my klutzy, unpolished boss is like a bull in a china shop

A reader writes:

I work closely with my boss of 2.5 years, who is a smart, capable woman in her mid-50s. If we’re talking strictly substance and the merits of her ideas, she is an excellent team lead and representative of our department in the broader context of the organization (healthcare). With this said, she is the human embodiment of the “bull in a china shop.”

Sometimes this can be endearing – being a bit klutzy, having multiple pairs of glasses stacked on her head at any moment, and other harmless human idiosyncrasies. Where it becomes awkward is when it crosses the line into lack of professionalism and downright bad manners – her phone going off LOUDLY multiple times in meetings (I’ve tried many gently phrased hints about Do Not Disturb mode, and even shown her how to use it, to no avail), speaking with her mouth full of food at a catered lunch meeting and then licking her fingers contentedly while everyone pretends not to notice, abandoning any sense of timing with conference calls and instead interrupting and talking over other participants forcing rounds of “you go” “no you go” “no you, really!” and repeated redundant statements, loud, prolonged sighs or yawns in an afternoon meeting … I hope you get the gist.

I’ve come to a place where I personally can tolerate these slightly more unsavory behaviors, because I like her and respect her in many other ways, but I pick up on a very clear sense that other more important stakeholders in our workplace do not share this level of tolerance. Other than the help with the phone, which I remind her about a lot (she always “forgets”), I’m at a loss of what to do! It’s uncomfortable to imagine myself policing the behavior of a woman who is middle-aged, had raised a family, has had a successful career, and just sort of lives her life “out loud” and yet I fear our professional legitimacy is being undermined. Is there anything I can do?


She’s your boss, not your employee, so this is not your problem to solve and it’s not your place to police her behavior.

If someone above her thinks it’s enough of a problem to take on, they will.

You say she’s had a successful career, so her work is probably good enough that people are willing to overlook or just deal with some of her … less mannerly behavior.

And really, her phone going off in meetings, speaking with her mouth full, licking her fingers (ew), interrupting people on conference calls, yawning in meetings — that stuff is rude, but at a senior level it’s not necessarily prohibitive. It’s the sort of stuff people sometimes just won’t care that much about if her work is good. It’s also not the type of thing that will reflect on you, her employee, as long as your own work is good.

I don’t want to dismiss your sense that stakeholders are annoyed, but if they’re annoyed enough, they’ll speak up.

And frankly, it’s pretty damn common to see men rise to positions of seniority and/or great responsibility with much ruder behavior, and that’s somehow accommodated.

I suspect this stuff is getting under your skin because you’re around her a lot — and you wouldn’t do any of this yourself! — but she’s your boss, people above you are perfectly capable of addressing it if they want to, and this isn’t yours to fix.

She’s built a successful career without being polished. In some ways, I want to say good for her!

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 442 comments… read them below }

  1. AnonAcademic*

    An unfortunate reality of work is that high performers in managerial positions can sometimes have totally different rules than an entry level worker. I supervise technicians who can be fired for being late, but the most senior person I work with (dean level) is often 10, 15, or 40 minutes late to meetings – or cancels the meeting last minute after people have travelled to be there – and it’s accepted that this happens only because something is on fire (possibly literally). It’s part of the tradeoff of working with someone at that level. She also has way more resources at her disposal than most and will literally save your job if it’s in danger so being disorganized about meetings is a fair trade for most.

    1. valentine*

      She’s not negligent in her work. She’s unmannerly by some standards.

      OP, are there other issues at foot? Because something’s taken this from, “Oh, Grace! Your glasses are on your head. *phone blares* Saved by the bell! *sympathetic yawn*,” to a consistent (if not constant?) *cringe*.

    2. hamsterpants*

      Yup. The more senior you are, the more valuable your time is. You are also trusted to manage your own time appropriately, even if that means deciding to cancel a meeting last minute and waste others’ time. Managers having different “rules” than underlings is to be expected, not (necessarily) a symptom of anything wrong.

      1. JeJe*

        Having experience in both the private sector and Academia, what AnonAcademic is saying about differences in how everyone’s time is valued are so much greater in Academia than I have ever seen at any private company.

        1. Lavender Menace*

          I also have experience in both, and I don’t agree with that, necessarily. I think it depends on the university/department and the company/organization. I’ve seen lots of senior-level folks (usually men) get away with things that no one less senior would be able to get away with.

        2. Edwina*

          If you really want a ridiculous variance in what is tolerated in senior management vs. junior management, look no further than the entertainment business.

        3. selena81*

          I’ve been in the back office of 2 big banks and this would not be tolerated: you called a meeting, you better be there. It’s hard enough to call together a scrum team dammit.

      2. andy*

        It is not about valuable time. Some situations are about that, but this in particular is about no one being in position to tell you off.

        It is extremely unlikely that cancelling meetings at last moment is the most efficient thing. Or to come 40 mins late regularly. Or have loud phone or the other whole host of unprofessional behaviors.

        It is extremely likely that people who are subject to it simply can’t object or fear to object, you have no feedback and gradually behave more and me that way.

        1. Ariel*

          We have no way of knowing what the case is here.

          I’d also push back on the narrative that calling off meetings is wasting other’s time. Perhaps. Unless you are privy to the conversations among the senior leadership, you don’t know if it’s that or if its that priorities have been changed.

          A good friend has a job where over ½ the meetings that are scheduled get cancelled. He works in IT. The type of job he does has constantly shifting priorities.

          We have no idea how much of a problem this is in this case.

          I think this is one thing where it’s very easy to have a dirty lens either pro or con. But we simply don’t know. Unless the boss has said she’s cancelling meetings simply because of lack of organization, we have no basis to know.

          1. Edwina*

            Right? Same thing, I’m a screenwriter, and meetings get cancelled ALL the time–things come up, there’s an emergency on set, someone’s called away, another meeting with a super important top actor got rescheduled, they’re called into a meeting with the grandbosses, who even knows.

            I’ve had incredibly important meetings–for example, once, a pitch, with a major director, to the head of production, the chairman of the studio, numerous junior executives, and the marketing department, the kind of meeting where I seriously went and got my hair did and had a mani-pedi, and the meeting was cancelled AS I DROVE ONTO THE STUDIO lot, because there was a standoff about a different movie between the director and the studio chairman and one of them cancelled the meeting furiously. And I just shrugged and drove home. In some businesses this type of thing is basically normal. (The meeting was rescheduled. I didn’t bother to get my hair done again. I sold the project.)

            I also had a meeting with the head of a studio, a woman, who talked over me, exploded because I had a few typos and she for some reason decided I’d done it to her personally as a statement of disrespect, in order to continue the meeting I had to abjectly apologize over and over (while her own subordinate looked on in disbelief at the studio head’s ridiculous behavior), then we ordered lunch, she didn’t like what she ordered, so she ate MY lunch! But I had to put up with it because that’s the deal in the movie business, and by the way afterwards she called me sunnily saying what a good meeting it was, and I ended up being flown to London (where her company was based) first class British Airways and put up in a luxury hotel for the next draft.

            It all depends on the culture of the business.

            And in no circumstance is a subordinate appropriate to correct a boss. She may be directing those conference calls–that’s why she’s talking over them; she has unfortunate eating habits; if she’s making money for the company, literally no one cares.

            1. andy*

              > And in no circumstance is a subordinate appropriate to correct a boss.

              I have to say, I am very very glad that company I work for does not have this. It is slightly dangerous to tell off to boss, but thank god our do not take it that much as insult and sometimes even listen.

              We had only one manager who believed this particular thing, but she was toxic in more them one way.

            2. Bob*

              Ooh, if you show up in the weekend threads, I’d love to hear more about your job. I’m always intrigued by the nuts and bolts of how movies are made!

            3. selena81*

              You job sounds interesting and i’d love to hear more.
              But i also think it warped your expectations a bit: at all the jobs i’ve had it would be totally acceptable to correct a boss if they acted like a total psycho (and a boss would usually appreciate it if you pointed out their small mistakes)

          2. andy*

            I work in IT too. And yes, I also get to see senior leadership. They are people, not flawless machines. They do highly ineffective actions without second thought, often because they are not aware of how much it costs and nobody would tell them (or they would not listen if you would tell them, and would punish you if you would tell them).

            If anything, IT does not exactly tend to have effective management. One of our companies having to cancel many meetings does not imply that cancelling meetings at the last moment or being late 40 is the necessary effective task. Pretty often the meeting should not be called at all, should be organized to not overlap with another meeting and so on.

            This has nothing to do with senior leadership being special. Anyone who have excessive leeway and no one to get him feedback will drift into this or that dysfunction.

    3. Move along home*

      This is not OP’s bailiwick.

      Phones ring in meetings — all the time. If I were king of the universe I might want to automatically set cell phones to stun in meetings, but that’s not the reality of how most meetings work on planet Earth. OP will come off as entirely out of touch if she picks this as a hill to die on.

      People also interrupt each other on conference calls. Interruptions are not bad. They keep a conversation focused. The solution to gender issues isn’t clamming up. Women *need* to interrupt. Your boss is doing exactly the right thing, for the most part.

      The only behavior here that’s remotely objectionable are the table manners, and I suspect that’s “b!tch eating crackers” territory that no one other than OP cares about, especially if the boss is delivering results.

      Move on.

      1. selena81*

        it’s not an occasional phone-ring, it’s multiple times per meeting
        and her bad table-manners go way beyond ‘use a napkin you slob’ biatching

    4. Entry-level Marcus*

      I admit this is a bit of pet peeve of mine. I know in some cases it makes sense, like an executive being able to be late for a meeting, but in many cases it feels arbitrary and unfair.

      In one of my internships during college, the big boss had certain quirks and work habits that were considered neutral or even endearing by the staff. Think things like going on tangents about their personal life during meetings, or being spacey and forgetting to read through briefing documents before a meeting. But if an intern or entry-level employee had similar quirks or habits, they’d have been judged as unprofessional at best.

      1. BWooster*

        “But if an intern or entry-level employee had similar quirks or habits, they’d have been judged as unprofessional at best.”

        Because in an intern or an entry-level employee they would be unprofessional.

        1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

          They would be unprofessional regardless, higher level people can just use their capital/status to get away with it.

          1. Aquawoman*

            I disagree that it’s per se unprofessional for someone at a higher level not to read materials before a meeting. They get to decide the best use of their and other people’s time, and if they decide that getting the run-down at the meeting is more productive for them than spending time reading through the materials, that’s their prerogative.

        2. smoke tree*

          I think there are a couple of categories, though. There are some expectations for lower-level employees that don’t really make sense for higher-level employees, just because of the nature of the job–I’d say largely things to do with time management decisions. Then there are straight up bad manners, which in my opinion are unprofessional and disrespectful no matter who you are, but bigwigs are less likely to have someone tell them off.

      2. selena81*

        It *is* unfair and i don’t get why anglosaxon workers accept this highly inefficient management-style

  2. Oh So Anon*

    It’s easy to resent this stuff when you know that for one reason or another, you would likely never be able to professionally progress if you showed up the way this person does. This is especially true if, through your career already, you know that you’ve already been held to a fairly high standard when it comes to soft skills. That’s a difficult thing to talk about, but it’s a perfectly valid feeling. You just can’t take it out on your boss.

    1. selena81*

      i’m not sure what you mean: do you think OP is bad at soft skills or do you think OP is being discriminated??

  3. RecoveringSWO*

    Alison, do you think this would be an appropriate concern to raise in a 360 evaluation of the boss?

    I’m generally distrustful of “anonymous” company surveys, but I’m wondering if this would be acceptable-enough of a critique such that LW wouldn’t be concerned about the boss vengefully trying to find out who brought up concerns over her impoliteness.

    1. valentine*

      do you think this would be an appropriate concern to raise in a 360 evaluation of the boss?
      It’ll seem weird and purely personal, plus, mentioning it’s lowered her in the esteem of unnamed others won’t be helpful.

      1. Less Bread More Taxes*

        I disagree. That’s what evaluations are there for. A good boss would *want* to know that she’s viewed poorly by others. I think it’s clear that this boss doesn’t, but that’s not a reason to not mention it if it’s really affecting others’ perceptions of her.

        1. ele4phant*

          *Is* it impacting people’s perceptions of her in the ways that matter though? As in, do these behaviors *actually* impact how her work is perceived and whether or not people have professional confidence in her, or are some of these behaviors just kind of annoying and gross to be around but the stakeholders know she can kill it where it counts?

          Honestly, it *seems* like everyone is annoyed by some of these things but when it comes to the actual work she’s still doing an excellent job getting it done, which at the end of the day, is what people care about.

        2. BWooster*

          “A good boss would *want* to know that she’s viewed poorly by others.”

          Absolutely, but OP’s chief concern is how her boss is viewed by the boss’s superiors and OP is not in a position to judge this better than her boss.

          1. selena81*

            I agree with Allison that OP should let it go because it is not her responsibility.
            But if big-boss specifically asks about it than it seems like very valuable feedback that will benefit both the ill-mannered manager and big-boss.

      2. sacados*

        I think it depends. If this is something that, for example, clients had spoken to OP about it before; or somebody came to OP and said “Hey I know Boss is supposed to handle this but I don’t trust her work so I want you to do it OP” — that sort of thing would be valid to raise in a 360 because it becomes about impact on work and client relationships. Or if OP’s role were to take minutes during meetings and the boss’s constant interrupting/talking over people/phone ringing was preventing OP from being able to record minutes accurately.
        But it sounds like in this situation there may not be a specific instance like that which OP could speak to, in which case it’s probably not anything to bring up.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      360 isn’t anonymous if someone doesn’t want it to be. I would not trust even a 360 review.

      1. Anonapots*

        I learned this the hard way. But really, they should focus on the work the manager does and if the work is being affected by any of this, that’s your only opening. OP doesn’t know for sure stakeholders are annoyed, they just fear they are and that might be all the OP.

        1. Glitsy Gus*

          Exactly. I think the phone ringer and interruptions/talking over during meeting MIGHT be acceptable in this format, depending on the phrasing and how sensitive your boss is, as they directly affect others’ ability to get their ideas out and work done. The other more personal stuff like table manners would not work out well in this context.

      2. Indigo a la mode*

        I had a 360 review with six reviewers and even though there were no names or handwriting, it was perfectly obvious who each person was through word choice, relevant projects mentioned, etc. 360s are great but like Aggretsuko, I wouldn’t rely on anonymity.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Unless it’s affecting the OP’s ability to do their work, it’s none of their business. This all sounds like a manners problem, so while it may be off putting, it’s not up to the OP to change it.

    4. anon for this one*

      I’ve *had* concerns raised similar to some of these about me. Primarily by a man, senior to me (but not in my chain of management), who does exactly the same things and has several (male) direct reports who also do. (It’s a team of strong personalities.) I’m entirely sure he wouldn’t have raised them if I was a dude. Pushing back on the feedback was tricky, because it wasn’t untrue, but it was also disproportionate to other strengths/weaknesses because ideas on what is “ladylike” were influencing the discussion.

      Would meetings go better if they had fewer loud, aggressive personalities present? Probably. But it’s also completely naive to say that this isn’t looked at through a sexist cultural lens in modern US society (speaking only for that, because it’s the only one I know well enough).

    5. JessicaR*

      No. The boss has the right to behave in the way she does. Good for her for being herself and not trying to conform to others’ standards. Some people are “messy”, and those people still get to progress in their careers, have great ideas, and be good people.

    6. DataGeekManager*

      As someone who was hired literally with the comments that I was ‘rough around the edges’ she knows what’s up.
      You have to make choices on your behaviour and she’s very likely aware her behaviour is not the norm, she won’t need the 360 interview for that.

      These are terms/critics often used for people who are coming into professional roles from other classes or backgrounds so are being judged against a western professional culture standard that may not exist elsewhere.

  4. Hedgehug*

    Are you sure you aren’t projecting your growing irritation onto other people? You say when she licks her fingers, people pretend not to notice. Are you sure? Or are you irritated about it and therefore assuming everyone else must be irritated too.
    This is something I can relate to, believe me. I spent a lot of time with my boss, most of the time it’s just the two of us. I see him significantly more than my own husband, and there are days I want to tear his head off (my boss’, not my husband’s!). But I can’t! Because I know I annoy him too sometimes. And I do sometimes find that things about him that drive me insane, I wonder if other people notice, and nope! They don’t. Because they don’t spend 6 hours a day straight with him like I do. This is just a big downside to working too closely with your superior. Just try to find ways to laugh off the behaviour instead of stewing in it. This is my attempted strategy anyway…

    1. Archaeopteryx*

      It’s hard to imagine anyone not noticing someone licking their own fingers in the workplace… after about age five that behavior is just [shudder]. But the rest of it may not be as bothersome to people who don’t work closely with her.

      1. Us, too*

        I am one of those people who is unlikely to notice this kind of thing because I really don’t care about it. Or, if I did notice it, it would be more like “oh, she must have sauce on her fingers from her sandwich” not “eewwwww gross”. I suppose if they did it really loudly or something, maybe I’d notice but generally it doesn’t register to me as a thing worth noting.

        1. Leslie Knope*

          “speaking with her mouth full of food at a catered lunch meeting and then licking her fingers contentedly”

          The word “contentedly” makes me think it’s more noticeable than just licking her finger because a bit of sauce got on it. I probably wouldn’t think much of someone licking a finger, but would be a little put off by someone seeming very happy about savoring the last bits of flavor on each of their fingers…especially in a meeting!

          But, then again, it may just be that the OP is already annoyed and that behavior is amplified to them. BEC!!!

          1. Hedgehug*

            But to me, the word “contentedly” shows to me that the OP is projecting. OP is judging boss to be content after licking her fingers. *Unless* it is accompanied by audible yummy noises, then sure, she’s clearly content, lol

          2. Ariel*

            She also says “ew.”

            I think she’s grossed out by it and it’s skewing her perception.

            I know nothing about LW. I have no idea about where she lives and who “her people” are.

            In my family, if I go visit my black aunt in Kentucky and I don’t lick my fingers after her cooking, that would be bad manners. I have some white, east coast Protestant relatives who don’t even eat pizza with their fingers and would be appalled by someone licking their fingers no matter how casual the occasion.

            I would advise LW that this is so subjective and so variant across groups that I would not bring it up unless she’s doing it with the VIP client while at a Michelin level restaurant.

            In the break room? Maybe gross to LW to observe, but not a big deal.

            1. Confused*

              Yeah but you’re not shaking hands with your family, also, you know them, and a little spit between family is much different than spit at work.

      2. MissBliss*

        I think it’s more variable than that, though. I wouldn’t blink at someone licking their fingers at lunch (though I’d expect them to wash their hands afterwards).

        1. Dragoning*

          And see, I might notice someone sticking their fingers in their mouth or exaggeratedly cleaning it, but not if someone, say, put their finger to their mouth to suck some crumbs off the pads.

          1. Turtle Candle*

            Yeah, I think this is one of those things where it just depends on whether it’s “whoops a little bbq sauce got on the side of my thumb, lemme swoop it off” and “goes after hands like cat having a leisurely bath.” But either way, not the LW’s place to say anything about.

            (I actually love a good finger-lickin’ meal, but in the privacy of my own home, thank you, where I can clean the barbecue sauce–or, oh, Cheetos powder–off my fingers without grossing anyone else out. XD )

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yeah, unless she’s bringing the plate up to her face and licking it clean, I don’t notice much about how other people are eating.

        I’ve seen plenty of people over the years use their fingers.

        Funny though, my dad gets so much BS tossed at him because he actually refuses to eat anything with his fingers. He uses a fork for french fries and everyone is all “ooooooooh that’s a finger food though.” “Not for me. *jabs it with a fork*”

        1. Autumnheart*

          That reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where everyone starts eating candy bars with utensils.

        2. A. Ham*

          I have to admit I relate to your dad a bit. I don’t eat things like french fries with forks (unless they’re cheese fries, or otherwise “messy”) but I really hate eating things that are messy or I have to “gnaw” (for lack of a better word). I cut corn off the cob, I eat ribs with a fork and knife, and I basically avoid chicken wings all together. (I’ll do boneless, but lets not pretend those are actual chicken wings. they’re nuggets. haha) Basically don’t invite me to a barbecue. I will embarrass myself and you.
          Someone licking their fingers in a non-casual setting would probably bother me – but maybe that’s because of my own weirdness, not theirs?

          1. SimplyTheBest*

            Right there with you. I will not, under any circumstances, eat meat off the bone or fruit/veg off the core. Will not do it. I would rather starve. Mine isn’t a mess thing though, I just have a viscerally repulsed reaction to my teeth or tongue touching bones/core.

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

              MY PEOPLE!!!

              I’m the same with gnawing things off of a bone or core, cannot do it, never could.

              A few years ago I learned that I have sensory processing disorder and that’s what causes that visceral repulsion, where, like you, I’d rather starve.

      4. hbc*

        I definitely wouldn’t register it. I don’t find it significantly grosser than all the masticating and sipping and passing around of shared condiments that usually goes on at a shared meal. But then, I’m usually unmoved by the stuff that people grosses people out, since the [shudder] factor often has little to do with actual risk of disease.

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          Ha ha ha! Same here, for sure. Maybe I’d notice if she was licking her hands and washing her face with them like a cat, but otherwise, nope!

      5. ele4phant*

        Eh, I honestly don’t think I’d notice unless it was super conspicuous OR I spent a lot of time around them and knew it was a regular pattern (like the LW is).

        LW clearly feels its super noticeable, because it is to them, but that’s relative. If everyone around them seems not to be reacting, one explanation is that they don’t actually notice it.

      6. Uldi*

        I’d rather lick some sauce off my finger than use a paper napkin. Unless my entire finger is covered in sauce, it seems a bit wasteful.

    2. Ariel*

      I have to also push back hard on two things she mentions. First, being klutzy could be caused by any number of things, including hereditary disease outside of her control. For all LW knows, this poor woman has a health issue that causes both the physical and mental scatterbrained issues. Unless her job is something that absolutely requires fine motor skills it’s not relevant to her work and none of LW’s business.

      I have a colleague with Ehlers Danlos. Most people think she’s just a clumsy clod b/c she’s careless. She’s not. She’s doing the best she can in a very difficult situation. She’s clumsy and sometimes has issues, but she has to work 1000X harder than anyone else does just to make it into work in the morning.

      Our response to people with these hurdles should be sympathy. Not irritation.

      Second, the multiple glasses on her head is in no way a problem. Were that brought to me as a grand boss, I’d say, well, welcome to middle age. It’ll happen to you too someday down the road.

      I have a friend with three different glasses. She needs them for different purposes. She’s 45 and her vision is already going. LW is taking that as a symptom of general lack of care.

      I suspect LW of a dirty lens of the B* eating crackers bias. While there are legitimate issues, those have been so important to LW that she sees other things which aren’t issues at all.

      Also, very little of what she describes is an actual problem with her boss’s ability to do the work required.

      +Neither being clumsy or wearing multiple glasses matters
      +The phone ringing. That’s the perk of being a boss. As long as she’s not generally dismissive and patronizing of her team, then it’s not a sign of a character flaw. Most VPs and CIOs I know leave their phones on during meetings.
      +The licking the fingers.This is an etiquette issue, not a work performance issue. The whole point of etiquette is to make people more comfortable, not less. It’s considered rude to point out other’s foibles and use etiquette as a weapon. There’s almost no way to point this out to a boss without coming across negatively.

      Also, LW needs to really think about what is actually a demonstrated problem. Right now, all I hear is a lot of projection about what might be a problem, but isn’t yet.

      The only potential issue I see that’s really a problem RIGHT NOW is the conversational dynamic in work meetings. Unless that’s really, truly shutting down conversation instead of just merely being irritating, there’s nothing LW can say or do. Is she doing this to people who work for her, equals, higher ups, clients? That matters. As irritating as it is, if she’s interrupting people who work for her, that’s very different than interrupting clients. Further, if she’s really a serial interrupter, she’s surely doing it with her colleagues and superiors. I’m sure they know.

      In short: most of what LW writes about are irritants, not work performance problems. The only thing that’s a work performance problem is the conduct in meetings. I’d be very shocked if the higher-ups weren’t aware of the interrupting.

      It’s very, very easy to fixate on people who irritate us, particularly if we are imprisoned within a cubicle farm. LW needs to really think about what is an actual problem now that’s either negatively impacting performance now or being seen by outside parties.

      1. Aspie AF*

        I have a problem with conversational dynamics myself – it’s commonly associated with autism, along with poor understanding of etiquette, working memory issues and dyspraxia (clumsiness). I sincerely hope that OP reframes these circumstances in a more inclusive light.

      2. Jaid*

        I wear trifocals, myself. But I could see myself with multiple glasses because these. These ain’t at dollar store prices, yo.

      3. JessicaR*

        Excellent response, Ariel. It really bugs me that this boss is being critiqued for being different/quirky. She has a style of her own, and that’s on the whole a good thing. Not everyone has to conform to a particular standard, as long as they are on the whole a considerate person and effective worker

    3. Jdc*

      Reminding that we annoy people too sometimes helps so much. Once in a while i want to throw a pillow at my husband for some annoying thing and I remember, i surely do plenty of things that drive him bonkers.

  5. Kella*

    “Bull in a china shop” seems like a way over-exaggeration for the behaviors displayed here. Rude, not great manners, maybe a bit eccentric, but ultimately not a very big deal to most people.

    OP, the thing that concerns me is how responsible you feel for your boss’s behavior. If your boss were truly damaging her own career, the best way for her learn that would be to suffer the consequences of her actions and change as a result. But, it seems she’s not damaging her career so she hasn’t needed to change, and that’s okay.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      “Bull in a china shop” seems like a way over-exaggeration for the behaviors displayed here. Rude, not great manners, maybe a bit eccentric, but ultimately not a very big deal to most people.

      This. Though maybe OP used that phrase because of her manager’s constantly interrupting people in meetings? Still, I don’t get from this letter that she’s obnoxious and regularly condescending/harsh, which is what I thought I was going to read based on the title.

    2. LadyByTheLake*

      Agree — this is a little rough around some edges, but not bull in a china shop levell. Honestly, I wouldn’t bat an eyelash at any of this. I suspect that the OP might be at BEC stage, but (other than the annoying cell phone ringing) most other people probably aren’t registering much of this at all other than as slightly eccentric.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      Eh, yeah, bull in a china shop usually means the person will kind of destroy everything in their path while doing what they do (by being the bull). LOL!
      But maybe there is more than just some uncouth behavior.

    4. ursula*

      I wonder if OP is worried that this reflects badly on their whole organization, or on OP’s work as well. I have had this anxiety before with bosses who had a very different professional demeanour/persona than I have. It can be hard, for example, to watch your boss present your work to a stakeholder in a way that you would not want to do personally. It’s their right, of course, as the boss! I guess I sympathize with the feeling a bit, even if the answer is “chill out, say nothing, and try to notice less.”

    5. LunaLena*

      Yeah, I was a bit confused by the letter writer’s use of “bull in a china shop.” I thought it meant someone who is charges into headfirst into things (both mental and physical) to the point they risk destroying them, or who is overly cautious and treats everything like it’s fragile because they know they are that clumsy, not someone who has bad manners.

      Incidentally, Mythbusters tested that idiom once! They set up a bunch of wooden shelves and covered them with porcelain dishes, then allowed a bull to run amok in it. Surprisingly, the bull caused very little damage before finding its way out. It was in fact very careful to avoid everything, and if I remember correctly only toppled one shelf.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I see it here in my own house. I have a bouncy, high energy dog. Something only has to fall once and he stays away from it and similar items. He does not like the noise and probably does not understand what is happening, so he stays away. So this test with the bull makes sense to me. Animals do have a priority in themselves to keep themselves safe at all times.

    6. AKchic*

      I don’t know, it may very well be something to consider. Especially if this is a personal assistant and eventually, they start to wonder why the PA didn’t have the foresight to silence her boss’s phone prior to the meeting (or reminding her to do so and ensuring it got done before “allowing” her to walk into the meeting), or a few other office-related idiosyncrasies and rudenesses. No, the LW can’t be held accountable for the boss’s lack of table manners and general lack of social graces (she can’t physically restrain her from licking every last flavor molecule from her digits), but at some point, others are going to get BEC with the boss too, and it will snowball from a “well, really! you’d think the PA could have reminded her/ensured that phone was silent!” to a “how does LW stand it? she must be blind! this explains so much…” (when it doesn’t explain anything, but they aren’t being charitable and just want to not be on the boss’s See Food plan).

      1. ele4phant*

        I mean, if her job is literally to help her boss with things like helping her boss silence her phone, then she in fact should do her job by getting more forceful on things that are perceived/are her domain. Before every meeting say – Oh hey Melinda, let me silence your phone for you. If she’s supposed to be helping her boss with her devices and she’s only going so far as trying to teach her how to use it and is failing at that, she rightfully isn’t doing what she’s supposed to, right?

        If LW is not the assistant and it’s not her job to be on top of stuff like that…then she shouldn’t worry herself about it.

        And to harp on the phone example, depending on where this woman is in the hierarchy, she may need to be accessible, right? She may not be more important in a moral, objective way than anyone else, but professionally, making sure she’s available in the event of a fire may in fact be more important than not causing a distraction in a meeting.

        1. AKchic*

          I agree. And we don’t have all of that information.

          I’m thinking that the LW is probably at the BEC stage of frustration over the accumulation of “little things” and is concerned it will make her look bad and jeopardize her own standing; when probably, it has nothing to do with her at all, she’s just frustrated by the optics and secondhand embarrassment.

    7. some dude*

      Yeah, none of this strikes me as that outlandish. Conference calls are inherently awkward. Some people need multiple pairs of glasses. Some people are clumsy. And the mobile phones often go off. None of this is that big a deal (although it could get irritating if you were around it 40 hours a week). People are human beings, and as such they can be a little eccentric, or messy, or loud, or clumsy. I tend to actually like seeing that sometimes because it reminds me that this Big Smart Professional I am dealing with is also a human being who licks their fingers when they eat.

      The other thing this brought up to me is how much we demand people act “professional” in work spaces, meaning polished. When we demand one set of strict cultural norms to be able to have a white collar job, we run the risk of excluding people who didn’t grow up middle class, who didn’t have parents or relatives who were white collar, who aren’t white, who aren’t men, etc. Part of the literature and conversation I’ve seen around have more equitable staffing stresses the importance of changing the org culture and not demanding that everyone act “professional” to the extent “professional’ means “white and middle class.”

      1. Jennifer*

        Many people who were not raised white and middle class were taught manners. I know people keep repeating this thinking they are being culturally sensitive but it’s actually could be considered quite insulting.

        Expecting a middle-aged woman to not to interrupt others, yawn or sigh loudly when people are speaking, or lick their fingers and chew with their mouth open is not outlandish.

        1. Ani*

          And many were not. Some come from other countries and other cultures

          The whole point of manners is to make everyone else more comfortable not to be used as something to exclude, degrade, or diminish others.Insisting everybody else learn the manners of white people in the USA and adhere to them is the opposite of that

          1. Jennifer*


            They aren’t just the manners of “white people of the USA.” Many people in the USA that aren’t white have and were taught manners. Do you really not see how insulting that is?

            1. Ani*

              They Were made by white people. Just because others learn Them does not make them suddenly non-white origin.

              White people perform jazz and blues but they are still cultural products bound to a black folk in the early 20th century.

              Ariel never said others aren’t capable of leaning them. That you reading into the commentary Though your own dirty lens.

              As someone who isn’t white middle-class who are those manners I think you’re the one who’s being insulting by assuming that it’s OK to force everyone to learn this stuff

              1. Jennifer*

                I’m not white nor am I middle class so not sure what you’re talking about. I’m very well aware of everything that white people have stolen from black culture. It doesn’t change the fact that this is concern trolling.

              2. Avasarala*

                This is absolutely false. I am posting from a non-Western country where OP’s boss would absolutely have a reputation for being careless and chaotic. Manners vary a little by culture but they are not “white and middle-class” (plus I think you mean upper class) in origin.

                I know you’re trying to say that many “manners” are a social construct by which white upper-class patriarchy holds others to standard, but what you’re actually saying comes across more as “manners are invented by white people and spread through colonialism”, and the implication of that stance is that POC had no concept of manners…

              3. Mel*

                Hi, non-white non-middle class non-USA person here to tell you that you are being deeply insulting by painting the rest of us as ‘forced learners’ who couldn’t possibly have decided to use these manners ourselves. Check yourself. You’re making an incredibly flawed generalisation

        2. Kate 2*

          Right?! It insults me and my family every time people say this. Generation after generation of desperate poverty, my mother’s generation has just barely risen to blue collar level. And yet my grandparents and my mother’s grandparents were always clean and well mannered, even if their clothes were ragged and patched, and so on. It isn’t just family legend. This area is still extremely poor overall and some people who are worse off have wonderful manners, some better off have horrific manners, don’t bathe to the point of smelling. It is NOT a fact of poverty or blue collar culture to have bad manners or be rude or dirty.

          1. Ani*

            No one is talking about that. What they are talking about is manners in the sense of cultural etiquette. That’s a very different thing

            1. SimplyTheBest*

              The person Jennifer and Kate are responding to literally said the words “we run the risk of excluding people who didn’t grow up middle class, who didn’t have parents or relatives who were white collar” which, whether that was some dude’s intention or not, absolutely says working class/blue collar people shouldn’t be expected to have manners. Stop trying to say what was said isn’t there.

              1. some dude*

                I’m talking about “professionalism” when it gets into a very specific set of cultural norms that may exclude some people. I’m not talking about manners, although manners are pretty subjective. (In my experience, the more marginalized a persons background/identity is, the more polished they tend to be in professional settings because they have had to work that much harder to make it.) I’m just paraphrasing conversations I’m hearing people of color have about how to make workplaces more equitable, things I’ve seen play out in hiring where a qualified person from an underrepresented group was passed over because they didn’t seem “polished” enough, or in workspaces where people from cultures that were more direct were admonished for their directness, which came off as rude in a WASP-y setting.


        3. Fikly*

          Well, everyone is taught manners, regardless of class, culture, etc.

          But those manners are not universal.

          The notion that your manners are the only correct ones is pretty offensive.

          1. Scarlet2*

            This. What’s rude and unacceptable in one culture is perfectly fine or even required in another one.

        4. some dude*

          I didn’t mean to imply that licking fingers and having your cell go off are “white” standards. I’m a white dude who was raised working class who still has to navigate office norms, and I hear from a lot of people of color, especially black, latino/x, or immigrants, that professional standards feel exclusionary to them. Some of that I give the side eye (is being on time really a form of white supremacy?) but I have heard enough people talk about it that I take it seriously.

          1. Mr. Tyzik*

            My British manager (I’m an American) tells the story of being in Brazil and teaching a class. He advised that they would take a break – first one on the first day.

            The non-Brazilians were back within 15 minutes. The Brazilians came in after 2 hours – they had gone for a smoke, a few drinks, a bite to eat down the block.

            The notion of taking a break was different based on culture. My boss learned to be more specific on time after that for the rest of the class.

            Is being on time a sign of white supremacy? Maybe, maybe not. Depends on the judgments you make and the lessons you learn.

        5. Aquawoman*

          As an autistic person, I find this comment ableist (Jennifer’s). It is VERY difficult for me to understand how I am coming across to people. I know not to lick my fingers, but I can’t tell you if I yawn or sigh in meetings–I probably do. I have almost zero ability to judge timing in conversations, and that drops to zero on phone calls with no visual cues. I apologize and back up a lot, because that’s all I can do. There is a huge difference between missing timing cues and purposely interrupting people. When I see myself on video (cringe), I am always doing something odd and sorta distracting with my arms and hands.

    8. lasslisa*

      Yeah, I got really thrown by this letter because I think of a bull in the china shop as someone with poor interpersonal skills, who throws their weight around and bullies others to get their way. Then instead it was a list of minor social faux pas and ordinary bits of necessary friction.

      Necessary friction like: Sometimes a phone is going to ring during a meeting. If you put your phone on silent for meetings, how does your boss reach you with emergency questions for the client meeting they’re at? And, two people on a call talking at the same time is just what happens on a call. There’s no other good way to indicate you have something to say, except by starting to say it. I thought the “interrupting” was going to be about talking over people and not letting them finish – but “oh, no, you first!” is actually the polite way to handle that.

      So this read to me like, “my manager is unacceptably late on a regular basis! Twice this month she was more than *five minutes* late…”

  6. Jennifer*

    I get that it’s not OP’s job to police her boss’s behavior and it’s probably her best bet not to say anything, but some of this behavior is pretty rude, not to mention gross. There could be other factors that contributed to her success in spite of her horrible manners.

    Plus I don’t think “men can be gross and get away with it so we should to” is a valid defense. Shouldn’t we all strive for a certain standard of decorum, instead of being as gross as some others among us?

    1. MousePrincess*

      Alison isn’t saying that we all should be gross because men get to be gross. She’s saying that if it hasn’t hurt their professional reputation yet, OP shouldn’t worry about it hurting their boss’s reputation either.

      1. Jennifer*

        “And frankly, it’s pretty damn common to see men rise to positions of seniority and/or great responsibility with much ruder behavior, and that’s somehow accommodated.”

        This is the part I’m referring to. I get what you’re saying and can accept that.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        @MousePrincess, this is why I am on the boss’s side in this. Because of the double standards. Bad manners have literally never stopped a guy from raising up in the ranks, but no, we must be dainty.

        1. Relentlessly Socratic*

          Dainty, attractive, consistently well-groomed, eat tidily, and heavens forfend we speak on calls until invited to……My inner bull comes out all the time at work or I’d have become wallpaper.

    2. ACDC*

      I didn’t interpret the line about men can be gross the same way you did. I took it as – look, we had a letter on this site about a male CEO peeing in a cup and dumping it in the office kitchen sink. This female manager licking her fingers and having her phone on full volume is not that big of a deal.

        1. Ariel*

          There are also class and cultural biases as well. I don’t think in licking fingers is in any way, shape, or form the same thing as peeing in the sink. I don’t know any culture that views that as acceptable. I do know some that view finger licking as not only acceptable, but desired.

          In some of the Southern US branch of my family, failure to lick your fingers after chicken and biscuits would be rude.

      1. Jennifer*

        Sure nothing seems that bad in comparison to that lol. But imo gender had nothing to do with whether or not it’s gross to eat with your mouth open and lick your fingers between bites like a kindergartener. That’s basic table manners. If the OP is saying stakeholders are put off by this, I believe her. It’s not about sexism. It’s just manners.

        1. Liddy*

          The point is that women are often held to a higher standard than men in many aspects of professional life, including things that appearance, manners and general conduct. That’s a fact and it may be a contributing factor in how OP is viewing her boss’s behavior. I don’t see why that’s so hard for you to understand.

          1. Jennifer*

            You’re missing my point. I realize that women are held to a higher standard in professional life, but I disagree that it’s a factor in this particular situation. I think the OP is grossed out by her boss’s behavior because it is indeed gross, not because her boss is a woman. I would be grossed out watching someone chew with their mouth open and lick their fingers regardless of their gender.

            I also think we should take her word for it when she says that stakeholders are put off by this behavior.

            1. Liddy*

              You’re only focusing on how this women eats, which I think everyone would agree is gross regardless of gender, but the rest of us are talking about the complete package of behavior. The fact is if an older male boss regular forgets to put his phone on silent, interrupts people, yawns during meetings, and all of the other behaviors that OP described, he would be more likely to be described as absent-minded, quirky, or inattentive, rather than a “bull in a china shop.” I think its actually very likely that OP other stakeholders are holding her to a higher standard than they would if she was a man.

        2. Corporate Goth*

          If I had to abide by the table manners I grew up with,* I’d never actually eat at work. Which I’d like because I’d lose some unwanted weight, but would make me a hangry boss. Nobody wants that. Trust me.

          I’ll apologize to people for continuing to eat while talking to them, and try not to do it in a serious conversation, but that goes out the window if they interrupted me. I literally snack and run sometimes.

          *It’s weird, but sometimes blue collar families can be exceptionally strict about these things. Thou shalt abide by the standard! I was trained to host tea parties and be a housewife. It didn’t take. Though am pretty sure I can still lay out a formal place setting without conscious thought.

          1. iglwif*

            Ooooh gosh.

            I’m Canadian but my mom’s American, and not just American but an American who grew up in the Northeast in the 40s and 50s. And my father was a senior academic, so she used to have to host big dinner parties aaalllll the time. I too can lay out a formal place setting without conscious thought (in fact, I can do 2 versions: the one my mom taught me and the one I learned in Guides as part of getting my Hostess badge) even though this is not a skill I *ever* use in my real life, and I know which wine glasses go with which kind of wine even though I drink wine maybe three times a year.

            So, here’s a little-recognized difference between US (at least, of my mum’s generation) and Canadian table manners: USians want you to eat with your right* hand and keep your left hand in your lap, except when you’re using your knife with your right hand and your fork with your left to cut up your food, after which you’re supposed to switch your fork back to your right hand before you actually take a bite. Whereas Canadians generally want you to eat with your right hand and keep your left wrist on the edge of the table, except when you’re cutting up food, in which case you can eat with your left hand holding the fork. Since so many of my friends had Canadian, British, or otherwise non-USian parents, this meant I had to learn two different sets of table manners!

            … which I think now was good early training for recognizing that different situations call for different sets of behaviours and it’s usually not great to jump directly from “this person’s behaviour is slightly different from mine” to “RUDE!!!!!”

            *Throughout this paragraph, switch the sides around for left-handed people.

            1. Ariel*

              Used to be the case among white middle class people. It was never universal. It was simply preferred. Now I’d say it’s just acceptable.

              I am basing that on living in over half the states in my lifetime and traveling extensively in the US. I’ve eaten at a lot of middle-class dinners and a lot of fancy places.

              I and my husband eat with the fork in the left and knife in the right. Most of our younger friends do the same. My black family in Kentucky eat this way as well. The only people who do it the traditional white American way are the Midwesterners and East Coast/New England white people.

              I’d say it’s very good to know both sets of table manners and to be able to accommodate them.

              1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                I learned to eat properly while living in Eastern Europe, in a large city that is considered to be more on the European side of things. It was the same way you and your husband do it, fork in the left, knife on the right, you don’t switch because you will almost always needing to be cutting something. Taught my kids to eat the same way. My parents didn’t teach me, for whatever reason. We never ate out when I was growing up and I never saw them eat in a formal setting. It took me a while tbh to catch on to the fact that in the US, picking up your knife to cut allll of your food at once and then putting your knife down and moving your fork to the right hand and holding it like a spoon, is in fact proper table manners and not some kind of a Midwestern glitch.

              2. Relentlessly Socratic*

                New England wicked white person here. Cut with right, eat with left, never move the fork.

              3. iglwif*

                Yes, I agree! It’s been very useful, as have a number of other code-switching experiences in my life such as learning new languages, living in different countries, and existing in religious and secular spaces.

                My mom is definitely East/Coast New England White People (Jewish on one side, Italian on the other side, but in both cases she’s the second generation born in the US, at a time when assimilation was What You Did)–plus she’s almost 80, which I’m gonna guess is a factor here too.

        3. Curmudgeon in California*

          I fail to see what is wrong with licking your fingers when eating finger food. It’s not deviant or gross – and I say that as someone who was raised white middle class.

          Heck, at a meeting to day, there was pizza. I licked the grease off my fingers. So did the others in the room (I was the only woman.) No one batted an eyelash.

          Your hangups aren’t mine.

          1. Jennifer*

            In a casual setting – fine.

            At work at a sit down lunch where people are using silverware to eat – it’s rude. This isn’t revolutionary.

          2. Susie Q*

            Meh, it’s gross. Toddlers lick their fingers. Not adults.

            I’m guessing you probably don’t wash your hands and all your germs are being spread all over the place too.

            1. Curmudgeon in California*

              Wrong. Very wrong. Your classist judgement says more about you than me.

              I wash my hands in the restroom after the meeting. Duh.

        4. Fikly*

          Well, one, gender doesn’t have to do with whether or not you think it’s bad manners, but gender can have a lot to do with whether one faces consequences for that behavior.

          Two, it’s bad manners to you, not to everyone.

    3. Fikly*

      Why is what you say is decorum the standard to which everyone must be held?

      Why, because you feel something is gross, must it stop?

      Why, because you think something is rude, must it stop?

      Essentially, why is your (or LW’s) POV more important than boss’s POV?

  7. MousePrincess*

    I feel this! These are the kinds of things that get annoying as time goes on. I used to be so overly focused on my boss’s loud chewing because I spent so much time with her and it was particularly gross and annoying, but I imagine that others who only encountered her once in a while wouldn’t think it was as horrific as I did. It’s a perspective thing and unfortunately that ties into the fact that many men in high positions get away with doing gross, if not inappropriate crap all the time.

  8. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP — Are you, perhaps, embarrassed on your manager’s behalf? If so, try to train yourself not to react personally to what she does, or doesn’t do, and you’ll have a much easier time.

    If she’s advanced this far in her career, you can safely bet that her own managers value her results more than her mannerisms. Make like Elsa and let it go.

    1. Manders*

      Yes, that might be what’s happening here. I grew up with a parent who was very strict about manners, and I have a strong sense of secondhand embarrassment, so sometimes I have a very strong cringing reaction to seeing someone else commit a faux pas. OP’s manager seems to be doing just fine, so it’s really on OP to deal with their own feelings.

      As someone who’s worked as an assistant to some deeply weird bosses, I totally get how lines can get blurry in a situation where you’re already doing a fair bit of managing up or smoothing things out for your boss in a professional capacity. But in this case I think your boss doesn’t want or need help.

      1. Veronica Mars*

        Yes, secondhand embarrassment is a real thing that you can work on overcoming. One thing that helps me is reminding myself that other humans are pretty smart people, and definitely capable of distinguishing between my boss’ bad eating habits, and my own. She isn’t damaging “our reputation” she’s damaging her own – and that’s ok. That’s none of your business.

      2. kittymommy*

        The only thing that you might be able to help with is the phone thing (and this is very dependent on you, her and your relationship) is when I had a boss who’s phone would go off in meetings all the time I started “offering” to silence their phone as we went in. I started phrasing it as “hey want me to silence your phone when I do mine while you start/get settled/greet everyone” and after enough times it became a pattern they were used to so I would just ask “got your phone?” and hold out my hand.

        1. Corporate Goth*

          Yes – this. I came here to suggest this as well. Manage upward.

          Even conspicuously adjusting your own phone’s settings might do it. Just be sure to also turn back on, or you could hurt her productivity if she’s missing calls and not hearing them/sensing a buzz.

          There are also Faraday bags, but blocking the signal could be a bad idea if she’d ever need to leave a meeting for an emergency (assuming such emergency would be communicated through her phone, vs someone poking their head in the room).

        2. Arts Akimbo*

          Right, this! Plus, if she’s so concerned about the stakeholders’ reactions to finger-licking, she can hand over a wet wipe or a bottle of hand sanitizer afterward.

          People who do these things like having multiple glasses on their heads, forgetting to silence their phones every time, and “living out loud” are doing them because they are focused on other things, not because they’re trying to bother other people! If you offered to silence her phone before each meeting in the moment and handed her a moist towelette/sanitizer in the moment, she’d likely just absently hand the phone over, absently take the wipe and use it (but be sure to offer it *after* she licks her fingers, so she will actually use it! :D I kind of feel like your boss is my people!)

          1. Oh So Anon*

            But not everyone has the luxury of getting the benefit of the doubt if they’re focused on other things, though.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Manders has a really great point, OP.

        I grew up with parents who were a bit over the top about how things appeared. Manners were high on their list. I grew into this nervous teen who constantly wondered about what others thought.

        If this sounds familiar this can be a hard thing to shake off. I am in my late 50s and I think I would probably cringe near your boss.

        A few ideas:

        1) Tell yourself this is not your embarrassment to wear and refuse to be embarrassed on her behalf.

        2)Remind yourself that you are at saturation level because you see this all. the. time. Everyone else sees less of it than you do.

        3)Tell yourself that everyone else knows, is probably commenting and yet some how they all manage to keep on-going work relationships with her. There’s reasons for that, which brings me to #4.

        4) The reason everyone ignores it is because she is good at her job. They value her inputs more than they are worried about her manners.

        5) In order to help yourself move beyond this whole aspect why not make a stronger effort to learn the best of her best. Soak up her knowledge and wisdom and add to your own pool of assets.

        I have a friend with horrible table manners. But this friend has done more to help me with my concerns than a lot of other people in my life. Just on Monday alone, I had two unrelated emergencies happen at the same time. (Car broke down and something else major broke.) I woke my friend up when I called and he was here very quickly. Both problems were resolved. The people with impeccable table manners are no where in sight. Sometimes a big picture focus can help us remember what is important and what is not so important.

        We can vow to remember and keep the best parts of people.

        Bonus points: We can adopt some of their best parts as our own best parts.

  9. hedda*

    I once interviewed with a SF startup darling who put his stocking feet up on the conference room table and dug between his toes.
    Yeah, this is small potatoes.

    1. ACDC*

      And let’s not forget the letter about the boss who peed in a cup and dumped it in the sink! I think Allison’s last bit about plenty of men getting to senior positions with much weirder behavior is a big point here.

    2. Leslie Knope*

      My boss and I laugh because we’ve just gotten used to some behaviors. I work for a teeny tiny company and we’re all pretty close and have been working together for 5 years or more. My boss and I were having a casual conversation in his office the other day and he pulled out a pair of nail clippers and proceeded to clip his fingernails (with his hand over/in the trash can to catch the clippings). Then he stopped, looked up and said, “Oh shoot…you know you’re getting too comfortable when you start clipping your nails in front of your employees.” I just laughed and said, “As long as you don’t pull off your socks and start on your toenails then it doesn’t bother me.”

      One habit of his I absolutely hate, though, is that he chews tobacco. He only ever does it in his office and his spit cups are confined to that room, but still…YUCK.

      1. Indigo a la mode*

        I don’t care at all about finger-licking or whatever–I honestly have pretty low standards overall when it comes to the crossroads of hygiene and decorum–but dipping is the MOST DISGUSTING thing. I found it sooo hypocritical when my sergeants used to lambast us abou tprofessionalism and then stick their dip bottle in the back of their pants.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      I lick my fingers when eating, but not in public (unless I’m handling ribs), and I do then wipe them on a napkin and at the end of my meal, spray my hands with 91% alcohol I keep in a travel size spray bottle in my purse. It is what it is *shrugs.*

        1. Dragoning*

          My office provides us all with hand sanitizer at our desks and in meeting rooms.

          (Working in pharma is a bit odd)

        2. Diahann Carroll*

          Ha! I have no idea – I have OCD, so that’s why I carry my alcohol around. Fear of contamination is one of my triggers.

          1. Banana Stand*

            I get it- I carry a lot of stuff in my purse ‘just in case’. Makes me feel comfortable!

            1. Curmudgeon in California*

              I don’t even carry a purse, much less carry a purse to every meeting.

              OTOH, after a messy meal I go to the restroom and wash my hands.

        3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I know a lot of people who carry sanitizer with them. And no, my partner doesn’t carry it with him because he knows he can just say “Gurl, pass me that sanitizer” and I hand it over.

          Lots of dudes around here have backpacks with them at any given time and yeah, they do keep wet wipes in there….

      1. fposte*

        That’s about where I am (though without the alcohol), and every now and then at work I forget I’m not at home. Cutting cake and getting frosting all over me is a big one.

        1. hbc*

          Same! Frosting goes straight from hand to mouth if I’m not thinking about it, and of course cutting a shared cake is about the last circumstance when people want to see you licking your fingers.

          1. fposte*

            Yup. Quite a few times I’ve stopped a hand mid-lift to mouth and returned it to table level. Nothing to see here, folks.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Some how, fposte, I think that people around you are very, very willing to overlook whatever rare and minor quirk you may have….. just my hunch.

    2. Jennifer*

      It is in a business setting. Especially if you’re planning on shaking hands after. Gross. Plus no one wants to see that.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        I don’t even register it. Plus, most people shake hands *before* the meeting starts. After a lunch meeting, especially with sandwiches or pizza, everyone’s hands are “dirty”.

      2. Fikly*

        There are, magical things, called wet wipes, hand santizer, and wonder of wonders, a sink and soap.

      3. Relentlessly Socratic*

        In most in-house meetings, meh. I haven’t shaken a coworker’s hand since I interviewed at the company.

    3. Archaeopteryx*

      It’s a do-exclusively-in-private thing- an understandable urge after some foods, but very gross for spectators and kind of little kid manners.

    4. TypityTypeType*

      It’s more context, I think. Many people would lick their fingers at home or among friends, but not at a work lunch. It’s not inherently offensive or incorrect behavior, but it is definitely casual behavior.

    5. Manders*

      In my experience it’s one of those things that either intensely bugs someone or doesn’t even register. It really bothers me to see people licking their fingers or putting their fingers in their mouth, even in casual social situations, but I understand it’s my own hangup I have to deal with.

      If the person doing this were an intern OP was supervising, it might be worth saying something about table manners in professional situations just in case that behavior ends up holding her back in the future. But OP’s boss seems to be doing just fine, her table manners clearly haven’t damaged her career, so there’s no harm in her doing it.

    6. magnusarchivist*

      I did in a meeting earlier this week where I brought a muffin to eat, but no napkin. Muffin was greasy, fingers were greasy, and I couldn’t discreetly wipe them on my light-colored skirt without leaving a stain. Tried instead to discreetly put them in my mouth so I could continue taking notes without getting muffin oil all over my laptop.

      Sorry, colleagues.

    7. LilyP*

      Eh it kind of depends on environment and whether the food is appropriate to eat with your hands in the first place. If it’s just, say, me and co-workers eating fried chicken out of our laps during a lunch and learn presentation I wouldn’t really register it. At a sit-down lunch, something you’re eating with a fork and knife, or with higher-level people, yeah it would be rude.

        1. Lora*

          Yes. Friday 3pm meeting where they try to be nice to you by ordering wings and bringing beer is awkward. I mean, I can have a mountain of used wet naps, or I can be messy and then wash my hands in the restroom directly after I’m done eating. The mountain of used wet naps grosses me out more, for some reason, so I opt to be messy and then run to clean up in the bathroom.

      1. Leslie Knope*

        It’s not really that weird if you’re eating a sandwich and a bit of mustard gets on your finger. If you hear someone set their fork down with a clank and then proceed to lick their finger…that would definitely draw more attention to it!

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        I guess I’ve never had “sit-down lunch” at a work meeting. Usually it’s buffet, pizza, or box-lunch sandwiches.

    8. Nita*

      I think the problem is mostly that this is in an office. So one, people may be shaking hands. And two, it’s cold and flu season, and licking your fingers and then (presumably) touching the conference table, the chairs, the coffee machine… nope nope nope!

      1. Avasarala*

        This!! I don’t care if you do it and then wash your hands, but now you’ve got your mouth germs on everything! It’s like using your personal utensils to take stuff out of a communal bowl–OK at home, not OK elsewhere!

    9. TechWorker*

      Looool yes, this came up on another post recently and I was tbh amazed at how gross people found it.

      I basically never shake hands at work so idk if that impacts it but like… I don’t think I’d even register someone licking their fingers. I occasionally eat crisps in a ‘lunch and learn’ type meeting and that’s a fairly inevitable ‘lick the salt off your fingertips’ moment…. I’m clearly a heathen. (Doesn’t seem to be an issue at my workplace so far :p)

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        I’m with you. I don’t even notice, and we never shake hands around here unless we’re being introduced to someone new. That and we tend to WFH when we’re sick.

    10. Banana Stand*

      Well its not polite to do in business settings. At a casual BBQ joint, sure. Although I place the blame on people ordering messy catering for business lunches haha!

  10. jamberoo*

    ” It’s uncomfortable to imagine myself policing the behavior of a woman who is middle-aged, had raised a family, has had a successful career, and just sort of lives her life “out loud” ”

    And it should be uncomfortable. That’s your sign that you shouldn’t do it.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*


      Just because they aren’t your preferred manners does not mean you should push them onto others.

    2. Mookie*

      It’s weird that the OP can articulate the absurdity but not actually connect the dots. Coupled with references to begrudging “tolerance” and qualified “respect” for her boss and regular lapses in the boss’s obedience to her commands (she “forgets” my edicts!) leads me to believe there is a second interpretation of that line, implying that A Grown Woman Should Know Better and Not Force Me to Police Her. But, as others have said, these expectations are not universal, “flouting” them does not universally produce the same distaste the OP is experiencing, and therefore the problem is with the OP. People do, indeed, live out loud all the time. It appears that the OP finds her boss’s relaxed ability to be herself very vexing indeed, she is too loud, too honest, too un-selfconscious. OP feels shame on her behalf. It’s sort of sad, but not for the boss herself.

  11. Jean*

    I used to work under a sales director who had the worst manners of any otherwise functional adult I’d ever seen. Just gross, piggy, belching, feet on desk, loud speakerphone calls with his office door open, profanity nonstop, etc etc. He was also an incredibly gifted salesperson who was single-handedly responsible for landing about 90% of the business that we serviced. (In addition to being a kind and caring person who I saw and still see as a professional mentor.) Sometimes this is just how it is in the work world.

    You have my sympathy, OP. I know how annoying this is. But yeah there ain’t sh*t you can do about this.

    1. Blarg*

      My feet end up all over the place without me realizing. I remember in elementary school being asked if I put my feet on the furniture at home and being confused by the question, because of course I did.

      Now nearing 40, I have a physically difficult time sitting in a chair with my feet on the floor. It isn’t so much painful as wildly unnatural and uncomfortable. At my last ergonomics eval, the guy helped me optimize my chair so that I could sit on my feet. While I don’t have ehlers-danlos I have similar joint looseness in my hips and elsewhere that isn’t going to go away. I was so thankful that ergonomics guy helped me adapt to my body in such a useful way. And mostly keeps my feet off my desk.

      1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

        I also have hypermobility in my joints. I find it incredibly uncomfortable to sit still for any length of time and I’m not always aware of my fidgeting or posture.

        1. Blarg*

          If I am sitting, I almost always have my legs wrapped twice. And I don’t realize it until someone looks at me weird. But hey, my feet aren’t on the chair!

  12. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Here’s what I think your real problem is:

    You’re uncomfortable with the idea that some people succeed in this world despite violating social norms that are important to you personally.

    I get it. It’s annoying.

    But you (and my sister!) don’t get to determine who should be successful in certain areas and who shouldn’t. That’s because some people bring a lot of value so much so that TPTB simply do not care about the minor annoying stuff.

    You have to be careful and not assume that your expectations are universal for everyone else because they’re not.

    1. Manders*

      Yes, I think you nailed it. A lot of families teach kids manners by saying that doing things in a certain way is being considerate or kind to others. Then when they grow up and meet people who do things differently, they end up feeling like that person is being inconsiderate or rude on purpose.

      (I was totally one of those kids. Unlearning some of my gut responses to behavior my mom taught me to view as rude or gross has been a difficult process.)

      1. Dragoning*

        And it’s especially frustrating, because what’s considered “kind” and “considerate” varies so /much/ region by region. The American south is all Sirs and Madams while in the Midwest, that would be passive-aggressive and distant. People in rural areas get mad city people don’t want to chat with them, and city people are annoyed people in rural areas won’t shut up.

        1. Midwest Writer*

          Paying attention to cultural norms is so important. When I moved to a very rural area of the Midwest (county seat towns so small that they have no traffic lights), I asked my new boss about the company’s dress code. He told me anything nicer than khakis on a regular basis would probably turn off the people I would interview. I have worked at newspapers where suits were a requirement, but here showing up in something that nice would be way out of whack with local cultural norms.

          1. Filosofickle*

            My mom always told me you can’t be overdressed for job interviews. So, as a newly minted college graduate I showed up in cute matching skirt suits. For interviews at creative agencies. In industrial lofts. Where they were wearing jeans. The looks I got! It took me far to long to catch on that the culture of my field invalidated that advice. At the very least, I had to look a lot more creative/funky than Barbie suits.

        2. anon for this*

          I moved from Canada to the northeastern United States. I adjusted fine, but would have handled our Southern clients much better if I’d had some training in the cultural differences. I don’t think it caused any harm or denied anyone any opportunities, but I did end up briefly noting in my reports e.g. that I was confused by why Client B absolutely fell over themselves apologizing for being five minutes late (seriously, one of them was close to tears), and by why Client D threw a lavish dinner party with intrusive-feeling interpersonal games that I kept thinking were all some kind of corporate inside joke I’d missed.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          Before I introduced my husband to my father, I had to caution him not to address my father as “sir”. My father KNEW for a fact that was sarcasm and immediately got insulted.

          OTH, my husband’s father EXPECTED to be addressed as “sir” and was put out if one did not do that.

          I will say, both men lived their beliefs. My father never addressed anyone as “sir”, because he believed it to be disrespectful. He learned people’s names and used their names.

          My husband’s father did address people as “sir” or “ma’am” and everything else about him matched that formality (his words, demeanor, the way he dressed, etc.).

      2. Oh So Anon*

        This is tricky, though, because not everyone gets the same sort of latitude from society in general in terms of being given the benefit of the doubt. I don’t want to make this about identity politics, but for example, as a member of a group that faces a fair bit of discrimination, I was taught that doing things in a certain way is necessary to avoid facing certain types of pushback. Like, veering slightly from being by-the-book mannerly would lead to me being perceived as being straight-up rude.

        Unlearning this stuff becomes a bit more challenging for people who need to have a personal stake in respectability politics.

        1. Manders*

          Yes, my mom never explained this to me, but looking back on her etiquette lessons I think she was such a stickler for a certain type of manners because she’d fought very hard to move in professional circles where she wasn’t always welcome.

          There’s a lot of complicated stuff tied up in this. A big part of why I’m trying to unlearn some of the things she taught me is that I moved to an area of the country with very different demographics, and I realized a lot of the “rules” she taught me aren’t universal and I was unfairly judging some of my friends for breaking etiquette rules that aren’t really the norm here.

          1. Ani*

            Manners should never be weaponized. They should never be used as a gatekeeping function

            I’m rather just made by the number of posters he seem to think there is such a thing as uniform American manners. Much of what develops his uniform American manners was a way of keeping people who were not culturally desirable locked out.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Manners as weapons. Oh my yes. And that was where my own push back began. If one wants to prove superiority through having the best manners they probably will. They will also be friendLESS.

              We don’t love our friends for how perfect they are. We love them for how willing they are to forgive and overlook.

              Interesting thought here, OP. Your boss maybe fully aware that people are over looking things with her. You may eventually find out that the people she respects the most are the people who overlook her foibles.

            2. Fikly*

              The number of people who their experience is the universal one, or that their views are the universal one, or their ethics, their manners, etc…

              Humans are remarkably self-involved.

      3. Snarkus Aurelius*

        This, this, this.

        My parents raised me to believe that if you did X, Y, and Z you would be guaranteed rewards A, B, and C.

        When I graduated from college, I really struggled because the laziest interns got rewarded with free lunch and Friday afternoons off if they asked. I worked unpaid 12 hours a day and I was “rewarded” with more work and rejected time off requests. (My parents also raised me to be grateful for what I had and never ask for anything more, including pay, lest I be seen as ungrateful!)

        And I was miserable because of what I thought was “unjust” success that others got.

        Then I wisened up, stopped listening to my parents, learned how to make things work for me, and let go of the idea of a just work world.

        1. Aspie AF*

          Highly recommend the movie Booksmart if you haven’t already seen it! It’s about this exact topic and it’s so good and funny.

    2. Myrin*

      I feel like that’s giving this situation a deep psychological reading that is really not necessary. I’m with you in that expectations and understandings of manners, etiquette, and just behaviour in general isn’t something that’s universally agreed upon, but there’s absolutely nothing in the letter to suggest that OP feels like her boss – whom, by her own words, she likes and respects, and who seems to be an excellent leader work-wise – shouldn’t be as successful as she is.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        Yeah, I agree. If I had a boss I respected, but I sensed that others were put off by her mannerisms, I might feel tempted to say something. I would never actually say anything. But sometimes there’s an urge to protect your boss, who you like, from being looked down on by others or from rubbing others the wrong way, and it’s not because I am uncomfortable with someone violating social norms succeeding. The OP says she can deal with these issues but she worries, based on reactions she’s seeing, that others can’t and that it might affect the boss. I think we can take her word for it that she can handle the boss’s idiosyncrasies.

    3. Viette*

      That’s definitely how it comes across, and I think it’s so important in these circumstances to step back and consider whether the social norms the OP is attached to are really that important. Her boss is mild to moderately unmannerly — not openly racist, or classist, or cruel, or bad at her job. Yes, this behavior is kind of rude sometimes, especially with the phone-in-a-meeting thing, but really, that happens all the time.

      I work in an industry where the highly specialized players’ behavior is often awkward and idiosyncratic and kind of weird, and I like it. I have fairly good manners and I try to be socially acceptable, but it’s comforting to know that if I say something wonky or do something that comes off as strange, it’s okay! You boss’ success is telling you that you don’t *have* be your version of well-mannered to succeed, that’s not really a bad thing.

    4. Senor Montoya*

      Eh, maybe OP is censorious, or maybe the OP is sincere that the boss is indeed harming her rep with these violations or social norms. Entirely possible that OP does care about the boss and how she (boss) comes across. (And also that these behaviors also personally drive OP right up the wall, I think OP can feel both genuinely concerned and massively annoyed.)

      I don’t think we need to question the OP’s motivations or sincerity — that’s not what the OP wants help with, anyway.

  13. Heidi*

    “…I pick up on a very clear sense that other more important stakeholders in our workplace do not share this level of tolerance.” I’m kind of wondering what this means. If the important stakeholders aren’t tolerating the behavior, does that mean they have they done or said something about it? But for the OP, I’d stop with the phone tutorials even. If a smart, capable person can’t silence her phone, it means that it’s just not that important to her and she’s willing to live with whatever consequences there are.

    1. valentine*

      I’d stop with the phone tutorials even.
      Yes. She hasn’t asked for help or offered an opening like, “Did I really just go to town on the Cheetos dust?” This is a little like the OP who can’t bear that their boss uses a disposable cup daily. If the stakeholders were responding in ways that hurt the unit or Grace were crashing a wedding or funeral with work talk, it might be time to say something.

    2. Dragoning*

      I’m also curious about this. If Boss is successful…how is the “low tolerance” manifesting?

    3. iglwif*

      This is what I am wondering, too. If the “other important stakeholders” were as bothered by this stuff as the OP is, surely they would say something? So either they haven’t said anything because it’s not that bad / they value her work more than they are annoyed by her lack of polish, or they *have* said something and she’s ignored it but it’s not bad enough (to them) that they’ve followed up? What are the indicators of this lack of tolerance that the OP says they’ve picked up on, I wonder?

      1. Ariel*

        If those others are aware and they are more important than LW, then it’s really not her place to report this to anyone.

      2. TechWorker*

        It *could* be other people in the meeting looking visibly unimpressed? I can imagine a situation where boss’ boss is irritated enough by interruptions or whatever to pull a face but not enough to actually raise it with boss..? In that world LW might feel like she’d be doing boss a favour…

        (You could say a manager who lets something irritate them or affect their view of someone but doesn’t being it up isn’t doing a great job of management, but let’s not pretend those managers don’t exist!)

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Going in a different direction, I am always amazed to find out who is ACTUALLY important and who is not.

      I can get reality checks two ways. One way is that someone explains to me why Bob is not an important player but only seems to be. The second way is when very important player, Jane, drops out of the game AND then NOTHING happens. The world does not end, life goes on as it always did.
      It’s always good to be on the look out for another layer to the story, OP.

      One place I worked, Leader Sam left his job. omg. We all fretted. And then nothing happened. Life went on.
      At that same place, Second Level Leader Jeff passed away suddenly. Our heads just spun, we could not fathom. And then nothing happen, life went on. Of course we hugely missed these people and we were terribly sad, but the place did not implode like we thought it would.
      People come and people go by different reasons. However, nature abhors a vacuum and some how others fill in. Many times this filling in happens out of respect or in honor of the predecessor. So it goes.

    5. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      What I’ve realised after almost 30 years in the workplace is that senior management often vociferously disagree on things like “this person should be promoted”, “this person can be trusted to deliver”, and “this person’s technical brilliance outweighs any little social inadequacies”. So there may be people senior to her who don’t like her, respect her, whatever. But it’s highly likely that her manager, or some very senior, does.

  14. MicroManagered*

    And frankly, it’s pretty damn common to see men rise to positions of seniority and/or great responsibility with much ruder behavior, and that’s somehow accommodated.

    I’m so glad you pointed this out. I think men are often regarded as quirky or plain ol’ allowed to be gross much more than women.

    1. halfmanhalfshark*

      There’s a “newspaper lawyer” at every firm and agency where I’ve ever worked. Meaning there is always at least one older man who will tuck a newspaper under his arm and proudly and boldly walk into the bathroom to poop and read without a care in the world.

  15. Curmudgeon in California*

    One thing I wonder is if she would have these same criticisms and worries if her boss was male.

    I say that because women are held to a much, much higher standard of politeness and “polish” than men, even by other women. I know in my own career I get a stern talking to for minor behaviors that men in the same organization get away with.

    And licking fingers is “ew”? Sorry, but unless you carry moistened wipes with you all the time like some sort of cleaning fanatic or mommy with a toddler, the best way to avoid getting your clothes/pens/papers sticky after eating finger food/sandwiches is to lick your fingers! No, you can’t just jump up and go wash your hands in the middle of a lunch meeting, and napkins often don’t do the job.

    I really get the sense that this is very gendered criticism, and that you would never hear it uttered with the pronoun “he”.

    Seriously, this whole thing really hit me wrong.

    1. Caliente*

      Well wait a minute here – and don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly agree with most of your comment but I have been in lunch meetings where I go to the bathroom to wash my hands after eating. I mean yes, you are allowed to go to the bathroom. I have also simply sprinkled a few drops of water from water bottles onto fingers or directly onto napkins to wipe my fingers. I am not a person who licks her fingers – amusingly this just became a realization, I’ve totally never been someone who licks her fingers, no idea why. And I honestly would kind of think “ew” if i saw someone doing it in certain settings – because like, what are you touching next? Yikes?! I am totally laughing my *ss off over here, this is actually pretty funny.
      But all that said, yeah she should not worry about her boss licking her fingers cuz it ain’t her problemo.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        To be honest if I were in a lunch meeting I would probably not even notice someone licking their fingers, but if I saw someone wash their fingers with water from their water bottle I would notice and think it was pretty odd. ‾\_(ツ)_/‾

    2. JB (not in Houston)*

      You definitely can excuse yourself in a lunch to wash your hands? You’re allowed to go to the restroom, or at least every lunch meeting I’ve ever been people have been allowed to use the restroom. And yes, licking your fingers is an “ew” to a lot of people. Obviously not everyone feels that way, but it’s not a bad thing to know that some people will be put off by it, so you can either decide you don’t care or decide it’s a “know your audience” kind of thing.

      I have to say, I wouldn’t necessarily notice if someone quickly licked their fingers (although some people do it in a way that you can’t help but notice), but if I did notice, I would not want to shake their hands after, whether it’s a man or a woman. It’s definitely true that there are gendered rules about who gets away with this kind of thing, but I dont’ think it’s always gendered a thing that people notice. My experience when it comes to table manners (as opposed to other etiquette/presentation type things, where criticisms do often seem to be gendered) has been more that people either don’t notice this stuff at all, or they care a lot about it and notice it when *anyone* violates whatever their table manner preferences are.

    3. Swingbattabatta*

      Came here to say the exact same thing. Women are expected to be “on” in a way that most men will never even consider, and criticizing your boss for her lack of “polish” really grates on me. Sure, professionalism matters, but so many of the things you list are annoyances that are so common in the professional world (going over time on conference calls? failing to mute your cell? repeated redundant statements?) that the other issues start to sound like an inordinate focus on her lack of ladylike manners.

      I understand how working closely with people can amplify their irritating personality traits, and I feel you on how frustrating some of those things might be. But you cannot CANNNOOTTTT “police” the behavior of your boss – whom you admit is successful and competent – when your issues are something so commonplace and, by many standards, immaterial.

    4. Temperance*

      If you’re eating a sloppy sandwich in a meeting, grabbing a napkin and then leaving to wash your hands is the way to handle this. Not licking your fingers in a business meeting. That’s incredibly nasty, and it’s MUCH less rude to leave and wash up.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Where I work, unless it’s an emergency, or you literally have to go to another meeting, you don’t interrupt the meeting to go wash your hands.

    5. MP*

      I’m confused – napkins work really well (unmoistened) and are pretty much standard when eating? Why would you ever have to lick your fingers or go to the bathroom to wash your hands? What are you all eating?

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Napkins don’t really cut it for pizza, sticky cookies, sloppy sandwiches, cheetos or baklava. If a napkin will do, great, but if not, it’s finger-lickin’ time.

    6. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Yes, licking one’s fingers in public is “ew”. If one can’t get to the restroom right away, one… sits with sticky fingers until one can wash them. Hand sanitizer helps in a pinch. But a locked finger opens a door or passes around papers and it’s gross. I feel the same way about people who lick a finger before turning a page, and my own (snobby) mother does it.

      I work with a man who uses his fingers in ways he shouldn’t. It absolutely colors my impression of him because anyone who uses a finger to push shared dip onto a chip in public has not been paying attention, and people who interact with clients need to pay attention.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Yuck. Sitting with sticky fingers is gross, then using them to open the door afterward? Why should I get sticky all over my papers and pens? Why should I carry a suitcase sized purse with all the cleaning supplies?

        BTW, proper dipping says your fingers should never touch the dip, licked or otherwise.

        1. Avasarala*

          I’m sad that’s your takeaway from this because I am absolutely judging your table manners! “Why should I get sticky all over my papers and pens”… Why should everyone else have to deal with your mouth germs on office supplies, doors, phones, etc? Why don’t you just use a napkin or a wet wipe like the rest of us? And if that’s too much hassle, maybe use utensils or opt out of the cheetos at a business meeting??

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            You seem to be really invested in judging me. Why would you assume that I’m going around fondling everyone’s phones and office supplies with my oh so gross fingers? I have watched people use the restroom, not wash their hands, and you are freaked out about licked fingers!

            I am not one of those obsessive people who uses a knife and fork to eat pizza.

            You are out of your lane.

            1. Avasarala*

              Invested?? You’ve been all over this thread advocating for your table manners. Clearly this has triggered something in you to make you defensive, but also based on your other posts, I don’t think you’ve been in the kinds of business lunches most people are (or at least I am) picturing here.

              It’s one thing to lick your fingers after eating cheetos and sloppy joe’s at home. But business lunches usually provide utensils or have less messy food, and have a higher expectation of table manners. This isn’t some white supremacist/classist creation; this is international business protocol that people around the world train to learn correctly. If you don’t want to learn it, like OP’s boss, that’s fine, you can probably be successful in the areas you choose. But in many fields and levels of seniority, this skill matters. And if you don’t have it, you better be damn good at everything else to make up for it.

              1. Curmudgeon in California*

                Ridiculous. The business lunches (lunch meetings) at places I’ve worked for the last 20 years provide only plastic utensils and sloppy food. Fancy is a buffet, with paper plates and plastic utensils. Hardly three forks and cloth napkins.

                I know how to set, and eat at, a formal table. I have never been to a “business lunch” that was a formal table. So your expectations of some mythical “international business protocol” are seriously out of line with reality.

                As far as “triggered” is concerned: I really get offended at some classist, virtue signalling Mrs Grundy trying to tell me that accepted customs where I work aren’t actually accepted, that the evidence of my own eyes is wrong, and that I’m somehow some disgusting hoyden because I don’t conform to YOUR idea of “manners”.

  16. Tobias Funke*

    As a weird, ugly, gross woman who is trying really hard to learn social norms as an adult *and largely failing*, I actually admire the hell out of your boss, OP.

    Half the letters on this site are about feeling like it’s impossible to succeed if you don’t know how to play the hidden games of professionalism and here we have an example of someone who did it anyway. I like that.

      1. Burnt Out*

        How does she sound awesome, aside from the fact that she’s good at her job? She seems to have no regard for other people’s time and thinks it’s okay to lick her fingers after eating. It may not be any of OP’s business to correct, but it also doesn’t make her some sort of cool, fight-the-power renegade because she loudly yawns in meetings and won’t silence her phone. It just makes her rude.

        1. Tobias Funke*

          It is awesome to know that these things aren’t 100% of the time damnation to eternal unemployment. Which is definitely what I remember thinking and feeling the first time I sat down and read eight years of AAM archives. Perhaps I am projecting or personalizing – it is difficult not to – but I think there is a lot of awesome power in succeeding based on competence while not being very good at the window dressing.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          She sounds awesome, because these frankly harmless (and rather common in the workplace in my field) quirks are literally the worst things her employees can say about her.

          You cannot begin to imagine the things that went through my head when I read “my bull in a china shop boss”. All the flashbacks to all the horrible bosses of my past came back at once. Mind you, the worst ones I am thinking of were immaculately dressed, never spoke out of turn, had perfect table manners… and created a workplace where people hated getting out of bed on a workday morning.

          1. Burnt Out*

            I just don’t think that because your bad boss had good manners it means good manners aren’t something to strive for, or that this boss is “awesome” for not having them.

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              She clearly has a thing or two going for her as a professional, other than just having bad manners. She did not get where she is just for licking her fingers after a work lunch.

              I thought I said it already, but I can say it again – she is not “awesome for not having them”, she is awesome because this is the worst thing about her that her coworkers can come up with.

              1. Banana Stand*

                I think the only thing that really “matters” would be constantly having her phone ring out loud in meetings. Now that is annoying and unprofessional, no matter how you eat, what gender you are etc! Its also super hard to assess the licking of fingers, like is she just BEC or is the boss really that messy? Who knows!?

          2. pancakes*

            It isn’t harmless to, for example, habitually talk over other people in meetings. If it was there wouldn’t be quite so many letters here bemoaning people who do this and asking how to get them to stop.

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              So I went back and double-checked to make sure that the letter does not say she does this in *all* meetings. Only on phone calls. And it has already been covered by many people in these comments how difficult it is for a lot of us to figure out when it’s okay to speak. A few people also pointed out how, in a male-dominated environment, if you politely wait your turn on a conference call, you’ll never get a word in. I typically err on the “staying quiet and dozing off” side, but maybe that’s one of the reasons why I’m not a manager and she is.

        3. Fikly*

          There’s no indication that she has no regard for other’s time, other than that her phone rings. The LW doesn’t say she answers the phone, and given LW’s severe irritation, it seems safe to assume that it would be on the list of complaints if that were so.

          And…it’s perfectly ok to lick your fingers! There is no universal standard that licking your fingers is gross or horrible.

          Being who you are and suceeding at work is pretty awesome.

      2. Goldenrod*

        She sounds awesome to me too! It reminds me of friends I love who have good hearts but no filter. It’s refreshing.

        “The hidden games of professionalism” – that’s a great way of phrasing it! I get so weary of political games at work. This lady sounds like she is full of substance without style – so many people are the opposite, which is way worse. Good for her!

        1. Autumnheart*

          Not me. There are enough weirdos at work. I don’t want to deal with people who get to adulthood and the workplace and still don’t know how to act. Best case, it’s relatively harmless behavior like this boss, who is merely inconsiderate with her phone and her yawning. Worst case, it’s used to excuse all manner of harassment, bias and intolerable behavior, which is swept under the rug because “That’s just how s/he is.” No thanks.

          I don’t expect people to be perfect Stepford clones of each other. I agree that OP can’t be the one to tell her boss to turn her ringer off and stop yawning while people are presenting. But someone should. Maybe the boss’s behavior won’t impact her career, but what kind of message does it send to others when they can’t get through their presentation without her distractions? What does it do to *their* career?

          1. Anonapots*

            How would it affect anyone else’s careers? And it’s a huge stretch between annoying and rude behavior and harassment.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            I am not sure we are worried about the boss’ yawning ruining someone’s career here , though.

            As far as presentations are concerned, it’s up to the presenter to work though that yawn. It’s part of presenting. Depending on the material or the group, I might say, “Yeah, I agree this is pretty dry stuff. I have about five more minutes and then we will take a short break.” [or similar thing that fits the actual circumstances] I usually get good results with just acknowledging things for what they are.

          3. Susie Q*

            “Not me. There are enough weirdos at work. I don’t want to deal with people who get to adulthood and the workplace and still don’t know how to act. Best case, it’s relatively harmless behavior like this boss, who is merely inconsiderate with her phone and her yawning. Worst case, it’s used to excuse all manner of harassment, bias and intolerable behavior, which is swept under the rug because “That’s just how s/he is.” No thanks.”

            This!! Let’s just all throw regard for others out the window to start being gross and weird. Eff you, I’ll do what I want. Let me lick my fingers and spread germs all over the place.

        2. Burnt Out*

          “Hidden games of professionalism” are things like “My direct report is the boss’s nephew and I need to think about how hard I can come down on him,” or “The company picnic is ‘voluntary’ but I know for a fact that my supervisor trash-talks people who don’t go, so I better make an appearance” or “How much feedback can I give Bob’s direct report before Bob gets mad?”

          It’s not a “hidden game of professionalism” to expect people to silence their phone for a meeting, to not lick their fingers, and to not yawn loudly in meetings when it’s not the norm in that environment.

          1. Anonapots*

            Except in this environment nobody seems to care but the OP, so maybe it’s not that important. *shrug*

          2. Avasarala*

            I agree. I’m shocked that people’s takeaway is “Wait, I can be a rude boor and still be successful?” I mean sure, but why is that something to aspire to??

              1. Avasarala*

                That’s not my takeaway because I don’t think people should aspire to act like OP’s boss.

                We already have evidence that being jerks, boors, and other thoughtless people can be successful in their careers: “Gross” can be spun as “practical,” “rude” becomes “honest,” “insensitive” becomes “determined.” I would like to see more successful people with reputations for kindness and consideration, more Hufflepuffs than Slytherins.

        3. Banana Stand*

          I’m kind of confused by people saying that professionalism is a hidden thing. I think there are well established guidelines for what is professional/appropriate and probably 100’s of books on the matter. Obviously it varies industry to industry but there are even books/guides/blogs about industry specific manners/politics.

    1. The real fake Eleanor*

      Just commented something similar below. All I could think while I was reading this letter was that I’m glad that being incredibly scattered (2 kids under 3 is no joke) isn’t dooming me to professional failure. Kudos to OP’s boss.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      Too true! And doubly-so for women.
      It’s also very much a class thing. Many of us with blue-collar, working or lower class backgrounds just simply didn’t get the social niceties, manners and charm school instruction even when we excelled academically.

      We’re more like Susie and not the perky Midge Maisel who charms everyone.

      But in a way, calling out overt rudeness (being late, interrupting, turning phone off) I think can be addressed as being rude and disrespectful of others time, while the uncouth behaviors not as much.

      1. iglwif*

        Yeah, I feel like we are discussing two different sets of behaviours here, one of which is genuinely an issue (being late, interrupting or talking over people [as an aside, I find this is often really difficult to avoid on conference calls–how many committee meetings have I attended that were 50% silence waiting for someone to speak and 50% several people accidentally speaking at once?], not silencing her phone during meetings) and the other of which is not (yawning, licking fingers, losing track of glasses …), and conflating them because they all fall into the supra-category of “stuff OP finds annoying”.

      2. Burnt Out*

        I have to disagree that this is a class issue. I grew up Poor White Trash and I still learned not to lick my fingers at the table, to not talk over people, and that it’s rude to loudly yawn or sigh when people are talking. You don’t need charm school to learn any of that.

        1. MP*

          Exactly! It’s not a class thing, it’s consideration for others, which all sorts of “classes” have.

          1. Fikly*

            It’s not consideration for others, unless other people have spoken up and verbalized that x behavior is bothering them.

            Otherwise how do you know what is bothering them, which is something you need to know in order to be considerate of it.

            1. MP*

              Oh my word, it’s called the social contract. It doesn’t take too much imagination to put yourselves in someone’s shoes and wonder – am I grossing them out or likely hurting their feelings? Doesn’t take that much effort. You mean – you AREN’T doing that as you go through the world? Also – tip – look at people’s expressions . . .

              1. MP*

                I would be *horrified* if you expect me to tell you what bothers me with your behavior. Wouldn’t, couldn’t do it – it would be UNSPEAKABLY mean of me to do so, unless we were close family.

                1. Fikly*

                  So, you feeling that it would be unspeakably mean is actually your issue. You are assuming that other people would find it unspeakably mean. That’s an example of where your manners are not universal, fyi.

                  If you want someone’s behavior to change, but never tell them that, the odds that their behavior will change are very low.

                  If you’d rather stew and be angry and resentful, that’s your choice. If you want the behavior to change, you have to actually use your words.

        2. Ani*

          Good for you. But not everyone learns that

          In fact, cultural norms are not universal. Eating with ones hands and licking fingers is not universally bad for all human cultures.

          We live in a global world. White middle class manners aren’t the be all and end all

          1. TechWorker*

            Thank you. (Plus licking fingers is also not considered rude in my family, or, as far as I can tell, workplace, and both are inhabited primarily by white middle class folks…)

          2. Curmudgeon in California*

            This. I really don’t want to have such a big stick up my hooha that I get crazy judgemental about licking fingers, or feeling compelled to drag hand sanitizer everywhere or sit in a meeting with sticky fingers because of someone’s taboo about licking finger in public.

            I work with a lot of non-US born people. I learned years ago not to get my bowels in an uproar about table manners like not slurping, not having elbows on the table, not sharing plates, not having communal dishes, etc.

        3. Anonapots*

          It’s still a class thing because “manners” as we know them were things upper class and nobility decided were the norm and lower classes emulated them. It’s how the rich distinguishes who belongs from who doesn’t. Believe it or not, not licking your fingers is related to knowing which fork to use.

          1. Gee*

            I mean I def didn’t grow up upper class or “nobility” and learned basic manners…Grew up with a single working mom in the midwest

          2. Susie Q*

            Are you implying that people of all backgrounds don’t have “manners”? Because that is gross and infantilizing.

        4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          It’s all still bred into us by the upper class thumbing their noses at the lower classes with their “rules” and “manners”.

          My parents taught us manners because they were drilled into their heads at school, despite being country bumpkins from the start. They’d literally be told “Do it this way because otherwise you’ll let everyone know you’re just poor white trash, hide who you are, it’s shameful, do it like the rich people do it.”

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I tend to agree. My parents were blue collar people living in a white collar world. To me they always seemed to be running to catch up. A hidden and underlying shame seemed to be the force behind everything that was said and done.

            People who feel they “have arrived” may not give these things a second thought.

        5. MissDisplaced*

          It doesn’t necessarily have to be a class issue, but some people aren’t taught manners by their parents. Or, maybe they’re taught some, like saying thank you and please, but not others like table manners, sitting in public, or things like burping, slurping, talking while eating, etc. And many of those things ARE class issues. If your family doesn’t have a dining table, how does one learn table manners?

          Growing up, filling your plate in the kitchen, cutting all the food at once, and then eating on the sofa in front of the TV was the norm. Dad’s smelly bare feet, farting, yelling/talking, belching, and all kinds of appalling stuff. You got used to it or you didn’t eat. It wasn’t until years later I realized other people did NOT eat like this. I actually had to learn about proper table manners in my early 20s, because I really had never eaten out at a nice restaurant or had to eat in a business setting.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Heck, I like her too. Can y’all imagine how good she had to be at her job *and at leading people* to still move up the career ladder with all these social norm violations stacked against her?

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I can relate to her on a certain level.

      I too am uncute and a bit of a barbarian when it comes to social aspects of life and it hasn’t actually held me back in life. So a lot of these letters makes me feel like a total freakshow on another level.

      The rude stuff aside because I’m painfully aware of things, I never turn my ringer on for that exact reason.

      1. SimplyTheBest*

        Why? Seriously, why? Like, I get some of the gendered talk on the subject, but I will never understand the people who’s solution is that we should all just get gross and behave poorly instead of demanding people be better.

        1. Gee*

          Me either. I’m confused reading here. Why is it awesome to interrupt people and eat messily? Should we all just start farting at work too?

          1. Not So NewReader*

            It’s the rebellion. In this case, it’s the rebellion against the superficial. Let’s not judge people on the value of their work, rather let’s judge people on if they burp/fart/yawn at inappropriate times. Actually, this hits me as humorous.

            OP, if you can not find a way to console yourself, then realize that you are probably inching your way toward the door. This is your boss, this is who she is. People here have offered suggestions to help lighten your concerns so that you keep your job. You will see this often on AAM, people try to help others to find ways to keep going. But sometimes folks want to draw that line, perhaps you need to draw a line. That is okay, too. It’s just differences in people.

          2. Curmudgeon in California*

            You realize that some people with medical conditions can’t *not* fart, right?

            Guess what? I fart at work. I can’t not fart when I have to fart. It’s part of IBS, and it sucks, and if you get bent out of shape about it, too bad. I try not to fart near someone else’s desk, but that’s not always possible. Good ventilation solves the problem, though.

            I also take a dump in the restroom when I need to, which I understand absolutely horrifies some of the commentariate here. Plus, my poop, being poop, stinks.

        2. Curmudgeon in California*

          “Demanding people be better”?? It’s only “better” by a narrow set of standards. It’s very classist, and if you factor in ethnicity, possibly worse. If Pradeep licks his fingers, are you going to “demand” he be “better”?

  17. Blue Mina*

    Haha, this reminds me of the managing director at a non-profit I previously worked at. Well loved by our board and community, generally pretty amazing at his job, but definitely had some… interesting table manners. I remember one catered board meeting where after he finished his lunch, he picked up his plate and licked it clean!

  18. Properlike*

    Sounds like someone who may be neuroatypical. I say that as a way for OP to reframe this from “she’s being rude and if she pays attention to cues it’ll stop” to “not wired to recognize cues and not gonna start now.” As others have pointed out, she’s this far into her career, she doesn’t have to expend the mental work on this particular aspect of her life.

    1. Oh So Anon*

      Not armchair diagnosing people, but this way of thinking of it also helps with reframing why other people haven’t held her to different standards of conduct throughout her career. If you intuit that someone can’t recognize these cues, you don’t keep wasting your effort on coaching them to be someone they’re not wired to be.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Because it’s not relevant, and in general, the site tends to avoid labeling ‘behavior that is not socially usual’.

        The relevant part is ‘not gonna start now’, not how / why OP’s boss came to behave this way.

        1. The real fake Eleanor*

          “The relevant part is ‘not gonna start now’, not how / why OP’s boss came to behave this way.”

          I could not possibly disagree more. “How/why someone came to behave this way” is otherwise called “empathy,” and it is the cornerstone of both my profession (social justice lawyer) and my interactions with every single person I meet.

          1. Phoenix*

            It might be empathy when it’s coming directly from the person in question, as a form of getting to know each other and sharing details.

            It’s pathologizing and stigmatizing to label someone else without their involvement.

            1. Ariel*

              As someone with serious health issues myself, there’s a major difference between labeling and stigmatizing and showing empathy generally b/c you are aware some people do have issues.

              I’d honestly people rather err on the side of empathy b/c not everyone is physically and neurologically the same.

              Also, I’d say some of what LW describes could (note the could, not is) just be the brain fog of middle age and menopause. I was literally just talking to my GP about how progesterone makes women a bit clumsy and loopy and it’s worse during menopause.

              If I were guessing, some of this behavior is really, truly not something that the boss is choosing.

              It’s stigmatizing to label. it’s not stigmatizing to start from the presumption that LW’s boss isn’t malicious and that some of this might be outside her control.

            2. Aspie AF*

              “It’s pathologizing and stigmatizing to label someone else without their involvement.”

              From OP:
              “She is the human embodiment of the ‘bull in a china shop.’
              “…Lack of professionalism and downright bad manners”

              They are already labeling their boss.

              1. SimplyTheBest*

                None of those are labels, simply descriptions of behavior. It is pathologizing and stigmatizing to read a description of bad behavior and then say, oh that must mean she’s neuroatypical (which is a label).

                1. Aspie AF*

                  Good thing this thread originated from “sounds like someone who MAY be neuroatypical,” then. How do you figure that “neuroatypical” is a label but “the human embodiment of the ‘bull in a china shop'” is not?

              2. Not So NewReader*

                It sounds to me like OP’s respect for the boss is sliding.

                OP, I faced a similar situation, where I felt a boss was clumsy to a fault. Mostly I felt bad for the stuff that happened. One thing I told myself was, “And yet, THEY are the boss and I am NOT.”
                Despite all these clumsy things that happened my boss still managed to excel beyond me in life. They had a heck of a battle. (Picture dropping a pile of papers and having to put them back in order 15 times a day. And this happens every. single. workday.) So they had this incredible load/burden they were carrying and yet some how STILL went way out beyond anything I have done in life.
                In the end, I felt humbled. I felt that I could have worked harder and done more. And this clumsy boss taught me that.

            3. Fikly*

              There is a large difference between labelling a person and recognizing that not everyone is like you, and everyone has different abilities.

        2. Aspie AF*

          If someone was deaf in one ear and never responded when spoken to on that side it would be relevant – reasonable accommodation is a legal requirement. There’s room to connect behaviours with a medical condition without armchair diagnosis.

    2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      I was going to say this too. I had a delightful, wonderful boss who was a dear mentor of mine. She was the best. But she was scatterbrained and messy, and she’d make tables in Word that were atrocious and unintelligible, and if she had a piece of scrap paper, she’d write across the side with the print on it, over the typed words, rather than flipping it over to write on the blank side.

      She mentioned having dyslexia and struggling with reading/organizational stuff as a kid. Years later, I realized she probably had dysgraphia and possibly some other comorbid learning disabilities as well. But she’d been a kid before we paid attention to that stuff, so she’d just gone through school being scatterbrained and messy instead of getting sent to resource room for tutoring.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yes. Hits very close to home for me as well. Just about all my bosses can be described like this and they indeed were later diagnosed with a variety of issues. Issues that were dealt with growing up by corporal punishment because they were just “not good at paying attention to details and needed to be beat more”. Sigh. Heck, they did this to people who were left handed and forced to use their right hand. Then they are like “why does your handwriting suck, you are awful, let me beat you some more!”

      2. Not So NewReader*

        This describes my bosses, my elders and even my late husband to some degree.

        People carry hidden burdens and use super-human strength to overcome those burdens.

    3. Arts Akimbo*

      I wasn’t going to say it, but I’m on the autism spectrum and have RAGING ADHD, and really have the whole absentminded artist thing down to an art form (lol), and all of this sounds like Things I Do On A Normal Tuesday.

      “Not wired to recognize cues” is very much a thing, and the lady is in her 50’s so all her coping skills might be pretty well set where they are. (I say that not to be ageist, but as a fellow lady in her 50’s.) It can take a ghastly amount of mental effort to learn something as simple as a new habit. (Ringer off, no licking, etc.) Oh, and that’s not even accounting for the fact that making it a habit *not* to do a thing is often ten times more difficult than a habit to do a thing.

      1. Ariel*

        I don’t know where you are on the menopause highway, but I have friends with ADHD and menopause was really, truly horrible for them.

        I think LW should really consider trying to frame this in a way that allows her to have more empathy and less judgment of her boss’s behaviors.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        They are all things a lot of my coworkers do On A Normal Tuesday.

        I once had my boss give me the floor on a phone call because I’d told him I needed to talk to the team about an issue, then interrupt me and launch into a monologue of his own before I was finished, then *shout* “Do not interrupt!” at me when I tried to talk again. My teammates noticed, and commented later on how he had been the one interrupting. He’s a nice, well-meaning person. My field is just not known for social refinement in the people that work in it. I get it that it varies by field, and that there are workplaces where licking fingers or yawning in a meeting is akin to kicking puppies. Mine just isn’t one of them. Obviously we don’t know where OP’s workplace is on that scale.

        1. pancakes*

          What sort of workplaces do you believe are staffed by people so thoroughly lacking perspective as to equate finger-licking with kicking puppies?

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            How would I know? Whichever workplaces the neurotypical, conventionally attractive, popular people end up at. I have no idea what those are.

    4. RagingADHD*

      Interrupting or forgetting things like silencing the phone may correlate somewhat to being atypical.

      Nasty table manners don’t.

      How I wish people would stop attributing gross or rude behavior to being atypical in some undefined way. Behavior like manners is a learned skill with consistent rules, and certainly not beyond the ability of anyone who is able to hold a job, much less rise to a senior level.

      Youre just calling atypical people gross. How is that helping?

      1. Gee*

        Omg this is what was bothering me and I couldn’t articulate it. Thank you!!! Its like “XYZ person did something rude/gross/offensive.” Response = “Well they probably have autism”. Sorry, but no, that’s not how it works and it puts down people who do have those things and make actual effort to get along with people.

        1. Avasarala*

          I totally agree! Who cares if the boss has XYZ disease/condition/background. The point is this is how she behaves, and what can OP do about it, if anything?

          1. Fikly*

            It’s relevant, actually, because if she does, it’s likely protected under the ADA, and not licking ones fingers while eating is not a core job responsibility.

            1. Avasarala*

              What?! That’s not how ADA accommodations work at all. Just because you have XYZ doesn’t entitle you to act however you want contrary to social norms. If you can’t perform one of the job functions then that is one thing, but Bob’s autism doesn’t auto-excuse him from chewing with his mouth closed or acting bored in meetings.

              I’m sick of people speculating that someone has a condition just because they’re acting in socially unacceptable ways. What if OP has an ADA-protected condition? This kind of speculation is so derailing and unhelpful.

              1. Fikly*

                Yes, yes it does. Please explain to me how chewing with your mouth open or “acting” bored in a meeting interferes so much as to prevent being able to carry out a core job responsibility.

                That’s exactly how the ADA works. The accommodation is that the person with a disability is able to act how they act, if they they are unable to control it, or if controling it would cause them harm, as long as it is a reasonable accommodation.

                Some people with autism are able to control some behaviors that some people find offensive. Some cannot. Just because some can does not mean all can. The ones who cannot should not be tossed out of the workplace if it does not interfere with their core job responsibilties, and legally, they cannot. Thankfully.

  19. Une femme d'un âge certain*

    Depending on the kind of relationship OP has with her boss, maybe she can ask the boss if she wants to be reminded to turn off her phone before meetings, or that she has her glasses on her head, etc. I know it’s unfair that women are held to higher standard for polish. It’s also unfair that women going through menopause often deal with forgetfulness. I’m not saying that is the case here, but it could be something the boss is coping with the best she can. As someone who has been there, if I had an assistant who would back me up by discreetly reminding me to turn off my phone or to leave for a meeting on time, I would love that. The key word is discreetly though.

    Table manners she’s on her own, although if I saw someone licking their fingers I’d probably pass them a napkin without saying anything.

    1. Ariel*

      Glad I’m not the only person who thought about menopause as a cause.

      It really does make a lot of women totally scatterbrained.

    2. Master Bean Counter*

      Exactly this! I’m beginning this wonderful phase of life that leaves me wondering WTF.
      I am more on top of my work game than I’ve ever been. But I can forget that I’m standing in a room full of people and just start fanning myself when a hot flash comes on.
      Worrying about what others think of well anything I do that might not seem normal or be in line with their expectations is just beyond my realm of concern now. Especially when I am surrounded by males that get paid more than me to do less work and have less manners.
      At this point in my life I am who I am. Trying to change things I don’t even normally think about takes entirely too much effort.
      And the memory issues….oh how I miss my mind. The important stuff is there, but more than a few times a month I have to come back into the house to get my glasses that I need to drive to work. Much to my husband’s amusement.

  20. violet04*

    I sympathize with you, OP. Seeing someone talk with their mouth full and lick their fingers would gross me out.

    Unfortunately since she’s your boss, there isn’t much to be done here. Sorry. The situation would annoy me too.

  21. Faith*

    I’m wondering if the LW is (maybe unconsciously) worried that somehow her boss’s behavior is going to somehow reflect badly on *her*. Like, if she’s wondering if stakeholders, etc. are secretly going “god, why doesn’t LW say something to her? Does LW think this kind of stuff is okay? Why doesn’t LW remind her about that damn phone?”
    It’s still not LW’s problem to fix, and hopefully, the people observing the behavior understand that LW can’t do anything about her boss.

    1. ThinMint*

      Similar to this, I’d have a concern that LW’s boss isn’t respected in some ways that would mean any kudos or recommendations of the LW by the boss wouldn’t be looked at as favorably as someone else who doesn’t annoy people.

    2. Grits McGee*

      I’ll admit that this is definitely something I worried about when I had a rude boss- am I going to lose out on opportunities with other staff because they don’t want to deal with the baggage of someone who was very competent, but quite unpleasant.

    3. MP*

      Yes, this! I worked on a small team with a boss who APPEARED polished (nice clothes, hair, jewelry, etc) – but had terrible manners and was really rude. At team lunches she would bring up the grossest things, smacked her gum, she was always late to things, constantly rescheduling, demeaning to others outside our team she thought “beneath” her (who were usually people of color, but that’s a whole other issue). She talked over people, was dismissive of people if they weren’t super smart, etc etc. It absolutely rubbed off on our team and I HATED being lumped with her.

      1. Anonapots*

        This is vastly different than the things OP mentioned. She lacked manners and also was an asshole. This is not that.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      I wondered that as I read also. OP, if you are worried about it reflecting on you, your best bet is to go with “kindness, understanding and patience”. People will tend to copy what you are doing. And people will respect how you overlook things and strive to bring out the best in your boss. It’s not about what your boss is doing, it’s about how YOU react to it.

  22. Maya Elena*

    With regards to women being held to higher standards on being gross…. A lot of the times that’s women! Guys I know who disdain certain social niceties and manners wouldn’t mind at all if I broken them; I’m the one who wants them to not make poop jokes and not swear….

  23. The real fake Eleanor*

    All I could think when I read this letter was, “F*ck yeah, OP’s boss! My brain, scattered from life with small children, isn’t dooming me to professional failure! I want to someday be a successful woman with multiple pairs of glasses on her head!”

    OP, I say this gently, but there’s a tone of superiority in your letter that you may want to reflect on. It could be undermining your relationship with your boss.

    Manners are culturally-driven and class-driven. As someone who grew up in poverty, I always cringe a little bit when people criticize things like eating habits. Also, I didn’t even know licking fingers was that bad? I’ve seen people do it during lunch meetings countless times, and I’ve never thought about it once. We order sloppy sandwiches pretty often, I guess.

    I think that many people want to believe that there are a set of rules and norms we can live by that will ensure success, and that if you violate those rules, you cannot achieve what the rest of us can achieve. It can be disturbing for them to discover people like OP’s boss who have been successful in spite of “breaking” the rules.

    1. Senor Montoya*

      My parents were from very poor working class families. Nobody, and I mean nobody, in any of those families thought it was A-OK to interrupt people or otherwise be disrespectful. Did they commit restaurant faux-pas and other class-marked errors? Sure. But treating people disrespectfully? That’s not a culture or class thing. (OK, what counts as “disrespect” can differ depending on class or culture, but I think I’m on pretty safe ground to say that for many cultures and across many classes, some of this behavior will be seen as rude and disrespectful)

      It’s interesting to me that most of the comments are focusing on the finger-licking type behaviors, which I agree, not important, and not on the ones that are genuinely problematic (interrupting, yawning and sighing in meetings) because they are disrespectful of others.

      1. Oh So Anon*

        Re: interrupting, the amount of conversational overlap that’s acceptable – even in professional settings – is a pretty culture-dependent thing. What reads as disrespectful quasi-interrupting in one part of the country is perfectly acceptable in another.

        1. Filosofickle*

          Agreed. There is certainly a degree of talking over / interrupting that is always rude, but there’s also a style of short pause / jumping-in conversation that is fine in some groups but not in others. There’s also a time when the most important people in the room are permitted to cut someone off and redirect.

          Obvious yawning and sighing, I have no justification for.

        2. Tau*

          I am struggling with this right now because my family does the conversational overlap thing, and it was also fairly common at my last job. It is clearly not at the new job, and the result is that not only do I feel like I have to bite my tongue all the time, I can’t talk! I have had to raise my hand in meetings because the conversation just jumps from one person to the other and without interrupting I can’t get a word in edgewise. It is super, super frustrating, and where my mind went when OP mentioned interrupting.

          1. Oh So Anon*

            Yeah, this is what I thought of too. My family, like most people from their country of origin, does the conversational overlap thing as well. Our culture of origin’s style of conversational overlap is way beyond what would even be normal in most informal settings here in Canada. The challenge is that I rarely spend time with people from my family’s background other than my own relatives, so I’m far more accustomed to the short-pause norms of where I live. While it makes work and my social life go okay, it makes talking to my not-very-assimilated family members a total headache at times.

          2. TechWorker*

            This is interesting… I’ve been in meetings where from my pov people are just constantly talking over each other and interrupting (and, like, loudly!). It is not the style I’m used to and although I do manage to interrupt myself where I need to I mostly end up sitting and listening. I will be more open to the perspective that for them this might be a ‘standard’ way of interaction and not necessarily indicate operational dysfunction!

      2. Jennifer*

        That’s a good point. Interrupting people and deliberate loud yawning is very rude and disrespectful.

        1. Arts Akimbo*

          Cultural, again, though. I grew up in a family and friend group wherein if you didn’t interrupt and just start talking loudly over someone else, they were never going to stop their own loud talking long enough to let you speak. It’s the conversational equivalent of kittens in a litter scrambling for food– the runt starves if it isn’t twice as pushy as its bigger siblings.

            1. lasslisa*

              Because it’s just a different way of having a conversation and not actually meant to cut someone off or indicate disdain.

              At an office mainly populated by people who are accustomed to a more dynamic conversational flow with more people talking at once, someone who is waiting for complete silence before they speak could easily be seen as “waiting for an engraved invitation”, either a diva or shy and not having enough confidence to share their ideas. The whole deal with different cultures/norms is that one *isn’t* better or more polite than another – the important thing is adapting to each other and finding a good way to communicate with the people you are trying to communicate with.

            2. Ariel*

              Depends on where you live. It really is culture dependent.

              I’ve worked in places where you were expected to jump in and have seen people be branded “not ambitious enough” for refusing to do so.

              The assumption this is always wrong and a universal norm is a form of class and culture bias.

              Finally, study after study shows men interrupt to take over and redirect more and are not only allowed to do so, but praised for it. Women interrupt more, but do so in a supportive, affirming way and are punished for us.

              There is a study that shows that Asian-language speakers do more interrupting than English speakers.

          1. Mel*

            That’s not what I think of as cultural. We all learn things that are fine at home/in private but not in public. That’s what you’re describing. Your coworkers are not your siblings. That’s not “in my country, X…”

        2. Ele4phant*

          I don’t find yawning rude. It’s a biological impulse that is pretty involuntary. I mean yes you can stifle them, but…eh, they happen and they don’t necessarily mean someone is bored or not paying attention. They’re yawning because they felt an urge to yawn.

          Also – on the talking over people, I have found that many professional women, particularly those more towards the end of their careers – had to fight very hard to get where they are at. To be heard. To get a word in. Not that it’s acceptable, but if you spent 30 years fighting for your right to be in a professional space, well old habits…

          1. Ariel*

            A friend of mine is an FBI agent. One trick they are taught is to yawn. If someone is looking at them, they will likely yawn as well.

            It’s pretty much involuntary.

            1. ele4phant*

              Yeah. I can see loudly scoffing as being rude.

              But if we’re in a long afternoon meeting and someone yawns, and even sighs while they yawn, I mean maybe that’s a little distracting, but it’s hardly “very rude” IMO.

      3. The real fake Eleanor*

        Senor Montoya, that’s true — the finger-licking thing just stood out to me, for some reason!

      4. vlookup*

        Honestly, even questions about what counts as disrespectful can have different answers. Whether it’s okay to interrupt someone, or whether it’s okay to challenge your boss on points of etiquette, can vary quite a bit depending on the culture of your workplace.

        I managed two employees from very different backgrounds. One would interrupt me freely and argue with me, even in public, if she felt strongly about something; the other was hyper-deferential and never told me that she disagreed with me about anything. They both held themselves to high standards of professionalism that, like anyone’s, were influenced by their families, their previous professional experiences, and so on. I don’t think either of them was “unprofessional,” although I did try to coach both employees on specific behaviors that were out of step with our company culture (which was somewhere in between).

    2. Temperance*

      I also grew up poor/blue collar, and we still were taught to chew with our mouths closed, not talk with our mouths full, not lick our fingers in public, etc. I am not sure it’s fair to claim this is class-based so much.

      I’m surprised that OP’s boss was so successful in her career with these rude behaviors. FWIW, I still am a little grossed out when I think of my former intern who would just snort loudly and chew with his mouth open. He was from a “good” family, and was just socially inept or something.

      1. The real fake Eleanor*

        I was taught that too, but none of my cousins were, and all I could picture when I read that was eating with my cousins. I didn’t say the eating behaviors were definitely class-based, just that it’s a possibility, and a possibility people might want to be sensitive to. They don’t *have to* be sensitive to it, but a little empathy or awareness doesn’t hurt!

        1. Ani*

          Thank you for this post.

          Several posters are pointing out that they were poor/outsider and they learned.

          That’s not the point. The point is these aren’t universal norms that everyone shares and learns. They just aren’t.

          I find it frustrating his myopic American culture can be with respect to assuming things are universal and that everyone can and does learn the same values and practices

      2. Gee*

        I feel like calling it class based just reinforces the stereotype that poor/lower class= gross, dirty, no matters. Because that’s not true and doesn’t have to be true.

        1. Allonge*

          Ok but – people touch those surfaces anyway, after having touched their faces, bits of their car, or bus… Germs ARE everywhere. Sorry, I know that is uncomfortable for some people, but fact all the same.

  24. Chronic Overthinker*

    IMO this seems like a BEC situation. I have superiors who are less than graceful and are at the top of their field. They have a wealth of knowledge and experience, but can’t figure out how to change something in Word. They’re super smart, but just not tech savvy. I have another superior whose name is in the company name. They still cannot figure out how to update their outgoing voicemail. Everyone is human and has their own “quirks.” LW, as much as I understand your frustrations with these “quirks” I think you are seeing them in a harsher light as you work more closely with them. Smile, chuckle inwardly and move about your day. There are definitely worse bosses.

  25. Wing Leader*

    It sounds like your boss just has really bad manners. My best guess is that she did not learn good manners from her parents or whoever when she was supposed to, and now these behaviors are just ingrained in her. I understand the frustration, I really do. But you say she’s smart and has good ideas. So, I would focus on appreciating her for that and letting her other quirks rolls of your shoulders. Like Alison said, if someone higher up wants to talk to her, they will. Otherwise, try to focus on what you DO like about her rather than what you don’t.

    1. Wing Leader*

      Oops, that was supposed to be “letting her other quirks roll off your shoulders.” That’s what I get for typing too fast.

  26. Senor Montoya*

    OP’s boss sounds kind of obnoxious, tbh. Not the finger licking etc, that’s not something to care about, but the interrupting? sighing and yawning in meetings? That’s disrespectful of others, that would tell me something about the boss’s *character*.

    But whether it’s licking fingers or treating people disrespectfully, it’s not OP’s place to correct the boss’s behavior.

    1. Anonapots*

      It has nothing to do with her character. As someone said up-thread, yawning in a meeting is pretty standard. Meetings can be boring, you’re sitting in a room with a bunch of people, the room is getting warmer. You’re gonna yawn.

  27. Wakeens Teapots LTD*


    I’m not not like the OP’s boss.


    (I do keep my phone silent! I mean, I may have forgotten once or twice an then you get the theme of Spongebob Squarepants in the middle of a conference call………)

    1. Do I need a hard hat for this?*

      I could be worse. We had a site supervisor who was hard-of-hearing. His ringtone was always SO loud and he never had it on silent. You would be talking to him and then ACDC’s “TNT” would start blaring. There were a couple of times when I was standing right next to him looking over plans and it would scare the bejeezus out of me!

      1. Wakeens Teapots LTD*


        I haven’t done the Spongebob thing in a long time. I need to do it intentionally a couple of times soon. (I have been on some brutal Serious Cat negotiation conference calls for the turn of the calendar year and I think I need to shake things up. )

        Seriously though, even though I do not believe I am rude, and I don’t think I lick my fingers, I am absofuckinglutley eccentric “out loud” and I am content with it. My direct report team meshes with me; they are the important ones. If anybody else wants to spend time trying to figure me out, or scratches their heads, they are welcome to think whatever they want because, that’s just fine.

    2. Senor Montoya*

      LOL, once my phone played my then very young son saying, “Mom, pick up your phone” right in the middle of a meeting with a bunch of deans and other university big cheeses.

      Well, it seemed like an adorable ringtone before that moment…

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      A direct boss at an OldJob had The Star-Spangled Banner as his ringtone. One time when it went off in our daily standup, one teammate, an older British woman who’d raised four sons and, I’m assuming, was out of ducks to give, stood to attention and, iirc, even gave a small salute when boss wasn’t looking. It was right there and then that I decided I wanted to be that woman when I grew up.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      WTL, I haven’t seen you in a while, good to “see” ya!

      I would be falling over shocked if one of yours ever wrote AAM. Falling over shocked.

  28. LGC*

    So I read this and…like, this was the first thing that came to mind.

    One of Alison’s common responses to letters used to be, “your boss sucks and isn’t going to change.” It’s not that LW’s boss sucks at all in this case (other than her manners), but…like, she’s in her fifties and successful, clearly she’s doing something right.

    I’d self frame with that reference – maybe it’s a bit ageist, but it’s like…I assume this is just the way she is, and if 50+ years of life haven’t changed her, I don’t have that much faith in LW’s chances.

    (I had another half formed thought – partly because it sounded to me like Alison’s response said that the boss’s lack of manners was okay because she’s senior, and while that is true to a degree it’s also something I personally don’t agree with. I’ll reread and think before inflicting my opinion on you guys.)

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Might help to split the behaviors into groups:
      I wouldn’t give a flying squirrel’s left pecan about the table manners / finger licking.
      I would care a tiny bit about the phone going off in conference. Execs may need to be that accessible.
      I would care a little more about the talking over, but that’s hard on the phone, you can’t see people gearing up to talk. I’m working on this myself, still, after 15+ years of regular teleconferences.
      I would examine the sighing / yawning carefully, if that was regular or aimed at certain people / ideas.

      I might have a coworker where I’m fighting the BEC feeling, and her phone going off in conferences does annoy me, but I know she needs to be accessible. So I’m probably projecting, but I do get a bit of BEC feeling from this letter.

      1. LGC*

        but I do get a bit of BEC feeling from this letter.

        To be fair, I think the way the boss eats crackers (among other foodstuffs) is part of the issue LW is having!

        Jokes aside, I think you’re mostly on point. There’s different levels here of what’s important and while the table manners would drive me bananas (okay, the mere description made me cringe at my desk – have I mentioned I also have misophonia?), it’s not THAT big of a deal. Unless she’s dealing with Queen Elizabeth II, in which case I have a ton of questions for LW.

        I feel like the meeting issues might be worth it, though! Not so much in terms of priorities, but because I think LW already has an opening. LW did teach their boss how to mute her phone, and the boss has said she forgets. (I’m assuming the boss actually forgets, instead of “forgetting.”) So if the boss is open to assistance, LW could offer to remind her to mute her phone.

  29. hbc*

    “…I fear our professional legitimacy is being undermined.” Why?

    Chances are, if they share your opinion, they’ll be thinking, “Wow, Jane is [messy/inconsiderate/noisy/gross].” That’s it. Not “Jane’s idea for new mandate X sounded great, but those noisy yawns make me think we shouldn’t follow through” or “Jane is so gross, I bet her entire team was chosen based on a spitting contest, let’s not promote OP.”

    It sounds like you have some Guilt By Association ideas, which, in my experience, often goes along with an upbringing that includes The One Correct Way to Behave. But most people don’t judge that way.

  30. Commercial Property Manager*

    So… I am a naturally very tired person. A lot of this has to do with my mental health (which I am working through with the appropriate professionals and medications). But I yawn a LOT in meetings. I can’t help it. I try to be discreet, but I can’t stop them.

    Can other people control their yawns? A Ctrl+F search of the thread thus far shows that most people think yawning in meetings (or all of public? let me know!) is incredibly rude.

    I don’t know what to do about it! Help!

    1. No Tribble At All*

      Cover your mouth with your hand, maybe turn your head slightly away from someone if you’re looking right at them? That’s what I do, and I yawn a ton.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I think everyone is picturing an exaggerated yawn that calls attention to someone. It’s like if you have to cough or sneeze, it’s part of life. But you should be discreet about it, like the comment above states. Cover your mouth, try to keep the noise to a minimum and if it’s loud, excuse yourself if necessary.

      There are people who yawn and mostly goes unnoticed and then there are people who just let out a big lion like yawn that cannot go unnoticed.

      I try to swallow mine mostly. I don’t open my mouth if possible. So I just breath deep and swallow it down.

    3. Zona the Great*

      Yep I yawn constantly if I’m taking in new information as if my brain is overheating and needs to cool down (yes I know that is not what is happening really). This mean most info-heavy meetings make me yawn from start to finish. It’s A Thing.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Yeah, I have this somewhat. Plus, I have insomnia, so I’m almost always tired. If the speaker hits a certain cadence, I’m yawning like crazy and falling asleep.

    4. Senor Montoya*

      It’s tough. I find that pressing a finger kind of hard on the indentation above my mouth, you know, below your nose (argh! I know it has a name! argh!) can suppress it. Or you can turn the yawn into a (fake) cough. Having something to drink helps, too — doesn’t matter what, it’s just the act of regularly opening your mouth and putting something IN it. Cold drinks work better for me. Or sucking on a cough drop. Or even pinching my earlobe — crazy! I think the slight pain distracts from the yawn. Taking notes — even if you’re just making a grocery list lol — gives you something to focus on.

      It’s more of a problem when I don’t get to talk. And also of course when it’s a reeeeeaaalllyyy booooorrrrinnnggg meeting.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      From what I have read a yawn is just a way to grab some more oxygen.

      Why not do some deep breathing exercises? Take in a deep breath through your nose and let it go slowly out a small hole made with your lips. This can force oxygen into your system.
      You can do this discreetly with just a tiny bit of practice or you can do the exercise before going into a meeting.

    6. nnn*

      A trick I read on the internet that works for me is, counterintuitively, to exhale more deeply. Breathe in for a count of 3, breathe out for a count of 5.

      The reason for this that I read on the internet is apparently your body is yawning because it thinks you’re short of oxygen, but really you have a surplus of carbon dioxide. So a deep exhale gets rid of the surplus carbon dioxide.

      I know this is counterintuitive and I’m just an internet stranger repeating the word of another internet stranger, but it worked for me. Maybe worth trying once to see what happens.

  31. Forty Years in the Hole*

    Oh geez! OP’s letter took me back to my last workplace (recently retired). This was my manager “to a T.” Plus the occasional boundary-bump/TMI burp. But man, we got on like a house on fire: I’d do anything she needed to “get ‘er done, she knew her stuff, always went to bat for the team and the organization, and got buy-in from our great grand-boss to move our business model forward to get (most) of our funding to meet our federal government-level objectives. And as for supporting me and the rest of her team: couldn’t ask for a better manager. She actually cried when I submitted my retirement papers. Was she the poster child for Miss Manners…no. What you saw was what you got.
    She had nothing on past colleagues‘ cringe-y “manners”: the Director who never washed her hands after the loo then served up at the office potluck (pass…); the young officer cadet – just in from field manoeuvres – who shoved his grubby hand directly into the salad bowl and clawed a plateful of greens (…pass…); the co-worker sitting across from me who kept shoving his knife into his mouth between chawing with his mouth open; my own brother who still holds his fork – and shovels his food in – like a five year old. As Miss Manners posits: although someone may be rude/unmannerly, it is more rude to point out their behaviour.

    1. Pobody’s Nerfect*

      I have a coworker who, when eating, will take his finger and use it to dig and swipe inside each side of his mouth, I guess to scrape off food that is stuck up there? It’s so incredibly gross, makes me gag every time I see him do it. And he does it in full view of everyone else around him. I want to scream at him to stop.

  32. ele4phant*

    *Is* she viewed poorly by others in the ways that matter? As in, do these behaviors *actually* impact how her work is perceived, or are some of these behaviors just kind of annoying and gross to be around but the stakeholders know she can kill it where it counts and they have complete confidence in her where it matters?

    Honestly, it *seems* like everyone is annoyed by some of these things but when it comes to the actual work she’s still doing an excellent job getting it done, which at the end of the day, is what people care about.

  33. Argh!*

    “And frankly, it’s pretty damn common to see men rise to positions of seniority and/or great responsibility with much ruder behavior, and that’s somehow accommodated.”

    Consider the stories of LBJ, who was successful with many of his agendas, but talked to his subordinates (in person) while on the toilet, and used vulgar language.

  34. Louise*

    Always remember the Miss Manners rule: calling someone out for breaking an etiquette rule is a much more egregious act than breaking the etiquette rule to begin with.

  35. Ann O'Nemity*

    OP, is any of this behavior directly affecting you professionally? Do the other stakeholders’ lack of tolerance have an impact on you? Loss of opportunities for you, having to deal with negative attitudes, etc? Is your professional reputation interwoven with hers in a way that could hurt you in your network or industry?

  36. Moxie*

    I only came here to bring up conference calls, and interrupting. I have not personally come across anyone who handles conference calls gracefully. Nearly every call I’m on these days that involves more than two people eventually includes someone saying “oh no, you go,” and “oh no, you!”

    It’s so bad in my experience that we have an unspoken rule that the most senior person, or the person leading the meeting just gets to interrupt, because we’d otherwise not be able to get passed this.

    Is it just that my company is full of awkward people? Maybe it’s our conference call system?

    1. Arctic*

      Yep, exactly! This is annoying but so normal for conference calls.
      It’s why I think video calls are a better idea even though I hate hate hate having to see myself.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Every phone conversation I’ve ever been on has been like this. Especially the conference calls. Unless there’s an agenda and an organizer who literally tells people when it’s their time to talk, it’s either one person monopolizing the call and everyone else dozing off, or several people starting to talk at the same time.

      I agree With Arctic that video calls help (awkward as they are).

    3. Curmudgeon in California*

      Audio only conference calls are notorious for this, IMO, unless there’s literally one person “running” the meeting and calling on each speaker in turn. Video you can at least see who’s talking or preparing to talk.

  37. Jennifer*

    I don’t know this woman’s race or ethnicity obviously but I think it’s unlikely that a woman of color would be as successful as this behaving as rudely as this woman does. Irksome as hell.

    1. Oh So Anon*

      I, uh, didn’t want to say that directly but that’s exactly what I was getting at with some comments.

      Although, to be fair, I do know women of colour who are similarly unpolished and have been successful because they’re legitimately good at the nuts and bolts of their jobs, but, as awful as this sounds, “model minority” stereotypes probably also play into how much their awkwardness is held against them.

      1. Jennifer*

        I’ve been talking around it a bit, but yeah. That’s why the “rah, rah, high five, girl!” comments are rubbing me the wrong way.

        1. Mel*

          Yes! Thank you for this. There’s a user trying to say that it’s more likely this boss is from a “non-white middle-class culture” since apparently the rest of us don’t learn manners, and therefore OP should chill, but I think it’s the opposite, since we have to be twice as good (forgive this run-on sentence). The “whooo she’s my hero!” and “who even notices these things?” comments smell of privilege.

  38. ele4phant*

    This profile (lovingly) reminded me of my mother – the multiple classes stacked up on the head, the lack of fluency with technology. Not so much the eating habits, but a lot of this reminds me of several very smart professional women of a certain age that I have met or am related to. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, or as people age yeah sometimes keeping up with the newest technology and remembering where you last put your reading glasses is more of a challenge.

    I’ve never worked with my mother, and while it certainly has frustrated me to NO END trying to teach her to use Lyft, she had a highly esteemed and respected career.

    I think you just spend a lot of time with your boss, have come to know her idiosyncrasies, and they get under your skin a little.

    Sounds like professionally she’s doing just fine, even with these quirks.

  39. Pobody’s Nerfect*

    Regarding the klutziness, research shows for women in early menopause years that they notice a significant uptick in this kind of behavior. It has to do with the estrogen receptors on the part of the brain that coordinates fine motor skills. So when estrogen starts to plummet in perimenopause, it affects literally everything, usually negatively. The years between about 45-55 are super tough for most women. Cut her a bit of a break!

  40. andy*

    Countrapoint: we have person like that as leader and we told him he is annoying in some specific things and he changed things.

    Reading all comments here made me value our leaders somewhat more. I would absolutely have no problem politely point these out to my boss.

    1. LGC*

      Hell, I’d like to work for your organization! Like, I feel like THIS is the ideal solution to LW’s problem.

  41. Mike*

    Woof, I’ve been there, except it was with a male boss whose behavior tended to cross over into abusive and petty. Any attempt to call him out on it would get you further punished, and he ABSOLUTELY lost clients and ruined relationships over it. Sadly it was never enough to really impact his successful business, so he never learned. I eventually left because of that and other reasons.

    Now I see some of the annoying stuff my current boss and I just roll my eyes. I don’t really care as long as it doesn’t rise to the level of my previous boss. It’s kind of hardened my skin to it.

  42. Ginger*

    The comment section is surprising me today.

    OP – I get it. I would be annoyed too, especially by the phone in meetings thing. How hard is it to learn how to not disrupt a meeting? I mean seriously.

    I’ve also sat in business lunches and people * do * notice bad manners and all pretend not to. It’s awkward but remember that her actions, in these instances, do not reflect on you. You report to her, you have no control over her behavior and those around you and in those lunches with you, know that.

    1. MP*

      I’m surprised too by the comments. I’m with the OP – this woman would make me uncomfortable as well. I would say her behavior isn’t unpolished, but actually rude and disrespectful. Getting loud calls every meeting? Constantly talking over people? Blatant yawns? Manners aren’t polish, they’re how you show you respect and care for the people around you. The only thing I’ll attribute to lack of “polish” is the licking of the fingers – that is just weird.

      With all the regional talk, yes, I’m in the South! And brought up in the Midwest, where consideration to the people around you, and paying attention to how your actions impact others is VERY important. Male or female.

      1. ele4phant*

        I don’t know if I’m reflective of my region, but I’m from the West coast and 99.99% of this wouldn’t bother me. And the 0.01% that would? Seems like pet peeves that are not actually inhibiting any work from getting done, not mine not hers not anyone’s. So my personal pet peeves are irrelevant in this context.

        Yawning in a meeting – it’s an voluntary impulse. Not a big deal, to me.

        Loud phone ringing during a meeting – yeah not everyone is tech savvy, as long as they don’t answer and walk out without warning.

        Interrupting people – well on a conference call that’s par for the course. I was *just* on a conference call with people that were mostly in their 30s and 40s and it was nothing but a bunch of “Well I think…oh sorry I was talking over you you you go…oh, oop…Okay I’m just going to say my thing…”. If in-person, in some work places, you have to be aggressive to get a word in, and if she came up as a young woman having to fight for her right to get her say, that may be an entrenched habit.

        The eating stuff – how conspicuous is that really? I generally don’t notice poor table manners unless they are particularly flagrant, but everyone’s tolerance is different. Perhaps LW is particularly sensitive – if no one else seems to be taking note?

    2. SimplyTheBest*

      Hard agree. I’m baffled by the “this woman’s my hero!” comments. Like…why? What about rude behavior is hero worthy?

      1. LGC*

        Let me mansplain that to you!

        I think a large part of it is that she’s not behaving in a traditionally feminine way, but she’s still obviously successful. (And I acknowledge that yes, socially oblivious behavior is more accepted from men in general.) In a small way, she’s non gender conforming, but is still respected in spite of (and by some people here, because of) that. And I get that (NGL, this woman sounds fascinating), even though I personally disagree with the conclusion that her behavior is fine because men can get away with it (as opposed to her behavior is annoying and the problem is that we let men get away with it).

        Or, to be overly flip about it, it’s like she’s smashing the patriarchy every time her phone rings in a meeting.

        1. Fikly*

          Rude is not rude. What you think is rude, plenty of other people do not think is rude. There is no universal standard of what rude is.

          1. MP*

            It’s interesting – I’ve been struggling lately with having meals with people with awful table manners. Basically the adage that you don’t talk about gross things at the table – like medical things, bodily functions, gruesome murders. I actually had to excuse myself (well – flee) because this woman would not stop talking – in graphic detail – about a real murder during dinner. What???? To get to your point, I have been forgetting that “rude” isn’t universal. To solve this, I have been gravitating now to people whose manners match my own and it makes me much happier.

  43. YetEvenAnotherAlison*

    When I read Alison’s response, this jumped out at me:
    And frankly, it’s pretty damn common to see men rise to positions of seniority and/or great responsibility with much ruder behavior, and that’s somehow accommodated
    1000 times yes!!!!! So true. I see it everyday s0 sad and SEXIST. Not tolerating it in women, and forcing them to be “perfect”, noting this on their reviews – is a form of gaslighting and it just another way sexist men try to divert attention from the women who are rockstars in other ways. Creating a problem when there really is none. I am not saying that these habits of the OP’s boss are not issues, but they are minor, so minor.

  44. The Bimmer Guy*

    “And frankly, it’s pretty damn common to see men rise to positions of seniority and/or great responsibility with much ruder behavior, and that’s somehow accommodated.”

    Yuuuup. This. The other day, the Good Ol’ Boy president of the company slapped me on the back for a job well done (and it wasn’t the first time), after I demo’d a new project for him. I think that’s far ruder than anything you mentioned your boss doing.

  45. not neurotypical*

    Hey folks, let’s be mindful of class (some “manners” are just formalities that signal class status more than anything else), culture (different people from different backgrounds find different things gross), and disability (some of us really struggle with both forgetfulness and social norms). Keeping all of those things in mind, I’m on the side of the folks who have been cheering the success of this boss. The only thing I find truly problematic is not turning off her phone (it’s objectively disrespectful of the time/attention of others to have your phone interrupt meetings) but even that forgetfulness might be due to the same neurological blip responsible for the multiple pairs of glasses on her head. I seem to remember, back when cell phones were less ubiquitous, it being the norm for whoever chaired a meeting to begin by reminding attendees to silence their phones. Bring back that norm and problem solved!

  46. Fiddlesticks*

    Oh nooo – please don’t say “good for her”, Allison! There are way too many people out there who constantly behave rudely and they just blow it off with “that’s just how I am!” or “tee hee, I just don’t have a filter!”, or some version of these EXCUSES for inconsiderate, childish (finger-licking?! ew!), tone-deaf behavior that drives other people crazy. The workplace can be hard enough without this kind of behavior actually being encouraged, good lord!

    1. Avasarala*

      I agree. I think a lot of Alison’s letters would be solved if everyone was more aware of their impact on others. And yes women are often held to a higher standard/criticized for this more often than men, but does that mean we should lower our standards for everyone? It’s OK for women to be gross/rude because men get to be? “Men are [negative trait] so women should get to be too” is a weak argument and I don’t find it persuasive.

  47. Marie*

    I love Alison’s advice and commentary. As someone who is relatively gentle and soft spoken but who yet manages to live loud—my husband lovingly laughs each time I excitedly talk with my mouth full; people who expect me to be “dignified“ are laughingly surprised, et cetera, I confess there were things I found somewhat endearing about your manager…. granted I work for myself and don’t have to deal w/her, but I love good hearted people who live loud —and nothing in the description causes me to believe she is not good hearted. As far as navigating her in a work place: is she/her mannerisms getting in the way of your productivity or your ability to feel safe and value at work? I am also easily bored so I admit that I would be entertained and somewhat charmed to see this unabashed behavior in a high ranking woman —none of it struck me as particularly rude….

    1. WellRed*

      Your husband may find it charming but please don’t assume it’s cute to everyone else. I hate to sound harsh but my otherwise charming and lovely boss chomps/cracks/snaps/pops gum and also talks with food in her mouth. It ain’t cute. It does make me cringe in stakeholder calls. Close your mouth, people.

      1. Marie*

        Lol, I don’t/won’t assume, and I get your point. Outside the home, in business situations all I truly care about is competency at work, kind heartedness, and integrity and the ability to work with others (in personal relationships as well with the competency meaning competent at being a good friend—several of my friends feel as you do; I would not assault them with that habit but I’m sure I have other habits as do they). I’m very easy going about and generally fascinated by the behavior of other people; for whatever reason, the finger licking description made me smile and warmed my heart…. Not all behavior is endearing to me: I recently chose to not pursue new sales when a potential client asked via his assistant for me to personally send my photographs (100 plus) via email(s), in which case leaving these images frankly “unprotected” and freely available for use I don’t authorize. When I instead (again) sent my website link (featuring all the photos) I was told by the assistant that—let’s call him “Isoceles”—was not a “click the link kind of guy.” Curious, I researched his promo pages, thinking that perhaps he was very very old, with zero internet knowledge, or even that he had a physical disability in his hands and fingers. But no: “Isoceles” is younger than I am and holds several advanced business degrees…?!
        All the very best to you!

  48. Kat in VA*

    There are some things you can affect, and some you can’t. BossMan is an incorrible knuckle cracker, pen clicker, fingernail/cuticle chewer, and paper ripper in meetings. All of which drive me absolutely nuts. It’s distracting, and on some level, it bespeaks a certain amount of disinterest if someone else is speaking (in his defense, it appears to be unconscious habit – he’s just…fidgety).

    Rather than elbowing him or calling him out – both of which would be immensely gratifying but also really, really inappropriate and rude – I got him a set of magnetic ball bearings and an aluminum infinity cube to fiddle with. He remembers them 9 times out of 10 for most meetings. If I’m in a meeting where he’s forgotten (or if I get in there before he does), I’ll discreetly get up and get one of his toys for him. Everyone is used to them now (several of his directors are now proud owners of their own magnetic balls and some of the creations they make are amazing) and it’s a good solution to inadvertently irritating the crap out of everyone around him.

    The side effect of KAT DON’T FORGET BOSSMAN’S BALLS and various other mildly off-color commentary is amusing.

    Her phone? If it goes off, maybe gently take it from her and go, “Let’s silence this noisy thing!” in a very matter-of-fact way. The glasses are a harmless quirk, although silly looking. The sighs and yawns…some of that is to be expected in a meeting, unless they’re really loud and intended to draw a reaction.

    Pick and choose what you think you can affect without using up a lot of capital and the rest…you just have to let it go.

  49. sequined histories*

    Honestly I think your boss sounds pretty cool. Nobody’s perfect, and different people have different thresholds for what they find gross or annoying. And there sure are a lot of people out there who are blandly inoffensive and self-effacing but don’t bring much to the table in terms of being smart, capable, and energetic. Maybe ignoring or being oblivious to some of these social niceties is actually part and parcel of how she‘s able to get things done? The way you describe her, she doesn’t sound like she treats people in a fundamentally unkind or disrespectful way. If people perceive her to be a decent, reasonable person who’s doing an exceptionally good job, a lot of them probably don’t mind her quirks too much.

  50. Steven*

    I hate the ringing cell phones. I’ve noticed it’s largely age based as to who has a ringer and who doesn’t. I think the cut off is somewhere in the mid 50s. If only more baby boomers would put their phones on vibrate, the world would be a quiet place.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      As a 58 year old person, I literally do not notice it if my phone is on vibrate. So that’s a non-starter.

      What I wish is that I could mute my phone for only a specific amount of time. Because when I do remember to mute my phone, I literally miss alarms for meetings and calls because I forget to unmute it!

    2. RS*

      Yep. In my office it’s the older people with SUPER loud ringtones. Complete disregard for everyone around them.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        So to be considerate they should just not hear their calls instead?

        Yet on another forum someone was waxing ballistic about people who didn’t answer their personal cell phone for business calls at all hours of the day, but expected people to leave a message, and how that was soooo unprofessional.

        Apparently people over 40 should just shrivel up and die, because they can’t live up to all the professional expectations that people put onto them.

        Hearing loss with age is a thing. If you are lucky enough to get older and still be working, you will turn your ringer up too. Vibrate doesn’t work, either.

        Open plan offices are what makes this a “problem”, but it’s easier to blame the “older people” than management for packing us in like sardines so that any small noise irritates the younger crowd.

  51. Lindzo*

    Lots of interesting dialogue here about whether or not these behaviors are judged more harshly when a women exhibits them. But based on my experience, I would also venture a guess that most of the people in the comments harshly judging the “boss” are also women. Men in general tend to let people off the hook more easily for violating social norms. I do believe this is yet another contributing factor in why women often put each other down as opposed to lift each other up AND -What I can say with 100% certainty is that anyone who spends too much of their energy on how other people behave is absolutely a derailer to their own productivity and their own success. Trying to control or spend too much energy on these things sucks one’s own life energy and is essentially a complete waste of time. We really cannot change other people, just our reaction to it. For the OP -this energy is much better spent on figuring out why this person’s behavior bothers OP so much and what barriers those assumptions/norms may be actually creating in their own life/ inhibiting her own success.

    1. Former Employee*

      I have to disagree. Eating with her mouth open around clients, licking her fingers, etc. is disgusting. The only upside for me is that if I had to eat with her regularity, I’d have no trouble keeping my weight down. It’s somewhat like eating with young children. I find that pretty yucky and always felt that if I had to do it all the time, I wouldn’t have to worry about putting on weight.

      The difference is that young children are still learning and even though I have trouble with the ick factor, I have no resentment towards them because they are young children.

      What is this middle aged person’s excuse?

  52. moneypenny*

    Oof, I worked for a boss like this. She was completely socially inept, offended regularly and had crass manners. She was however, amazing at her job. This bought her a lot of time and leeway with people that others would never in a million years have been afforded. She was also however, abusive and mean and ultimately we parted ways mutually… then she tried to fight and stop my unemployment. So there you go.

  53. Aquawoman*

    I think one of the neglected areas of diversity is neurological diversity. E.g., someone above mentioned that fidgeting during meetings indicates disinterest. That’s not really true. I have ADHD (among other things), and I am just fidgety and in fact will have much better recall of stuff I am hearing if I am not sitting still. I usually take notes/doodle for this, and try to not click my pen or kick the table. I can’t assess conversational timing to save my life, I just … can’t, so I have to apologize a lot and stop myself. Eye contact is also a bear for me, even though I know that people CHOOSE TO interpret this in all kinds of negative ways that have nothing to do with me. Some of my other traits are that I recognize the talents of my team, look for opportunities for them to grow, give them flexibility for work life balance, don’t micromanage or keep the “interesting” stuff for myself.

    1. Aspie AF*

      Someone said upthread that it’s demeaning to ND people who actually put in an effort to conform to have this behaviour connected to neurodiversity… It’s demeaning to have our worth reduced to how well we conform, period.

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