updates: the physical fight rumor, the boss who doesn’t do his work, 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. There’s a rumor I had a physical fight with a staff member, but I didn’t

The day after my question was posted, Diana stopped by with one of her new coworkers. Some of the commenters had suggested that I give her a heads up, since the rumor was potentially more damaging to her than me; she was just as baffled as I was, and also reassured Fergus, who was chatting with us, that the story was completely untrue.

From then on, my entire staff (minus Veronica) suddenly became much more comfortable around me; I hadn’t realized how tense they were until it was gone. I’m not sure how much of the rumor they’d actually believed, but at the very least, it must have caused some serious doubts (understandably!). Clearing things up has made a huge difference to the entire staff’s morale, and I couldn’t be happier about that. I think it’s also pulled the teeth from any further crazy rumors, which is another plus.

As for Veronica, I had a sit-down with her where she claimed she’d believed the story and been terrified of me. I asked her if I’d done anything around her to frighten her, and apologized if I had. She said no, but she’d been “walking on eggshells” waiting (for three years!) for me to snap and do something awful. Then she tried to deflect blame onto another former staff member; I told her that it didn’t matter where the rumor came from, but I wished she’d either come to me about it, or at least tried to independently verify whether or not it was true, rather than living in fear for so long and then spreading it to everyone else. I also mentioned the possible consequences to Diana, which she clearly hadn’t considered, and seemed genuinely contrite about.

We left it there for the time being, with a verbal warning, but I’ve also completely stopped sharing anything even remotely personal with her, and I’m logging and documenting any instances of similarly questionable judgement, just in case. We have a whole progressive disciplinary process we have to follow, and this wasn’t egregious enough to bypass that and fire her up front, but if anything else happens I’ll have the initial steps in place to do that.

Thank you to you and the commenters; you all helped me see I was putting too much emphasis on Betty’s potential involvement, and letting that keep me from being as direct as I needed to be.

2. My boss isn’t doing his work and it’s impacting me (#2 at the link)

The issue never really got resolved. I started telling clients that he was unavailable, since he really was, and that helped the situation. A few months after I wrote in, the only other long-term employee was fired, and subsequently there were a lot of days that I was in the office alone and dealing with customer requests without knowing when things would get done. It was awful at the time, but I learned how to be diplomatic and give answers without throwing anyone under the bus – valuable skills that I’ve needed since.

I didn’t mention that I was the only person at that company not belonging to a particular nationality and not prior friends with anyone else, so it often felt like a club of sorts that I didn’t belong to. There were other small, family-owned problems too, like my boss hiring his best friend who flat-out refused to do any work at all.

That said, it was to date the longest job I’ve held. I started working there in September of 2013, and it was June of 2014 when I wrote in. I stayed there until 2017 when I was laid off. The working hours were flexible and worked around my school schedule. I got free tea and snacks. The customers were quite nice most of the time. The place was pretty good for what it was.

Since then, I’ve actually switched careers entirely and moved around a lot. Your answer and your blog in general has made me more discerning regarding the battles I pick at work (which has been great as I’m now in academia doing my PhD and dealing with the tons of issues – I wish I was only dealing with this old boss again!).

3. I’m helping a peer with a project and she’s wasting a huge amount of my time

As I mentioned in my letter, I initially tried pushing back on the hour-long meeting, albeit in the meeting RSVP rather than talking to her directly, but she wanted to keep the full hour. In hindsight, I think she might have been using that meeting to block off some breathing room in her own calendar, because as soon as we started talking she said she really didn’t think we needed more than a few minutes (fine with me, although a heads up would have been appreciated!). Thankfully when we did talk about the work, she’d moved past the idea of working in parallel and comparing results.

…And then, by the time my letter was published, Lucinda basically finished the whole project by herself. I’m still not sure whether it was actually just easier that way or if Lucinda isn’t great at delegating, but either way it solved my problem! I know a few commenters wondered about whether our managers had asked Lucinda to oversee my work on this, but I really doubt it. Our managers here are generally quite excellent at explaining that kind of thing, and in the few cases I can think of where they wanted me to bring in reinforcements on something, they’ve told me clearly where they were coming from (think “You’re doing good work on this and I’m happy to have you continue, but going forward it’s going to involve more X, which is a specialized skill that takes practice, so let’s bring in someone with more experience in X to work with you”), so I’m confident that I would already know if my boss wanted Lucinda to oversee my work or me to learn something particular from her on this.

So basically my problem took care of itself all on its own. I’ll still keep your scripts in my back pocket in case I have a similar experience with Lucinda in the future (or anyone else!), but for now we’re back to a much more comfortable working relationship. She’ll still talk my ear off, but I know that’s just how she is and it’s a lot easier to handle when it’s just idle chitchat rather than weekly meetings on a slow-moving project.

4. Can I ask for a phone interview before investing time in an in-person interview?

I had a telephone call with the CEO of the company. It went pretty well, but it turned out they would have wanted me to spend several weeks in Europe as part of the on onboarding process. I said given that, I would have to think about going forward.

The next day I got a polite notification they had decided not to go forward with my application.
I honestly was only mildly disappointed, but I do think it was right to push for an initial call. I would have felt worse if I had invested a day to find it was a poor fit on either of our parts.

5. I panicked and said I was interning somewhere that hadn’t hired me (#3 at the link)

I took your advice to heart. First, I let myself calm down a little and agreed that my statement about the start date was fairly ambiguous. More importantly, I made a promise to myself not to let my nerves and self-consciousness dictate how I represent myself in the future.

As for the job in question, I wrote “upcoming” on my resume, as you suggested and sent it off to Claire. She never replied and when I circled back two weeks later, she also didn’t say anything. I have no idea if she was just busy or if she noticed the inconsistency between my stated start-date and my resume start-date and felt weird. I never heard from the company either.

For whatever it’s worth, I went on to have a pretty good internship experience, and have since started a position at a different company that I absolutely love. I chalk my success in receiving both positions up to your posts on interviewing well.

{ 75 comments… read them below }

  1. Seeking Second Childhood*

    I have one thing to suggest for anyone in LW2’s position: weaponized email.
    Put the customer’s request into an email to non-answering senior person, and copy the customer.
    For some people, this will go over like a lead balloon….but do you want to be working with them?

    1. Less Bread More Taxes - OP 2*

      I recall one or more commenters on the original post saying to cc the customer in a sort of project outline email to my boss would be a good idea. I did that once and got chewed out for it, so I abandoned that immediately. In perhaps a bigger, more functional company, I totally agree that this is a good way to handle things when nothing else is working.

    2. Dragoning*

      Oh, that was what I was thinking while reading the update. Sure, I’ll forward it to them…and CC the customer.

  2. agradstudent*

    LW #2, glad to hear you got out, but I’m sorry to hear it sounds like you’re still dealing with a lot of stress! You’re not alone. PhD programs are weird, sometimes dysfunctional, and always stressful. Best wishes on your dissertation and studies!

  3. somanyquestions*

    Veronica sounds interesting, #1. She’s been frightened, actually fearful, of you all this time? Like you would just start punching her any time and then have her fired and removed by the cops. Or something like that. Even after knowing you for three years.

    I think she was using this story to manipulate people in your office and insert herself as the safe one they think can trust, as opposed to the crazy violent person she painted you as being. I think she’s always known it wasn’t true, or at least was a gross exaggeration.

    1. OP1*

      I think it’s most likely that she’d never actually believed it, but was trying to come up with something even remotely plausible that would explain why she kept spreading it anyway. Your guess as to why she might do that could very well be true; it could also just be that she likes a good, dramatic story, and didn’t really get that she was terrifying her coworkers and slandering Diana and I. Either way, not the best judgement!

      1. Anonnnnn*

        I’m glad you didn’t fire her over this. Obviously, you know her better than I do, but reading AAM daily has led me to realize that there ARE violent people out there who somehow become managers and even get promoted, and if I heard a story like this I probably wouldn’t address it with said manager. Spreading the story is another matter, though as a new hire I would appreciate knowing if my manager had a history of this behavior. That being said, three years seems like more than enough time to figure out if your exhibited behavior gives credence to the story, but I also don’t know what her past work experience was like. Maybe she used to have a really crazy manager and now she has a sort of PTSD. Once burned twice shy, you know?

        1. Lissa*

          I feel like if I were absolutely terrified of someone due to past work PTSD or something, the very last thing I’d do would be keep spreading the rumours. I’m also curious if Veronica ever exhibited any “fear” response to OP – I mean yes I’m sure the argument could be made that everything Veronica did was actually just a manifestation of fear but I find that way less likely given the information we have.

      2. KayDeeAye*

        Years ago, my husband and I went to a bar/club in his hometown so he could hang out with some old friends and other people who had known him for many years. I knew some of the friends though none of the acquaintances, but it was fine. I had a mildly enjoyable time – if nothing else, the people watching was superb.

        At one point in the evening, I was sitting at one table talking to some folks while he was sitting across the room at another table with a friend and some friends of this friend, and I needed to ask him something. So I got up from my table and crossed the room to his table.

        Now, in *my* world, and (I’m fairly sure) in the worlds of most of the people who read AAM, if I see a man’s wife crossing the room toward the table that I’m sharing with that man and other people, I wouldn’t think anything of it. But in the world occupied by two of the women at that table, when wives approach other women who are talking to their husbands, their immediate impression of said wife is, “Oh, she’s mad. She’s going to start a fight!” A *fight*. Like, with *fists*. In a *bar*. Because a woman has dared to talk to her husband? I mean, I guess?

        So this was the conversation, according to my husband:
        Paranoid woman #1: “Oh, is that your wife? She looks pissed!”
        Paranoid woman #2: “Well, if she starts anything, I’ll just have to hit her.” (!!!!!!)
        KayDeeAye’s husband: “You know, I reeeeeeeeeally don’t think that will be necessary.”

        Obviously nobody was pissed, at least not as far as I know (unless it was one of the paranoid women), and so nobody had to hit anybody. It was both hilarious but also a little disquieting. I mean, what? Who thinks like that? (Aside from these two, of course.)

        It wasn’t until some time later that I wondered if this is really how they see life, or if they just relish drama. I guess I’ll never know now.

        And we have kind of the same situation here. Does Veronica really live in a world in which supervisors can behave this way (e.g., get into physical fights with subordinates, have those subordinates escorted off the property, keep their jobs afterwards, show no signs of a penchant for violence for years, interact with apparent cordiality with one of the victims of that violence, etc.) without consequences? Or did Veronica just enjoy passing along this really hot gossip and relish the drama, to the extent that she made no effort to substantiate the story, even though it seems to me that she could have *easily* by asking virtually anybody else who worked in the company at the time of the supposed incident?

        I lean toward the latter, but I guess it’s possible that in Veronica’s world, that’s how things seem. It seems unlikely, though.

        1. Quill*

          Women like this were once the girls who could make a scandal out of you wearing the same homecoming dress as them.

          Honey we all went to TJ Max for these, they have like nine styles, chill.

    2. Jennifer*

      That’s the impression I got as well. It wasn’t repeated in a “just giving you a heads up” sort of way, it was done in a gossippy manner.

      Plus she never saw the OP say or do anything in three entire years that confirmed her supposed violent nature.

      1. KayDeeAye*

        Yeah, I get the impression that Veronica really *enjoyed* that story. It wasn’t a warning. It was hot gossip.

        1. Diamond*

          Yeah I definitely think it was just hot gossip. I’m sure she relished telling each new hire. I really don’t think that after 3 years she was living in terror that OP would randomly start throwing punches!

  4. Boo Radley*

    I’m kind of confused by LW1’s response to Veronica. If she was new and told the fight story as fact, wouldn’t the wisest course of action behave exactly as she did? Fergus confirms the story was corroborated by Betty. She was incorrect, but she was as correct as her information could be expected to lead her to be. How is her behavior bad judgment?

    1. Case of the Mondays*

      Agreed. I don’t think Veronica should be issued a warning for believing what someone told her.

      1. Observer*

        Just repeating a story of that nature is not terribly good judgement, to start with. Also, she clearly did not corroborate it with anyone who would be expected to know about it, such as HR. And she kept on repeating the story long after she had some experience of the OP’s behavior to counter-balance the original narrative.

        Also, her reaction when the OP cleared the air is telling.

          1. KayDeeAye*

            Or with Diana? Or with virtually *anybody* who worked at the company the same time this incident (?) supposedly happpened?

            Ridiculous. At least on some level, and probably on most levels, Veronica simply enjoyed passing this wild and scandalous story on.

      2. Lance*

        Did someone actually tell it to her, though? Given how things played out in the update, I’d be very willing to guess that she and Betty were the source of this story; otherwise, I’d expect someone else to have continued acting strangely, or possibly come up to OP and ask.

        Even besides that, though… spreading stories is not a good way to go about things, especially if the ‘truth’ as she ‘knew’ it could be wildly off-base and damaging.

        1. Arctic*

          Veronica was new and it seems Betty told her. She was repeating something she thought was true. She should not have been given a warning.

          1. OP1*

            I mentioned this further down, but Veronica has known Diana for two years. She could very, very easily have asked her about it, if she didn’t want want to ask me. She didn’t get the warning for believing an untruth, she got it for spreading slander (ie, repeating something she hadn’t witnessed and had no confirmation of, which could do real damage to both my reputation and Diana’s).

              1. Pomona Sprout*

                OP1 definitely made the right call.

                All these comments trying to make excuses for Veronica = gross.

    2. Wakeens Teapots LTD*

      It’s not what she believed. It is the rumors she spread.

      I could believe my boss or my coworker was ax murderer or behind a theft at the Louvre. It’s spreading that rumor to the office, as fact, that is the issue.

      1. Rugby*

        It doesn’t sound like she was the only one spreading the rumor though. I don’t understand why she was singled out.

        1. Observer*

          Really? Who else was spreading this rumor other than her companion Betty?

          All of the other people in the office who were tense heard about this from Veronica.

            1. OP1*

              The person she was accusing hasn’t worked here for two years, so I seriously doubt she could have told people who’ve worked here less than one. (Sorry, didn’t make that point very clear.)

        2. Zombeyonce*

          That’s the “other people are doing it so I shouldn’t get in trouble” rule and it’s not a good one to follow. It was displaying bad judgement to gossip about it and if other people were doing it, too, they should also get in trouble for it.

          Even if everyone was telling everyone else about this story, it sounds like Veronica was the instigator of this rumor and was rightfully censured for it.

    3. Zombeyonce*

      Her behavior was bad judgement because it was gossiping about something she had no verification of. If you’re going to spread a vicious story about people in your office (especially your boss!!!), you’d better be absolutely positive it was a true story by either witnessing it firsthand or maybe having something like a newspaper article or police report to point to.

      Even if she did have verification of it, she probably shouldn’t have been spreading it around, especially since LW had done nothing (outside of star in a fictional story) to indicate she might be a violent person. If your immediate response to hearing an inflammatory story about someone that has no backup is to go and tell everyone else you ever meet about it, you’ve got massively bad judgement.

    4. Lynca*

      I don’t agree with that. Once you’ve been working with someone for 3 years, you have enough first hand observation to determine whether the OP would be likely to do something like that. If I had heard a crazy story like that, then saw no behavior to back that up in all that time? I’d be side-eyeing the story pretty hard. Certainly not spreading it to new hires!

  5. Rugby*

    I don’t understand why Veronica received a warning. It sounds like she believed a rumor that she had no way of verifying other than asking OP directly, but the rumor was about the OP being violent so I can understand why she wouldn’t want to do that. It doesn’t sound like she started the rumor and it doesn’t sounds like she was the only one who believed it. Disciplining her seems a little unfair (unless I’m missing something).

    1. nona*

      She was also spreading the rumor, without no knowledge of whether it was true or not? Yeah, she didn’t have a good way to confirm it, but she also had no business repeating it. Especially since her day-to-day experience with OP didn’t support the information she had been told.

      1. annony*

        The “discipline” consisted only of telling her not to spread rumors. That doesn’t seem unfair to me.

    2. Lance*

      What value, then, does she get out of spreading this story that she ‘heard’ (I’m very skeptical on that point) to the entirety of the office? To protect her co-workers from the big, bad boss?

      Well, that wouldn’t be helpful, as displayed here, since it would just breed tension over a story that may or may not be true. Even if it was true… what are the co-workers going to do about it?

      1. Mookie*

        Wait, what? We know Betty, the deceased co-worker, was the origin of the story because the LW themself has repeatedly told us so and the new hires named both Betty and Veronica. Skepticism on that point is odd.

        1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

          We know that Veronica states she was told the story three years ago by Betty. Two years ago, Betty died. Veronica continued to tell the story. LW does not have first hand knowledge of Betty ever saying it.

            1. fhqwhgads*

              Sure, but everyone who has been told the story for the past two years was told by Veronica, needlessly so.

    3. Observer*

      Firstly, she could most definitely have verified it with HR or the OP’s boss. In fact, I’d bet that she could have verified it with anyone who was there when this supposed fight had happened. Because you can be sure that if something like that had happened, people WOULD know. You simply cannot keep a story like that secret.

      Furthermore, she spread the story around to multiple people and continued to do so – long after she had seen enough of the OP’s behavior to at question what really happened. And that’s the piece that really makes this bad judgement. Combined with her reaction to having the story clarified, that’s the piece that’s really a problem.

      1. AIM*

        This. There are a million ways she could have verified this story without putting herself in danger of asking a potentially-violent person about it, and this is the type of story you absolutely SHOULD verify before you spread it around. She demonstrated terrible judgement with potential for her actions to really cause harm to two of her coworkers, and that’s worth a verbal warning for sure.

      2. Lissa*

        Yeah I’m not quite getting why people think Veronica was reasonable here. I agree it’s good she wasn’t fired but I think a warning was exactly right. Telling every new hire a crazy story you heard three years ago is just not good judgment, and in this case it wasn’t even true.

        1. KayDeeAye*

          If one is told scandalous and *damaging* gossip, one has a responsibility to check up on it before passing it along, or so it seems to me. And it wouldn’t even have been difficult to check up on, since Diana was still around as were, presumably, other staff members who were there at the time this was supposed to have taken place. I agree that Veronica probably shouldn’t have been fired, but a warning was definitely in order here.

    4. Zombeyonce*

      From the original letter, it sounded like the story was either told to Veronica by Betty or that they came up with it themselves. They sounded like the source of the story and then spread it around. Either way, it was a really dumb thing to do and/or believe with zero corroborating evidence.

    5. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      She worked with Diana, the person who was supposedly attacked. She could have asked her.

  6. Parenthetically*

    The fight one! Golly. So glad it had a good resolution, and so glad I got to go read the comments again, which include one of my favorite pieces of bad advice ever given in the comments section — someone said, sorry, you can’t correct this rumor because it would be speaking ill of the dead, so OP was unfortunately going stuck with a bad reputation FOREVER!!

    1. Zombeyonce*

      Oh wow, I missed that one. The “don’t speak ill of the dead” is such a BS line. “Too bad Hitler’s dead, now we can’t say anything about what he did!” That ruins the entire point of History classes in school.

      I get that it’s less than ideal to say something negative about a person who can no longer defend themselves, but if it’s true and affects people actually living, why try and protect the reputation of a person it no longer matters to if that reputation was based on lies?

      1. Liz*

        No joke, I actually saw a letter to the editor a few years ago, arguing that to criticise Winston Churchill was to speak ill of the dead, and therefore historians should just … stop.

        1. Quill*

          *Grabs popcorn* Historians are so willing to throw hands that I’m sure that would have been a really wild day of responses.

          It may actually have united historians across the board.

    2. somanyquestions*

      That’s just insane, lol. That would make history just a race to see who dies first, because all of that person’s opinions are then fact that must be respected. Also, many dead people were idiots, just like currently living people.

      1. Elitist Semicolon*

        I did my graduate work in a small field and an even smaller subfield in which one of the leading scholars was also one of the most prominent historical figures. Not gonna lie, we all gave at least a small sigh of relief when he died because he finally stopped arguing back.

  7. Arctic*

    “I told her that it didn’t matter where the rumor came from”

    It doesn’t matter who else is spreading the rumor but Veronica gets disciplined and would have been fired if the discpline process couldn’t be bypassed?

    1. Anonymous at a University*

      There is a difference between “it doesn’t matter where it came from” and “it doesn’t matter who is spreading the rumor.” In this case, whether Veronica created it or not, she was definitely spreading it to new hires.

        1. Anonymous at a University*

          The person who the OP thinks spread it to her is dead. I don’t think we should encourage the OP to go read a reprimand in the graveyard as a means of restitution.

  8. Hey Karma, Over Here*

    OP on a team with Lucinda. I’m feeling very cynical today, but my Occam’s Razor read of this event is simply: Lucinda was dragging her feet on this project. Her manager was threatening to take it away. “No, don’t take it away.” “OK, I’ll get you some help.” “Great!” Except she didn’t want help. She wanted to do it at her own pace and in her own time. She wasted enough of your time that her manager said, “if you can’t get this done with additional help, I will pass it to someone else.” And miracle of miracles, she whipped that bad boy out in the week it would have taken her a year ago.

  9. Elizabeth West*

    they would have wanted me to spend several weeks in Europe as part of the onboarding process

    I realize this probably wasn’t feasible for the OP. But I would fricking love to get a (good) job where I had to spend several working weeks in Europe (paid, of course).

  10. Quill*

    LW 1) I wish I had something more coherent to say than “what the duck” but yeah, WHAT THE DUCK?? (I missed this original post when it came up but the resolution also leaves me scratching my head. Definitely keep Veronica on a strict information diet.

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