to drag these things right out into the open.

    That experience also led me to sometimes say, at some point during the hiring process, when I’m trying to describe what it’s like to work for me, or if there’s ever any conflict (but I like to do it early) “I don’t like to be micromanage-y. I can be particular about how things get done, but I’m pretty good at having a reason. I like people to feel that they can just do their jobs without being told every little thing. And I like to calibrate with them so that they feel comfortable making decisions on their own without me. I like to get input from the people on my team as I make decisions, because I trust their experience and judgment. I think people should be able to come to work and know what their job is, and have the freedom to just do it. I don’t like to BE bossy. However, I will say that when it comes right down to it, I am the boss, and if it ever comes about that I feel I have to actually point that out, I’m going to consider that to be a huge problem, on my part or on yours.”

    Now that I’m older, I don’t really add that last part–I stick with the part about wanting people to feel that they own their jobs, etc.

    1. MOAS*

      Wow htat’s crazy!
      What ended up happening with her?

      I swear, the original post and some of hte other comments here, make me imagine something out of a sitcom.

      1. TootsNYC*

        She behaved. But then we all got laid off. She got a job inside the company that laid us off, and I didn’t. That was fine. I got severance; she didn’t. I got unemployment overlapping with the severance; she didn’t. I got a job for a chunk more money 4 weeks before my severance ended. I made money on the deal and got a job I liked.

        But I did hear from a friend in our industry that my former employee had offered her a full-time job, and after the friend received the offer, she said, “That’s great, I’d like to accept. I do have a vacation booked for shortly after you want me to start. Can I still take that vacation, without pay of course, or should I look into a refund?” (this was when you still could)

        My former employee didn’t get back to her for several days, and then finally said, “We’re not offering you the job after all.”

        We never did figure out what had happened. I assured my friend that she’d done nothing weird, especially since she had specifically said that she could and would cancel the vacation plans for the job.

        I wondered if my former employee hadn’t actually gotten a sign-off to extend the offer, and when she went to ask about the vacation, things blew up on her.

        And I think she left the industry to be a mom, at least for a while, and I don’t know where she is.

  36. Zipzap*

    I would have put a stop to this the first or definitely second time it happened. I know this is an old letter and the LW has dealt with it, but this is NOT the kind of thing you can let happen more than once or twice. Once someone undermines your authority in one area, they’ll keep trying in other areas, and your other subordinates may think they can go ahead and try the same thing (looks like that happened in this case.)

  37. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

    Regarding editing her performance review: while it sounds like this is not the case in OP’s situation, if the company/department has a culture of ripping people to shreds and giving everyone bad performance reviews, it would be quite comical if the employee whipped out the red pen and edited a review like that.

  38. Meepmeep*

    I did this in middle school. In my defense, I was in middle school. A grownup really ought to know better.

  39. Graciosa*

    I like a lot of the proposed suggestions for wording if there are follow-up issues a bit better than Alison’s original language (sorry, Alison!).

    My only quibble is the “when we agree on a course” language. The whole piece starts are strong, but this may weaken it a bit by implying that the employee gets to choose whether or not to agree to the manager’s instructions. Other than choosing whether to remain with the employer, she really doesn’t.

    – But I can totally see an annoying employee picking this up to explain that she never agreed –

  40. JSPA*

    “Jane, if you are hoping for a new career in copy-editing, this isn’t the right way to go about it. It’s also not the right way to shine in your current career.”

  41. ragazza*

    I once pointed out an incorrect word (like reign/rein–one of those very common mistakes) in a presentation because I was concerned it would look bad if the executive used it externally (we work with people in higher education). But I asked a more senior member of the department for her advice on the most tactful way to handle it first.

  42. Mellow*

    I blame the culture in university today that requires students to review each other’s work.

    As though people are experts simply because they show up…

  43. Essess*

    Next time she tries to hand you a sheet of corrections in front of people, I suggest not taking it and tell her out loud “I’ll speak to you in my office.” Then privately in my office I would bluntly tell her that the behavior was inappropriate and that if there are fundamental corrections (where the written information was factually incorrect) then she should address those with you privately but other edits of informal documents needs to stop unless she is requested to proofread them. Let her know that if she continues to do it in meetings then her lack of professionalism will reflect poorly in her employee review.

  44. Luna*

    I know I edited some documents and mostly fixed typos or blatant misspellings, usually caused by the original writer not knowing the language well enough– stuff like ‘traces’ being written as ‘trace’s’. That was minor stuff, and changing it made little difference to the usage of the document. But it was a pet peeve thing that bothered me, so I fixed it for my own, personal peace.

    Though for a different document that detailed what needed to be done over the course of a shift, I did end up fixing more things. And that was because I knew that I would be needing this document, and having a document full of misspellings or errors would not only bug me, but also make my work more difficult to do than it should have been. And since said document is now going to be used as the standard “Document to read and follow as a newbie on this shift”, it’s actually important for it to have correct spellings, and being easily readable by multiple people.

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