updates: the coworker tagging mistakes on Twitter, the cool job, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are five updates from past letter-writers.

1. Coworker tags our CEO on Twitter to point out my mistakes

When I came into the office the next morning, Jane was chastising our team assistant over the tweet — when it was nothing to do with her — and I asked her to lay off. I then got an email from my manager saying we should have a chat when he came in, and I worried I had lost my cool. Having read your response and lots of the comments, I was prepared to apologize, explain all the steps I was doing to catch social media errors sooner, proofread better — and he cut me off and said “to be clear, this is not a problem with you making typos in tweets. This is a problem with the way Jane escalated her concern, and treated our team.” He reassured me that this is an office where everyone arrives ready to learn on the job, and that applies to both me and Jane, and he would talk to her later. Which he did, and she and I made up.

It was all fine for a while. Jane has stopped with the screengrabs and the tagging (there haven’t been any new mistakes for her to do that with!), but still doesn’t seem to trust me to do my work. She often shouts across the office or comes to my desk and loiters for ages – and repeatedly tries to interrupt – when I’m clearly in the middle of another conversation. I personally can deal with that, but recently two new, very experienced people have joined our team – and both have raised repeated concerns with how Jane treats our team, and that she seems to think of marketing as a service which she gets to direct – rather than a collaborative project with our own priorities. Our director is asking her manager to work with her on how she communicates to us. And, in other news, members of our board have fed back to the senior management that they really love the direction our social media has taken in terms of tone and content over the last few months. So good news in that Jane’s behaviour wasn’t anything to do with me personally, I have the support of all of my team, and the bigger picture of my social media work is making a good impression!

2. Am I annoying my coworkers by asking for a ton of context on everything?

Hindsight really is 20/20, and the experience of writing this letter (and all of the hot takes/challenges/commiserations in the comments) opened my eyes to the baggage I was carrying with me from my last job.

Context missing from my last letter: I was fired from the job I held before this one. I’d ‘done nothing wrong’ in the words of my manager, but the role had evolved away from its original focus and I was struggling to meet the changing demands. It was the first job I’d ever lost, and it was very destabilizing. I recognize that my constant questioning was a defense mechanism – defending against the uncertainty of joining a new team in a new-to-me company. I can say all of this calmly now, but at the time I wrote into this column, I was still in deep survival mode (even though I’d been in the job for three months) and terrified of failing again. (Therapy! Everyone should try it.)

In addition to some slightly overdue therapy, time on the job has really smoothed out a lot of my lingering insecurities. I know the company, I have learned the rhythms of our change management strategy (in a word: chaos!), and I know which battles to pick and which to leave be.

Finally, I spent some time in my letter focusing on a particular teammate of mine. Many of the commenters (rightly!) came to her defense. Now that I have some distance from that time and have gotten to know her better, I realize now that she carries lot of workplace baggage as well. I recognize the context she’s bringing to her perception of and reaction to my constant questioning. Now we have a solid working relationship built on mutual understanding of our respective viewpoints. Thank you (Alison and Ask A Manager readers) for helping!

3. I’m addicted to snooping in my boss’s email

I actually stopped snooping the day I wrote to you; I think putting it in words and acknowledging that I wanted to stop pushed me over the edge into actually doing it. I definitely hadn’t realized how serious of an issue it was, so it was good to get a wake-up call. Haven’t so much as thought about it in months!

4. My coworkers interrupt me no matter what I’m doing — and keep going after I ask them to stop

Things have not turned out at all as I expected. I took so much of the advice you and others gave. I had private conversations with most of the worst offenders and many were responsive. I set limits with my own staff and created specific times/places where anyone could reach me for help. It helped so much at first, but what I discovered is that this was just a symptom of people feeling unsettled and unsafe at work. Talking with the staff in this way gave me insight in to some of the other dysfunctions in the office and led me to realize that my boss is not as effective and the company is not as stable as I assumed. I learned so much about myself in this process and it gave me some excellent management skills that will serve me well in my next job. Friday is my last day with this company. I have taken a position with much more responsibility in a larger company that will offer me better upward mobility and better fringe benefits. And I negotiated a 30% increase in salary (thanks for the other articles on how to do that!). I am dead sure I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t asked for your help, so thanks!

Every one of my direct reports are now looking for work, as well. I suspect I was the plug in the dam.

5. I don’t want to talk about my “cool” job

I’ve incorporated a lot of the feedback about small talk that your readers suggested, and I’ve also figured out how to use people’s natural assumptions.

My company and a very large hospital are in the same neighborhood and the hospital has the name of the neighborhood in its name. It’s the largest employer in the neighborhood, by far. I’ve figured out that if I say, “I work in Neighborhood Name,” 90% of people assume I work at the hospital. I immediately follow up with questions about them before they start asking me questions, and it works! Most people never get back to talking about my job and I’m sure a number of casual acquaintances assume I’m some type of medical professional.

I still don’t like talking about my job, but I’ve accepted it as a reality and the tips you and your readers shared have definitely helped.

{ 60 comments… read them below }

  1. hello*

    Good for you #3!

    Also idk if this is the whole site, or if it’s a targeted ad for me, but the ad for duck tape in the middle of the article was pretty funny considering past duck related letters.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Ditto on the ‘good for you, #3’, it’s hard to stop some behavior, and I’m impressed that you managed it.

      1. Alexander Graham Yell*

        I’ll add my voice to the chorus on that. So happy to see that update since the comments section definitely got heated, and so glad the LW was able to stop!

    2. Observer*

      #3 – I’m so glad you’ve stopped doing this and that Alison’s answer and the comments gave you a good perspective.

  2. AskAnEmployee*

    #5 – I feel you. Unfortunately in the U.S. we are obsessed with work so having any sort of unusual or unique job will lend to you getting questions from people. I do what you do, just flip questions back to the other person. I also like to ask questions about hobbies, family and non work related goals when meeting people in non work situations. We already devote 30 or more hours a week to work – let’s converse about something fulfilling.

    1. TimeTravelR*

      I work for a federal agency that spends a lot of time in the news lately. I just say I’m a fed. In DC there are so many of us that people don’t always follow up with “which agency?” If I somehow feel compelled to tell them which agency, I also clarify that I am in a support role and have nothing to do with the policy side.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Yeah, that’s another side of the coin. If your company or agency isn’t the cool one and people are mad at it instead, you probably don’t want to listen to them rant about it all day.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      Saying “I’m a clerical worker” will make everyone’s eyes glaze over every time if you want to discourage anyone.

  3. SomebodyElse*

    I’m glad the first LW found their feet in their new job. I have to say I giggled at the irony of not including the context of the issue in the first letter :)


    “Context missing from my last letter” – funny, considering how he was all about getting the exacting context from everyone else.

  5. Cookie Captain*

    #2’s update is fantastic! It sounds like he took a lot of positivity from the response to his original letter (even though many of the comments got pretty uncharitable, IIRC). Managing that much growth in self-awareness is very impressive.

    1. irene adler*

      I concur!
      I’m especially glad to see a situation where co-workers worked things through and now enjoy a “solid working relationship”. Not every case needs to end with finding another job.

  6. Spek*

    I had forgotten how I was low grade annoyed by how first world problem it was when I first read about the cool job. I’m jealous – i wish my job wasn’t being mired in corporate drudgery under a fluorescent tube! Grass is always greener, I guess.

    1. Close Bracket*

      If you read through, Cool Job OP said the root problem was that they had trouble saying no to requests for freebies. Kind of sounds like Cool Job OP needs to take a page from Context OP’s book and work on themselves.

      1. Spek*

        Interesting. I didn’t see that at all in the OP or the follow-up. Was it buried in the comments? My impression it was more like: “I’m tired of talking about how gray my eyes are” or, “I’m tired of talking about my new Maserati”

        1. SimplyTheBest*

          That sounds like a you problem. Everyone has things they don’t like that don’t sound like a problem to someone else. Doesn’t mean they can’t complain or look for advice on how to make the situation better for them. Otherwise, there’s only one person in the world allowed to complain.

      2. MMD*

        Agree. The answer to that is no, it’s against policy. This is my answer to friends, family, neighbors, when they ask me to write a prescription. It works. No apologies. They should not be asking to begin with. Not to pretend I’m something else.

    2. SimplyTheBest*

      Just FYI, the whole idea of “first world problems” is pretty gross. I’d move away from thinking like that.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          It also assumes a rigid divide between “first world” and “third world” countries and cultures that doesn’t actually exist.

          1. Quill*

            The whole first world / third world thing was originally a way america classified countries to justify how much better life was under capitalism than communism… half a century ago. Things have changed and “first world” countries also have many systemic problems, especially in regards to infrastructure, wealth distribution, and discrimination.

        2. Spek*

          I can’t disagree more. The sense of entitlement that seems to be growing in this political climate needs some backlash. Just a trick of geography for all of us means we got enough to eat today. So maybe it’s out of touch in this instance, but as a whole – it’s a valid criticism of some complaints.

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            I’m just gonna point out here that plenty of people living in “first world” countries do not, in fact, get enough to eat.

            1. SimplyTheBest*

              And plenty of people in developing countries who would be offended by the assumption that they don’t.

        3. PollyQ*

          While this blog is mostly focused on the specific laws and cultures of the US, Europe, Canada, etc., many of the problems here are fairly universal: how best to get along with colleagues, knowing what your rights are and how best to stand up for yourself, etc.

          Also, just as there are many people in the US who aren’t actually getting enough to eat, not everyone in a “third world” country is a subsistence-level farmer or menial laborer. Countries all over the world have modern economies, with offices, bosses, workplace rules, etc. so to describe this blog as purely “first world” ignores the existence of all those people working there.

    3. Wakeens Teapots LTD*

      Eh, I don’t have a “cool” job and I feel the same as the OP. I go out of my way to minimize & change conversation track whenever asked. People mean well but nothing good ever happens next. People misunderstand the nature of our actual business and my actual job, and want to, helpfully, refer $200 orders for their high school reunion to me (or similar).

      If it gets to that point, I’m forced to say “well, that’s really not what we do” when we clearly DO sell the items that they are inquiring about, we just don’t do $200 high school reunion orders. And I don’t handle any orders myself.

      Point being: I trust the original letter writer to know his situation and if its all better left unsaid. (and also, it’s rude to dismiss people who write to and advice column for advice. We’re all first world problems living here in the first world.)

      1. Watry*

        Yeah, I don’t always love talking about my job with people either, because people make (very understandable!) assumptions about my views on race, politics, etc. When I meet new people and tell them what I do, I make it clear that I hold X title, not Y title they’re concerned about.

  7. Close Bracket*

    but I amplify it in project meetings/communications so nothing slips through the cracks.

    Do you mean so that *you* don’t let things slip through the cracks or do you perceive yourself as helping the people you are questioning avoid having things slip through the cracks? If the latter, use your new perspective to consider whether you are/were assuming that without your questioning, things will slip through the cracks. That’s really showing a lack of trust in your teammates. Some might welcome the new perspective, and some will be completely alienated.

  8. Mirabel*

    “Cool job” OP, you’d seriously rather lie about your job than just admit you work at this supposedly “cool” place? I feel like that might backfire on you, especially if you’re letting people assume you’re a medical professional. What happens when you make new friends? Don’t you eventually have to come clean? “Actually, I’m not a neurologist like you assumed. I’m actually Chris Evans’ butt valet. Don’t judge me.”

    1. SimplyTheBest*

      People making assumptions isn’t the same thing as lying. She wouldn’t be “coming clean” she’d be correcting a misconception. I work at a synagogue. That’s what I tell people when I meet new people and they ask about my work. It never occurs to me to also mention, “oh, and by the way, I’m not Jewish, I just work there.” But people assume I am. It’s really not a huge deal if someone figures out later on they made the wrong assumption.

    2. LQ*

      It doesn’t sound like the OP is leading them down the path. But saying, “I work in Rochester. Tell me about your earings?” A LOT of people will assume that means you work at Mayo, but that’s not a lie at all. At some point if someone goes, “Hey look at my injury” the OP would correct them that they aren’t a doctor/qualified medical professional. But OP is just saying the area and then talking about the other person. That’s totally fine!

    3. CheeryO*

      I don’t know if I’d call it a lie, exactly, but I do think it’s odd. Seems like a lot of potential for awkwardness to avoid drawing a very reasonable boundary. Do people really not ask, “Oh, where in [neighborhood] exactly?” And if they’re so easily distracted by questions about themselves, why not just use the same approach while being truthful about where you work?

    4. Smithy*

      I think that most people aware of large hospitals understand there are far more kinds of jobs at hospitals than just doctors or nurses.

      That being said – I think a lot of what the OP was looking for was a better way to navigate small talk in a positive way in social settings. Over the years, I’ve worked for some nonprofits that I know can be politically charged in certain circles. I’ve always supported where I worked, but in many social settings – I’m hardly looking to kick off a heated discussion over a wedding buffet table just because someone’s great uncle asked me what I do. Through the magic of small talk there are ways to bypass such details until a better time.

      I think that if people don’t actually find out that you work as Chris Evan’s valet after a few months of hanging out socially – I think the overall impression would be that you likely carry a lot of discretion about where you work and don’t want to talk about it regularly. Which if folks are going to be offended by that – probably not the right friends for the OP to begin with.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Over the years, I’ve worked for some nonprofits that I know can be politically charged in certain circles. I’ve always supported where I worked, but in many social settings – I’m hardly looking to kick off a heated discussion over a wedding buffet table just because someone’s great uncle asked me what I do. Through the magic of small talk there are ways to bypass such details until a better time.

        I really like, both your position on this, and your wording of it.

        Personally, I am lucky to work in an industry most people consider boring. So usually, I say that the company is in the X field, the person’s eyes glaze over, and we move on to the next subject.

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Why does this bizarre line of reasoning keep being reposted? Who ever said people assume she’s a neurologist? I tell people I work in (city). There’s a large clinic that is also located in (city). I don’t work there. Never have I ever had to deal with the outcome of someone assuming I must be a neurologist because I work in (city) and then finding out I was not. If someone’s imagination can stretch that far, I guess that’s on them.

      Also, to Smithy’s point, people are just going to assume that OP cannot talk of the intricacies of being a valet to Chris Evans (whatever that means).

      My take on this is, I bet that 9 times out of 10, when people ask OP “so where do you work?”, it is not because they are dying to know where OP works. They are making small talk and this is one of the obligatory questions to ask. They might not even listen to the answer, for all I know.

  9. MMD*

    Working at a hospital is the coolest job ever lol.
    Your story will fall apart one day. Subterfuge won’t last forever. I guess you can deal with that when it happens.

    1. Mirabel*

      Right? One day, OP will run into someone who actually works at the hospital and won’t be able to hem and haw their way out of that one.

      1. SimplyTheBest*

        She’s not lying. She works in that neighborhood. Not really her problem if someone assumes something incorrect based on a true fact.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        But she’s… not saying that she works at the hospital? She is correctly saying that she works in the neighborhood that she works in. The assumptions people make based on that are not her problem and definitely not some lie of hers that will “fall apart one day”.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Right, I have a bunch of acquaintances who work for various government agencies, some of which get very misunderstood by the general public. Most of them will say then name of the overarching agency theirs reports to when asked in general small talk “so where do you work?” It’s akin to saying “I work in finance” if your an accountant.

    2. SimplyTheBest*

      Right? MMD and Mirabel’s response to this are so bizarre to me. They’re acting like OP is making up some huge falsehood that they’re going to have to keep up otherwise their world will fall away in tatters. Good lord, it’s small talk! Half of the people she says this to she’ll probably never talk to again. And half of the rest won’t even remember they asked.

    3. CaliCali*

      …this is so weirdly combative. No one owes people a full account of their job history. I used to work for a major defense company, and we were ENCOURAGED to not necessarily blab a lot about where we worked because of security concerns. So if people had some misconceptions about where I worked due to the location, it would actually be following my company’s policy to not correct them. In fact, I’ve known lots of people at companies that look good on the resume/have social cachet and don’t really advertise it.

  10. Observer*

    #1 – As someone who was on the critical side to your original letter, I want to say that I’m impressed by the way you handled the situation.

    As for Jane, someone REALLY needs to put a stop to that. Someone should also probably point out to her that if she thinks she’s positioning herself for higher management, she’s actually doing the reverse.

  11. Off Duty Librarian*

    #5 – I’m glad you’ve found a way around talking about your job. I feel the same way sometimes as a librarian, and I’m sure plenty of other people feel the same way. Inevitably I have to explain why: 1. Libraries are still busy even with the internet existing. 2. I’ve never encountered a “quiet, no stress” library job where people get to read on the clock. 3. Yes, we have ebooks, and no I don’t really feel like teaching you how to use them while we’re standing here at this social situation. I try to quickly redirect to them or change the subject, but people love libraries so much that they REALLY want to talk about it.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Oh lord, that must be exhausting. If we ever meet at a party, I’ll probably ask you what kind of events your library hosts. Our local ones have authors come and give a short talk and Q&A and do a book signing. I believe they sometimes have speakers come in to give science lectures too. Hopefully this would be a nice change from “why are libraries still busy” and “show me how to ebook”.

      Unless you are a research/academic/law librarian, then I won’t have any specific questions, because I don’t know a lot about what these libraries do (but am curious!)

      1. Off Duty Librarian*

        I’d love to have that conversation! That’s actually what I do in my current role. I coordinate adult programming for a large library system. I think what frustrates me is I’ll mention a new awesome thing we’re doing (like checking out activity kits for caregivers of adults with intellectual disabilities or dementia/Alzheimer’s) and some people just want to know about books, whether the internet is going to kill my job or how nice it is to work in a quiet environment. I love books, but we do so much more cool stuff!

        Note that not everyone is like that, but it’s repetitive enough that it gets old.

      1. SageMercurius*


        I have been shushed more by library users than vice versa

        “But card catalogues are so nostalgic…” No, they’re a waste of space that have served their purpose.

        *gets off soapbox*

        Although as someone who doesn’t mind small talk, I would probably say this. Loudly.

    2. mata*

      Right? Like many people, I just have one of those jobs that falls into the category of “everyone has heard of this but few people actually know what people in this job really DO,” and even I internally “ugh” when smalltalk turns toward the topic of work just because I don’t want to have to whip out my “Speech Therapist 101” spiel for the fourth time that week. I can’t imagine how sick of it the OP must get!

      (I also internally “ugh” because SOMETIMES, people’s response to hearing about my career is to ask me to try and diagnose their child’s possible autism/stutter/articulation disorder from description alone. PROTIP TO WORRIED PARENTS: if you’re concerned about your kiddo’s speech-language development, talk to your child’s primary care physician or their school system about it to see if there’s any cause for concern or the possibility of a referral for a speech-language evaluation! It doesn’t hurt to ask, and they’ll be able to help far, far more than a stranger who has never met your child!) ((Also, I don’t work with kids!!))

  12. Elizabeth West*


    I was fired from the job I held before this one. […] the role had evolved away from its original focus and I was struggling to meet the changing demands

    This is what happened to me and I’m stealing this wording for interviews. Thanks, OP #2, and I will remember your update when I start working again. I don’t want to end up taking the uncertainty from Exjob with me to a new workplace. Baggage is so tough to get rid of and we all have it to some degree.

    1. Fikly*

      Should something like this be classified as a firing or being laid off, given that the job description/duties changed so dramatically?

  13. KoiFeeder*

    *touches comment section* A red sun rises. Blood has been spilt this night.

    A little more seriously, though, thank you Alison for your hard work in keeping the threads from getting toxic and weird.

  14. CM*

    #1 — “…both have raised repeated concerns with how Jane treats our team, and that she seems to think of marketing as a service which she gets to direct – rather than a collaborative project with our own priorities.”

    I am intimately familiar with that dynamic, and I’m really glad the OP’s manager is backing the team up and recognizing that it’s inappropriate/overbearing when people try to do that. It sounds like things are working out well.

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