my coworker sent a snotty message about me on a Zoom call

A reader writes:

I was on a Zoom call recently with the president of our company and two junior staff members. My position is above theirs, but I do not manage them directly.

I made a comment during the meeting, and suddenly a snarky Slack message about me from one of the junior members of my team came across my screen. (She said, “Uhhh, that’s literally what I said a minute ago,” seemingly about a suggestion I made to the president.) She had accidentally sent it to the entire team when it was meant for one of the other junior members of the team. I was confused, so I opened the Slack app and it was right there and then suddenly it disappeared (she realized her mistake and quickly deleted it). All of the team members looked first confused then horrified, but didn’t say anything. So the meeting progressed awkwardly as if nothing happened.

When the president asked her about it in a meeting a few days later, she completely denied it.

There is no proof of it because it was deleted but everyone on the call saw it. I’m not sure how to move forward, as it’s a she said-she said situation without photo evidence.

You know it happened, so it doesn’t really matter that she’s denying it. You don’t need to prove it in court of law! You can just ignore her denial and say what you want to say.

That said, I don’t think the message was so bad that it you have to address it — you could let it go and assume she’s learned her lesson by what followed. But you’d also be perfectly justified in addressing it if you do want to.

When you discover someone complaining about you behind your back, often the best approach is to respond to them directly and make it clear you’re taking their complaint seriously. For example: “It seemed like you were concerned in the meeting on Friday that I’d repeated a point you’d already made. I think we were saying somewhat different things, and sometimes people in meetings just overlap with the points they’re making. But if you’re concerned about something I’m doing, I’d like you to talk to me so I can address it, rather than you sending snarky messages about it. I’d give you that respect and want to ask for it in return.”

If she denies the message existed, you can say, “We all saw the message so I’m not going to debate that with you. I’m disappointed you’ve chosen to do that, but we’ll leave it here for now.”

Also, it reflects so badly on her that this is how she’s handling it! We all mess up, but denying it happened when people saw it is far worse judgment than the original message itself. Her manager should be watching her closely for other maturity and judgment issues.

However, there’s one important caveat to all of this: Before you do any of the above, it’s worth reflecting on what that message said. People shouldn’t send snarky messages about their colleagues, but you might have just gotten the benefit of learning about someone’s real frustration with you (which you might never have learned about otherwise). Of course, maybe it’s misplaced or overblown. Maybe she’s just a snotty jerk. But could it have reflected frustration with a real problem? For example, if you do regularly talk over others, ignore their contributions, or present ideas as new when someone else offered them a few minutes ago, that’s going to legitimately frustrate your colleagues! In that case, it’s smarter to take this incident as an uncomfortable but useful wake-up call and work to change that behavior. But if you do honest self-reflection and are confident that’s not what this is about, then carry on.

{ 291 comments… read them below }

  1. JerryLarryTerryGarry*

    What do you want to happen? So she says she did it, maybe apologizes for accidently sending it to everyone…then what? Figure it out and move forward.

    1. Roscoe*

      Exactly. I’m wondering what OPs prefferred outcome is here. Because, best case scenario its a very minor slip up. She didn’t degrade her or say anything blatantly disrespectful. Best case, you get an apology. I’d argue that if she is right, an apology isn’t necessary except being sorry it was sent to everyone, but she may (rightly) not be sorry for what she said

      1. Senor Montoya*

        It was a minor slip until Junior lied about it and is continuing to lie about it. And also, not immediately apologizing as well. That’s bad behavior regardless of who is where in the hierarchy and even regardless if Junior’s initial message was true.

        1. JSPA*

          case 1: she had said something similar moments before. If so, the slip up was awkward, but OP would do well to grant the point (while perhaps saying, “sometimes superficially similar points carry different information coming from different people” or “I assume most of us had some aspect of X on our list of things to bring up; people don’t have ‘dibs’ on basic feedback.”)

          case 2: she had not said anything even slightly similar moments before. If so, is it possible that she was actually multitasking? On two chats at once, or using a voice-to-text that picked up something from a separate conversation…and that she is covering for that larger problem, and thus digging in her heels?

          Alternatively, does her own manager have a reputation for being over-punitive and unwilling to accept reasonable apologies for even so incredibly minor a mistake as this? That sort of reaction quite reasonably drives people to deny things they’d otherwise apologize for (and certainly can boost dissatisfaction and covert sniping).

          1. Ego Chamber*

            Wondering about case #2 (multitasking), and what specifically was being referred to when the employee’s manager said “she denied it.” I’m hoping LW was given a longer, more coherent explanation than that, and that it was part of a longer conversation with the employee’s manager, as opposed to LW catching the manager in a hallway like “Hey what did Jane say about what happened at the meeting?” and employee’s manager saying “She denied it” while walking past.

            Did Jane really deny sending the message (I hate my tendency to give people the benefit of the doubt all the time because we are often proved to be in a world beyond all logic and reason but I can’t make this track) or did she deny that the message was about LW?

        2. nodramalama*

          I mean a lot of people panic lie. She thought nobody noticed and didn’t know how to respond when asked about it. I wouldn’t confront someone over that- what are they going to say?

    2. Threeve*

      It’s the lie that bothers me, not the message. If she’d said “yikes, sorry, moment of frustration” I would (probably literally) forget about it.

      But she straight-up lied to the company president about something with multiple witnesses. That’s more problematic than a snarky comment.

      1. hbc*

        But again…what do you want to happen, and is there a way towards that goal that makes sense for you? If you want her fired or officially reprimanded for lying to the president, you could go to HR or her manager to talk about it. If you want her to admit to what she did, you could try to get all the witnesses to write down what they saw and confront her with the pile of evidence, but I bet she wouldn’t budge. If you want the president to know that you were right, you could collect those witness statements and present them to him, but I don’t think you’ll actually come out better.

        I’m not endorsing any of those options. In fact, hopefully seeing them written down makes you realize you can’t do anything useful except remember that she’s comfortable lying to cover her butt. Though there’s real power in following through like Alison suggests and addressing the substance of her complaint.

        1. Smithy*

          The question of “why does you want out of this” is really good, because making this about the junior employee lying or being frustrated or whatever really seems to be missing the forest for the trees.

          I know someone that during her own time as a junior staff member in a large, very bureaucratic, rigid and frustrating place sent an email venting about one peer to a group of colleagues, and accidentally included her colleague with her. As bad as it was, her boss used it as a very useful period to acknowledge frustrations that existed on that time, why there were there, what could done, and to hear people out. While my friend’s actions weren’t condoned, it certainly provided management with insight into widespread areas of frustration and anger that they learned a lot more about by being compassionate.

          1. Lissa*

            Yeah, I’m honestly not getting the whole “but she LIED” thing – I mean, yeah, she did – she was likely horrified and freaked out in the moment, shouldn’t have done that, but IMO it’s still well within the realm of normal slip-ups and something non morally bankrupt people would do.
            Since there’s no proving whether she did or didn’t do it, I just do not see the point of addressing it again in any way. Let the embarrassment be its own punishment, if it turns into a pattern then address it.

            1. Smithy*

              (goodness “what do you want out of this”…..typo disaster)

              I actually think that for the junior colleague what can be the most frustrating part of an experience like that is that a potentially valid claim (ideas being co-opted, not listened to) has now been dismissed by her own unprofessional response. I also wonder if focusing on the “she lied!” is a way of shifting introspection of whether or not the junior colleague’s idea was dismissed and how junior colleagues are/are not encourage to participate in these meetings.

              1. Amaranth*

                I’m wondering if she actually even said her original statement in the conference or if it was in the private chat that she apparently misclicked. It sounds like something someone would type if they’ve been making bored observations about a ‘stupid’ meeting and mocking the participants or content a bit. In other words, was this a suggestion being dismissed or someone who was too junior to really feel comfortable participating and they were making these comments as asides.

            2. Tobias Funke*

              The comments here often have a really wide streak of “if you have ever lied about anything or ever thought an impure thought then you are BAD and UNEMPLOYABLE and should be SHUNNED”, which is really hard to square with the general justice oriented tone of the blog and comments.

              1. Lissa*

                Yeah – with a smattering of “I would NEVER do something like that, have absolutely never lied to cover my rear in the heat of the moment because it wasn’t provable, would absolutely be 100% honest and fess up” which I think is…well, easy to say online, I’ll leave it at that before I get a flood of responses of people telling me about the time they confessed to something for the pure morality of it at great personal loss.

              2. Ego Chamber*

                I die a little whenever Alison tells someone who lied that there’s no coming back from it, it’s a serious breach of ethics and they need to think long and hard about why their instinct was to lie about a stupid, inconsequential thing—the answer is almost always “I had a really shitty job for a really horrible boss and this is what we did there and I was in a bad place and needed the money so I learned the bad thing.”

                Lying obviously shouldn’t be encouraged in business but seeing it always interpreted as a failed purity test instead of an opportunity to change an outmoded survival tactic is disappointing.

      2. TechWorker*

        I am not remotely excusing lying – but did the president call her out on this in a group meeting about something else…? It’s not really clear from the context, but I can imagine a level of mortification where in the moment she just went ‘Er don’t know what you’re talking about’ rather than try to justify it. Especially if she’s quite junior, publicly owning this sort of mistake is *hard* (much harder imo than owning an actual work related mistake…)

    3. Frustrating Species*

      Agree, and honestly, the lesson she learned may be to text her coworker instead of using the Slack channel. It sounds like she is frustrated with you, whether or not she ought to be doesn’t really matter, she is. People complain about their coworkers, bosses, families, friends, other humans. We’re a frustrating species! But people who talk about other people behind their backs aren’t likely to stop, but she definitely won’t use the Slack channel to do it again.

      And all of that being said, there is definitely some value in analyzing if this is a behavior you should change. Maybe she is frustrated with you for good cause!

    4. DanniellaBee*

      Exactly! The letter writer is blowing this out of proportion. If this bothers you that much you have a self confidence issue. She didn’t say anything that actually attacks the letter writer. It was a moment of frustration probably at their communication style. Move on.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        I don’t think the letter writer is. It’s rude, and I would doubt that this is the only instance of it happening. This kind of thing is toxic to team culture. And the junior employee lying about it? That’s crazy.

        1. TechWorker*

          The lying is weird (but I can see it as a response to panic) – but ignoring junior folks until a more senior person restates the point is also toxic to team culture so I think the second half of the Alisons response is pretty vital here!

            1. Cat*

              So is assuming that this isn’t the only instance of this happening and that it’s toxic to the team.

        2. nodramalama*

          Its not crazy its a panic response! probably because they’re embarrassed. It was likely a throw away comment that they were hoping nobody noticed. it’s only barely rude to begin with, and verges on a legitimate complaint about someone working. What was OP hoping? That the junior would turn around and say “actually, yes, you constantly repeat what I do all the time and its annoying.”

    5. BRR*

      Yup. One of my favorite pieces of advice is “what is your desired outcome” or “what are you aiming for?” As Alison said, you don’t have to get her to admit that she sent the message, you (and everyone) know it happened. If she said, “Yes, I sent the message,” then what?

      1. Wing Leader*

        Then that’s it. The issue isn’t really that she slipped up and said something a little rude, but that she’s denying it and lying about it. That’s problematic and shows she has an honesty issue. Will she cop to her future (and possibly more serious) mistakes, or will she keep trying to cover them up? That’s not a good quality.

        1. Zillah*

          ehhh – i don’t think that all dishonesty is the same, and while it’s worth considering the possibility that it’s a broader pattern, i don’t think it’s a given. i would definitely stretch the truth or lie in some cases to try to preserve an interpersonal relationship – that doesn’t mean i’d lie about my work.

        2. JSPA*

          allowing everyone to pretend that a perfectly reasonable private comment that mistakenly went public didn’t happen isn’t some sort of substantive coverup. While it’s not how I roll, I would suspect the employee of nothing worse than having a better than average working-well-with-others skill set. Not of being at risk of cooking the books.

          Telling a client that you just stepped out, when you are in the bathroom or giving her the “not right now” signal? Most people would appreciate that in a coworker, no?

    6. Senor Montoya*

      Actually, that would be an excellent result. She admits she did WHAT EVERYBODY SAW SHE DID, apologizes for doing it and apologizes for lying about it.

      If the OP wants something else out of it — I think Alison’s script for asking that Junior Snarkpuss bring concerns to the OP and treat OP with respect is a good step too.

    7. Honey Badger*

      I’m also puzzled. She should not be sending private messages during a meeting, but DID she just bring up that very subject and OP glossed over it? She didn’t call OP anything derogatory. There’s probably a degree of truth in it. The decision to deny it was very stupid. Instead the sender should have admitted it and opened a dialogue about her frustrations. Maybe Big Boss was trying to address her concerns by asking about it. Opportunity lost for the sender.

      1. Honey Badger*

        Also DID she lie? Big Boss could have asked her “why did you send a message about X to everyone in the meeting?” If she really thought it went out to only ONE other person, “I didn’t” is not a factual lie.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          Why would she immediately delete it if she didn’t realize it went to more than her originally intended recipient?

          1. Amaranth*

            Thats what I was wondering above — what if she never actually made her suggestion in the public channel to start? She might have deleted her public comment because it referenced what she had said in her private chat, and so her snarky comment had no context or relevance. Thats aside, though, from the fact the OP should just chalk it up to an awkward mistake anyone could make – and pretty mild content thank goodness — and use it as (1) a cautionary tale for the junior employee not to be doing private chats during Official Meetings, and (2) find out if she was trying to say something either now or outside the meeting and feels stifled.

  2. Roscoe*

    This just seems like one of those unfortunate situations that isn’t worth addressing. I’d just look at it like you overheard a conversation you weren’t meant to hear when you were the subject. But, based on your reaction and feeling like you HAVE to address it, I really wonder if you did basically just repeat what she said to the president in an effort to curry favor yourself. However, her saying that really isn’t that “snotty” IMO, especially if she is right. Yes, maybe saying it on slack wasn’t professional, but that doesn’t mean she was wrong in her statement

    1. Amy Sly*

      Alternately, Ms. Snotty is the conversational equivalent of a patent troll, constantly babbling all sorts of vagueness and then claiming “I just said that!” and “That was my idea!” after the fact with the same kind of analysis that people use to prove that their newspaper horoscope predicted what would happen that day. Or less cynically, perhaps Ms. Snotty is the type of person who processes out loud or doesn’t use clear and authoritative language when sharing her ideas, and so resents when someone takes her idea posed as a question or speculation or with a bunch of timid qualifiers, and then states it forcefully as a conclusion. (This is often taken as proof of misogyny, but I think it’s less about gender and more about assertive verses submissive communication styles. It’s only gendered to the extent that many women are socialized to be less assertive and more submissive in their speech. I’ve never met an alpha male who wouldn’t talk over a less assertive man as readily as they would a less assertive woman.)

      I think the more relevant question is Jerry’s above. What’s the OP’s goal? Get an apology? Not likely to happen. Prevent a repeat? Well, Snotty seems to be sufficiently embarrassed to not misuse Slack messages. As for the content of the Slack message, maybe OP does steal thunder or Snotty is over sensitive; it’s not clear from here.

      1. TL -*

        I’m a very confident, assertive communicator and a woman, and I have definitely had less confident, less assertive male communicators repeat something I’ve said (word for word) and then gotten credit for it instead of me.

        It’s not a communications style thing. It’s a sexism thing.

        1. MassMatt*

          I agree, this is an actual gendered/sexist thing that happens and should not be dismissed as the result of “some people” stating their views too timidly.

          It’s too bad a phenomenon happens so frequently to so many people in 1/2 of the population, and the other half is “shocked, SHOCKED! to find there is sexism going on here!”

          That aside, LW should try to honestly assess whether the comment (snarky as it was) had any merit.

          1. Amy Sly*

            All I can say is that somehow, somewhere, I managed to acquire the superpower of sexism repellent. I can intellectually understand these things happen, and I don’t want to discount anyone’s lived experiences, but I simply don’t have personal experiences of this or most of the other microaggressions women note. My experience has been this kind of “credit stealing” hasn’t been based in sexism so much as the men and women in question were timid and used non-committal language.

            1. TechWorker*

              Okay! We have different experiences then ;)

              I once had a male peer interrupt me halfway through a sentence to say ‘no! It’s x’ when ‘x’ was word for word what I was saying.

            2. Batgirl*

              I remember taking linguistic studies and hearing that, in the studies which tracked men talking more than women, or talking over women, the participants get asked ‘who talked the most?’ and many of the women feel that they talked an equal amount/weren’t interrupted. Often they think they spoke more than they should; but they didn’t.
              Like you, I’ve never noticed it affecting me. Maybe I’ve been lucky with co-workers. However as a teacher leading classroom discussion it is very, very obvious. Boys talk over girls a LOT.

              1. TechWorker*

                This is interesting cos I’ve been worrying that I talk over my less assertive male colleagues in meetings (lol). There are meetings where I need to assert myself and meetings where my aim is to let my reports get more experience at interacting with other teams… I’m still learning how to be good at the latter when those reports don’t naturally speak up a lot. But it’s also possible I worry about this more than other managers in a slightly gendered way :p

                1. Batgirl*

                  That course taught me that not only will women be talked over, they can voluntarily silence themselves, or talk over other women rather than men, they overly soften their language and theres a bunch of other stuff I continue to notice like how men are more confident in keeping a regional accent unchanged. However there’s a danger in overcorrecting too. To really judge a specific situation you’d need to get accurate transcripts of meetings.

            3. Zillah*

              but when one group has been socialized to use that kind of language, that is sexism, even if not everyone fits within those gender roles perfectly. we can’t just shrug it off as being their fault.

            4. Ego Chamber*

              “I can intellectually understand these things happen, and I don’t want to discount anyone’s lived experiences, but I simply don’t have personal experiences of this or most of the other microaggressions women note.”

              Translation: “I never see misogyny because I have accepted my internalized sexism and refuse to examine the issue further.” Cool.

          2. JSPA*

            text doesn’t convey tone. Even “uhhh.’ It could have been purely factual (or intended as such), or puzzlement, or frustration, not intentional snark. “Ughh” would be unambiguous.

        2. Analyst Editor*

          It can be both and is both. Two things can be the case. In my case, as a woman in a relatively more male teams, it was more my lack of assertiveness, which asseriveness improved. It could be overt sexism for you, and still be the other thing for lots of other women.
          One would probably have to do a study to see which is predominant.

          1. TechWorker*

            Right, but the implication here was that it’s not misogyny… in general. You can see why people who explicitly have experienced it as misogyny take umbrage at that. A blanket assertion that something isn’t sexist needs more ‘proof’ than an assertion that it can be sexist.

      2. Quinalla*

        Please don’t do that. It IS misogyny to repeat what someone said with a little more authority and act like you came up with the idea. Please stop. Women CANNOT say things assertively/aggressively as men without consequence. I’ve been in conversations where I knew that if I pushed harder, I would become the bitch, but if I didn’t push harder, they wouldn’t listen, so I had to get a man to say the exact same thing I was saying to get the point across. It is beyond ridiculous, but it is a thing. I’ve also been coached by a manager to be more assertive and when I started doing it, then he got pissed off at me for being too aggressive. It is a fucking no-win situation for women, so instead of saying “Oh it isn’t misogyny, they should be more assertive…” do YOUR part and make sure the woman (or minority, etc.) gets credit for their contribution too. It can be as simple as “Oh yes, Jane said something about that earlier, would you care to elaborate on your idea Jane?”

        Seriously, this really gets me ragey as there is a REASON women do this, because if they don’t they will be seen as bitchy, pushy, aggressive, etc. It is a super hard line to walk and recognizing that and even helping to call it out in a very mild way goes a long way.

        As for the OP, I too would take a hard look at if you are doing this, even unintentionally. Folks do this and don’t even realize it as people often don’t listen to women in meetings even if they think they do.

        1. lazy intellectual*

          THIS. It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I remember in my last job, if a woman claimed credit for her ideas or project successes, she was accused of being attention-seeking. If she didn’t, though, she didn’t get credit. Her male co-worker or supervisor did.

        2. Amy Sly*

          I do. I try to make a point of drawing everyone in a meeting into the meeting if they will show the least bit of cooperation as well, even to the point of sometimes undermining the person nominally leading the meeting. And yes, I’ve been in conversations when some jerk tries to talk over me. Said jerk also proceeds to talk over my husband and male friends, making it quite clear said jerk is an equal-opportunity jerk.

          I’m not going to say that your experiences don’t happen. They do. Maybe every bit of luck I’ve been allotted by the universe has gone into avoiding misogynists instead of oh, my fertility, but somehow I’ve managed to be as assertive as a man and not need a mouthpiece. I just can’t imagine I’m the only woman who’s managed that.

          1. Koala dreams*

            That’s the thing with structural discrimination. It doesn’t need to be happening to every woman ever to exist, it’s bad enough that it happens to women more than men. (The same with other groups of people, of course.) Sometimes I wish the world would be over this whole “women all have the same personalities, preferences and experiences” though.

          2. Zillah*

            i’m sure you’re not the only woman in that situation – though i’d push back against your framing a little that women who aren’t in that position didn’t “manage” to get there. these experiences are based on a lot of things, some of but not all of which are based on personal choices. women in other situations might not have had access to the routes you’ve taken, or taken them without getting the same results you have. there’s no magic solution.

            at any rate, though – it’s really important to be able to acknowledge the broader pattern even if it doesn’t impact us personally. once i hit my 20s, i started to get a lot less street harassment – that doesn’t mean it’s not a problematic pattern, it just means that for some reason i get it much less than many of my friends. people have told me that they think it’s my expression and headphones that have made me just not worth the effort, which, maybe, but i have friends who also have scary expressions or perpetual headphones but still get shit. maybe it’s learned behaviors from scary situations with street harassment when i was a teenager that are operating on a subconscious level. who knows? whatever helps me avoid it is definitely something i’m happy about, but idk how people could replicate it and it certainly doesn’t change the pattern.

        3. Koala dreams*

          Actually, is a thing across many different power differentials. The people from the favoured group talking over people from the less favoured group. It could be based in all kinds of -isms. Sadly.

      3. Erica*

        “It’s only gendered to the extent that many women are socialized to be less assertive and more submissive in their speech. ”

        Ah yes, so except for the part where women are routinely punished for a young age for speaking less directly, and men do not take seriously the ways in which women are taught to speak (even when the meaning is equivalent), it’s not sexist at all.


        You might as well say “it’s true people don’t take things said in high pitched voices seriously, but this is only gendered to the extent that women tend to have higher pitched voices.”

        Ideas should not be judged or credited based on whether they are said “assertively” or “submissively.” They should be judged on their CONTENT.

        1. Amy Sly*

          Let me repeat the example I gave downthread. “I was thinking it could be a good idea to consider the possibility of maybe changing our teacup painting process because the current machine seems to not work right in the current alignment” is not the same as “We need to change our teacup painting machine to use vertical brushstrokes instead of horizontal ones to reduce wasted paint.” The person who says the former will be ignored unless they’re the CEO, and the kind of person who says that doesn’t become a CEO. That’s what I mean by lacking assertiveness. That’s what I heard from my female high school students and my female coworkers when I worked at the mall. My dad, the evil white man he was, taught me to speak and write the latter way.

          I’m very sorry not all women are socialized by parents like my dad. At the same time, I’m not going to deny that there are people like my dad socializing young women to not get into the habits that prevent anyone from taking them seriously. There is nothing intrinsically female about wishywashyness, and to suggest so is misogynist.

          1. Batgirl*

            Yes it is! Doesnt change the fact that a wishy washy communication style isn’t expressly expected from women sometimes. Did you ever read that letter to Alison about a young woman told to write friendlier emails with smiley faces? Just because it’s sexist doesn’t mean it doesnt happen.

              1. Amy Sly*

                There’s a reason I sent my trans nephew a book called “How to Say It For Women,” that among other things talks about how to eliminate many of the behaviors like speech patterns that women are socialized into.

                But again, socialized into. Which means that not every woman gets the socialization, not every woman complies the socialization, and no woman is stuck complying with their socialization if they’re willing to change.

                1. Ego Chamber*

                  How do you reconcile your denial of systemic sexism with your recognition that your nephew was going to be treated poorly if he didn’t perform masculinity “correctly”?

                  And why did you get him a book “For Women” to learn male speech patterns? Kids have the internet, which gives them access to information from other trans people who will give them better advice than a ciswoman writing for ciswomen about how to speak more authoritatively.

                2. Amy Sly*

                  I got him a book that teaches how to overcome female socialization because, like it or not, he was socialized as a woman for 18 years. When the transman demographic becomes big enough for professionalism books to be written for their particular needs I’ll buy him one instead of relying on a book by a ciswoman to tell ciswomen how to overcome their wishywashy “feminine” socialization. I also paired it with a more general book on how to be taken seriously in the professional world, which he desperately needed having been homeschooled by my brother-in-law’s extremely smothering ex.

                  He wasn’t going to be treated poorly for not doing masculinity correctly; he was going to ignored or treated poorly if he didn’t learn how to convey authority, autonomy, and certainty. That’s something that everyone needs to learn, and none of those things are “masculine.” They are hallmarks of maturity.

          2. Bark*

            This is an absolute bullshit comment. Girls and women are regularly penalized for being too aggressive and praised for being pleasant in a way that boys and men are not. And socialization comes from more than just your parents. Kids pick up on this stuff from other adults, at school, from the media, and pretty much everywhere they interact with society. Wishywashyness is definitely more common among women because of the way we are socialized.

            1. Zillah*

              yeahhh. i was very assertive as a teenager and my parents didn’t ever treat me and my brother differently that i recall, but the messages i got in other places were still widespread and insistent enough that it broke me of that confidence and assertiveness.

    2. lazy intellectual*

      I wouldn’t be surprised if this were the case. Usually, snippy comments like that leak out when an employee has been frustrated with their manager for a long period of time.

    3. CarrieT*

      Agreed. She shouldn’t have been having side conversations on Slack, simply because that means she’s not properly engaged with the meeting. But privately griping about something to another junior colleague is not inherently wrong. Come on, we’ve all done it. I would just let this one go, I’m sure she’s learned her lesson.

      1. Anonapots*

        We didn’t then lie about it when confronted, did we? I think that’s a big issue and should be addressed.

        1. Honey Badger*

          How do we know exactly what Big Boss asked her? Do we know she truly lied? Perhaps she denied sending a GROUP message because she thought she sent it to one person? I’d like to hear the other side.

          1. Zillah*

            yeah – i can see framings that one could genuinely spin to be at least a grey area – e.g., whether the person was intending to badmouth OP to the group.

    4. MusicWithRocksIn*

      The fact that the LW totally glossed over exactly what they said, and what the snippy commenters original point was indicates to me that they aren’t thinking about or concerned with even the idea that they were repeating something. Which makes it seem like they really need to dig into that more. Usually when someone accuses you of doing something wrong you at least address if you actually did it or not. Only people who don’t want to admit they did something wrong immediately jump to reacting about how other people reacted and not the original offense.

      1. Roscoe*

        Yep. If it was totally innocent, I feel like she would’ve said something like “her comment was X, while mine was X + Y + Z”. Her completely ignoring the concern and being mad at the call out seems suspect

      2. MassMatt*

        Right, I was waiting for the LW to address the substance of the comment in the letter and it never happened. Yes the comment was snarky and it’s really speaks badly of her that the person making it is trying to play “who are you going to believe, ME or your own eyes?!” but I am wondering if the coworker had legit cause for complaint.

    5. Snarkus Aurelius*

      This is a really good point. Nowhere does the OP say whether or not the remark has merit.

      I’m not trying to pick on you, OP, but you need to be mindful if there’s truth to what she said no matter how snotty you may think it is.

      Sure it could be about inadvertently taking credit. But, in my experience, it’s about not listening. I had a boss who had a nasty habit of making observations that someone else already made ten minutes prior or he comes to that conclusions that we already came to see the beginning of the meeting or he tells us stuff that we already knew.

      It was frustrating and annoying because it seemed like he was in a different conversational time zone.

      Whatever the reason is, you need to really examine what you said and if really did reflect what she’d already said. That’s what you should address with her. Don’t let that message get lost in the way she conveyed it, which was awful.

      1. EmbracesTrees*

        Really, given the frequency with which women’s contributions are overlooked, then the idea is coopted by a man who receives praise for it, the comment may have been deserved.

        To be clear, the situation wasn’t great, but there are many organizations where that message from simply won’t be heard (as in, listened to and acknowledged). If that’s the case here, then, yeah, LW needs to do more self-reflection, less harrumphing!

        1. quirkypants*

          Just adding here, before more people pile on. The letter writer uses the term “she said-she said” so I don’t think we should assume this is a man.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            Sexism aside.

            The issue with taking someone’s idea as your own is huge within every structure. Especially since it sounds like “She’s an assistant and I’m senior, she shouldn’t be speaking out of turn or being snarky when I steal her ideas!” vibe.

        2. Honey Badger*

          That’s not what this letter is about. Both are women. Let’s not pile onto the evils of men. And I’m also a woman.

      2. Lady of Lasers*

        LW never actually uses the word ‘snotty’. Alison used the word in the heading. LW said ‘snarky’, which is an accurate statement

  3. Observer*

    My first thought as I was reading was to wonder if you actually did repeat pretty much what she had said without crediting her. Not that she handled it well, even if so, but it is DEFINITELY something you should think about.

    1. Searching for a New Name*

      Yep. While the coworker’s way of handling it was pretty immature, it’s a valid concern.

      1. Anonapots*

        Alison addresses this and it’s worth considering, but aside from that, when confronted by the company president the Junior Staff lied. They flat out said it never happened when multiple people saw it. That is a HUGE issue.

        1. Observer*

          Like I said, coworker did NOT handle it well. But, the OP doesn’t supervise her, so that’s not their problem, the supervisor’s and the president’s problem.

          The only thing the OP has standing to address is the actual fact of the comment – and that is really, really dependent on how much the comment reflects the truth.

        2. Ego Chamber*

          Too many details missing. OP says the company president told OP the junior staffer denied it. They don’t say what was denied or what was asked or what the conversation OP had with the company president was like (actual conversation or a few words in passing).

          If “she denied it” means the junior staffer (for example) said the comment wasn’t directed at OP and was supposed to be in response to a different chat, you can’t prove that’s a lie unless IT has all the Slack records oh wait they probably do but why would you bother to investigate this oh wait we’re all bored out of our minds at home because pandemic.

    2. Enid*

      I’ve often been the only woman in the room. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made a point to have it ignored or even outright rejected only to have a man – the older and whiter the more frequent – state the exact same thing a few minutes later and get treated like he invented sliced bread.

      Every woman I know who is aware of this sort of thing pays attention to it and knows it happens. The younger you are, the darker your skin, the less you are part of what the default mainstream power structure deems “knowledgeable”, the more you are going to be ignored and have others get credit fo your work.

      I don’t know LW’s gender, age, or other status markers. But it’s worth considering if there is some sort of power or privilege gap. If so, the coworker could be venting about something very real and very frustrating.

      1. Double A*

        The LW did mention a “She said, She said” situation, which implies the LW is female, but the LW is senior (in rank, so info about age!).

      2. Ariadne Oliver*

        I vividly recall a meeting several years back in which my male, older, higher-titled colleague was praised for the very same idea I had offered probably 15 minutes earlier. I’ve discussed with him how awful this is, and to his credit, he is now very conscious of giving me proper credit, publicly, whenever it is due.

    3. KoiFeeder*

      Just asking out of curiosity, what are some good ways to handle this sort of thing?

      1. Amy Sly*

        I’m not sure there’s a great way to pipe up with “I said that” that doesn’t look petty, but if you see it happen, an easy way to pivot credit back to the deserving person is, “Yes Boss, Coworker X was just talking about that. Coworker X, was there more that needed to be added?”

        1. Sparrow*

          My last office had a real issue with this, and those of us the mid-levels definitely got into the practice of jumping in with things like, “Yes, and X’s explanation of this made me think…” or, “I agree that the idea X raised is a really promising one. X, had you thought about…?”

          But I was really stumped the time my boss reiterated to me in a one-on-one an idea I’d outlined to him earlier that day as if it was his own. I was thinking, “Is he punking me right now? Or does he literally not remember a conversation we had this morning?” and there was no one to jump in while I mentally gaped at him. He was a good boss in a lot of ways, but I do not miss that kind of thing.

          1. Amy Sly*

            It’s never been about something serious, but there’ve been more than a few times that my husband shares a comic or story or something on Facebook or the like, and then I tell him about it like it’s something I found myself. Brain farts happen.

            1. Sparrow*

              If this was atypical of him, I would’ve ascribed it to a brain fart. There was a pattern; this one was just particularly egregious.

          2. nona*

            In a 1:1, you could always say “Oh, like we talked about this morning when I was telling you about the way we could do this thing better?”

        2. MusicWithRocksIn*

          If you ever notice it being done to someone else, you should always speak up though. The best thing to happen is for someone else to say “Oh, LamaHerder was saying that a few minutes ago. LamaHerder, do you have any other insight into it?”

        3. Batgirl*

          “Obviously it’s great you also agree with what I was saying about *topic* and I appreciate your support in being for it generally, but what I was looking for is *restate the question* or “how do we build on my general idea”.

      2. Marny*

        One thing I’ve done when someone reiterated my idea is to then say, “Yes, thank you for clarifying my point/idea” in a completely sincere-sounding tone and smile.

      3. Sabine the Very Mean*

        In my experience, it is best to have an ally, usually another female, stick up for you by saying, “yes but isn’t that exactly the point Koi Feeder just brought up?” or a derivative therein.

      4. Heat's Kitchen*

        I’ve had to do this before for a coworker. I noticed it happened, so replied and said, “Yep, Katie just mentioned this, what are her ideas to make sure X goes smoothly?”

        Otherwise just continue to chime up.

      5. Observer*

        Not lying about the original comment is a good start. Seriously. If the employee had said “I’m sorry for being snarky. I was just frustrated that the comment I had just made was repeated as some new insight. I’ll be more careful going forward” That would have been a pretty good comeback.

        Depending on the company culture, it might have been possible at the time to the employee to respond with something like “Thanks for picking up my comment. blah blah”

        1. KoiFeeder*

          Eh, fortunately for me, I’m a terrible liar. I’d probably burst into tears if I tried to lie to my boss.

      6. Northerner*

        I’ve had decent luck with a “Right, that’s what I was thinking!” or “Yeah, that’s what I was suggesting a minute ago,” spoken with a mild and collaborative tone. Non-confrontational and plausibly just a continuation of the conversation, but gets it off one’s chest

  4. juliebulie*

    You can leave it alone, secure in the knowledge that the company president saw it too.

    1. LGC*

      To be fair, she said that it was in the team Slack, not the Zoom call itself. But at the very least, she knows that LW’s team saw it!

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      This. You’re already ahead–people saw the message, so they know about reality no matter what claims she tries to make to alter their perception of reality. Their perception is that she’s lying. There is no zinger from OP that’s going to top that.

  5. Bopper*

    My first thought was to consider if you did suggest something someone already suggested…it is very frustrating when that happens…esp. if the person who first came up with it is female and the repeater is male and then everyone jumps on the idea.
    Either listen more carefully, or “amplify”…”I’d like to go back to the idea that Katie had…that we eliminate the TPS reports.”

    If you literally didn’t hear it, then talk to the person and say ‘I saw you say on slack that you had suggested about eliminating the TPS report…but I truly didn’t hear that. When did you mention it? It was a good idea.”

    1. Claire*

      Agreed in general re:the gender politics, but just to be clear, OP is a woman (she refers to this as a “she said-she said” situation in the last line).

      1. lemon*

        Fair point, but just want to point out that women can do this to each other when other categories of bias are involved (e.g. race, marital status, age, etc).

        1. SarahKay*

          For that matter, it’s usually unconscious bias – which women can have too, even without any other inequalities. As I became aware that women not being heard was a thing (in large part thanks to AAM) not only did I notice it was being done to me, I also, much to my horror, realised that I did it to other women.

          1. lemon*

            Very good points. I’ve definitely noticed women doing this to each other in male-dominated environments. There’s been research that shows that when one is part of a stigmatized group (such as women, people of color) that is a minority in their workplace, they tend to distance themselves from other people of that group. Either because they don’t want to be perceived as showing bias in favor of their group, or because they don’t want to be seen as over-identifying with that group (out of fear of reminding the majority that, oh yeah, they’re a minority, too, in case they forgot).

        2. Alice*

          100% agree here. It can be so frustrating as a minority to be ignored, only to have your ideas reiterated by people who have the power and privilege to do so and to actually be heard and praised.

          Not saying that this was the situation, and it definitely wasn’t the right way to address it. But the take away is to keep walking, and to be more conscious of our biases and our position.

    2. Environmental Compliance*

      ^This. Did this individual legitimately make that point before you did? Did it come across as you taking that suggestion as your own? Not that her reaction was 100% professional, but it’s definitely something to think about, because it IS incredibly frustrating to have that happen.

      And honestly, I’m not sure I’d even address this unless this individual had a pattern of doing this. A one off? Eh. She didn’t handle it appropriately. It’s appropriate to just keep an eye on if there’s any other maturity issues, but I don’t think this by itself is worth much effort addressing.

      And seriously look at if junior (especially female) employees *are* having their ideas, suggestions, work stolen by more senior (or male) employees, because that’s a much bigger problem than someone venting to the wrong channel on Slack.

    3. Kramerica Industries*

      I took this as a rank/experience thing since OP mentions that their position is above the snotty coworker. This could be a situation where the coworker isn’t presenting ideas in an impactful way. E.g. “We could possibly make the teapots green”. Whereas OP may have said “The teapots should be green so the colour stands out on shelves”.

      Overall though, I think that this should be treated as a one-off accident if the coworker’s attitude is generally pretty good. Don’t take it personally, but use it as an opportunity to reflect on your own behaviour.

      1. boo bot*

        I agree that the OP should use this as an opportunity to reflect on their own behavior. If it is a question of presentation, it’s still easy to credit the idea to the original person!

        Her: We could possibly make the teapots green.
        Boss: I asked, how are we going to sell more teapots?
        OP: Coworker just suggested making the teapots green – that would make them stand out on shelves.

      2. Smithy*

        I agree here. As we know that the OP and junior coworker are both women, there is still the opportunity for more senior colleagues to not be amplifying the ideas or work of junior colleagues. Often junior colleagues will present more cautiously, particularly if there isn’t space for their ideas to typically be heard.

        This is a junior colleague who has certainly made an error in view of lots of more senior staff. It’s easy to both say she did something wrong that deserves a reprimand and that she’s essentially already being punished. But if junior colleagues feel like their ideas are repeatedly not heard and then have to watch them be acknowledged by leadership, then it truly is a moment for reflection.

    4. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

      I thought of this too. My co-workers and I often whisper things like this to each other or send this message silently in meetings because it happens ALL the time, the men will take an idea one of us has suggested and immediately repeat it as if it hadn’t just been said. It’s incredibly frustrating. And it simply doesn’t happen from the women – it’s literally always the men doing it.

      That said, I see that this LW is apparently female so this doesn’t seem to be a gender-based issue here.

      Take it as an opportunity to evaluate your own behavior. Maybe she has a legitimate gripe (though expressed unprofessionally, of course). Or maybe she’s just being immature, and the fact that she was exposed hopefully led her to learn her lesson.

      1. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

        (To clarify by “whisper in meetings” I mean we share an office and have conference calls and will mute it and whisper “did I not just literally say that??” We’re not actually whispering to each other in front of a group)

    5. lazy intellectual*

      I think they are both female here, but it’s not uncommon for those with higher status in an organization to take credit for ideas brought up by junior members.

      1. 2 Cents*

        Need the “This” GIF. Not like I’m some font of great ideas, but as a junior to mid-level staffer, this often happens to me.

    6. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I kind of like that framing. The junior team member is probably SUPER embarrassed and I don’t think there’s a need to chastise her over it, but in the context of, “Hey, making a snarky remark isn’t cool, but you know that already, so let’s address the remark itself,” that would be a nice opportunity to show compassionate leadership. Often junior people feel like they can’t speak up because they’ll get shot down, so they (heck, WE– I’ve definitely felt this way) vent to others.

      As far as the amplifying mentioned… I once attended a panel where the late Peter Jennings was one of the speakers. He was the fifth person to speak, and throughout his remarks he touched on things other panelists had said, calling them out specifically by name, even mentioning something from a panelist who may very well have been high at the time and made very little sense. He gave her that respect anyway. At the time I thought it sounded kind of forced, like, “Look at me and how well I listen!” but I’d certainly rather have that than someone who shows they don’t listen at all.

  6. Ali G*

    I think the last paragraph is pretty key here. I mean, did you literally repeat what she said? I think it’s worth taking an honest look at that. Because if you did, while she handled it poorly, that’s still something you need to address with yourself. Or you don’t remember? Maybe you need to listen better in meetings.
    Yeah she behaved poorly, and the denial after the fact is bad, but it’s also important to know for yourself if her frustration was justified in some way.

    1. Mockingjay*

      It’s not uncommon to have duplicate viewpoints in a meeting, especially if the participants prep their stuff individually.

      She’s a junior employee who denied the comment because she’s embarrassed. I guarantee she learned a lesson that will stick with her. I’d chalk it up to a one-off and let it go.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        I’d say it is also much more difficult on Zoom, Teams or calls rather than all being in a room together.
        Not to mention everyone’s general frustration lately.

    1. alldogsarepuppies*

      per letter writter they are both women, and the LW is the one with authority so mansplainer doesn’t apply her.

      1. Blueberry*

        It sometimes seems to me that “mansplainer” is the type species of the wider category of ‘splaining, where someone condescendingly explains down a power differential to another person.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I don’t think there is a reason to assign gender to this. It happens with any.
      I have a upper-level female executive who does this to people because she likes to present that she swooped in and solved the problem or has the solution. While I get that it’s your job to make your managers look good by doing good work, when she does this without crediting people it’s pretty infuriating. Worse, she has done this to me, a female, while I notice she tends to credit men.

      1. WellRed*

        Thank you! Women are not automatically good listeners or good at sharing credit where it’s due. My female is mostly awesome, but I have on more than one occassion felt unheard with regard to an idea.

  7. Trek*

    I agree that I would not address her denial of the message but if I were her manager I would tell her: “We all saw the message and it did happen. Because you are denying it and trying to convince us it didn’t it gives me great pause on your judgment. How will I be able to trust you are being honest with me about other conversations/situations if you are not honest with me on something multiple people saw including the President? Please know that this will impact your reputation, not because you sent the message, but because of how you chose to handle it by denying you did anything at all.”

    1. Important Moi*

      This strikes me as VERY HEAVY HANDED, but different people have different ideas about how things should be handled.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Agreed. Unless this turns out to be a pattern, the LW needs to let it go. The employee embarrassed herself; the expressions on everyone’s faces make it clear that they saw it. Either this person will be more careful in the future, in which case it’s a non-issue, or she won’t and it can be addressed then. (And the LW can revisit her own behavior during meetings in case she did, in fact, co-opt somebody else’s idea.)

      2. Senor Montoya*

        Nope, not heavy handed. Junior needs to know that their actions have consequences and in particular, lying is a serious problem, particularly when everybody, including the president of the company (!) saw it and Junior lied directly to the president of the company (!!). It’s up to Junior’s manager to do that, not the OP, but I do agree it should be done. Nip that sort of behavior in the bud. And let a Junior person understand the cost to their reputation.

        Really, we all make mistakes = the snark on slack. We don’t all LIE about our mistakes. The mistake is not the issue. The lie IS — it speaks to Junior’s judgment and integrity, frankly.

    2. TypityTypeType*

      Wow. It was a mistake and a silly attempt to make the problem go away, not a war crime. “It will impact your reputation” sounds like a manager planning to spread the word far and wide about this trivial incident and make it pretty difficult for the employee to do her job.

      But if the goal is to make her start looking for work, then, yeah, this would pretty much do it.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          Okay but only OP and the company president know about that part, so which one of them is the gossipy shit that’s going to tell the rest of the company?

      1. KRM*

        Lying about something everyone saw IS going to impact your reputation. What if this junior employee says she submitted something on time, but the recipient didn’t get it? Will they consider it an honest mistake, or remember that this is the person who lied about something everyone saw? You won’t get the benefit of the doubt if you’ve been caught in a pretty transparent lie.
        The snarky comment is definitley a trivial incident. But lying that it happened? THAT is what is going to leave the negative impression, and will good reason.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      That’s a bit over the top for the message sent. Simply documenting what happened for your own use as their manager in case it’s part of pattern that needs to be addressed is more in line with what happened.

    4. lazy intellectual*

      Ya no. The employee is denying it because she didn’t intend for other people to see it. That is it. And all she said was that OP repeated what she said – it’s not a slur or something. She deleted it because the statement is uncomfortable at best, but not harmful.

      1. boo bot*

        Yes. Also, the OP is looking at this as if the problem is, “she insulted me and she should admit it to make amends,” but from her perspective, admitting it means saying “you stole my idea.” It’s going to escalate the problem, not defuse it.

        She has no good options here – either she lies to the boss and denies having said it, or she tells the truth, and accuses the boss of stealing her ideas. Right now she’s basically trying to say, “never mind, I didn’t mean it” – the OP should let her.

        1. boo bot*

          Oh, I just re-read and realized the OP is senior to the coworker, but not her boss. I think there’s still enough of a potential power difference for the comment to apply, though.

        2. Lady of Lasers*

          If I were caught out saying something like this, my response would be something along the lines of, ‘I’m so sorry, I’m really embarrassed that I sent that comment to the group like that. I was feeling frustrated, and feeling like my ideas were not being heard and acknowledged. I should have brought up these frustrations in a more productive way, not behind people’s backs.’ Something like that would open up a conversation, without making accusations of people deliberately stealing ideas.

          1. boo bot*

            Yeah, absolutely! That probably would have been my first reaction as well, but I can see why someone would have tried to just brush past it, and I feel like at this point if the OP keeps pushing it’s going to feel more and more adversarial, which is going to make it harder for her to “confess.”

            She should still just apologize along the lines you suggested, but I can see why she’s hoping the problem will go away.

      2. Trek*

        The point is she is making a simple statement worse by denying she made it. It wasn’t a horrible statement just not something meant for everyone to see. Why deny it happened at all? It makes her look really out of touch with how things are handled. I also think people are more likely to remember this incident because she’s denying it happened.

        1. lazy intellectual*

          I actually think she is doing everyone a favor? She’s giving everyone the signal to move on and forget about it. If she acknowledges it, then the organization has to get into a sort of conflict resolution regarding who stole who’s ideas. Coworkers have been stealing ideas since the beginning of time. I think the “snotty coworker” was just griping without intending it to be solved.

          1. boo bot*

            Yeah, this is exactly how it struck me – she didn’t say something mean or personal about the OP, she said something that indicated an actual problem in the organization; denying the comment is essentially giving the OP an “out.”

        2. Dust Bunny*

          The LW is also escalating this by trying to force an apology for something that was, yes, stupid, but would have blown over if it weren’t being kept alive by the need to “do something” about it. If she’s not also willing to consider that she may have stolen the employee’s idea, then she’s not less dishonest than the employee.

        3. Ego Chamber*

          “I also think people are more likely to remember this incident because she’s denying it happened.”

          Everyone in the meeting saw the message but only 2 people know what happened after that. OP is obviously going to remember, not sure about the company president tho.

    5. A*

      To me this seems very extreme, and speaking to the junior employee as if they were a child. Deservedly so, perhaps – but do you really think that the above narrative would drive home the point more than it already has been (embarrassment is a powerful tool)? It seems like it would just be to shame the junior employee.

      I would seriously second guess working for an employer that took it to this extreme right off the bat, assuming it wasn’t an ongoing patter of behavior.

      1. Blueberry*

        So would I, not least since I’d probably conclude that the employer had no interest in hearing any ideas from me, that such a weighty rebuke was as much for speaking up as it was for making snarky comments.

        1. Observer*

          Well, if that were your conclusion, I would have even more doubts about you. The issue here is that she LIED about this – that’s just a non-starter. It’s true that the remark itself is not the biggest deal. The lie is much more of a deal.

          1. Blueberry*

            I’m not defending the lying (is anyone? I haven’t seen that IIRC), but the length o the rebuke and “this will impact your reputation” bit would pretty much make me give up on saying anything anymore, if that’s the kind of response I might get for it.

            1. Observer*

              But that’s the point. The rebuke is NOT for the comment – or it shouldn’t be. If someone doesn’t understand that distinction, that’s a problem.

              1. Ego Chamber*

                Dude if you interpret that whole monologue about THE TRUTH as anything less serious than “pack up your desk and don’t let the door hit you when you slink off into the darkness,” you’ve worked for much kinder (and much stranger) employers than I have.

                Anything even approaching those sorts of implications about your future with the company was intended as a heads up that you need to leave asap because this is not going to work out.

    6. Observer*

      Yes, if the OP were her manager, I would have a very different take, and it would be about the lie not the comment so much.

  8. Jennifer*

    Don’t let this woman make you doubt what you saw with your own eyes. As Alison said, you saw it, other people saw it. It happened. You know it happened. Nothing needs to be proven. You’re not calling the cops or suing her over a snarky chat message. Raise the issue with her and ask if she had a problem with the way you presented the information in the meeting or if she has any suggestions on how things can be improved going forward. Don’t engage when she denies what happened. It happened.

  9. TooTiredToThink*

    LW – Are you male?

    I am NOT saying you are doing this, but quite often men will repeat something a woman had just said as if its an idea that just occurred to them. Since the one complaining is female, it just makes me wonder. But this is such a wide spread phenomena, that a lot of us women will complain about it to each other when this happens because we need that solidarity in what is often a very frustrating process. Sometimes that complaining might be unfair because it might have been coincidence or the people involved had slight variations in their train of thought, etc…

    But if you are male, I would encourage you to learn more about this phenomena before addressing it, if you chose to address it.

    1. Mystery Bookworm*

      It says pretty clearly in the letter that it’s a “she-said, she-said” situation.

    2. Roscoe*

      Honestly, I’m not sure OP being male or female really matters here. Either way, if OP did do what the person said, it needs to be looked at. A woman doing it to another woman isn’t really less bad

      1. OhNoYouDidn't*

        This. So. Much. I’m a woman and I get tired of women automatically jumping to the conclusion that something was done because someone is a man. Some people are just jerks, regardless of gender. I’ve worked with some horrible women, and I’d likewise jump on anyone attributing their bad behavior to the fact that they’re being over emotional or ‘8itchy” because of their gender. Jumping to this conclusion and using terms like “mansplaining” automatically puts men on the defense, or limits them from correcting or problem solving in usually appropriate circumstances. We’ve all known people who are overbearing, paternal, and who might steal someone’s ideas. I’ve known many of both genders (my grandmother was a textbook example). Let’s just address behaviors and stop AUTOMATICALLY jumping to the conclusion of sexism and misogyny without actual evidence that this is the case.

        1. Erstwhile Lurker*

          Couldn’t agree more. Yes there’s no denying that it does happen but there are bad behaviour patterns exhibited by both genders.

          I’m seeing an alarming amount of looking for sexism where none is implied in the original letter, this particular letter being a prime example.

          1. Roscoe*

            “I’m seeing an alarming amount of looking for sexism where none is implied in the original letter, this particular letter being a prime example.”

            Honestly, that happens on here a lot. So many letters assume or at least question whether the “bad guy” is a man, and even if its not, people say “well even if THIS wasn’t a man, we need to talk about how often men do this”

    3. Aquawoman*

      LW described it as a “she said-she said” situation, which I took to mean the LW is female as well.

    4. Tiara Wearing Princess*

      I believe the LW is a woman. She wrote “it’s a she said-she said”

      If the LW chooses to address it with her, I think Allison’s script is perfect. I don’t think we need to assume the LW was in the wrong here. Even if she inadvertently did repeat what was said, the junior employee made herself look like an ass by denying it to the CEO. I’d take pleasure in that.

      ‘Who ya gonna believe, me or your lyin eyes”
      not a good look here.

    5. On a Break*

      I find it very interesting that despite the LW clearly identifying herself as female, so many commenters are trying to make her out to be a man.

      1. TooTiredToThink*

        Its because its literally one of the last things said. I didn’t even see it. I went back and read it three times before I even commented because I had assumed that if LW was a man Alison would have said something, but even after 3 times, I just didn’t see it. Sometimes it happens :(

        1. Ego Chamber*

          I only noticed it because she hyphenated instead using a slash as in the typical usage of the phrase and my brain interprets hyphenated words as a unit so I stumbled on “she … said she … said” (thanks, brain!)

      2. Myrin*

        People never read carefully (everywhere, not just an AAM or even advice columns, but the internet as a whole and really, in the real world as well) – commenters on here state things in comments which aren’t in the letter in any way basically every other day.
        (I realise this sounds weirdly snarky but it’s really just an observation.)

      3. Spencer Hastings*

        I’m actually not that surprised — the “it was a she said/she said situation” comment seems easy to misread or overlook.

    6. Guacamole Bob*

      And I think it’s important to recognize that repeating other’s ideas as if they have just occurred to them is not always, or even usually, a conscious thing. It’s not like most men are sitting there listening to women talk and then think “Aha! She suggested we expand the llama grooming side of the business to alpacas! I bet I could increase my standing in the company if I say that again in two minutes as if it were my idea!”.

      It’s much more likely that’s it’s a form of unconscious bias where you’re kind of hearing the idea but not giving it as much weight because of your biases about who said it, but the idea itself is rattling around in your head with the other thoughts you’re having and you actually believe it’s a new suggestion when you make it. And that’s much more insidious and harder to recognize in your own behavior.

  10. bananab*

    If I saw this I would just feel embarrassed that I apparently repeated someone else’s point, wouldn’t occur to me to treat it like some sort of opportunity to correct the worker. Mild gripes about other staff is universal and will never end, the only thing new here is the medium causing a faux pas. The deletion and denial is basically acknowledgment of said faux pas.

  11. Robert in SF*

    Well, there are lessons to be learned here all around.
    One, when you make a mistake, own up to it and be as professional as you can when admitting it. It can save your reputation. “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover up.”
    Two, if frustrated by someone else’s actions, take it to them directly when the lines of power are set up that way. I know that in certain environments and cultures, one does not confront more than 1 level up or down. You go to your boss about their boss, or to the same level as yourself in the other person’s reporting structure, if they don’t directly report to you. And make that line of communication clear in your group. But again, be professional. Not every mistake needs to ruin a reputation or be held against someone in perpetuity. Sometimes a light touch is the right touch.
    Three, make sure that if you are in a position of authority in a group, you represent the group well. Maybe OP was emphasizing the statement made earlier by the complainant, but didn’t make it clear it was in support, but came off as glory stealing or even disengagement from their own team’s suggestions. We can’t know for sure. But that may have been how it came across to the complainant, maybe even based on a history of such actions.

  12. RecentAAMfan*

    Yikes. This whole zoom/slack message thing is quite the minefield! I think I will stick to my policy of restricting my chats to off-line (text etc) methods.

    1. Beth Jacobs*

      I really don’t think this it the right take away. Texts get sent to the wrong person all the time. Spoken conversations are overheard. Paper notes accidentally slip out in the hall. It’s not about the technology.
      The key is to be diligent with any communication method you’re using – hurt feelings are one thing, trade secrets another. And always be kind, honest and professional.

      1. Ego Chamber*

        And use a completely separate messaging app for nudes, one that you never ever message your family, coworkers or non-nude friends on. These are important lessons!

  13. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

    It doesn’t have to be a man saying something that a woman just said for the person to be frustrated. I have been in meetings where I (a man) make a suggestion and it is shot down. Then in another meeting (can’t say it ever happened in the same meeting) one of the Dean’s favorite minions (which I was *far* from) says the same thing and suddenly the Dean thinks it is a great idea. This happened more than once.

    Trust me, it is very, very frustrating to have an idea shot down and then suddenly accepted because someone else brought it up.

    However, to the OP, I once learned a very valuable lesson which maybe you can pass onto your co-worker. “Never put anything in writing that you wouldn’t want printed on the front page of the New York Times.”

    1. Blueberry*

      It doesn’t have to be a man saying something that a woman just said for the person to be frustrated. I have been in meetings where I (a man) make a suggestion and it is shot down. Then in another meeting (can’t say it ever happened in the same meeting) one of the Dean’s favorite minions (which I was *far* from) says the same thing and suddenly the Dean thinks it is a great idea.

      That’s true. I’ve seen this operate both along other demographic lines (such as having my ideas swiped by White female coworkers) and along popularity-and-power lines (such as watching my lower level coworkers having their ideas credited to higher-ups and boss’s favorites, as you describe here). It’s a pattern that repeats across many different kinds of power differentials.

        1. Curiouser and Curiouser*

          Yes. I have seen this happen regularly at my job, usually in the guise of women being “helpful” and “helping” (i.e. “what (colleague) meant was…”). It’s really frustrating to witness, and something to really check my privilege about.

    2. lazy intellectual*

      Yeah this happened all the time in my last job (to me and other junior coworkers.) Made me want to bang my head against a wall. (But I didn’t.)

    3. Jennifer*

      Exactly. It has to do with power. There are more men in positions of power right now so I think that’s why people picture a man in these situations. But power can come from many different sources.

  14. Blueberry*

    Mmm. This is not precisely the same kind of comment as the letter from last week (?) where the LW found coworkers snarking about her size. I have to concur most strongly with the last paragraph — I have often seen and experienced the pattern where Person A (who is often at a lower level or from a disprivileged group) says X idea, Person B (who is higher ranked and/or from a privileged group) repeats X idea, and Person B gets the credit and accolades.

    That said, the junior employee shouldn’t’ve snarked, and shouldn’t double down by denying what she said, but if you want to have a really productive conversation, as opposed to simply an exercise of power, I’d advise that you make it clear that if you *are* repeating others’ ideas without building on the ideas and/or crediting the originators that you are open to hearing about it and considering how to do better.

    1. Tiara Wearing Princess*

      I agree. I’m not going to assume that the writer was trying to steal the idea. (I don’t know why everyone is piling on the LW here) Clearing the air by addressing it could be a good idea. If she continues to deny, that would say a lot about her.

      1. Blueberry*

        (I don’t know why everyone is piling on the LW here)

        I think it’s because many of us are resonating with the frustration of seeing one’s idea repeated by and credited to someone with more status, which many people have experienced and/or witnessed, so it’s on our minds to explicitly agree with Alison’s final piece of advice.

        But yeah, denying that one said what one said is not at all a good way to proceed.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          Also because LW seems really fixated on some unnamed retribution for the junior staffer wronging her but presented no defense or denial of the junior staffer’s claim, only deflected to she lied. There’s nothing for LW to do here except reflect on her own behavior (if she wants to), make it clear to the staffer that she should bring conflicts/concerns to her directly (if she wants to) and let it go (if she wants to).

          She’s not this person’s manager and she has no direct power over her, so anything she does is going to have to be done with tact and diplomacy, not with an oversized sense of righteous fury.

      2. Bella*

        yeah I agree for 2 reasons:

        1) people working on a project can have the same idea. Bringing it up first in a meeting doesn’t mean the other person hadn’t ALSO prepared the same idea, for the same meeting.

        2) It’s odd to take it personally if you brought it up IN said meeting. How can you steal someone’s idea if everyone heard you bring it up first? It’s not like (from the sound of it) the person in Q brought it up to LW in a private meeting, then LW mentioned it in the group discussion like it was their own invention

        1. boo bot*

          Re: (2) The thing is that even though everyone might have heard you say it first, they’re attributing it to the LW, and now they all think it’s her idea.

          The way I’ve usually seen this happen is that Person A says Idea X, and nobody really responds, and then Person B says Idea X, and people suddenly get excited about Idea X, directing all their comments and questions at Person B (including things like, “What a great idea, person B”) as if they didn’t hear Person A say exactly the same thing literally three minutes ago.

          Part of the reason it’s so frustrating is because, as Person A, you know that you just said Idea X to the same group of people! Did they not hear you? Did you momentarily fall through a portal to an alternate universe? It’s maddening precisely because of how absurd it is.

          When I’m Person A, I’ll usually try to say something like, “yes, the reason that I mentioned Idea X before was…” It’s clunky and people know what you’re doing, but I think you have to either calmly reclaim the idea or decide to let it go. When I’m not Person A, I’ll say, “yes, you know when Jane mentioned Idea X earlier I was thinking…”

      3. Arctic*

        People are “piling on” (not really just expressing concerns) because she seems to want to have someone punished for a very, very minor offense and shows no willingness to think about whether it was valid.

        1. Lady of Lasers*

          Really? Because I didn’t really read that she wanted her coworker to be punished. I got the impression she was unsettled by the comment, and the somewhat gaslighty response to it. If I was in her shoes, I would be wondering if this coworker was grumbling behind my back all the time, and that would put me on guard!

        2. SomebodyElse*

          I kind of got that feeling too from the LW.

          I don’t know I would wonder about a place where the president would call out a junior employee in a meeting for a comment like this. There seems to be something really off about this situation. I think if I were in the LW shoes I would have tucked the incident away in the back of my head to see if anything else comes of it.

          I mean in the grand scheme of things “Uhhh, that’s literally what I said a minute ago,” yeah is a bit snarky but also a truthful fact if the LW did in fact say the same thing as the jr coworker.

          It also strikes me as a little odd that there wasn’t a comment from the LW in the letter to indicate if it was true that they had said the same thing.

          Personally I see it as an overreaction from the LW… why does she need photographic proof. What does she want done with it? What is the outcome she’s looking for from the jr. coworker?

          1. Observer*

            I don’t know I would wonder about a place where the president would call out a junior employee in a meeting for a comment like this. There seems to be something really off about this situation

            I agree. That seemed very odd to me. Also, whole need for “photographic evidence.” That sounds like a REALLY rigid workplace or mindset.

      4. Amy Sly*

        Seriously. Yes, people who say “I was thinking it could be a good idea to consider the possibility of maybe changing our teacup painting process because the current machine seems to not work right in the current alignment” get their ideas “stolen” by coworkers who say “We need to change our teacup painting machine to use vertical brushstrokes instead of horizontal ones to reduce wasted paint.” Frankly, if Ms. Snotty is this type, perhaps she should try being as direct in talking to her boss as she is complaining with her coworkers, and she may then find that OP doesn’t “repeat what she said. ” And of course the person saying that second version isn’t repeating the first; the second is stating a conclusion while the first is burying the lede under weasel words.

        And beyond that, there are people who claim everything was their idea, the way the dad in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” proved that every word was actually Greek, including ones like kimono, through the most tenuous of logic.

        1. Blueberry*

          My father used to jokingly ‘prove’ everything was invented in Jamaica using the same kind of ‘logic’. :)

          But, while you have a very good point that people need to speak up and be direct, I have been there in a meeting where (for example) we’re discussing the mess the llama records are, and not least since I’m going to be one of those straightening them up, I say, “We could give each llama’s file four internal folders, one for medical records, one for photographs, one for accomplishments and behavioral logs, and one for other items…” but by the time I get to “accomplishments” everyone else is talking over me about whether to use alphabetizing or dates, and then five minutes later a male and/or White coworker who *won’t* be one of those straightening the files says “Why don’t we put four internal folders in each llama’s file, for their medical records, for their behavioral logs and accomplishments, for their photos, and for miscellaneous stuff?” and everyone tells them what a great idea that is and then turns to me to say, “go order the folders while we work out the details, ok?”

          It can be a little annoying. Especially when I come back to find out they decided without me that all 4000 llama files can be done in one week.

          1. Amy Sly*

            Certainly. Being able to seize the floor back when everyone starts talking over you is a separate but also vitally important skill that a lot of people struggle with. And frankly, sometimes it’s the people not actually doing the work who have an easier time saying “Exactly how we organize the stuff in the four folders is something we can work out later, but the four file structure will work best.”

      5. Trout 'Waver*

        “(I don’t know why everyone is piling on the LW here)”

        People project their own experiences onto the letters like always. And the commentariat here skews towards those who have had their ideas stolen by jerks and away from higher level people. Also, I think the type to send snarky messages about higher-ups are much more likely to be the type to post anonymous internet comments, so there’s probably a lot of self-identification with the letter writer’s snarky junior person.

      6. lazy intellectual*

        I think previous baggage related to this issue is part of it, but also the fact that the OP seems very defensive – calling her coworker’s comment “snotty” and her fixation with getting her coworker to “admit” to what she said.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Yeah, when I read the headline, I was completely on OP’s side. But then I expected a real snotty comment, not a “this is literally what I said 5 minutes ago.” (Which, btw, may or may not refer to anything OP had said on the call.)

      7. Observer*

        I’m sure the OP wasn’t trying to steal an idea. But if she actually did repeat what the junior staffer said without credit that’s still a problem.

        And although I’m not going to say that that DID happen, it’s quite clear to many of us that it’s quite possible. In fact there is a fairly high probability that it did. So the OP needs to deal with that, regardless of what the coworker did.

    2. Arctic*

      Is this snark though?
      She didn’t say anything snide or rude. She expressed a frustration.

        1. A*

          I also assume that is what set of the ‘snark’ alarms, but in my mind it wasn’t so much snarky as a potentially valid point made in an immature and unprofessional way.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      While I agree that situations like that happen often (and OP needs to reflect on her own behavior as Alison mentioned), that may not necessarily be the case here. Maybe the message sender communicates poorly, and the OP didn’t repeat what was said verbatim, but seems that way to the message sender (in her mind her idea was clear, but in reality it was clear as mud to everyone else). Maybe OP didn’t hear the message sender if multiple people were speaking at the same time (happens a lot when you’re meeting over the phone/computer). Maybe OP expanded on the original thought mentioned by the message sender and she’s getting bent out of shape about it. The fact that the message sender denied sending anything when clearly everyone saw it speaks to her maturity level – she’s acting like a child.

  15. Claire*

    Regardless of the merit of the complaint, I think lying straight to the president’s face is a bad look…but also it seems like a fairly minor issue for the president to get involved in. Is it possible that there’s a bad pattern of behavior either with this colleague in particular or with the atmosphere in general, where people regularly snark behind each other’s backs? Or alternately, are most of you regularly very blunt, meaning that complaining privately like this is waaaaaay out of whack with company culture?

    In any case, I feel like she’s sufficiently chastised for this incident, assuming it was an isolated incident, so I would just move forward and try not to assume that she’s constantly complaining about you behind your back.

    1. Koala dreams*

      Yeah, I’m a bit surprised it was brought up by the president of the company. Unless it’s a very small company, it seems like over the top for the president to critizise a junior employee for one single snarky comment. The comment was out of place, it was dealt with, now it’s time to let the whole thing go.

    2. lazy intellectual*

      I’m also wondering if the coworker is at a point where she no longer respects people at her organization (and maybe on her way out), and that’s why she lied instead of trying to address the issue.

  16. Mary Richards*

    This all just sounds like the kind of crap that happens when people are stuck at home too long.

    1. Mary Richards*

      Not to say that OP did anything wrong—just that everyone in this situation seems to be taking this VERY seriously and it’s probably not worth pursuing further.

      1. somanyquestions*

        I agree. I would have rolled my eyes and moved on, and why would the president even care about some dumb little message? This just feels like a huge overreaction.

      2. BethDH*

        I think that’s true, but also that it’s good to be aware of this dynamic. So yeah, let it go, but also recognize the way interpersonal communications are strained by this situation. I see that happening so much here:
        – meeting dynamics make it easy to miss or not register other people’s comments
        – tone gets lost even when things are spoken. We’re used to that in text and still mess it up, but we’re definitely not used to it in video meetings
        – not always clear who is being referenced / snarked about (what if the junior person had been complaining about the way the BOSS only listens to things some people say — “I literally just said that (why does George never listen to me and only to Mary)”?)
        – harder to find out underlying issues casually
        Etc, etc …

  17. Just an employee*

    The LW sounds like my boss, a female VP. If she likes you, she will treat you sort of wonderfully. If you are too low level below her (e.g. coordinator), or she doesn’t like you, or you didn’t perform to her expectations at some point even if you were just learning, she will not care about your ideas or your potential capabilities. People like this need a lot of self reflecting, but they’ll never do it because they are too self absorbed.
    LW, No need to hash things out just so your word is the last. Reflect and take this as a learning.

    1. Claire*

      This is reading a LOT into the letter—I’m sorry you’ve had that experience, but I’m not sure how you’re so certain that OP is the one at fault here.

    2. Ego Chamber*

      This AU self-insert is the best comment fanfic I’ve read here in a while. Next chapter soon please!

    3. stiveee*

      Is a “female VP” like a Lady Doctor? You know they can work outside the home now, right?

  18. Captain Zoom*

    Maybe the frustration was not from the fact that her point was repeated by someone else, but maybe because it got a different reception? It happens all the time at my organization, where a point I am trying to make is being dismissed, only to be suddenly important and valid when voiced by someone else.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      That happens a lot at my organization too. Especially with a certain department.

    2. BethDH*

      This was actually my first thought, which says something about my experiences.
      What if junior coworker was snarking about someone else in the meeting listening to an idea when it came from OP but not from junior? Maybe the “just” even meant the junior person had said it to the non-listener earlier that day and got blown off or something.
      That could also explain the refusal to admit it — how does junior say “yes, I said it, but I actually meant Big Boss and not you”?

  19. Bella*

    I’d want more info about how the president brought it up a few days later

    It almost seems odd to me that this was the first time it was brought up, and maybe explains the denial – if I were the person who made the embarrassing message I would expect to be called out by OP, and right after the meeting, not days later by the president. They may have been caught off guard after expecting that everyone was going to just drop it.

  20. Sloop*

    I am scratching my head as to how and why the president got involved.
    Snarky comment, yes. Time to move on? Also, yes.

    1. Chili*

      Yeah, I don’t know exactly what the president’s involvement looked like or how involved the president normally is with junior employees, but it does seem like the reaction from the company is a bit outsized. The comment was uncomfortable because it was shared in the wrong place, but honestly pretty innocuous in terms of content. Unless this employee has been a problem before, I think it’s time for everyone to move on.

  21. Arctic*

    The fact that the person expressed a frustration and the only response is to nail her down on whether she said it (presumably to punish her in some way?!?!) suggests this is a culture problem.

  22. Sleepytime Tea*

    I think in this age of technology we have all made this mistake. For all but the sociopaths it’s something that we cringe about for years to come and we can tell who has gone through this by noticing which of our coworkers obsessively checks which chat they’re in before typing.

    Everyone chooses to handle their embarrassment differently with this. The most professional and mature thing to do is own up to it, have a conversation about whatever your frustrations are to maybe even turn it into something productive, and them let it go. But not every person you work with is the most professional or mature. However, YOU can be the graceful one. If they deny it happened, you can’t really force anything more here, and as Alison mentioned, I wouldn’t call this one so egregious that it really warrants pushing.

    So be the graceful, mature, professional one, and speak your piece if you need to, but then let it be. When I was on the receiving end of a message about me intended for someone else, I remembered my horror, pain, awkwardness, embarrassment, etc. and instead of wanting an apology or anything else, I skipped straight to empathy. We’re all human.

  23. Myrin*

    Even if this is a relatively minor thing, I would approach her about it once; I usually have the loudest voice in any given conversation and am also not prone to being interrupted, so I do occasionally repeat something a more reserved or quiet person said before, but in a “I really like the point Jeremy made here” or a “as Candace said on that topic” fashion – but I can’t guarantee that I’ll 100% always do that and if it ever escaped me to credit the original person, I’d absolutely want to know so that I can pay special attention to it going forward!

    I’d personally tweak Alison’s script a bit, though. I’m finding the “rather than you sending snarky messages about it. I’d give you that respect and want to ask for it in return” part a bit heavy-handed, but I think that might also depend on one’s personality and the general relationship you all have.

    I’d still roughly use Alison’s script and say something like “I didn’t hear your saying the same thing, so I apologise if it seemed like I just piggybacked on your idea. // I think we were actually talking about two different things, but that’s neither here nor there now” (depending on which part is true, of course; if you did indeed wilfully repeat what you’d heard her say before, well, that’s a different problem entirely). And then I’d follow up with “I’d never want to take credit for other people’s ideas so please feel free to call me out on it in the moment/in person (instead of sending messages to others)” – I’m going back and forth a bit on the part in brackets but again, I think you’d have to individually decide on that based on your situation.

    1. Chili*

      I also found the “rather than you sending snarky messages about it” aspect of Alison’s script a little aggressive (especially if LW’s relationship to the junior employee had otherwise been good or neutral). I also don’t think the message was snarky enough to merit calling that out, but maybe I am incredibly snarky.

      I really do feel like the correct people to have responded to this were only LW (directly using a script like Myrin’s or Alison’s) and the junior employee’s manager. It feels really strange to me that the president got involved. Junior employee really didn’t handle it well, but I also think it’s possible the president calling her out in the moment in front of others made her panic and decide to double down on something stupid. I feel like the junior employee’s manager should have addressed and said something like, “If you feel like you’re being unheard or ignored, please bring it up to me so we can work together to find solutions. I know it’s tempting to vent to coworkers, but to avoid situations like this AND actually address the issue, I should be the person you talk to.”

      At this point it all seems really overblown, so unless the junior employee has been an issue before, I would just let this situation float away into the ether.

      1. CM*

        Agreed, that part (“rather than you sending snarky messages”) sounds aggressive to me too. So does starting with the part about how she may have perceived it as OP saying the exact same thing, but actually there are many ways to express a point. Seems to me that both of these things are about shaming or correcting the coworker, which doesn’t seem necessary at this point.

        I think it would be far more gracious and equally effective if OP said, “Hey, I wanted to address the chat message you sent on the call the other day — I know it wasn’t intentional, but I’m wondering if you felt I was taking credit for your idea.” And THEN if she says, “I didn’t do it,” you could just say, “OK” and let it go, or if she says, “You did take credit,” then you can have a conversation about it.

        1. Chili*

          I like that your script has an open-ended question and lets the junior employee make their case and explain their feelings rather than LW starting out with either a defense or explanation of why junior employee was not right.

  24. boop the first*

    Seems like a case of equal guilt, here. So she accidentally sent a reaction in a chat window. Apparently, you took credit in front of the boss for something she said, which is commonly seen as a microaggression, and yeah, she’s going to notice. Even if it was accidental, it means you were spacing out when your employees were speaking. Not really a good look, and not sure why you’re sitting so tall on this one. You’re at the very least, even.

  25. Tiara Wearing Princess*

    Someone mentioned, above, the the LW wants the junior chastised or punished. I didn’t get that vibe at all. She asked how to move forward, as in, do I address the elephant in the room. If she wants to clear the air and assure the junior that she was not intending to steal her idea, Alison’s script, as always, does the job.

  26. Amethystmoon*

    If there’s anything I’ve learned from reading this blog regularly, it’s don’t use internal apps to send snarky messages to colleagues.

    1. Pilcrow*

      Don’t write it down anywhere! There’s a letter in the archives where the LW and a co-worker were jotting down snark in a notebook then the LW threw the paper away. A different co-worker got it from the wastebasket (I’m guessing the LW and co-worker 1 weren’t being very subtle).

      my coworker went through my trash can to get me in trouble
      update: my coworker went through my trash can to get me in trouble

      1. Amethystmoon*

        Right, nothing like that should be done at work or shown to work colleagues. You never know if it will get back to your boss.

  27. Trout 'Waver*

    Am I the only one bothered by the junior employee sending snarky messages behind people’s backs? It’s highly unlikely that this is the first time they did something like this. This is just the first time they got caught.

    That kind of stuff absolutely destroys team culture and creates cliques. I really can’t fathom how people are saying its OK. And they’re somehow trusting the judgment of the snarky junior person (who is both junior and shows terrible judgment in meetings) over the letter writer. People who unashamedly steal credit from junior employees don’t generally ask for advice from neutral third parties, btw. I’d assume if the snarky complaint was valid, the letter writer wouldn’t be the type of person to ask for advice.

    1. Chili*

      I mean, it’s definitely not great and you’re completely right that too much of it is detrimental to a team’s functioning, but I do think a little bit of venting/ discussion is normal and fine. Especially in a scenario like this, where the junior employee felt something they said was repeated without credit by somebody senior. I think it’s pretty normal to vent that frustration to work friends at a similar level, for the sake of venting and so someone you trust who doesn’t manage you can say “actually, what so-and-so said was different/more clear/etc..”

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        I think the fact that the junior employee is doing it in real-time when they should be participating in the meeting is a red flag in this case. It definitely has more of a mean vibe to it than regular venting.

        1. Sloop*

          To be fair, OP also saw the message come through during the meeting, so either they are both “wrong” for multitasking during the meeting, or neither are.

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            No, I mean actively be snarky about other people while you’re still in the meeting with them is the problem. Not multi-tasking.

    2. Arctic*

      The LW is asking how to confront someone over a minor offense. That is absolutely how someone who takes credit would interpret the way things happened.

    3. Jessie the First (or second)*

      Doesn’t read as snark to me. Reads as anger/frustration. And a quick text to express that frustration doesn’t mean the employee wasn’t also participating in the meeting. That seems like an incredible stretch – the text would’ve taken 2 seconds, for pete’s sake.

      In the LW’s shoes, I’d let it go. It would not be a big deal.

      If the junior employee wrote in, I’d tell her she should deal with work frustrations in a better way – venting about colleagues isn’t the path to great coworker relationships and company culture. And that she then just denied it is WEIRD. Her reaction to it is what is a big deal to me, because it is just so odd to deny something that people *saw*

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        No, the problem isn’t that she’s multi-tasking. The problem is that ostensibly she’s there as a team member while simultaneously trash-talking other people on the team, in real time.

        Can you imagine participating in a meeting where people were real-time chatting snarky comments about you? What would that do for trust and teamwork?

        1. Jessie the First (or second)*

          Again, though, this reads simply as frustration to me and not trash talking or snark, and so I’m just not having the same reaction to it that you are. I’d tell the junior employee to deal with her frustration in a different way, but to the LW, I say this is not a big deal and let it go.

    4. Blueberry*

      People who unashamedly steal credit from junior employees don’t generally ask for advice from neutral third parties, btw.

      I don’t see how this follows, not least because my experience indicates otherwise. Many times in my life I have said to person A “I think your action here was wrong” (be that action using a slur, using the wrong word in a written confirmation, punishing someone, whatever) and person A goes to uninvolved person B and says “Blueberry said I was wrong here but I was right, wasn’t I?” and then comes back to me and says “Person B said I was right [so shut your uppity trap]”. I have even been asked to be Person B, especially if the complainant and I share a demographic (“she said X was sexist but it’s not really, right?”).

    5. Batgirl*

      I think it’s generally unprofessional and a basically bad idea to ever put criticisms in writing at work. She isn’t here though. If she were, I’d tell her if she’s truly frustrated, she’s better off getting her friend’s support out loud in the meeting “Oh hey, Junior Colleague just said that…” and she could respond in kind, or using a code like “OP’s supporting my ideas here”. She could just be a crank looking to form a clique of course.

    6. Tiara Wearing Princess*

      I totally agree. I don’t get why so many here are jumping on the LW.

      As for the president approaching the junior, we don’t know how big the company is, where the junior is in the hierarchy, and how he approached her. Maybe he asked her if everything is ok, wanted to tell her he did hear her input. She denied that it happened. That is just bonkers.

    7. lazy intellectual*

      There is nothing wrong with venting (and possibly telling the truth, which could be the case), but the coworker was dumb to do it on Slack/work messaging platform.

  28. Ann O'Nemity*

    I think the OP would be best served by taking the high road here. The coworker was snarky and juvenile, but it sounds like she has already dealt with her share of blowback – public humiliation and then getting questioned by the president. And denying it only makes her look worse. A confrontation isn’t necessary, and I think it’d be difficult to balance between trying to address her concern (stealing her point) and tipping into accusing her for slacking it to everyone.

  29. Not All*

    My blood pressure went up just reading this letter. There seems to be a significant contingent of upper management who figured out the best way to get there is to blatantly assert ownership of any good idea that comes from a junior (especially when that junior is female) and will adamantly deny—often even to themselves—that that is what they do. Usually they’re good enough at the suck-up/kick-down that their bosses don’t recognize it either. One manpeater-from-hell was a significant part of the reason I jumped at a transfer opportunity awhile back. (Yes, I know it’s not just men who do it…though they get away with it more IME)

    I would bet this isn’t the first time you’ve done this LW.

  30. Lady of Lasers*

    I have become more and more of a fan of directness as I’ve gotten older. I think this is a good opportunity to open the door for a better relationship with this coworker! While it’s possible the letter writer didn’t acknowledge her junior coworker’s idea, the junior comes across as really immature in trying to pretend it didn’t happen, and sounds like she could use guidance on how to navigate conflict.

    Alison’s script is great, but also try to go into it with the idea of opening your coworker up, rather than accusing her. At best she’ll feel safe with you and will bring any future issues with you directly, and at worst she’ll respond badly and double down and you’ll know exactly what kind of person she is.

  31. All Work And No Derby Makes Jill a Dull Girl*

    Wouldn’t be the first time someone had the “I said that 5 mins ago” mood in a meeting. I will admit lying about it when multiple people saw it happen speaks to her character, but maybe there was more going on there. Definitely some opportunities for teaching moments.

    1) Just flat out tell her whether or not she “owns” it or not, others saw and have commented on it (I’m assuming they did). Lying about more trivial things like this hurts her credibility for larger responsibilities. (And maybe this behavior led to her not being taken seriously with her earlier remarks in the meeting).

    2) Review the events of the meeting (if you record audio or meeting minutes, this might be helpful). Maybe you did rephrase what she said. If that was the case did she not effectively communicate her idea(s)? Helping junior team members effectively communicate goes a long way to remove frustration.

    3) If she so early communicated, why did no one remember? Was she ignored? Have you had similar feelings? Recently? Or in the past? Could something more systemic be going on?

  32. Employment Lawyer*

    Did you credit Junior for the comment?

    It’s perfectly appropriate for manager to AMPLIFY what other folks say. (“As Junior noted earlier, I think it’s really important that ___”)

    It’s also common but arguably less appropriate to REPEAT what they said (“I think it’s really important that ___”) without credit. Juniors often get pissed, which is sometimes unwarranted (you may already have thought of that point on your own.)

    My guess is that you did a repeat and that Junior thought you were stealing. If you’re male and Junior is female, I double down on my guess.

    I’d let it go, but I’d also think about the amplify/repeat issue in the future.

  33. Kesnit*

    The Slack post was clearly intended for a specific person and not the group as a whole. Which makes me wonder if this comment was taken out of context. It isn’t impossible to think the two juniors were having a side conversation and the junior in question is the victim of bad timing rather than snark. The comment in question does not directly refer to the LW or what was being said in the main chat. What makes the LW think the comment was actually aimed at her and not part of the side conversation unrelated to her?

    That the LW does think it was aimed at her comes back to what Alison and a lot of other posters have said – that the LW really did repeat what the junior said. But for the sake of argument, let’s say the LW did not repeat the junior. If that’s the case, then the comment would not have been aimed at LW in the first place, removing a lot of the apparent snark. (Or turning the snark onto whoever the junior was talking to.)

  34. HeyIamnewhere*

    If you outrank the snotty commenter, you will probably just have to shake this one off. People lower on the hierarchy than you are going to talk about you behind your back–I don’t think there is any getting around that. And it certainly makes sense to think about where any resentment may be coming from. It’s probably about that person more than it’s about you, but….it might not be! I think this kind of thing comes with being higher on the chain. I’m not sure what you would want to happen here–it’s clearly not OK that she lied about it, but it strikes me as such a small slight. She didn’t call you a jerk, or make fun of your appearance, she just expressed annoyance, which, while MORTIFYING to do in a chat, isn’t a terrible crime. I think anything above the advice given in this post would really be heavy handed.

  35. Delta Delta*

    I’d move on. No amount of talking to this person is going to change what happened, nor will it stop it from happening in the future. In fact, probably what the employee will do is use a different messaging app or will text their coworker from their phone so you can’t see it. I’ve been on a number of zoom calls recently and gotten simultaneous facebook messages from participants saying things like, “I wish Jane would just make her point already!” or “here goes Fergus, restating what’s already been said” or whatever.

    However, if it sticks with you that you made a comment, and the employee said, “I just said that 5 minutes ago” it might be worth looking at whether this is something that happens regularly,and how to make sure to give credit where it’s due. Or, if it’s something that seems to happen to a particular person, make sure to evaluate how you interact with that person so they’re not getting brushed aside.

  36. What the What*

    I was once conducting a training on Zoom and had been screen sharing. One of my colleagues was belaboring some point that I had just finished explaining as the trainer. My husband sent me a Messenger message on Facebook wherein he asked “How is the training going?” and I tabbed over and replied, “Just sitting here listening to John mansplain my profession to me.”

    Still screen sharing.

    I think John was too busy mansplaining to notice, but someone else said, “Sis, you’re still screen sharing.” If John did notice, he thankfully chose not to mention it or confront it. Mortifying. I make sure everything on my computer is CLOSED when I Zoom now.

    1. Mediamaven*

      I made a very similar mistake with my biggest client. I hate Zoom and technology and I don’t want to use it anymore.

    2. automaticdoor*

      Oh noooooo! I have to say I did laugh at this though. Sounds like John totally deserved it.

  37. Observer*

    OP – I’m curious. Why did the President bring up the comment a few days later? To be honest, it sounds like it was making a bigger deal out of it than necessary. Unless there is more context than is in the letter, I’d say that there is not much for you to do here.

  38. Nonsense alert*

    1) Do some good internal soul-searching to determine if you did steal someone’s idea and amplify it as your own.
    2) Someone should make it clear to the slack commenter (her own manager?) that lying about behavior isn’t okay in a professional environment. And those working with her should keep an eye out. This is a red flag.

  39. Heidi*

    The most interesting point in this letter is that because the junior employee denied sending it and no one documented it, OP now feels that the very existence of the event can be called into question. It did happen. There’s no reason to challenged your sense of reality over this.

    As the senior employee, OP could really make Junior squirm over this. There’s something weirdly enjoyable about making people squirm sometimes, but it’s better to handle it in a mature managerial way.

  40. TootsNYC*

    on the Bible study Zoom this weekend, Allen made a point about being “ready to see.” And the pastor didn’t really mention it, and I thought it was a good one! So I added a note quoting him.
    But I was bummed that I didn’t mention him by name (“To Allen’s point:…”).

    I often try to highlight someone’s point that way, and I’ve seen other people do a similar “crediting.”

    In your shoes, I might have replied, “Great minds…” or “sorry I didn’t credit you when I tried to amplify your point”

  41. RoseBud*

    I would take Alison’s advice in the last paragraph to heart. What I haven’t seen mentioned yet is the fact that the message writer meant to send that to *someone.* Not the whole group, obviously, but at least one other person in the organization who she feels would agree with her or had witnessed similar behavior from you on previous occasions.

  42. Analyst Editor*

    I like Alison’s approach of being open to hearing a legitimate grievance but not letting the comment go unnoticed.
    Also, if you’re the manager, it is your prerogative to take your subordinates’ ideas and summarize them. Credit is nice and good for morale but they’re also not entitled to praise for every pearl of wisdom, especially if it’s an observation that is common sense or lots of people can arrive at.

  43. Batgirl*

    I’d open a dialogue without blame and defensiveness, OP. If the junior colleague goes on to be gossipy or rude in the future you can take a harder stance then. For now, from a position of power, I would just take the time to make it clear they can always raise issues with you directly and they don’t have to be coy about messing up. If she denies it even at that point you could possibly say “Well I may have messed up about how similar my point was to yours. I meant to add support but I just repeated you” (Only if that’s true of course). Model the behaviour you want to see.

  44. jk*

    So… did you repeat what she said a moment ago?

    I know you’re above her in rank but you have to consider the fact that her opinion was dismissed and your louder, more authoritative voice gets heard. It’s happened to me in the past as a junior employee and it still happens to me occasionally now.

    Before you say anything to her, check yourself.

  45. Uranus Wars*

    There are times I have definitely thought “why can’t Jane complain about me behind my back like a normal person who is annoyed by their boss?” It’s just a thing that happens – and I agree with some others that this thing doesn’t seem THAT BIG. I mean it always stings when you see it but you realize it’s part of the territory of management/moving up in an organization or in your career.

    The lying is weird, but it’s also weird it was brought up days later, by the President no less. Which could be why OP is still hanging onto it – culture of not letting go?

    I can see this giving me a laugh – I think we all have some mortifying moment in our professional lives. Sure I might also look into my behavior but unless it was part of a big pattern or others had complained about I’d just chalk it up to “Well, everyone learns the hard way” and let it go. I might even share with her my learning experience just to show her it’s no big deal.

  46. teapotcleaner*

    I just had this happen to me last month. I work in a hospital and clean COVID-19 rooms. Our boss had us join a huddle and most coworkers sat at the table and chatted together during the huddle (without social distancing). I am an introvert so I always stand far away. A coworker from the table asked how he would protect his N95 mask from getting soiled as he would most likely be required to reuse it. Another coworker told him in their own table conversation and in Spanish that he can wear a regular mask over the N95 mask. It was a small conversation beetween them during a live huddle. The boss was closer to me and I participated which I never do usually. I chimed in and mentioned that I overheard nursing staff leaders train the nurses on using a regular mask over the N95 when they are going in and out of the room to get supplies in order to protect the mask. My intention for mentioning this was to let my team know that nursing staff is doing this practice so we can be better guided based on their protocols. The boss said the idea was brilliant and told the staff to use a regular mask over the N95 based on nurses doing that. The table erupted and a coworker from the table clique said, “Yeah that’s what Sally said” without making eye contact or anything and with her arms crossed.
    I was surprised at the snotty comment too just like OP and I felt further discouraged from participating in our COVId-19 cleaning huddles. Instead I felt like I should just follow the protocols myself.

    This post is so similar. I can’t believe it happened on a virtual conference.

  47. Argh!*

    Feeling angry about a snarky comment is normal. Not feeling guilty about ignoring a junior member’s contribution is…?

  48. theelephantintheroom*

    I agree with Allison, but I’m also curious to know if there is more going on here.

    As an example, I once worked on a team with a white man and a black woman who worked in the same department. During meetings, he had a habit of talking over her, blaming her for problems, and taking all the credit for things that went well. One day, she made a suggestion on an improvement and, a couple minutes later, he made the same suggestion. At this point, it had been happening often enough that I realized it was probably not an accident. So I said, “Yes, I also think [Susan’s] idea is good. I’d like to test it.” He looked taken aback, which solidified for me that he had been intentionally ignoring her and taking credit for her ideas.

    My point is that this is something minorities in particular often struggle with. We don’t have enough details to know if something similar is going on here, but maybe something for OP to think about if there is.

    That said, your coworker handled it VERY poorly. If something like the above is happening, she should speak to her manager rather than make snarky comments and then deny making them.

  49. jcarnall*

    There are three problems here.

    One is, that LW maybe did repeat what the junior employee said – or close enough to it that the junior employee thought that was what had happened. This could well have happened without any malign intent on LW’s part – the issue repeated could be something that just happened to be on both their notes as a thing to bring up in the meeting. If so, it’s fair for junior employee to feel that she should be credited for *also* bringing it up – and realistic of her to suppose that even though she said it first, the employee with more seniority is likely to get more credit. (No idea how important the issue is or how crucial it was that it was brought up.)

    One-reversed is that junior employee was just wrong and fabulating and what LW said was nothing like what junior employee said. That’s also possible, of course.

    Two is: that junior employee didn’t admit “Yes, I was frustrated, because of what happened, and I said something I shouldn’t have,” when asked about it by the company president. But then I have to ask: why is the company president asking into it? Why not junior employee’s manager, who is surely the best person to ask into what the situation was and tease out what the issue is in point One. But it seems to me that if you are a very new employee and you are asked by the company president about something which you know the president wasn’t a direct witness of, and you worry that you might get into trouble – or fired! – if you admit what you did to the company president, then that’s a set up where a junior employee who is very new to the work world is much more likely to lie on the spur of the moment, not having the experience to realise that a lie even about something very trivial is only going to make things worse. Which is why she should not have been put in that position: she should have been asked about it by her manager as a matter of routine work feedback.

    Three is: Now the junior employee, who may be actually a good employee a bit frustrated that she isn’t getting the credit she deserves for her contributions, has been put in a position where she told a lie to the company president, and that is a bad situation for her to be in, and she’s there because her manager left it for the company president to ask into.

    Anyone with experience of the work world knows that telling a lie to cover up something everyone knows you did, even if there’s no actual physical evidence, is just going to make things worse. Which is why, ideally, you do not put a junior employee in a situation where she might find herself strongly tempted to tell that lie. That’s what I think, anyway.

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