my coworker throws tantrums and women have to soothe him, questions to ask an external recruiter, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Telling friends at work I don’t want to talk about dieting

Personally, I think diets belong in the list of things you shouldn’t discuss at work. I have a history of disordered eating and, while my relationship with food and exercise is mostly healthy now, this topic of conversation makes me wildly uncomfortable still. I, of course, have had to dodge conversations about diets my entire life – why are so many people so obsessed with talking about this? But, lately, I am having a harder time because I have two coworkers who are suddenly very comfortable talking with me about their diets and body loathing and food shame.

One, Sandra, is very chatty in general and doesn’t seem to notice when people are too busy to chat. I don’t really mind her, but she drives my coworkers crazy. She is on a new diet and I know far too much about it because she has this way of trapping me in my office to talk with me about it. The other, Debbie, is amazing – she is one of my best friends. Debbie knows that I have a history of disordered eating, but I am not particularly open about past traumas or my mental health (that’s an understatement – I am very closed off and prefer to keep things light). This one is trickier for me because I care about Debbie and our friendship. I know she has struggled with her weight her whole life and she is frustrated with her own relationship with food. I want to be supportive, but I also want to take this topic off the table. I’d be happy to go for a hike with her or cook together or something food and exercise adjacent.

How do I politely get out of these conversations? I think I need help with a script to shut it down – especially with Sandra, but also with Debbie. Sadly, Sandra and Debbie don’t like each other or else I’d happily just tell them they should talk with each other.

I get so many letters like yours! As unhealthy and as loaded of a topic as diet talk can be, it’s almost like the weather in how easily people default to talking about it. And it’s one thing if people want to obsess over diet with other consenting adults, but they really need to be highly attuned to cues that it’s unwelcome otherwise — especially at work. (And yet they almost never are!)

In any case, for Sandra: “I’ve found it’s healthier for me not to talk about food or diets. I’m always happy to chat with you, but I’ve got a ban on diet talk right now.” Or, “I’ve made a vow to stop the diet talk! What else is going on with you?”

You could use the same language with Debbie, but since she’s your best friend, there’s room to share more if you want to. You could say, for example, “I want to support you, but I’ve found diet talk is really bad for me, given my history. I’d be happy to go for a hike with you or cook together, but I can’t do the diet talk. I hope you understand!”

Read an update to this letter here.

2. What questions should I ask an external recruiter in a job interview?

I’m often in a position where I’m doing a phone screen with an external recruiter —someone who doesn’t work for the company they’re interviewing me for. In these scenarios, I’ve struggled quite a bit to come up with appropriate questions to ask. Most of my go-to questions (biggest challenges for the person in the role, who had it previously and where they went, how they’d describe the culture) wouldn’t go to someone external, and I often get told, “Oh, that’s better to ask the hiring manager.”

Duh, I know that. But of course, it’s important to do due diligence and have questions prepared. What kinds of questions are appropriate to ask someone external, and how can I seem thoughtful and prepared without asking questions that are too specific for that person to answer?

Yeah, anything nuanced about the job or the culture is usually better saved for internal people. Most of what you ask an external recruiter about the job itself usually needs to be pretty basic, like “What are the most important things you’re seeking in this role?” They’re also usually equipped to answer anything logistical — like the likely timeline for making a hire and questions about what the process looks like from here. Also, sometimes you can use the fact that they’re external to your advantage and ask things like, “Is there anything about my background that you think doesn’t match up as well with what they’re looking for?” and “Do you know why the position has been open so long?” (Not that you can’t ask those questions of the hiring manager too — you can — but sometimes an outsider will have an interesting perspective or will be more candid.)

3. My coworker throws tantrums and women have to soothe him

My organization is currently doing a total overhaul to a new software system. There are two administrators for this software, a man (Robin) and a woman (Katie). Previously, there was a different woman (Sally) and the same man, but Sally left for another job and Katie was an internal hire (and I believe Sally and Katie have a friendly relationship outside of the office so I’m sure they discussed the role in depth before she applied). I work in a different department, but I am seated near them so I can see and hear them all day. It’s been a very complex operation, and sometimes I observe Robin getting frustrated and, honestly, he resembles a petulant child when he does. Like, kicking his legs and whining. A less generous person might call it a tantrum.

With both Sally and Katie, I have observed them speaking very softly and gently to him to calm him down, like how a parent would to a child; I have never observed him cool off on his own. Frankly, I strongly suspect that this would not be the case if the other person in his role were a man, and these female administrators have their own jobs to do, which don’t include being his mommy. Robin is an otherwise pleasant person, but it comes across as unprofessional and distracting.

Is this worth saying something about, or is it none of my business if neither Katie nor Sally have complained (to my knowledge)? It seems like a stretch to go to their boss because I’m a pretty junior employee and their direct supervisor is a senior director, but I was considering bringing it up with my manager (another senior director). I was thinking I might wait until it inevitably happened in front of her and asking privately if it seemed odd to her, noting that it happens pretty often.

How junior or senior are you to Robin and Katie? If you’re peer-level or senior to Robin, you could say something right in the moment! You could walk over there and say, “Robin, what you’re doing is very distracting. Could you rein it in?” You could also privately mention to Katie that you see her managing Robin’s tantrums a lot and ask what’s going on. It might help her to get some external reinforcement that this is weird and messed up — and you could tell her you don’t think she should have to manage his emotions and behavior like that.

If you’re junior to them, these aren’t good options. In that case, yes, I’d mention it to your own manager after it happens in front of her. Tell her it happens a lot and you’ve noticed Robin seems to lean on female colleagues to manage his emotions for him, and ask if it seems strange to her. That way, if she’s someone who would be inclined to intervene in some way, she’s got a nudge to do it.

Otherwise, though, because you’re pretty removed from it, I’d leave it to Katie to handle.

4. What’s the best timing for messaging laid-off colleagues?

I have a question about the appropriate way to engage with people who have been laid off or let go. I work for a creative agency, so my question applies to both coworkers and clients. Obviously, there are far more layoffs happening right now, and I want to make sure I’m responding in the right way.

For both coworkers and clients, I have been reaching out as soon as I hear the news about the layoff (usually via LinkedIn, since their email addresses are often suspended as part of the layoff) with a brief private message to say that I’m sorry to hear the news, have enjoyed working with them, and very much hope we’ll work together in future. (The message is personalized with specifics about what I most appreciated about working with them, etc.)

Is that the right approach? Or should I be waiting a week or two before reaching out? I recently came across a LinkedIn posting from one laid-off colleague that suggested they were still reeling from the layoff three weeks after it happened, which made me feel as though sending a message right away might be too much too soon.

I think you’re fine either way. I wouldn’t do it in, say, the same hour as their layoff, because at that point they may not even process your message, and you might be adding to an already overwhelming situation. But later that day or that week are all fine. While it’s true that people can still be reeling weeks later, that doesn’t mean you can’t contact them earlier (and certainly no one wants to be sitting around a few days after their layoff and have heard nothing from anyone).

Also, your messages sound perfect.

5. Can I suggest a client work with me directly when I leave my contracting firm?

For the past few years, I have worked as a freelancer to supplement my stipend while in graduate school. Most of my freelance work has been through a firm, in which clients contact the manager, who puts them in contact with freelancers. Clients pay the firm and the firm pays me, but it is 1099 work. I don’t have a formal contract with the firm, though on the client side, they make it look like we are regular employees. I am not under any sort of contract or non-compete agreement, and the head of the firm has behaved sketchily in the past (not paying me for several months past work done and blaming his accountant, claiming to temporarily shut down operations to avoid giving me more work because of a perceived slight).

I have now graduated and found a job, and I am planning to stop working for the firm and cut back my other freelancing to an occasional project that interests me. I have one remaining client at the firm who I will finish my work with and then accept no more clients. I have been working with this client for almost the entirety of my time at the firm and she is wonderful. I would like to tell her that I am not planning to work for the firm because of my new job, but that I would love to continue working with her on future projects if she wants to work with me directly. I will not mention any of the problems in the firm, nor will I reach out to any other clients from the firm. On the one hand, this feels unethical. On the other, I am not under any agreements with the firm, and given both the sketchy behavior of the firm head, I don’t feel as much of a strong sense of loyalty.

It’s not unethical. You didn’t sign a non-compete agreement. You’re free to let her know you’re moving on but still available if she wants to keep working with you directly. Then it’s up to her to decide if she wants to do that. You’re both free agents, with no agreements (written or otherwise) to the contrary.

This would be true even if your current firm weren’t sketchy, but you should especially have no qualms since they are. (Shutting down operations to avoid giving you work because of a perceived slight?!)

{ 375 comments… read them below }

  1. Flyleaf*

    OP5, even though you don’t have a non-compete, your client might have a non-solicit with your former employer. That might prevent your client from hiring you, or if the client does hire you, it might require that they pay your former employer a fee.

    In addition, your former client might have rules against hiring contractors directly in order to avoid issues related to the distinction between contractors and employees. I have worked for companies where we were required to use a sourcing firm to provide any contracting resources, even if we found those contractors ourselves.

    1. MK*

      The client might say no for a number of reasons, the OP can only ask politely. I think the one concern in this situation is that, if the company finds out, it will torpedo the OP’s relationship with them. It sounds as if the OP might be ok with that, but if there is a chance she will want to work with them in the future, it’s something to think about.

      1. Kes*

        To add to this, not only will it torpedo the relationship but given their past behaviour (shutting down operations to avoid giving OP work) they may come after OP or set out to harm them as much as possible. I would just be aware of this possibility

    2. T2*

      Allison is correct. You don’t have a noncompete, so you simply say, as of date X I will no longer be working with X. If you would like to continue working with me, here is how.

      I have done that many times.

    3. Part Cheesy*

      Right. The real answer to these questions is always: “Consult a lawyer.”

      1. Anononon*

        Why? I am all for consulting a lawyer – I tell people to do it all the time in my job. However, in this case, what is the reason for OP to do so? If she doesn’t have any type of contract with her ex-firm, there would be nothing for a lawyer to review. For private businesses, there are no statutory non-compete laws (I have no idea as to government entities, so I’m not saying either way).

    4. The Engineer*

      “your former employer”

      Nope. OP5 is not an employee. OP5 is a contractor. The “former employer” is that is a general sense but correctly referred to as a client of OP5.

  2. OP #1*

    OP #1 here!

    Alison, thank you! Even just reading your response made me feel better about it, and good timing as my office starts thinking about reopening. We’re all working from home and I haven’t spoken with Sandra since March (our roles have very little overlap).

    Looking forward to reading what your commenters have to say on this topic.

    1. Jane Plough*

      Good luck in dealing with your colleagues! The only place where I disagree with Alison’s advice is where she suggests saying to Sandra: “I’m always happy to chat with you”.

      Sandra sounds exhausting, frankly, quite aside from the diet talk, and so there’s also nothing wrong with telling her you’re too busy to chat full stop. She sounds quite un-self-aware and it would be a kindness to help her realize that her habit of chatting to everyone at work even when they don’t want to, is annoying to her colleagues. You needn’t be in a situation where she is trapping you in your office with non-work chat, and you do have the power, and the right, to shut it down.

      1. OP #1*

        You completely nailed Sandra! I truly don’t mind her although you’re right, she is not self-aware. She overshares, doesn’t seem to pick up on social cues when her coworkers are clearly busy, and has some work-related issues, too. I think I don’t mind her because our jobs don’t overlap much and I am in and out of the office a lot with off-site meetings, so I only get her in small doses. But, the coworker she sits next to is driven to absolute madness and she should say something (so, perhaps, I will to take one for the team). Unfortunately, I end up feeling sorry for her because Debra and coworker #3 say terribly mean things behind her back (another thing I’ve been meaning to mention to Debra – she is never mean to me, but if she ever talked about me the way she talked about other people… oof). Her Facebook conversations were ever released to the public she’d be embarrassed.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          she is never mean to me, but if she ever talked about me the way she talked about other people …

          She may never be mean to your face, but I would say it’s reasonably likely that she DOES talk about you the way she talks about other people. =/ If they’ll do it *with* you, they’ll do it *to* you, as the saying goes.

          1. Kettricken Farseer*

            This 8000%

            OP, don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re exempt from Debra’s gossip.

        2. EvilQueenRegina*

          Speaking as someone who sat opposite a Sandra for three years in my last job, I definitely think the small doses thing is what helps you not mind her, I remember saying the same thing about my Sandra to coworkers at the time. My Sandra liked to rant about her ailments and her exes, and while some people would get the rant once, I would get it about eleven times because she’d tell the same story again every time someone new walked in the room. She also had no concept of the fact that sometimes it just wasn’t the right time to start that conversation e.g. pouncing on a social worker on the way to visit a child and launching into her rants about what her ex partner was posting on Facebook.

          How is her immediate neighbour’s relationship with her generally? While I see what you are saying, my Sandra would NOT have taken it from me (she had once wrongly blamed me for her getting into trouble over an unauthorised absence and our relationship never really recovered). I do know that our manager tried to address it with her once and all that achieved was a whole day of ranting about the manager.

        3. Observer*

          In that case, I would be VERY cautious around Debra. Some venting is one thing. “Terribly mean” things are another.

          If you are up to calling it out when it happens, that would be a good thing to do.

        4. JSPA*

          You certainly CAN mention diet talk being problematic, but alternatively, you can skip that, and use the situation to your advantage.

          “These days, I just don’t have the bandwidth. Eat what you feel like eating, or don’t. But leave me out of the stress and discuss part.”

          “With everything going on in the world, my stress and obsess calendar is full.”

          “Look around you, and count your blessings.” (Normally rude…but that assumes you don’t want to shut someone down. In this case, you’re looking to do exactly that, without giving overt offense.)

          Will this make you seem a little less welcoming? A little more preoccupied? A little more prickly? Maybe! But if you don’t want to be the office Agony Aunt, there are worse reputations to have.

          Friends with sharp tongues don’t generally exempt anyone, BTW. I differ in assuming that this means they can’t be friends, or have friends. (People were friends with Oscar Wilde, knowing they’d be skewered, and finding it worthwhile, all the same.)

          If you can take a, “that’s her own insecurity talking / that’s just how she is / that’s how she processes her reactions” attitude, great. Maybe it will help her find her way out of vicious comments and out of food-adjacent self-hatred, concurrently. But if you really would not be her friend if she said things about you, you…might not need to invest that much extra effort into the friendship. Dishers dish; it’s what they do.

      2. Kes*

        Agreed, that was the one part I disagreed with as well – don’t tell Sandra you’re always happy to chat with her if you actually feel trapped or exhausted by her – just tell her you don’t have time to chat

    2. Raising an otter villiage*

      I’m so glad you wrote in, OP! I could have written this letter. Except, I’m very junior and the dieters of the office are as senior as possible, and we are in an open office, so even if they aren’t speaking with me I hear the diet talk. *eyeroll*

      What bugs me the most is that we actually have a policy against it, but it’s senior staff breaking the policy so no one does anything.

      Alison’s rebuttals are helpful though. Despite being very junior, our office culture is such that I think I can say them without issue. I might be seen as odd and a little antagonistic, but I don’t think it would have longterm negative impacts.

      1. OP #1*

        I was really curious to know if other offices have policies addressing this – very interesting! If I were the big boss, I’d make it so. My question was going to be if I should ask the big boss to address this, but I changed my mind. Direct communication with the offenders makes more sense, and, to your point, it may not be enforced anyway!

        1. Washi*

          I have kind of mixed feelings about an official no diet talk policy. On the one hand, I appreciate the awareness by management that it can be very unpleasant or even harmful to some people (I absolutely hate it!) On the other hand, most offices don’t have policies at all about what topics you can and can’t talk about, and despite my hatred of diet and weight loss discussions, I think a policy like that might feel a little draconian. I think if management really wanted to create a better office atmosphere, they would try to be attuned to this kind of thing and speak privately to anyone who is going overboard with the chatting about any subject. To take another example, if someone was talking about factory farming in a graphic way, you wouldn’t ban as vegetarianism as a topic, but speak to that person about reining it in. (I say this as a vegetarian!)

          1. SomebodyElse*

            I’m just curious what that policy would look like.

            The problem with diet discussions is that it’s both really subjective and it’s related to a lot of different topics.

            Ex: “I went to a great new restaurant last night, they had a ton of Keto options”
            “I have family coming round next weekend so I wanted to test out my new recipe, the original version is super high calorie, so I’m testing out some lower calorie ingredient substitutions”

            While none of those are the same as someone detailing their calorie log or discussing the new and improved lose weight fast super diet, both could be considered ‘diet talk’

            Eh… it seems like one of those things that looks good on paper but totally unenforceable.

            1. Raising an otter villiage*

              Very good points! It has proven to be unenforceable, and though I’ve never seen it myself, I assume people pushed back on it.

              We are a human services org working primary with teen girls. Staff were talking with their clients about dieting and weight loss, and that was put to a stop (or, a good effort was made).

              You’re right that it isn’t effective or productive to attempt to police conversation topics. You’ve made me realize that I don’t want the policy to be enforced, but I do want my coworkers to have the wherewithal to stop on their own. It is baffling to me that an expert on child welfare can be so clueless about forcing other people listen to her body-hatred.

            2. Jemima Bond*

              Not sure about enforceable policies but I reckon it’s easy not to be a diet-bore with both of this examples, by stopping talking earlier. “I went to a really great restaurant last night” or “I want to test out a new recipe for xyz”. Or by providing non-diet details like “the restaurant had a lovely Lebanese dish I’ve never tried before” or “my dad loves fruit desserts so I better make sure it’s good haha”

              1. Indigo a la mode*

                As somebody who loves to cook and loves to talk about cooking, I’d be sad if I could never say something more than the fact of “I’m making a new recipe tonight.” I like to try different versions of recipes–vegan, GF, healthier/lower-cal, halal, paleo, diabetic-friendly–because I like to be able to have options to serve people with different dietary needs. I don’t think talking about that makes me a bore. It’s part of what makes food exciting, and food is a huge part of culture, family, tradition, etc.

                That said, I know my audience. My younger coworkers engage with learning about new ways to cook things. People who are open about their dietary differences are great sources of learning for me. But if someone told me they were uncomfortable with it for any reason (or no reason), I’d never talk about it with them again. I think this calls less for a blanket statement of “talking about food is bad” than it augments our social compact of “don’t be a boor.”

                1. JSPA*

                  Discussing food in relation to body, and to shame, and to what one should or should not eat (and more specifically, not telling others what they should or should not eat, or commenting on their bodies) is pretty much in line with “no discussing how clothes fit, with reference to body parts.”

                  Whether it’s “those pants make your/my butt look big” or “that cupcake will go straight to your/my hips,” that’s not “talking about the clothes I like” or “talking about the food I like.” It’s “talking about body issues, though the lens of fashion or food.”

                  If you are uncomfortable because people eat, and occasionally mention having eaten too much or too little or an allergen (or because clothes exist and don’t always fit comfortably), that’s on you, to get help with issues.

                  If you are uncomfortable because you’re dealing with extended performances of self-hatred or dysmorphia (even if filtered through food and diet), it’s much more reasonable to ask that they take their concerns, issues, and projections to a different audience.

              2. A*

                This is an extreme that is not helpful to any parties involved. I suffered from anorexia when I was younger – inpatient treatment for 4+ months, the whole shebang, and what OP is talking about was a HUGE issue for me for the first several years of my career (which was ~4 years post-treatment as I was able to return to my college). I used to pushback in small ways, ask it not to be discussed etc. etc. but after several years I realized that my triggers were just as strong as before – I was enabling them.

                I will speak up if it’s extreme – like extended calorie counting talk, or direct questions about my weight/fitness – but those are SUPER rare occurrences. Otherwise I practice my own coping mechanisms, breathing exercises, and essentially looked at it as exposure therapy. Even if that talk was eliminated from the office, it still exists in the general public. 5 years later, I’m in such a better place with my triggers and I attribute it solely to this.

                The reasonable accommodation of my triggers ends where it impedes others on standard day-to-day stuff. Including people’s abilities to talk about their recipes, diet and food preferences, etc.

              3. Eukomos*

                I would be nervous that the “I want to try this new recipe” would get construed as diet talk and get me in trouble with a policy like that. It seems like the result would be people getting uncomfortable talking to their coworkers if such a policy were seriously enforced. Asking if you can pick up a coffee for anyone else while you run down to the coffee shop would become fraught. This seems like a situation where problematic diet talk should be handled by people’s managers on a case by case basis rather than putting a really broad blanket policy like that in place.

              4. Kiwi with laser beams*

                Same. I’m not triggered by either of those examples, but I have a dietitian for an obesity-related illness and both of those things are more diet-talky than any conversation I’ve had in his office, so if someone said those things to me, I’d turn the conversation to the non-keto/calorie parts of what they were saying.

    3. Liberty*

      Lots of conversations tips available from non-diet dietitians online…can’t link here but Alissa Rumsey has a good blogpost on How to Respond to Diet Talk or How to Explain Intuitive Eating to a Friend (not directly what you are asking but has phrasing you could use)
      I am in a similar position as you and I usually just don’t engage or say “I don’t do dieting, so nothing I can really add to this conversation, sorry!” and try to change the subject or walk away. If its a friend, I would be more personal and say that “I’ve struggled with body image / dieting in the past and done a lot of work to move past it but talking about dieting isn’t good for me. (If you are anti-diet like me, you can add) Happy to chat about the things I have learned and what has been helpful for me but its probably the opposite of what you want to hear!”

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        Agreed. You don’t even have to go into the “I can’t talk about diets because of [however much detail you want to give about your past].” This isn’t a situation where you have to go to “can’t” – you can stick to “don’t like.”

        Just be like “sorry, I hate diet talk.” If she presses, go “I’m just not interested in talking about diets.” Next time she brings it up, be like “c’mon, you know I don’t talk about diets/hate diet talk – how’s about that [subject change].”

        1. Carlie*

          There’s also “Diet talk is really boring.”, followed by “I’ll come back when we’re talking about something more interesting” if needed, or “…and I have a lot of work to do, so I’ll talk to you later.”

      2. OP #1*

        I really like your line “I don’t do dieting, so nothing I can really add to this conversation, sorry!” because it likely wouldn’t invite further questions or speculation from Sandra! It also may not work on Sandra, but it is worth a try!
        I will check out Alissa Rumsey! I am actually a former nutritionist/almost dietitian and I worked in the field for a few years before switching gears, so I think sometimes my problem is that people see me as someone with some expertise. I took it off my LinkedIn and I don’t mention it anymore. When I asked about my career path, I always say I was in public health before since most people don’t make the leap to community nutrition.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Mercifully, my coworkers are not inclined to talk about this kind of stuff but, yeah, I’m with you in general in thinking that it needs to be in league with religion and politics in terms of “conversation topics that should be handled with care”. I’ve found that stubbornly and persistently having NOTHING TO SAY ON THE SUBJECT does help train people out of bringing it up with me, though.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I have a long, difficult history with anorexia and find any discussion of restrictive diets or watching weight really triggering at work or socially. It’s not helped by the fact that I’m fat and a lot of people seem to think they’re ‘helping’ by telling me their diets or weight loss tips. (They’re not. At all)

      I’ve developed a ‘that’s not a subject I want to talk about’ message, followed by ‘I don’t want to discuss it ever’ if people persist. I’ll also walk away to another room/area if it keeps coming.

      It feels scary at first to give a hard ‘no’ to a conversation topic. The benefits of not having triggering things said around you after are much higher though. Wish you all the luck.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I’m going to advocate for learning to deliver a hard “no” on this. I *don’t* have a rocky history with weight and food, but I am convinced that the biggest reason I don’t is that I wasn’t subjected to a lot of food, weight, and diet talk when I was a kid/teenager. I know in retrospect that my mother occasionally dieted but she never, ever, mentioned it to us, and I am eternally, inexpressibly grateful for that.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I got a lot of my attitude from dealing with a now ex-friend at work who repeatedly told me I *had* to lose weight or my health would suffer, and that I couldn’t have ever had anorexia since I was fat. I lost my temper but also lost my fear of harsh ‘no’.

          1. Them Boots*

            Oh. My. Gosh! I would ex your ex-friend too! Wow!! That was an abominably mean/rude/self-absorbed thing(s) to say!!!!!! I grew up with an older sister (now licensed dietician) who went through some pretty significant eating issues. There was a good age gap between us so I was old enough to observe but not close enough to get caught up. Put me off diet fads & programs forever. She got help and is so much healthier in her relationship with food, and her teenage kids are amazingly well balanced about food & fitness, so I am really proud of her and her ability to not parent/coach them the way she was! BUT it gave me an awareness of how difficult the whole mess can be. I don’t do food judgements, and can & will shut them down. For your ex-friend to not acknowledge your initial “Not interested” and to then ultimately follow up a very personal sharing & trust like you did with such an imbecilic response. Floored. Unfriend. What an asinine thing to say/believe! I am so sorry! Sending you hugs if you want them!

          2. Tabby*

            As a fellow fat woman, I HATE this. And no amount of ‘A lot f my family members, fat AND slim, have diabetes (father, and BOTH grandmothers) and various types of arthritis, and uterine fibroids (also inheritable, so far as I have been able to research), so I would have gotten all three at some point in my life, no matter how much I weigh (I was told by a doctor that it was a matter of when, not if, I would show signs of diabetes, and fibroids.).’, here they come, telling me I have to get thin to avoid them. Funnily enough, until 3 years ago, I’ve always been metabolically obnoxiously healthy. And even now, my bloodwork shows a bare dip into diabethes, as I eat mostly vegetarian, and very little high-fat items, though I am very much a sweets hound sometimes.

      2. May*

        Just popping in to say friend speaks my mind. I’m also currently fat, but previously almost lost my life to anorexia…. it’s a terribly difficult line to manage. People don’t even consider the fact that someone overweight might have those triggers or genuinely suffered from such a condition.

      3. Curmudgeon in California*

        I don’t have anorexia, but I do have a disordered relationship with food. I’m fat, so I always get the concern trolling and “sharing” of diets tips. A lot of my issues are around dieting, calorie counting, and portion control. My reaction to them is not healthy at all.

        I will start with “I don’t want to talk about diet and weight loss”. If they really push it, they get my rant about the diet-exercise-medicine industry, in all it’s vitriol and glory, including calling them suckers for participating, etc. Fortunately, it seldom gets that far.

        I don’t have a problem with people saying “I follow an X diet, so I don’t eat Y.” It’s the same to me as saying “I’m allergic to Y”. But if they start saying “I follow an X diet, so I don’t eat Y. You should too, because A, B, C.” I shut it down hard. If it persists, I have to disengage before I get irate. If I can’t disengage, I don’t hold back. (It really grinds my gears.)

        1. Them Boots*

          Bravo!!!! I’m with you on that. Diet proselytizing is just as wrong in a workplace/ most social situations as religious proselytizing

          1. Alexandra Lynch*

            On both my faith and my diet, I’ll talk about them if someone asks, but my religion forbids proselytizing, and my diet is pretty unique owing to my food intolerances, and not what people would target on as being a “diet”. But both work fine for me.

    5. T2*

      OP1. A simple, “Sally, Sorry, I don’t want to talk about this.” Would be fine.

      Simple, direct and if said in a kind tone is not rude.

      1. T2*

        OP, I also need to comment on the request for a script.

        Honestly I have found that being very clear in what you need is the simplest way to get what you need. There are many people who would have trouble understanding what you need because they can’t take a hint.

        In your case, it seems to me your needs are 1.) you don’t want to be a part of that particular conversation. And 2) you don’t want to invite further speculation as to why you feel that way. A third need is to not hear it at all, but that one is really on you.

        I would advise trying to learn to tune out of Conversations you are not a part of.

        I am really sorry for your suffering.

    6. Moi*

      OP1 I feel for you. I never realized how prevalent diet talk and self-body shaming is until my daughter developed an eating disorder. It would be so amazing if these topics became taboo in our culture. I’m trying to be an advocate for the fact that there are many different ways to be beautiful. I may use some of these scripts.

      1. juliebulie*

        “I never realized how prevalent diet talk and self-body shaming is until my daughter developed an eating disorder.”

        Funny you should mention this. Just last week my sister and I were griping about how fat we are. My 14-yo niece said, with annoyance, “you’re not fat, either of you.” And then my sister and I both realized how harmful it could be to always be talking that way, especially around a young woman.

        So, we’re gonna stop that.

    7. snowglobe*

      From a different perspective, Debbie is one of your best friends, and she already knows about your history. If she is a caring friend, then she would want to know if she is doing something that is hurting you! She’ll probably feel bad that she didn’t figure it out on her own, but I’m sure she’ll feel compassionate towards you and stop the diet talk immediately.

      1. OP #1*

        Yes, you are totally right. She has some body image/food-related issues herself (very different than mine) and I think I felt obligated to find a balance between supporting her and myself, but she has other friends!

    8. Boldly Go*

      With one of my friends it’s not diet talk related, but covid talk related, and honestly Alison’s script can be used for many situations. Stating rules like “x is off the table, how about the Mets” . My friends and I have been doing socially distance walks and we’ve been pretty good about talking about anything but covid.

    9. Cedarthea*

      I experience the same in my office (which is nearly all women, we work in childcare). I am fat, and also have a history of disordered eating, and so it can be so tough.

      I’ve found the writing of “Your Fat Friend” to be so helpful to assist me in finding the words I need to say when I am struggling with a colleague who won’t get the hint.

      I wish you good luck in finding a safe space in your office, because you deserve it!

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        YFF is fantastic. Another really good resource for responding to diet talk is Ragen Chastain of Dances With Fat.

      2. une autre Cassandra*

        Your Fat Friend is so, so eloquent about this stuff. Good recommendation.

    10. Koala dreams*

      My advice would be to tell Sandra that you don’t have time to chat. “I’ve work to do, see you later” and then turning to your computer and ignore her chatting. The next time, you can say that you don’t have time for chatting and ask her to be quiet as the constant talking is very distracting to you. You can preface with a softening comment if you think it’s needed (It was nice chatting with you, for example).

      With Debbie, you should be more direct as you value her friendship. Debbie, I value your friendship, but diet and exercise talk brings up painful memories for me. I can’t continue to talk with you about these topics. I’m happy to talk with you about hiking and cooking (or whatever interests you do want to talk about). I hope you understand!

      In my personal experience, too much venting about any topic can destroy a friendship. It’s smart of you to realize that you need to say something to Debbie now, while your friendship is still strong. It’s more difficult as time goes on. I’ve lost a few friends that way as the person caught up in venting.

    11. Retail not Retail*

      I have a work nemesis okay. Like can’t stand each other, manage to work together.

      He is obsessed with his weight. I asked him to stop talking about it to me using an Alison type script. Wow i’m mature! He agreed but then the next day said it was important to discuss it, it’s a hobby so he wasn’t going to stop.

      He did though? So he’s just contrary. He kept trying to one up me on steps recorded by our phones until I said I never check any more, it makes me anxious.

      If my nemesis that I have gone to HR about twice can stop, these coworkers can stop. We’re in a less professional environment too.

    12. Champagne Cocktail*

      Good luck to you! It’s an awkward conversation. With the way women’s bodies are constantly policed, it’s become standard to not be happy with how we look and it’s virtuous for some reason to be on a diet and/or fitness program all the time.

      I also believe it’s something that should be kept out of the office.

    13. HoHumDrum*

      I have honestly never found a good way to shut down body talk and diet talk. I think that in my situation part of the issue is that I am pretty slender, and so I’ve found that people especially don’t want to hear me talk about body positivity or ditching the diet. I do understand, skinny privilege means that those statements sound hollow, hypocritical, and oblivious coming from me, but I have struggled with disordered eating in the past and diet/body talk really does upset me/cause me harm. I think Allison’s scripts will be really helpful, I definitely have the tendency to feel I have to justify my wants (“Please don’t do diet talk around me *because* it’s harmful etc etc”) vs just stating them outright, and I’m sure that’s why I’ve struggled with this in the past- no one likes being scolded or proselytized to, and especially not by someone who seems oblivious to their privilege.

      Does anyone have a suggestion for what to say in the moment when people assign moral value to food/eating? Like about going on about how bad carbs or sugar or whatever is? That feels slightly different than diet talk, or at least responding “Let’s not talk about your diet” doesn’t feel like it would fit exactly, in response to those types of comments. When people go in on a certain food I usually just shrug and state the function it fulfills, “Well carbs are brain food, you must be doing a lot of thinking if you’re craving them” but that doesn’t seem like it lands well most of the time.

      I should say this question is very timely for me- I have a coworker who does a lot of body/diet talk that’s upticked since they’re stuck at home. A lot of meetings have extended talk about this person’s body and how unworthy they are of food. I finally snapped and fell back into the body positivity speech recently, and I know this person did not appreciate it, so I’m thankful to get Allison’s scripts so I can do better next time.

      1. Allonge*

        For the moral value to food – Captain Awkward says be boring about it. Don’t agree, don’t disagree. Just do the, hmm, sure, whatever type of reaction. In a work context this type of talk is almost always a digression from actual work, so in most cases the subject change that follows should not be a problem.

        Hope this link works – TW eating disorder, family troubles:

      2. Koala dreams*

        Oh, I don’t believe in food being good and evil. What about (other topic)?

        If they continue despite you telling them kindly to stop, you can either choose the “Don’t have time to chat, see you later” strategy (very easy on the phone or computer, just disconnect after saying good bye), or if they are people you trust and value, you can have the direct conversation: I don’t believe in good and evil food, and I don’t appreciate when you proselyte to me about it. I can’t talk about that topic with you any more. I value your friendship and I’m happy to speak about (other topics).

      3. JSPA*

        Go meta. “I think we displace a lot of anxiety onto food, especially when the world is crazy.”

        I mean, a) it’s true. b) stepping back is helpful and healthy. c) you might have an actual substantive conversation instead, but more likely, you’ll share platitudes, and then sit with your own thoughts on the matter, which is just FINE for work. d) it’s a kindness to the person two desks over who’s not in the conversation, but is seeing red, because they’re dealing with traumatic circumstances (death, racism) while coworkers obsess about…cellulite and half-cupcakes.

    14. Probably Taking This Too Seriously*

      I am someone who knows everything there is to know about dieting. I have plenty of issues, dating back to when my mother told me to “stop” when I hit 100 lbs at age 12, because that was the perfect weight. I used to talk a lot about diets. Getting gentle pushback helped me understand that this is not a topic for public discussion. I think all of the social cues that people give indicating they don’t want to engage are really important because otherwise, we end up perpetuating what’s very unhealthy thinking and conversation,

    15. Autistic AF*

      I appreciate you writing in – TW for diet talk/mental illness story…
      I worked for an org with a very dated corporate culture. They had a “biggest loser” competition every January – I’ve gained weight due to myriad mental health problems over the years and I’d rather be alive and fat. Last December/early January was extremely busy for my department, and my grandboss come by my pod one afternoon to thank us for dealing with it (constant spontaneous meetings and open office environment, ugh). He brought a box of chocolates… And then proceeded to tell us about how he was enrolling in said biggest loser competition. I’m not fond of food rewards in general, but how a food reward followed by anti-food talk not cringeworthy?

      The conversation meandered to one of my colleagues talking about how she participated previously but gained the weight back, and my immediate supervisor talking about the person who won last year being quite thin and not needing to lose the weight. At that point I couldn’t handle it anymore, said the conversation was making me uncomfortable, and turned back to my desk. The worst of it is that I got in trouble for making everyone uncomfortable and allegedly making it about me. This BS does not exist within a vacuum and finding another job was a massive relief.

    16. Leslie Hell Knope*

      One thing that has always, and I mean ALWAYS, worked for me is to respond with a feminist perspective on diet culture, usually including the quote by Naomi Wolf: “A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.”
      It is truly a win-win: hopefully, it makes the co-worker look at the whole thing from another perspective; if not, I end up as the feminist preacher (a label I embrace with glee) that they will be sure to avoid when discussing such topics in the future. It. Does. Not. Fail!
      Good luck, OP!

  3. Cady Heron*

    I’ve been Katie soooo many times in my career. And I hate it because I don’t *want* to soothe the ego of my male coworkers, but if I don’t then they’ll carry on for far too long and not get anything done, which delays the project and therefore my work. So technically it’s more time efficient for me to talk them down than it is to wait out their tantrum. But I shouldn’t have to do it and I hate that it’s expected of me (and other women in my field, I see this dynamic a lot).

    Just having someone pull me aside and privately tell me “Hey I see you and I’m sorry you have to do that” honestly means a lot of me. In my case it’s always been another woman and I appreciate the feeling of solidarity.

    1. Myrin*

      Oooh, letter 3 (and the fact that the situation exists at all) infuriates me!

      For whatever it’s worth, and to anyone who might find themselves in Katie’s/Sally’s situation, I absolutely think it’s worth it to resist the urge to try and sooth/smooth things over. I discovered this totally on accident because I’m pretty unemotional and “cold” regarding feelings which is not always the best thing but does help me out every once in a while. I have a (female, coincidentally, but it’s definitely something I see way more often in men) coworker who grumbles and whines and behaves much like Robin. But since I didn’t know how to react and at the same time found it mighty annoying (and also, I was concentrating on something else), I only “hmmm”-ed twice and then simply didn’t react at all to it any further. She eventually calmed down because she didn’t get any reaction out of me. I only realised in hindsight what had happened and I’ve been doing that ever since although luckily it hasn’t happened often since then. So I would always advice people in Katie’s situation to disengage, hard as it may be – I can almost guarantee that it will taper off naturally after some time, excruciating as that time may be with a five-year-old in an adult’s body right next to you.

      None of that helps the OP, of course who is only a bystander. I like Alison’s suggestion to talk to your own manager but I disagree slightly with her first point – I think that even for a junior coworker (especially one from a different department, so Robin might not even know your exact position) it’s perfectly fine to approach someone in one’s immediate vicinity when that person is whining, kicking their legs (!), and causing a general disturbance like that. You don’t need to read him the riot act or anything but I do think that it’s not inappropriate to ask someone who’s making a nuisance of themselves whether they could tone it down a little.

      1. Myrin*

        Ack, sorry Cady, I didn’t mean for this to be a reply to your comment! But I guess it fits thematically, anyway.

      2. Avasarala*

        I’m not saying OP should do this. But if I saw a grown man kicking his legs and whining like a big baby, I would have trouble keeping my reaction off my face. Or maybe laughing. Or maybe reaching the end of my rope and asking Robin to stop acting like a big baby.

        I do think it would be a kindness to talk to Katie privately and show solidarity. Even talk to your own boss or other people with clout in the org. Even aside from the sexism (which is hard to get changed sometimes), the blatant unprofessionalism is definitely something you can push back on.

        1. Lentils*

          I agree. I was actually surprised by Alison’s last line noting that maybe the OP leave it be. Staying quiet in the face of clearly sexist behavior serves as a tacit acceptance of Robin’s tantrums. Staying silent is not the same as staying neutral or “above the fray.” Obnoxious but clearly harmless gossip or minor office drama? Sure, ignore. Sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, antisemitism? Do something.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Yeah, OP, if you see it yourself then you have enough right there. Temper tantrums are not professional and there is an additional layer of leaning on women to help calm down. This is two-in-one, OP. You can start the conversation by describing Robin’s behavior. And you can say, “He seems to calm down when Katie talks to him, but Predecessor also had to do the same thing- talk to him and help him calm down. There seems to be a reliance on women to help him handle his emotions.”

            All that is happening here is that real help for Robin is being delayed. The problem will continue on until Robin gets the real help. And that real help can be as simple as a boss saying, “This is inappropriate in ANY workplace and it needs to stop as of right now.”

          2. Colette*

            If the OP is junior, she risks professional consequences if she speaks up. Maybe she should speak up anyway, but there is potentially a price she may not be willing to pay.

          3. Observer*

            If the OP is junior, it’s kind of ridiculous to expect her to be the one to speak up and do something. If she does speak up, more power to her. But being quiet in this context is NOT “tacit acceptance”.

          4. Dust Bunny*

            Some times tacit acceptance is all you have, but it doesn’t mean it’s tacit acceptance that this behavior is OK, just that the OP is not in a position to do anything about it. And it may be that Katie and Sally tried to address it but were hamstrung by their own bosses and given the option of appeasing Robin or finding other jobs, and that this is the State Of Things in this workplace.

          5. AKchic*

            I agree. The OP can bring it up to her boss as a “look, this is a distraction for me when Robin does action X. I appreciate Katie running interference to calm him down so quickly, much like Sally did, but he is still doing Actions X, Y, Z loud enough to be disruptive. Can I wear headphones/move further away/ask him in the moment to stop doing that or can someone else step in and see the situation with fresh eyes?”

            Don’t bring up how it feels like a child’s temper tantrum, or how Katie and Sally have been relegated to work mommies soothing the overgrown toddler in order to minimize his tantrums so they can get him back on track and get the work done. Just highlight the distraction, that it’s distracting, that you appreciate Katie’s willingness to do what Sally did to minimize the distraction, but it’s still a distraction/disruption to your workflow, and you’d like it to stop.

          6. JSPA*

            Robin’s behavior is problematic, but not sexist; or at least, we don’t know that Robin doesn’t do this when home alone, or when seated next to guys.

            Katie/Sally’s reactions may be gendered, but they’re also not intrinsically sexist; or at least, we don’t know that Katie and Sally would not “talk down” Khadija with as much compassion as they do, Robin.

            This is NOT a reporting issue for “sexism.” It’s only a “professionalism” issue; and as such, it’s for the line of command to handle.

      3. Lady Heather*

        Yes – I’ve mastered the noncommittal ‘Okay’/’Right’/’Uh-uh’, just like you have the ‘hmm’. The one that says ‘I hear your complaint, and since you weren’t asking me anything, I’m going to go back to work now’. It’s extremely effective – both in not letting the other’s behaviour bother you, and in some cases in lessening the other’s behaviour.

      4. Yeah_I know*

        My own inclination (in any relationship, not just work) is to want to immediately smooth things over, but the times when I have had the presence of mind to think, “This is not my problem to fix!” and simply reply blandly and leave it at that – so much easier! And pretty soon the person became embarrassed of their behavior all on their own.

    2. T2*

      My reaction as a male, depends on my position relative to them.

      If I am junior I say to my manager, I want you to be aware of this situation because it is unusual. And document what you saw and move on. Just report the facts, not speculate on what caused it.

      If I am equal, I say “Robin, please knock it off. You look like an infant when you do that, and if you don’t, I am going to have to say something.”

      And if I am senior to them, I say “Robin, knock off the unacceptable behavior immediately.”

      If I am their manager, I say “Robin, you are now on a 30 day PIP. If I see that again or hear anything like it, you are done here”

      The fact that Katie is a woman is immaterial really, other than the obvious gender politics. But Frankly, if she were a man, it would not make a difference.

      Finally, as an IT person myself, i would question the judgement of anyone and I do mean anyone who would throw a tantrum because they have a software problem. Computer systems do not have feelings. They aren’t out to get you. To correct them you need a calm head to think straight.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        Throwing your laptop or phone and breaking it is not going to make it work better. That said, you can always wait out the tantrum like most parents will do. It’s difficult especially if you need something from the trantrum thrower.

      2. Vina*

        The fact that Katie is female is why he’s doing it. It’s directly material.

        My guess is that you have never had this directed at you. You frame this as a thousand not experience.

        As a middle aged woman, I’ve experienced male fits to get attention so many times I can’t remember even 1\10 of them.

        This is about gender.

        1. T2*

          You are correct. This is something about gender. However to me why is irrelevant. lol his behavior is completely unacceptable in all respects.

          In my opinion women have to deal with far too much of this crap.

          I simply don’t care what his feelings are towards his female colleagues. He should treat everyone with respect or face the consequences. I do after all care that a welcoming professional environment is maintained for all.

          1. kt*

            Sure, but he doesn’t get consequences, and his female colleagues do. If they calm him down, they have to do extra work. If they don’t calm him down, their work is disrupted and they have to do extra work.

            My husband talks a lot like you (“They should just be held to standards!”) and that’s, well, a great theoretical, but I still left my last job because of misbehavior that may rise to the level of financial mismanagement with a gendered component, and none of those people have been punished despite working for a state agency governed by a rigorous set of laws. “It shouldn’t be that way!” is a fine intellectual first step, but it *is* that way, and the statement that it is unjust is simply not actionable. Perhaps it takes being on the receiving end to be able to think through the complexities of actually taking action.

            1. T2*

              I have been on the receiving end. Many times. That is part of why in my world this is not tolerated. Most of that is because I set the tone.

        2. WellRed*

          Yes. If Robin only tantrums for his female coworkers, then gender is very much relevant.

        3. Amy Sly*

          It’s only about gender to the extent that throwing fits to get attention is far more likely to work on women than men, whether because they are more empathetic and thus want to help or because they are more afraid of an angry male and want to protect themselves by calming him down. This is a situation where women could help themselves by acting more like confident men as T2 lays out.

          Incentives matter, whether with toddlers or adults. Don’t reward tantrums with attention, and you get fewer of them.

          1. GD375*

            “women could help themselves by acting more like confident men”

            This is bullshit. The solution to sexism is not women acting more like men. When women do act like men, they are often told that they are being too assertive/aggressive/unpleasant.

              1. Tabby*

                Because that requires men to stop acting like overgrown toddlers, Vima. How dare you expect grown men to, you know, grow up? /sarcasm

                Seriously, THIIIIIIIIIS x infinity. I decided not to have children; I have no desire to babysit children who are taller and stronger than me and allegedly old enough to take care of themselves.

            1. Amy Sly*

              Half of the solution to “man acts out gets woman to mommy him” for the woman to not mommy him. Yes, the other half is for him to not act out, but enabling manipulators is always counter productive.

              1. GD375*

                She doesn’t have to “act like a confident man” to disengage from his tantrums.

              2. Zombeyonce*

                The solution for his tantrums is not for a woman to stop trying to calm him down, it’s for him to stop throwing tantrums like a child. This is 0% the fault of any woman involved and 100% the fault of the man throwing the tantrum.

            2. Amanda*

              While Amy’s phrasing wasn’t ideal, this is really not bullshit. Women do tend to enable this crappy behavior in their coworkers by not saying knock it off or ignoring the adult-sized toddler in the room (as most men would do). This is not an answer to sexism in general, but to this specific situation it works.

              And honestly? Part of the problem is a lot of women’s fear of being considered too assertive/aggressive/unpleasant. This doesn’t happen nearly as often as most women fear, and being assertive or aggressive isn’t usually seen as such a bad thing in a workplace anyway.

              1. GD375*

                Women can stop enabling crappy behavior without acting like men. There are more than 2 ways to act.

                Maybe women are not penalized for acting assertive in whatever privileged bubble you live in, but in the real world it’s something a lot of women have experienced at work.

                1. Amanda*

                  Wow, way to be aggressive and unpleasant…

                  It’s true women don’t have to act like men to stop enabling crappy behavior. But they do need to stop it, as most men do. As I undestand it, that’s what’s being said. Being afraid of repercussions for not enabling jerks can be why women do so, but if that’s a woman’s stand, I don’t see that she gets to complain that jerks act as jerks. If in your workplace (or any normal workplace), a woman must afraid to simply say “don’t do that” to a peer, I feel sorry for you.

                2. GD375*

                  Amanda, I feel sorry for you for not recognizing that women face very real double standards at work. Recognizing and discussing this stuff is not complaining. It vital if we are ever going to be able to move beyond outdated ideas about how women should behave.

                3. JSPA*

                  While this is undeniably true in the general scheme of things, how is it relevant to the specific circumstance?

                  I don’t see people saying Sally should be assertive, just that she could try to “gray rock,” or ignore. I also don’t see any evidence that Sally is expected to mother Robin. In fact, we have no evidence that this has come up between Sally and her boss in any way.

                  In this specific circumstance–which is what we’re discussing here, not the history of sexism in the worplace– the aspect of “acting more like men” that’s being invoked is, “don’t jump to engage when someone’s being awkwardly emotional, and choose not to take random disruptions personally.” And that’s actually a fine answer. Not because it’s a male thing. Because it’s a good solution.

                4. Zombeyonce*

                  Amanda, were you being serious with your comments? I’m actually not sure at this point.

                  You said, “Part of the problem is a lot of women’s fear of being considered too assertive/aggressive/unpleasant.” Then when GD375 made a pretty reasonable comment about women being penalized for acting assertive, you called them aggressive, which you literally just claimed is an overblown fear that women have, but you went and did it yourself, (assuming GD375 is a woman). If you’re not joking, I’m now speechless.

            3. T2*

              Umm… I am male, as you have surmised. However, I am not saying that women should have to change anything about how they act. That kind of thinking leads to trouble. As in the “she was asking for it” variety.

              I have a healthy respect for women. Other than my wife, occasionally, I don’t view them as potential sex partners, or maternal, or caregivers or anything else. They are there to do a job, and they should be able to do it free from judgmental attitudes. Viewing people as people, is the key. Of course, everything I am saying applies to race as well.

              What I am saying is that the behavior is unacceptable regardless of gender or circumstance and should not be tolerated. Wrong behavior is wrong period, without qualification or consideration for the why a behavior occurred.

          2. Threeve*

            I think that unless you are personally prone to throwing tantrums and know how you choose who to throw them in front of them, this isn’t really something you can state with confidence.

          3. Aquawoman*

            Throwing fits to get attention is far more likely to work on women because women are expected to do emotional labor for men, including in the workplace, and face repercussions if they don’t. There, I fixed it for you.
            I got promoted for dealing well with male tantrums.

          4. Honor Harrington*

            I respectfully disagree. I’ve had many times in my technology career where not managing the emotional labor of my colleagues was held against me and considered poor performance on my part. As a program manager and leader, if he behaves inappropriately when frustrated, most often leadership holds me accountable for keeping him productive. I need him to deliver, so I better do whatever it takes to make him deliver. If not, then I’m the one who is not performing and is hard to work with.

            Telling women to behave like men only works if we will be rewarded for doing so and not penalized.

            1. kt*

              THANK YOU.

              Follow the money and the management. Women are penalized for not pandering. We need to pay the mortgage too.

            2. Jules the 3rd*

              Yep. I’ve had to deal with it in the past, am currently threading some tricky “you’re not supportive enough” waters. I do not have 2 hrs / week to be a therapist, on top of the rest of the job, nor am I willing to spend 30 minutes listening to how mean I am after pointing out stuff in a neutral, professional way (ie, ‘Please change Cell 23 from Glased to Glazed’ and ‘She goes by her middle name, Garciela, not by Maria’).

          5. Student*

            “…they are more afraid of an angry male and want to protect themselves by calming him down.”

            You act like this is so very easy to write off and ignore. It’s not. Please don’t be so dismissive of women who fear men that are behaving badly. It’s a reasonable fear based on lived experience, not an irrational phobia.

            I am a small woman. A full 99% of adult men are larger than me, often quite a lot larger than me. I have had men injure me badly without any intention to do so whatsoever, due to sheer difference in size and strength. I’m talking trivial accidents that most men wouldn’t even notice – bumping into me a bit too roughly. So, when one actually wants to injure me to get my attention, he will likely injure me much worse than even he is expecting.

            A man who’s having a tantrum, lost in his emotions, is a serious danger to me. I’ve had a handful of men lost in their emotions turn very quickly from an unprofessional annoyance to a sudden, serious risk of harm to me. Sometimes they give up when they don’t get what they want – but sometimes they escalate until you are forced to respond. Think tantrum -> physical contact with you. I had one that went from minor tantrum over a task going slowly straight to grabbing my crotch and screaming at me. I cannot tell which ones will just continue having their little tantrums and eventually stop, and which ones will suddenly and violently escalate – personal experience has taught me that I am very bad at gauging that particular aspect of other people’s personalities.

            I know that there’s a lot of men who will eventually back down from the tantrums rather than escalate – but the consequences are so severe when one escalates that I do not judge it a worthwhile risk to take. It’s a risk to me physically, it wrecks me emotionally for at least a week, and it often ends up having worse career implications for me than the man.

            1. JSPA*

              The percentage of people who cuss out their computer screen, stomp when a task freezes or pound the desk in frustration is vast, compared to the number who then, excuse me, grab somebody’s crotch???

              That’s not an escalation of a trantrum. That’s a sexual assault patched in on the end of a tantrum.

              If you’d been in a car accident, then been crotch-grabbed, it’s be a sexual assault patched in on the end of a car accident. If you’d been eating ice cream, then crotch-grabbed, that’d be a sexual assault patched in on the end of eating ice cream. If they are reciting the sales figures, and quietly creep up to the filing cabinet and grab your crotch there, that’s a sexual assault patched on the end of a recitation of sales figures. All of these things can happen, and they’re all serious because they are all sexual assault. But in no case does the preceding circumstance cause, excuse or lead to the assault.

              If someone’s throwing a tantrum AT you, that’s threatening. If someone’s stomping their legs in frustration at their computer program and yelling at their screen, and you’re simply sharing airspace, that’s thoughtless, but not (realistically) a threat.

              Regardless, I’d be pretty stressed to be in a circumstance that felt similar, having gone through that. Whether it was after a tantrum, or having someone sneak up quietly.

              Compare: I felt tense for a couple of years, walking, biking or driving by the spot where my spouse and I dealt with a rogue cop who pulled us over and threatened us. Especially in the early evening, which is when it had happened. But intellectually, I knew there was nothing particularly threatening about that specific location or time. The interaction could have happened on some other block, at some other time. My distress was almost entirely about having had that lived experience there, and only very secondarily about site-specific details (the traffic being problematic, the cops being tense there due to crowds).

              1. Anon flower*

                This is the most bizarre comment I have ever read. A tantrum that ends in assaulting someone is the same as eating ice cream and assaulting someone? There’s no evidence that anger leads to violence? I mean, seriously.
                Women can’t win, can we? If we ignore men’s anger, then when we get assaulted, it’s our fault for not leaving the situation sooner. If we don’t ignore men’s anger, then we are being “crazy” and “judgmental.”
                Not to mention – someone who is acting out their anger physically (kicking their legs, pounding their desk) can hurt someone even without meaning to. It is not unreasonable for their coworkers to prepare for that to happen. I’m not particularly small, but I have had the same experience as Student, where men have physically hurt me without even realizing it.
                One time I was standing on a subway car with my dad. He decided not to hold onto anything, and so when the train started, he stumbled and smashed me in the face really hard. Then he did not understand why I was mad because “it was an accident.” I pointed out that it was an extremely preventable accident, and that if I wasn’t his daughter, he would probably have found something else to grab as he fell or he’d be in big trouble. Things like this happen with my dad all the time and he never understands why it has affected our relationship. In his mind he is a lovably clumsy guy. In my mind he has physically assaulted me multiple times because he continually decides to risk my safety instead of checking himself.

        4. Jean*

          Based on my experience, I agree that this is a gender thing. At my previous job, we had a couple of different men who were known to “get loud” and have inappropriate emotional displays from time to time, including shouting, foot stomping and pounding desks. Plenty of people tutted behind their backs but nothing was ever said to either of them directly about it.

          The ONE time I (a woman) got into a heated conversation with someone else, I got called in to a closed door meeting with both department supervisors and dressed down for it. (I pushed back against someone in production when they told me they couldn’t do something that I knew they had done before and could easily do – I believe my exact words were “Excuse me but I know that isn’t true” and yes, I did say it with a slightly raised voice.) They claimed that THREE different people had come to them to complain that I was disruptive and made them feel unsafe (!). When I was quitting that job, you better believe I brought that up in my exit interview – I made sure to tell the HR rep how unsafe the 2 male shouters/stompers made everyone feel.

          1. sssssssssssssssssssssssss*

            I had a very well paid engineer who waited too long to meet deadlines and then needed our help and then got huffy and whiny about it. On a regular basis, on top of that.

            I told him flat out if he didn’t stop, I would leave him to this own devices because it was not truly my job to help him. He calmed down…somewhat.

            To make things more annoying, he would whine “Why is this happening to *me?* It’s not right that it’s happening to *me?*”

          2. Curmudgeon in California*

            Yeah, I get hit with that double standard all the time.

            Nearly every job has some cis male who behaves badly and loudly and gets no consequences, but if I, AFAB and Enby, raise my voice to repeat a reasonable “No” or point out an issue that they’ve ignored, I get written up, talked to, blah, blah, blah. For less than half of the bad behavior that the men get away with.

            It’s sexist as hell, but when I try to call people on it they gaslight me and say it’s my problem and that I’m imagining it.

      3. Guacamole Bob*

        On your last point: I know a lot of people, myself included, who have inappropriately intense frustration with technical problems sometimes. I don’t know why, but for some people this stuff just triggers rage. See, for example, the widespread resonance of the Office Space printer destruction scene.

        I had a total sobbing meltdown earlier this week when our internet started cutting out for no discernible reason. I think I was re-directing a lot of the stress of the week, and it wasn’t in view of my coworkers, but it did happen.

        I don’t throw toddler-style tantrums that my coworkers have to talk me down from, though. Ever.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          That would be me. Computers = typewriters with Googling capabilities in my world. I just had to be talked down from personally murdering all of Microsoft Word because of a formatting problem that, it turns out, is easily solved by unchecking a few boxes.

          But there were no tantrums.

        2. T2*

          Think of it like your doctor. You can be upset because a particular condition isn’t going your way. But if the Doctor is throwing an iv bag across the room, we have a problem.

          As an IT person, I do not allow myself to get frustrated or upset. I may be in private. but clients and my family (aside from my wife, who knows everything) would never know.

      4. AnotherAlison*

        My opinion is Alison’s first suggestion is the best–call Robin out on it in some way in the moment. It’s not really about Katie. (It is, because it’s a performance by Robin for Katie, but it’s not something Katie is doing wrong. Make it clear Robin is the one being inappropriate.)

        It’s also not clear if the OP is male or female. As a more senior woman, I’d be annoyed, with anyone telling me how to handle Robin, but it would be most annoying coming from a junior male. I’d be okay with them commenting to Robin directly that he’s acting inappropriately. Katie may have decided this is most effective for her and a male, indirect colleague doesn’t have as much insight into the exact situation. Personally, I didn’t put up with that from my actual sons, and they never acted like that, but she just may do what needs to be done to get her job done.

        1. natalie tulips*

          OP here: I am a woman and junior to Katie and Robin. It doesn’t just affect Katie; I said in my letter it is extremely distracting to me to 1) watch a grown man sporadically throw tantrums like a child and 2) watch him be consoled and get away with being so blatantly unprofessional over and over. I mentioned in an earlier comment that I’ve worked with Katie on a project when she was in her previous position at our organization, so I wouldn’t count out saying to her “hey, I see you and the extra effort you need to expend just to do your job/ensure your colleague does his”

          1. Dust Bunny*

            I’m not disagreeing that his behavior is absurd, but to some degree what we find distracting is on us, not on the person acting like a tool, so this argument may not hold as much water as you hope it will. Be prepared to be told to ignore it harder and think about what you’ll do if that’s the answer you get.

            1. Vina*

              That’s a really victim blaming statement.

              Irrespective of whether or not the LW and her coworkers can tune this out, he should not be doing this.

              Also, this type of behavior can be very disrupting to people with trauma such as PTSD>

              I work with a lot of tough-as-nails Vets who have been through the ringer. I assure you they would not be able to ignore it.

              You seem to be assuming everyone can just ignore violent outbursts and they will go away.

              That’s shifting the onus from the perp to the victim or recipient.

              1. Vina*

                PS One of my clients freaks out anytime there are loud bangs. He cannot help it.

                Ignoring a temper tantrum is not at all an option.

                Tempter tantrums have no place in a workplace. At all.

                1. JSPA*

                  If someone seeing him freak out call that a tantrum, and declares it unacceptable, what should HIS employer do? Very easy to judge, when you put yourself in a particular corner, based on some other set of circumstances that may or may not be relevant!

              2. JSPA*

                You keep referring to violence. And threats. And fear.
                Let’s ask OP:

                Do you perceive the tantrum as a form of violence / threat of violence?

                Does it trigger and discernable fear?

                Or does it bother you only because it’s obtrusive / entitled / childish / stupid / unprofessional, without being threatening?

                1. natalie tulips*

                  The tantrums *themselves* don’t trigger discernible fear, but the idea of intervening as he’s in the middle of one actually does (though I mentioned in an earlier comment that I have an aversion to interacting with angry/extremely frustrated men due to some childhood stuff I’d rather not go into detail on). For me the fact that it’s obtrusive / entitled / childish / stupid / unprofessional alone make it not acceptable for the workplace.

            2. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs*

              I agree that the answer might be “ignore it” – but I think OP can make a good case that this is not just distracting, it’s undermining to the overall work culture and signals that the employer finds this behavior acceptable. Looking the other way because it’s too much work to discipline one bad actor ends up costing way more in goodwill from all the employees who have to deal with that person.

              1. Vina*

                Yes, and not everyone can just “ignore it.” There are a lot of people for whom it would be triggering b/c of past trauma. A lot of people with sensory issues for whom this type of behavior might cause real physical pain. People with migraines, etc.

                Igorning it assumes a lot about the people who are in the environment.

                1. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs*

                  To be clear, I don’t think that’s the right answer. I was saying that it might be the answer OP gets, so she can try to build a case for why “ignore it” is *not* sufficient.

                2. Vina*


                  Sorry, that wasn’t directed AT you. Just general.

                  I didn’t read you as excusing it.

                  No worries. N

                3. JSPA*

                  People who have a medical condition such as PTSD or other response to past trauma, would certainly have a very good reason to demand an accommodation.

                  Most people would probably prefer not to work in places where tantrums are accepted.

                  And yet, a “meltdown” (used in the medical sense) can look a lot like a tantrum. And it, too, may be something that (so long as it’s never directed AT people) actually IS within the bounds of someone’s accommodation. One of your Vets might experience PTSD, and engage in behavior that would not normally be accepted…but in their case, an exception might be made.

                  As many workplaces as I’ve been in, where some people vented in non-standard ways, without anyone making it their job to placate (and did so, even when they didn’t know if anyone else was around!) I’m incredibly leery of the presumption of exactly what’s going on here, given that OP is entirely external to the interaction, and would not know if there were, in fact, some named issue in play (besides male entitlement) or some accommodation in effect (besides, “women, they mother”).

                  I’d suggest being circumspect with “nevers.”

            3. kt*

              Your statement can be used to justify just about any toxic work environment!

              It’s not the right thread to follow if there’s an actual desire for a functional workplace. It’s fine if you’re trying to tough it out at a s&*^&* place before you can jump ship.

          2. NW Mossy*

            And OP, I just want to say: I see YOU. I’m currently neck-deep in trying to address a Robin who doesn’t report to me, in large part because his behavior is so unprofessional that my directs are suffering for it.

            We had a very open discussion about our Robin at a team meeting recently. Normally I wouldn’t open that up, but in light of the state of the world, it felt particularly important to acknowledge everyone’s experience with him in a shared setting. I think it really helped those who are feeling really beaten down by his behavior to hear the passionate solidarity their teammates expressed. We may not be able to solve Robin, but we can at least stand in support of each other in the face of his tirades.

            1. T2*

              I have had to deal with a number of Robins. Some, have gotten the message. But most have not been worth my time and I have eliminated them.

              The message being, “Don’t do this, ever. If i ever in the history of the world have to say this to you again, you are out with no further warning.” Some people never even get a second chance with me. Good luck with yours.

          3. T2*

            OP, As a question, if you were in a Walmart and someone’s kid threw themselves on the floor in a tantrum, how would you respond?

            Because i suggest that is what is required here.

            1. Serafina*

              Meh, I disagree there, T2. A child in Wal-Mart is leaps and bounds away from an adult in a professional workplace. I’d say professional discipline is what’s needed here.

              1. T2*

                I agree professional discipline is needed. However, a tantrum is a tantrum is a tantrum.

                The point is that her issue is that this behavior is unacceptable, and she needs management to either correct the issue (the tantrumer for want of a word) or move her environment so that this is never again an issue.

                The jerk’s feelings, and Katies for that matter are irrelevant. Management involvement is required just on the strength of OP’s feelings alone.

                1. Student*

                  No, it is not.

                  In a Walmart, with someone else’s child, she can walk away.

                  At work, she still has a job to do. You cannot assume she can just leave for an hour and come back later. Sometimes you can’t leave. Sometimes leaving comes with greater negative consequences / time loss. Sometimes leaving has professional consequences for the woman. Sometimes leaving means you’ve now dumped the problem on someone else who is more vulnerable than you are – like a more junior employee, or your direct report, etc.

                  An adult man having a tantrum is also substantially more risky than a small child having a tantrum. Small children don’t have the same physical strength, or workplace power dynamics they can call on. Please don’t trivialize bad behavior by adults by pretending like they can be treated as children. Little Timmy’s mother and father are probably just as annoyed as a passer-by when Timmy throws a tantrum. Timothy the adult tantrum-thrower may be the boss’s golf buddy, a popular colleague, or someone you depend upon for your own job.

            2. Vina*

              Apples and oranges.

              (1) This is a kid, not an adult. Kid’s can’t control themselves like adults.. They aren’t expected to. Adults are.
              (2) There is a clear line of responsibility in the case of a parent.
              (3) No third parties (e.g., clients) are going to think less of you b/c of that kid’s actions.
              (4) That situation presumably doesn’t have the gender element this one does.

              I don’t think this is a comparable at all.

              There are situations where that woudl be a good point of comparison.

              1. Anononon*

                Yes, and you can leave the area/Walmart if you ultimately choose to. You likely are unable to leave your workplace every time your coworker has a fit.

              2. T2*

                Vina, we are not at disagreement over all. But to respond to your points:

                (1) The fact that this is an adult is an indictment of the “adult” at issue here. (It isn’t acceptable with kids either. My kids, aged 4, 5, 6 and 8 know perfectly well that throwing a tantrum invariably leads to a up close and detailed view of a corner.)
                (2) There seems to be management. Since she is not in the chain of command, she needs to report it to her own management to address her issue specifically.
                (3) What third parties think is not relevant. It is unacceptable in any cause, and any circumstance.
                (4) I see why you say that. But again, pick whatever gender you like and OP shouldn’t have to deal with yelling and screaming at work unless the building is actually on fire. Her reaction is at issue.

                My overall point is take what actions you can, document the rest, and try not to involve yourself where you can. In other words, exactly like what I would do in walmart. lol

                1. Avasarala*

                  This is such a weird comparison to make. Who would you report a crying child to? The store manager? Their parent who is trying to calm them down (is the parent Kate in this example?)? Why would you ever need to intervene in a stranger’s child throwing a tantrum in public?

                  Half the reason we think OP should intervene here is to support Kate and counteract gender-based misbehavior in the workplace. OP does not need to support random parents in a Walmart and let them know their kid’s behavior is unacceptable (wow what a news flash). OP is not invested in fighting sexism in Walmart (no sexism here and OP doesn’t care about the environment of Walmart).

            3. kt*

              When *my* kid throws a tantrum like that, I pick her up & carry her out.

              Can we do that to Robin? Throw him on my back and carry him to the grassy space out back so he can work out his feelings without disrupting the productive activities of others? Because that’s my goal when the kid tantrums — remove them from the space as it’s clear that (for whatever reason) the kid cannot handle it.

            4. Not So NewReader*

              If a complete stranger touches anyone’s kid in any store, I seriously doubt that will go well.

              Annnd sometimes if a complete stranger verbally intervenes with anyone’s kid, that can also go pretty sour fast.

          4. Serafina*

            I would be climbing the walls watching that play out over and over! You have my deep sympathy, OP! Unfortunately, since you’re junior to them, there’s probably not a lot you can do. Maybe *try* to start a dialogue with Katie and Sally, “Gosh, it’s really distracting when Robin goes off and has to be coddled like a child. Is there no better way to get him to be a professional so he’s not wasting your time having to deal with him?”

      5. SomebodyElse*

        I have to agree with you on this. I think part of the problem is that women tend to be raised as nurturers and it’s easy to slip into that role. This may be an unpopular opinion but I didn’t see where anyone was being forced to soothe Robin’s tantrums.

        This really isn’t the OP’s problem aside from having to hear all of it, and that’s how they should address it. Which may be as simple as “Boss… any chance for a desk move? Robin’s tantrums and Katie’s attempts to placate him have gotten on my last nerve and makes it impossible to concentrate” Which accomplishes 2 things giving the boss the heads up that it’s going on and hopefully getting a desk move.

        If the OP is not junior to those involved, it’s one of those times to stop worrying about ‘roles’ the most direct path is the next time it happens for the OP to say “Yo Robin, seriously, you sound like you’re having a tantrum over there… keep it down will you?” Best to do this when Katie’s over there trying to soothe him.

        1. Observer*

          but I didn’t see where anyone was being forced to soothe Robin’s tantrums.

          So the typical office dynamics where women get directly or indirectly penalized for not playing along absolutely cannot be at play here. Because the OP doesn’t describe anyone pulling a gun or even making a public announcement that “Soothe the baby or you’re out of a job.”

          1. SomebodyElse*

            I do wonder about ‘typical’ though… maybe I’ve just worked in some odd places or with odd women, but I have not seen this type of behavior (Katie’s) on display.

            It’s more likely that the men would commiserate with Robin and the women would laugh or tell them to knock it off.

            Regardless… The OP (as later commented) is the junior in this situation, so the Robin/Katie interactions are irrelevant beyond the distraction it’s causing for the OP. That should be brought up to the OP’s manager.

              1. Amanda*

                There are plenty of women agreeing that it happens, but I’ve yet to see, here or in real life, an example of actual consequences for women who chose not to engage. Maybe I’m an outlier too, but to me it seems a lot of it is the women’s fear of how they’ll be perceived and not their superior’s actual perception.

                In reality all I’ve ever seen for women who didn’t soothe (myself included) is the male coworker being seen as a fool, and usually a lot of sympathy for having to work with the office crybaby.

                1. Amanda*

                  For the record, I’m talking between peers, as that’s the dynamics in the story. A manager has to get an employee to keep productive and reasonably level emotionally, so they may be held accountable for toddler-like outbursts. In that case, while a formal talk about behavior would be appropriate, I can totally see a manager (male or female) choosing to soothe instead.

                2. SomebodyElse*

                  This is what I was getting at. To me there’s a difference between ‘typical’ and ‘has happened’.

                3. Zombeyonce*

                  Your lack of experience with a particular situation or set of circumstances does not mean it doesn’t happen and it’s disingenuous to imply that’s the case.

              2. SusanIvanova*

                That’s the nature of internet commentary. The people who have had it happen comment, the ones who haven’t don’t, because we have nothing to say. It’s not a valid way to determine whether we’re rare outliers or not.

                FWIW, when someone did something that slowed down my work, I told my manager why I was delayed. It wasn’t anything so juvenile as a temper tantrum but if it had the only change would’ve been that I’d have gone to the manager sooner.

        2. MangoIsNotForYou*

          I had a Robin and part of the expectation from my senior management team was definitely that I guide him through meltdowns and soothe him like he was an overlarge baby. When he pitched a screaming fit in front of twenty horrified coworkers, I told him to take a walk outside to cool off. When he returned, I said, “This behavior is completely unacceptable, if it ever happens again we’re going to need to take disciplinary action.” Then I handed him an EAP brochure and talked through strategies for calming down after a difficult work interaction.

          Well, he ran off to HR, told them I had made him feel “emotionally unsafe.” I ended up on a coaching plan. My Robin stuck around for a while, had a few more fits. One day he had one in front of our (male) grandboss. He was gone the next day.

          The expectation for women IS different.

          1. TardyTardis*

            Yes, having a tantrum at women is ok. Having one in front of other men is different. But of course it’s the woman’s fault somehow…right?

      6. TootsNYC*

        I need to have a conversation with my son–he lets his emotions get the better of him. He gets so furious when a computer game’s AI is beating him. I’ve been saying, “This is so screwy, for you to take it so personally–it’s a game.”

        But I may need to talk to him about how it looks to other people on a professional level. Maybe that will get through to him.

    3. Trek*

      I worked with a guy that was equal to me but reported to a different supervisor. He would get so mad that he would shake at his desk, literally shake. And he sat right in front of me. Our jobs were not that difficult or stressful to warrant that much anger but he would get worked up over nothing. His boss would take him into her office to talk with him. I finally went to my boss and told him that ‘Jane’ shouldn’t be alone with him any more because I was concerned he was going to hurt her. Yes there were people right outside her office but still his behavior was not right and being alone with him didn’t seem to be a good solution. Nothing came of mine going to my boss that I’m aware of but I never regretted putting my coworker on someone else’s radar.

      OP make sure others are aware of this guys behavior. If he can’t do his work without a babysitter he can’t do his work. I would report it as the whole scene being distracting. ‘IT dude has a literal fit/tantrum and kicks his legs, Katie spends 15 minutes talking to him and calming him down. This happens multiple times day/week. I don’t understand the dynamic but it is impacting my ability to concentrate.’

      1. natalie tulips*

        I think part of the problem might be that no one sees this happen as often as I do, which is part of why I was asking if it was acceptable for me to say anything. Katie and Robin sit at a desk cluster to the right of me. There are two other people at my desk cluster but both of their jobs require them to be on the road frequently so often it’s only me there. There is another desk cluster to the left of me, but they have some shelves and dividers that wall them off. Everyone else in our section of the building has an office.

        1. juliebulie*

          I am a little surprised that this situation isn’t common knowledge. Even if your coworkers aren’t particularly gossippy, a colleague who actually kicks his legs when he’s frustrated is the kind of thing that people talk about.

    4. Garlic Knot*

      My company nearly explicitly puts it on women to be minders of men. (I am in Asia.) The problem is, in our particular case a non-soothed tantrum can and will irreparably sour unique external relationships. Add to that the fact that our Robins also need language support… Funny how they are usually sincerely apologetic after the fact, but it never stops another tantrum. We’ve just started to think up some more viable solutions, because the burden has become unbearable, but then the COVID-19 happened.

    5. Archaeopteryx*

      The key both in parenting and in having-an-immature-coworker-ing is never let them see that the tantrum gets them what they want.

      1. juliebulie*

        Right. I’d like to know what would happen if Katie were to walk away. Or if another colleague sternly told him to stop acting out.

        1. TardyTardis*

          It would have to be a man who told him that, though–he would just ignore or blast out even more at another woman who told him to shut it down (unless the woman had a company wide reputation as Iron Lady, and some companies do have them. Even so, she would be taking a risk).

    6. Fikly*

      When people’s behavior is causing you problems, and it’s not your job to manage their behavior, don’t manage their behavior – let the problems they are causing become the problem of someone who can manage their behavior.

      As long as you continue, they have no reason to stop. They probably enjoy it.

      1. TardyTardis*

        Pretty sure Katie doesn’t enjoy it. There’s always the chance that he’ll pop her one.

  4. Waving not Drowning (no longer Drowning not Waving)*

    OP3 I would be very hesitant in questioning Robin in the moment (sorry Alison). To me its akin to telling someone who is angry to calm down. It usually escalates the situation, not calms it down. If Kate isn’t there, what happens? Does he work himself into more of a state? Or does he not get himself as worked up with no audience.

    Kate may not even realise what she’s doing – I have been in workplace situations where I unconsciously slipped into mummy mode (I had young children at the time) with both male and female colleagues who have been stressed/upset, but I’ve gently talked them through what needed to be done, and, getting them to do it, without resorting to telling them they are a grown up and need to get a grip (which I felt like doing, but knew it would get me nowhere).

    My manger was witness to one of the times, and was amazed as to how I’d turned one person with a difficult reputation around from a tantrum of “I’m not going to do this, and noone is going to make me” to getting the info from him in 15 minutes. She still speaks of it a couple of years later. I had no idea I’d switched into Mummy Mode until she mentioned it.

    Having said that, I would not like to have the responsibility of managing a close colleague’s emotional regulation (be they male or female) on a regular basis, as I’d find it exhausting and distracting.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      To be clear, it’s not about telling him to calm down (which I agree is generally unhelpful) — just that he’s causing a disruption / making it difficult for people in a shared space to focus, which she absolutely has standing to say if she’s peer level to him and definitely if she’s senior to him.

      1. Waving not Drowning (no longer Drowning not Waving)*

        Thanks for your clarification, that helps.

      2. Traffic_Spiral*

        Agreed. It’s personal feeling vs. behavior. You can feel whatever you want, but you still have to behave appropriately in the workplace. Frustration is fine, throwing a tantrum is not.

        1. Threeve*

          Or even throwing that tantrum alone and quietly in an empty stairwell or bathroom, if making noise and thrashing a bit genuinely help with frustration.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Yeah, when I get to a frustration boilover, it’s helpful to a) get away from the problem, and b) go somewhere private, even if it’s just my car, to cuss and vent. It also allows my hindbrain to process what’s vexing me, and if I can distract myself well enough, can often work out the solution without the irritation in the way.

    2. Avasarala*

      “If Kate isn’t there, what happens? Does he work himself into more of a state? Or does he not get himself as worked up with no audience.”

      This is a great question and something I would bring up to Kate, especially if she hasn’t realized what is going on.
      “You know, Robin never seems to get upset when you’re not around. I’ve seen him look around for you. It’s like he’s waiting for you to come make him feel better.” Or whatever is truthful.

    3. T2*

      I am afraid that IT, and the tech and engineering fields in general are not as inclusive to women and minorities as I would like. I try to find them and retain them, but really Katie is something of a unicorn.

      I object to anyone having to put up with or witness such behavior.

      Frankly the manager should already be aware of this issue. And he should have told the offending party, to take a walk and stop it the first time.

      As I have gotten more senior, I can tell you that when I say calm down or knock it off, I really mean, stop it or else (the else being I will do something that will put a permanent stop to this behavior.) I do not coddle infantile behavior. Anything less imply a some sort of toleration of this.

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      “When Kate’s not around”
      I’m curious and it may not be helpful to OP3 but… who did Robin work for/with before Sally & Kate? Is there any evidence if/how his behavior changes with male co-workers? I wonder if HE even realizes/cares how this makes him look.

      1. juliebulie*

        If he saw a video of himself acting that way, would that wake him up?

        Not that I think that that would be a legitimate way to deal with Robin. But if someone would talk to him about his behavior and let him see it through their eyes, it might make a difference.

        Hmm, I wonder if Robin does this at home.

    5. TechWorker*

      How the hell does anyone get away with refusing to do something that takes 15 minutes to discuss?

      Like – objecting to something illegal/immoral, fine. Pushing back on a request to do something that’s going to take a lot of time, especially if it’s not your manager asking, fine. Withholding information because you can? Literally wtf? Is that common?

      1. hbc*

        I agree. I had a direct report who would work himself up occasionally when other people did stuff that he thought was wrong, and I would spend some time walking him through why it wasn’t as black and white as it seemed. But I didn’t put it on his peers to calm him down every time–I expected him to learn from that situation and not get worked up about the same thing again, and I would have brought down the hammer if he refused to do work.

    6. Another Soother*

      I struggle with this one because one of my greatest assets is my ability to deescalate situations and to think rationally in high stress situations. My boss often comes to me with personnel issues or opposing counsel issues that have him all sorts of pissed off. I encourage him to take the rational road rather than the “burn it down” style road and after we talk it out he feels a lot better. I think it is one of the reasons I have been so successful in my job as I have become a trusted advisor for the top dog. Part of this includes having to soothe his fragile ego at times but the benefits seem worth it to me.

      The LW’s case seems more over the top though for sure.

      1. Thankful for AAM*

        Hi Another Soother,
        You raise an interesting point. Is “soothing” or redirecting, or similar, a professional skill/tool? Is it a skill/tool only if it benefits your career? Only if you want to do it?

        A friend has gotten a relatively top tier position and she is navigating this right now with the big boss.

        1. College Career Counselor*

          It’s possible to consider what she’s doing as “managing up” (ie, dealing with challenges with/from your boss when you may have influence, but not authority). But when it crosses the line into doing their emotional management for them, that’s dangerous territory.

        2. juliebulie*

          It seems to me that in a professional context, this is a skill/tool if you are dealing with clients. When dealing with colleagues, it’s just unfortunate… because the colleagues are your teammates and you should be h elping one another do the work, not managing each other’s emotions.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          Another Soother, your situation is so NOT Katie’s.

          Your boss wants to calm down. He ASKS for help.
          He is facing something that IS actually difficult.
          You haven’t wasted your time because he collects himself and does what he needs to do.

          Looking at Robin:
          He is NOT asking for help, he is just having temper tantrums.
          Since he does this often, I suspect it’s not that the job is difficult, but rather more a case of ROBIN is difficult.
          Katie gets Robin calmed down until the next time, which is probably a matter of hours.

          Huge differences, AS. I think many jobs can have challenges and we DO need to be able to talk to each other about difficult things in order to determine how best to proceed. I don’t think Katie is helping Robin to do his job. She is just putting a blow out patch on the situation until the next meltdown.

          In thinking about it this way, I think that Robin is in the wrong field. The constant meltdowns really show that his is not able to handle this line of work.

      2. EPLawyer*

        Your boss is ticked off and needs to bounce options off someone BEFORE acting. You are the best person because you give rational ideas for action.

        In #3, the person is acting before talking. He is literally throwing a tantrum. Which must be soothed before he will talk about options to solve the problem.

        One — seeking options while angry because you really do know your actions would not be helpful is a GOOD thing. The other acting out and making things harder is not.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          Agreed–and it sounds like AS’s boss recognizes and values this skill she has, rather than taking it (and her) for granted.

      3. Ginger Baker*

        I feel this – I have definitely employed my “let’s talk through what the situation is and I promise, it’s going to be okay” skills – BUT always in specific, “unusual” circumstances – for instance, in the war room the night before the attorney was questioning a witness the next day and BossMan had just made major changes to the witness outline that had Panicking Attorney pretty freaked out trying to adjust to on the fly…very definitely not “everyday managing” and particular to that situation. I think there’s a big difference between those situations and regular, ongoing, “I am outsourcing my emotional control to someone else”. (Also different is “can I use you as a sounding board” type stuff, but that does not [should not] ever involve something any observer would potentially describe as “a tantrum” WTAF.)

  5. I coulda been a lawyer*

    I hesitate to bring this up, but I once worked with a young man who would throw a temper tantrum or feign great distress whenever an older, lower-ranking female was available to soothe him. For him it was sexual. He was terminated for activities in the men’s room following those interactions.

    1. natalie tulips*

      Yikes, I don’t think that’s the case here. Sally and Katie were his peers though, although both are older (both women are lesbians too but I don’t think a sex creep like your former coworker would care about that anyway).

    1. Grand Mouse*

      No… I am neurodivergent in several ways and would find this embarrassing. This happens, always, always, when a man is behaving inappropriately towards a woman. You were aware of this tendency but followed forth anyway?

      This isn’t how awareness of ASD is supposed to work, and the fact it’s used as a tool here, every column, about a man acting in a sexist way is… Well anyway, I have been blessed to know several sexist men that are Just Like That. Sexism has been around forever, societally, legally, globally, and I doubt somehow all the perpetrators are autistic. And it’s not like being sexist has become taboo either, especially in cases like this (and every other column) where people handwave with “well maybe he didn’t meeeeann”

      1. LadyRegister*

        Captain Awkward calls it Schroedinger’s Autist and it’s EXHAUSTING. We don’t need to speculate on the reason for bad behavior, talk about their good intentions or list out their potential redeeming qualities and actions, we just need the bad behavior to stop.

        1. Vina*

          White men always get the benefit of the doubt. There bad behavior must be caused by something. With women and POCs, there’s never a reason. We can’t be angry, frustrated, etc. We aren’t allowed to be vulnerable or not in complete control. White dudes? When they aren’t in control everyone else looks for a reason.

          This needs to stop.

          It is sexist, racist, and otherwise bigoted.

          Grown-up white men can control themselves. Even the ones who have neurological, biological, or other conditions.

          Also, when people immediately try to find reasons for the behavior, they are shifting their empathy and focus off the victim and onto the perp. That’s sickening.

            1. Vina*

              I see this so much in court. “Promising young men” are always white and never responsible.

              This song a bug of the system. It’s how it works

          1. natalie tulips*

            OP here: it’s kind of disturbing that I didn’t even have to mention that Robin is white (he is) because there’s no way a black man, for example, would get away with throwing even one tantrum at work.

            1. Vina*

              I can’t see anyone other than a white man getting away with this in the USA.

              Maybe in other cultures where the historically dominant race isn’t white.

              Here, he had to be white.

              1. Jennifer Thneed*

                And yet, it’s good to mention it. We need to normalize speaking openly about skin color, just because it’s an issue in our culture, and that includes naming white people *as* white. White is not the default (to be assumed unless stated otherwise) anymore than male is the default (to be assumed unless stated otherwise).

          2. T2*

            OOOOH. Vina. Excellent post.

            I have a number of people who are neuro-atypical in my family. Everyone can be expected and taught to comport themselves in a kind manner. Even someone with tourretes can be kind and sympathetic to how their tics affect others.

            ” I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” – Dr. King.

            We will get there, Doctor King. I hope so.

        2. vampire physicist*

          I love Captain Awkward’s term! I’ve also seen it called “the ableism of low expectations”. It’s disrespectful towards the many autistic people out there who are entirely professional, and it doesn’t matter why Robin is doing it, it matters that it’s distracting and causing extra work.

          1. WantonSeedStitch*

            This. Every neurodivergent person I know who works in an office environment knows better than to throw tantrums there, and has developed coping mechanisms for when they are having a hard time processing things that don’t cause problems in the workplace.

        3. James*

          Very much this. Like the crush issue yesterday, the issue isn’t why the person is acting the way they are. That’s THEIR problem. The issue is that their behavior is interfering with their work, and the work of their coworkers. That’s where teh focus needs to be.

    2. T2*

      The post was removed for rules issues. But I am going to say this. Why is irrelevant. No combination of circumstances exists that justifies any such behavior.

      Nobody cares why. Just stop the behavior. Period, and without question

  6. menchildren of the corn*

    Ugh what a pathetic manchild Robin is. Yes say something, women do not exist to baby grown men, they need to manage their own emotions and grow up already

  7. Bleah*

    For Op#5, I think it’s not as clear about contacting a client from your current work place. For example, you don’t have a non-compete, but if you take the contact information for that client and then contact them after you leave the company, that might be a problem. They might consider that information a company secret or proprietary information. Now they would probably never find out, but if the current company is a little sketchy, they might also be angry if you attempted to take one of their clients.

    You could tell the client before you have left, the date you are leaving and give them your contact information. That way any contact would be initiated by the client after that point.

  8. Lady Heather*

    OP1, Myrin has a great comment (it’s nested, so maybe ctrl-f it) about OP3’s situation that might apply to yours as well. I can’t stand diet talk either, but I do have close family that tries a new diet every other month, and I’ve found it helpful to just say a disinterested, maybe somewhat impatient ‘uhuh’ (as in: I hear you speaking, but you aren’t asking me anything, so I’m not going to give any input and am just waiting for you to finish so I can get back to what I was doing) or a disinterested ‘I don’t know’ to actual questions asked. When they pause for air, take that to mean the conversation is done and, as applicable, either continue on to what you were doing (e.g. turn back to your computer) or say ‘Well, good luck with that’ and walk away. Don’t engage with the ‘meat’ of the conversation.

    As for Debbie, I’d be wary of offering cooking/hiking as a compromise. For several reasons – ‘I won’t participate in, or be a recipient of, diet talk’ is an acceptable boundary for you to have and enforce, not a thing that is open to negotiation or something that requires a consolidation prize. Beyond that, it’s hard to ban diet talk from conversations about cooking. (Hiking might be easier in that regard.) Also, I personally wouldn’t like to appear to cook/hike with someone to support their diet – I’d do it because I think it’s a fun thing to do together, not to support their weight loss goal.
    In your shoes, I might try firmly establishing ‘no diet talk’, and once that is going well for a few weeks, perhaps I’d suggest to go hiking.
    But I’m not in your shoes, and your specific triggers about diets might be different from mine, and you might be better at enforcing hazy boundaries than I am.. so this might not work for you, or it might not be needed for you. Take it with however many grains of salt you like.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      As for Debbie, I’d be wary of offering cooking/hiking as a compromise. For several reasons – ‘I won’t participate in, or be a recipient of, diet talk’ is an acceptable boundary for you to have and enforce, not a thing that is open to negotiation or something that requires a consolidation prize. Beyond that, it’s hard to ban diet talk from conversations about cooking. (Hiking might be easier in that regard.) Also, I personally wouldn’t like to appear to cook/hike with someone to support their diet – I’d do it because I think it’s a fun thing to do together, not to support their weight loss goal.

      The advice wasn’t to suggest cooking or hiking as specific topics. They were just given as an example to deflect the conversation to something else. But yes, I guess you’d want to be careful not to bring up anything that could circle back to diet (clothes shopping? beach vacations? the list is endless).

    2. OP #1*

      Thank you! I did mean it in a way to otherwise support her health goals, but esp. with cooking, there may be a weird line there. Debbie isn’t a foodie and doesn’t like hiking that actually involves elevation (she says hiking to mean walking in the woods), while I am a huge foodie and a former almost RDN (dietitian) and I love being outdoors. Debbie has her own food-related issues (different than mine in a lot of ways) and I think I felt obligated to be supportive while balancing my own boundaries. Debbie has other friends and I might suggest some of them may be better suited to these conversations, so it might be better to just draw a hard line.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Can you try to think of things that you really aren’t interested in and act/speak in a similar manner? Think about things that are less weighted than dieting.

        I am just not into sports or cars. So if one of those topics come up I just sort of drift back to work.
        Them:”My car is broken, it has [insert big, long technical problem here].”
        Me: “Oh that is too bad. I hope they fix it.”

        Find a way of saying something that amounts to no real contribution to the conversation.

        I really do hate cooking. It feels like I am always cooking something. I am sure people I have worked with thought I am a real dip about meals- because I said I can’t remember what I set up for dinner tonight or if I set anything up. We had leftovers last night. Which is the same answer I gave them the last ten times they asked me. When they asked about my holiday meal, I hadn’t decided yet. It could be the day before the holiday and my answer would be the same. It was my way of just ending the conversation. One person asked me so many times what was for dinner, I told them “What ever falls out of the freezer when I open the door. It’s annoying that it falls out, so let’s just eat it and get it out of the way.” I said that each time they asked…..

  9. MJ*

    If I worked with a ‘Robin’, I’d roll my eyes, tell them “I’ll get back to you when you’re done”, and walk away.

    Seriously, why pander to an adult throwing a tantrum?

    1. Delta Delta*

      I might vary that with, “dude, what are you, four years old?” throw in some side eye and walk away for 10 minutes. Then when he complains (because he will) the response can be to describe the behavior, which sounds very much like that of a four year old.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        My first reaction would be to say “Dude, are you literally throwing a tantrum?” and I might just go with it.

      2. Amanda*

        I have said that (except I said 2yo) to the crybaby who sat close to me on my previous job. And believe it or not, after the 3rd or 4rt time, the tantrum episodes started happening a lot less. He did try to complain to the boss that I was insensitive to his feelings, to which the boss responded I was there to work and not be sensitive.

        So yeah, I genuinely don’t see why so many people keep arguing women can’t just say stop.

      3. AKchic*

        Maybe an incredulous “Katie, did you bring a toddler to work with you today and *not* introduce us?” perhaps with a “I have crayons if that will distract the tyke”. Really ram in the idea that you can’t believe there’s a grown adult acting this way, and it must be a small child you just haven’t seen yet.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      Unfortunately, “Robin” may also be your boss, a higher level executive, or the CEO.
      And then apparently under American workplace norms you’ve got to pander to it or potentially lose your job.

    3. Em*

      I’d be tempted to yell “Oh my word, what is happening with your legs??”…
      “Oh, you were doing that on purpose? I’m so sorry, I thought you were having a health incident.”

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I would have to leave the room if you did that, because I’d be crying (laughing).

  10. hope this helps*

    Alison’s advice re setting a boundary around talking about bodies and food is solid. I think the OP is worried that setting a boundary will jeopardize her(?) friendship. The OP may want to look at captainawkward, who taught me that setting boundaries is a way to tell people who care about us how to treat us with kindness. It’s an effort to maintain a relationship. I know that’s not a message we hear a lot, but I hope we start hearing it more and wanted to share it.

    1. Traffic_Spiral*

      Captain Awkward is great but you do need to remember that she focuses on family/social/romantic situations. Basically the underlying premise of all those relationships is “I am here primarily because I enjoy your company – should that change, I can and will leave.” Also, it assumes more or less equal standing between parties. Neither of those are the case in work situations, and so a lot of the advice has to be at least tweaked to account for the difference in social dynamic.

    2. T2*

      People at work are colleagues first. Not friends. Frankly knowing the difference is extremely important.

      If I am not paid, I am not at work and therefore not around my colleagues. Whereas, i am always around my friends. Mixing the two always leads to awkward situations.

      1. OP #1*

        Yes, guilty as I am, I totally agree with you! It gets even worse: we are friends AND we have a side project together outside of work (a podcast). We were both so excited to meet someone about our age at work! Luckily, our work doesn’t overlap very much, but I can’t say I recommend our arrangement necessarily. We also have differing values, hobbies, and interests and generally have little in common (with the key exception of our podcast topic). It is actually a little odd that we’re friends, but it works for us.

        But still, I recognize it wasn’t the best idea.

        1. T2*

          I wouldn’t call you guilty. I have seen close friends and even families torn apart by work issues. So lots of people have it even worse.

          As my grandpa always said, always be aware of exactly what kind of situation you are in.”

  11. andy*

    OP3 – be careful not to humiliate Katie in the process. I was Katie at times and would not welcome you to call me mommy when I am being nice to frustrated colleague. I would find it humiliating. Sometimes people, including women, do the emotional support and it is not because we are helpless victims. I can tell someone off too.

    So when you are speaking up, speak for yourself and for how his behavior annoys you instead of project you into Kai

    1. T2*

      Thank you. I didn’t think of this myself. The issue of projecting can be a problem.

      Since he is junior to them, the issue is Katie’s to address. He/She can document what was seen, and report it indirectly to their own chain of command.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Robin and Katie seem to be peers, and we don’t know where the LW is on their org chart.

        1. andy*

          OP can be sideways on org chart. But personally, I think that noise in room issues dont always have to follow organization chart. In reasonably good non-toxic workplace, junior should be able to say something like “this is too much noise, please stop yelling, I cant concentrate in that noise”. But, there is risk in it as it is easy to retaliate against juniors.

          Because really, the most noisy people tend to be higher on charts – managers and analysts due to nature of their work. If up the org chart hierarchy is the only possible way to ask for silence, no one is going to get the work done.

          1. Batty Twerp*

            OP should absolutely report it up their own chain of command. A grown man is throwing a tantrum within OP’s immediate sight/hearing range. Even if you took the mumming aspect that Katie is dealing with out of it *a grown man is throwing a tantrum* in the workplace. That is completely distracting and disruptive and I don’t think OP would be out of line to point out that their work may be affected by this – which makes it OP’s manager’s problem. How OP’s manager then deals with it is a separate issue.

          1. T2*

            I am really sorry you are going through this. I have 30 years of putting up with various issues from coworkers. So I have developed a bit of armor with the issues of other people.

            Your feelings are valid. Reporting the issue as a distraction for you, is certainly appropriate. Just remember that Katie is her own person, who needs to deal with her own problems. Your issue is how it affects you. Focus on that.

            Hope you can get this resolved.

    2. juliebulie*

      OK, your situation may be different than OP’s, because what OP describes, I would push back on calling that “being nice to a frustrated colleague.” I would call it “rewarding bad behavior.” (But you’re right that calling Katie “mommy” is the wrong approach.)

      1. AKchic*

        it takes some rewording. She is not “momming”. She is “managing his outbursts to minimize their impact on her own workflow and that of everyone/anyone around them (which does benefit OP3)”.

  12. Confused about work tantrums*

    I’m so confused by the situation on letter 3. I’m female and have have never witnessed a male tantrum (much less a female soothing) at work. Is it common? Tantrums at work seem unprofessional to me. If it were me, I’d just tell the dude to cut it out.

    1. James*

      It’s not. I cannot imagine a workplace where this would be considered acceptable behavior. Everywhere I’ve worked this would be treated as a major issue, and the person throwing the tantrums told to stop wasting the other workers’ time. The people I’ve worked with–from my first job as a burger cook on up–would have lost all respect for an adult who behaved this way.

      1. T2*

        Some people just don’t know how to behave because they were not disciplined properly.

        When I was 16, I am a few of my friends got a job at a local fast food eatery. We were horsing around like we always did, and it was all fun and games until my friend’s kid sister got hurt. Nothing serious. Just a little bit. The manager asked around and my “friends” got together and saved their own skins at the expense of mine.

        I was really sore about it, until my down home country grandfather found out. Then there was hell to pay. And boy did I pay the hell. A month of washing and detailing his car for free 4 times every single day. He kept doing that until I was able to wash the car perfectly, with our complaint and thanked him for the opportunity. It took a month. Then I apologized to the manager and all involved.

        His point, “be professional at all times and in all situations regardless of cause. If I lose my cool, it is always my fault.” I was goofing around when I shouldn’t have been.

        It was a such a valuable lesson. Everyone at work is there to do a job. You are either doing the job or you are in the way. It’s not a social club, those aren’t your friends or family. They don’t have to put up with your crap. So don’t make waves.

        1. James*

          For me it was repairing the house. We did all our own home improvements–I’m a descent plumer and framer, Dad’s a civil engineer, we’ve got electricians in the family, Grandpa was a machinist, several uncles were auto mechanics. We doubled the size of one aunt’s house without hiring a contractor, and managed to comply with some permits from some hostile town officials.

          I learned fast that I could be as upset as I wanted, as long as I didn’t act on it. Being upset when you’re holding up the roof so your family can work safely under it is NOT good, and as often as not it was me that got injured because of my stupidity. It’s not a question of making waves; it’s a question of the job coming first. You can beat the crap out of each other later; while the chain saw is running or while the car is on blocks you DO NOT act up.

          Not gonna lie, there were times–a LOT of times–when I was driving nails pretending they were my father’s face. Looking back on it, I can see that he did it intentionally a few times; he wanted me to teach me to drive nails efficiently, and quite frankly making me angry was the easiest route to that goal.

            1. James*

              Not so much a family business, as none of us had enough money to hire anyone. Growing up I thought it was normal; it wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that no, most people don’t just call their friends and buy pizza when they need to re-build a section of their house.

              It’s served me well, though. That lesson that the job comes first was a good one. I’ve got two marketable skills: my integrity, and my ability to say “This is going to suck, but I’m going to do it anyway”. It’s kind of depressing how much of a market there is for that.

              1. T2*

                I know the feeling. From the time I was 12 into my late teens I cleaned floors with my uncle. It never occurred to me that I might get paid. I still feel an reaction to floor stripper. Do that today and someone is getting arrested. Lol

                In every measurable way, my life is way better now. My uncles and grandfather are all gone now. But sometimes, I miss those lessons.

                1. Jennifer Thneed*

                  If you like reading, you might enjoy the Rivers of London series. The main character grew up black in London; his mother is from the old country (Nigeria I think) and works as a cleaner, and he has many anecdotes about working with her as a child.

    2. tom*

      I have seen people, both men and women, angry or swearing. I have also seen people avoiding or refusing frustrating tasks for fear of experiencing those emotions. Frankly, quite a few people who consider themselves non-technical and need “technical” person to deal with their tech issues are in this category. It is not lack of intelligence, it is avoidance of frustration.

      Both are imperfections, obviously. Both can be either tolerable or reason to rearrange team.

    3. juliebulie*

      I have seen some very immature behavior. Never quite like Robin’s with the kicking and whining, but I did witness some yelling and door-slamming. Like, when we saw this guy come into our area with steam coming out of his ears, it was like scene from an old Western where everyone scurries out of the saloon. We knew he and our boss were going to have a very loud and stupid disagreement and we preferred to listen at a discreet distance.)

      All the places that I’ve seen tantrummy behavior were quite dysfunctional. However, I’ve also worked in dysfunctional places where something like that would never have happened because our dysfunctions were expressed in a more civilized (but no less ridiculous) manner.

      1. juliebulie*

        Oh but in that one place, eventually the one yelly guy quit and the other (my boss) was double-demoted. So at least the management dealt with him. Eventually.

    4. Amanda*

      I’ve worked with a tantrum thrower (as a peer) who sat by my side. I’d mostly just tell him I’d get back to him after he calmed down. A few times, when those tantrums were particularly bad, I literally said “dude, are you two years old?”, and ignored him.

      I feel a big part of the problem is that women are raised to soothe people (siblings or friends, or whatever), and they carried that to the workplace thinking there will be consequences if they don’t soothe an upset coworker. This might be true in especially messed up offices, but it’s really not normal between peers.

  13. James*

    I knew a guy like #3 in college. We all eventually learned to just let him have his tantrum, and ignore him; eventually he’d calm down, and if we tried to help him calm down it only prolonged the issue. When new folks joined our social circle (we were in dorms, so it was pretty frequent) people–usually women–would try to help him calm down, and get sucked into the vortex. The solution we came up with was to calmly explain the situation to them, then leave them to make their own choices. They usually thought we were heartless at first, but gradually came to realize that we weren’t, we were just sick of his behavior. (When he wasn’t throwing a tantrum he was an okay guy.)

    In #3’s situation, here’s what I would do: Find a quiet time alone with Katie and say something like “Not sure if you were told this before taking the job, but this guy does this all the time. I know it’s annoying to have to deal with. If you want to address this with your manager or HR just let me know how I can help.” Let her decide what to do, but let her know that you’re willing to pitch in and that if she’s ever frustrated, she’s not alone.

    1. T2*

      It is possible to mentally put someone in a corner for a timeout.

      I don’t tolerate this behavior from my children, and I won’t from anyone else either.

    2. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      “I knew a guy like #3 in college. We all eventually learned to just let him have his tantrum, and ignore him; eventually he’d calm down, and if we tried to help him calm down it only prolonged the issue”

      Maybe he was hungry and missed his snack time? It could also be a sign of a wet diaper – that’d be worth checking.

    3. DyneinWalking*

      As someone who can get dis-proportionally upset at fairy minor issue (not like THAT, though), I actually DON’T like being “calmed down”. Part of me is generally well aware that I’m overreacting and trying to get the upper hand… while my subconscious is fishing around for “proof” that the reaction is appropriate. Being soothed is such a “proof”. Which is actually not that unreasonable, when you think about it… If someone was upset about an utterly inconsequential non-issue – say, that the sky is light blue instead of lime green – would you still make honest attempts to sooth them? Your reaction to THAT is the benchmark for “there’s absolutely no reason for that kind of reaction”.

  14. andy*

    I think that the way it is gendered in comments is getting close to “male would handle it better” territory or “she is not handling it as I assume male would and therefore Katie is doing it wrong”. Katie point of view is not present in the story at all.

    Katie is not responsible for Robin behavior. If someone else in the room is annoyed with Robin, proper person to complain to is Robin and proper person to complain about is Robin. There is zero reason to speak to Katie or about Katie. There is no reason to assume Katie should be responsible to manage Robin behavior and her reacting the way she does is somehow her failure or consequence of her reactions.

    The “Katie is mommy” framing of the issue comes entirely from OP and is frankly, insulting to Katie. She is not being his mom. She is professional working in team. She may like being supportive, she may think this is most effective things in her current situation, she may not be thinking about the situation at all. She may consider herself to be technical primary and thus rightfully not putting much thought to Robin. She may be desperate and helpless too, but maybe don’t assume that automatically.

    Second, when there is difference between how average member of gender handles things, lets not assume automatically the male version is better. I work in IT in mostly male teams. I have seen people angry and frustrated during admin stasks. I have seen males to be gentle, nice caring to angry frustrated colleges, to ignore them or to tell them to shut up. I am woman and reacted in different ways, depending on a lot of factors.

    I have however did not seen the other males in the same room being talked about when someone else blows up. Other people are not being given talks about how to best handle angry colleges, whether toward being nicer or stricter, they are assumed to be independent..

      1. andy*

        Males in highly male dominated teams swear, yell and get angry including in inappropriate ways. If anything, they tend to cool it down when women become more prevalent. That is sexism too, but of different kind. “I think that Robin would not be angry during software update if his coworker would be male” is not really something I am ready to take as typical gendered assumption.

        A man can be more dominant toward woman in the team or assume leadership or own superiority – but that is different gender issue.

        1. Colette*

          No one is saying Robin would not be angry, they are saying that he wouldn’t behave the way he is behaving if Katie were male.

    1. T2*

      Good point. I don’t assume anything about Katie. Other than I wouldn’t put up with it, Katie should have too either.

      That said, if I was junior, and not in their line of report, there is no reason to do anything other than document what was seen to my own manager in case Katie wants to take action. This is Katie’s battle. Not mine.

    2. Aquawoman*

      I agree that some of the comments indicate that men would handle it better/blame the women for not handling it “right.” I have to say that I have rarely if ever seen any man call out any behavior at work as inappropriate. I used to work occasionally with a guy who threw tantrums, made sexist and racist comments, was insubordinate when he didn’t like the outcome, and would insult and gaslight me for doing my job. Never heard a man say a peep about him except maybe an eye roll type comment.

      Also, the idea that women don’t face repercussions for “acting like a man” is ridiculous. There’s research that shows that men are expected to be competent and that’s it, while there are other expectations for women around likeability/niceness.

      1. andy*

        I have seen both men and women call out others on inappropriate behavior. I have seen both men and women to ignore inappropriate behavior. I work in male dominated teams (I am woman who works in IT). It is just not true that men would never tell off to each other, especially in situations in which it is hard to focus due to noise.

        The specific “there is noise in the office” situation is the one in which people in IT react quickly and address it fast. I imaging it is similar in other professions in which focus is the key.

        > Also, the idea that women don’t face repercussions for “acting like a man” is ridiculous.

        No one here expressed that idea. Also, women can face repercussions *also* for acting like stereotypical women. Especially in male dominated job, especially when something stereotypically feminine can be casted as being weak.

        What does harm is having to constantly watch over shoulder during office situation – no matter whether you are forced to be more “manly” or more “feminine”. What actually helps is ability to react however is natural to you without putting second thought over what someone three tables away thinks.

        Again, being in male dominated teams pretty much ever since I left high school, I have seen men being caring shoulders to other emotions and blowups. Or them being the general “complain to me” person. I have seen them also ignore it or tell off to each other. They would be less likely to tell each other off on sexist remark specifically, because that bothers them less.

        Then again, most open sexist remarks and general treatment I suffered was from female manager who projected own incapability and insecurities on me. (And generally from non technical people and yes specifically women who, imo, internalized sexism and extrapolated it on me.)

    3. Koala dreams*

      I can’t answer for those other comments, but for me the problem is less that Katie is doing it wrong and more that Katie’s way of dealing with the tantrum thrower doesn’t lead to the wanted result. Maybe Katie gets what she want, or not, but the OP does definately not get what they want (a productive and safe work environment). So naturally people are going to suggest different strategies, and not to copy Katie’s behaviour.

      1. andy*

        I am not saying that OP can not tell Robin off herself. Or complain to management if she finds it distracting or annoying or whatever. OP can do any of these.

        > Katie’s way of dealing with the tantrum thrower doesn’t lead to the wanted result

        Katie is not responsible for getting whatever result OP wants. She is not responsible for managing Robin. That is my big important point. There should be no expectation of her getting wanted behavior of Robin, just like male colleagues present in the room are not expected to get “wanted behavior” from Robin.

        Their way of dealing with situation (ignoring it) is not leading to “wanted” result either.

      2. andy*

        To expand. No matter what kind of bad behavior or a colleague I ever had was, I never seen anyone to focus on the way other males in the same team handle the situation. They were not criticized pretty much no matter what they did in response – with only exception being when the other guy became dysfunctionally inappropriate himself.

        Even if the team was composed of two guys.

        They could be slightly rude in response. They could ignore it. They could nod along as he is was complaining or even join it. They could be calming.

  15. Coffee Cup*

    To be honest, if I were the female colleague in the 3rd situation and someone went behind my back to a manager to talk about how I communicate with my teammate, I would not be very happy. Maybe there are other things in their relationship dynamic that you don’t know about; maybe he handles other things she doesn’t want/like etc. It would be more understandable/justified to tell him to knock it off during a tantrum while he is making noise and being distruptive. Otherwise I don’t know why anyone would feel inclined to be involved and involve third parties into the relationship between two people, neither of whom asked for help.

    1. Batty Twerp*

      OP should make it about Robin’s behaviour, not Katie. Robin’s behaviour is disruptive. and needs to be addressed. Katie is not up for discussion. But the hierarchy matters – if Robin is higher up the chain of command, OP may not feel comfortable (secure in their job) telling him to knock it off. But in this hierarchy, OP can, and should, tell their manager that their work is being disturbed – that is their manager’s concern. OP may choose to ask their manager to support them if they choose to address Robin directly, or it may be more appropriate for the manager to approach Robin directly. Katie doesn’t need to be mentioned.

    2. voyager1*

      This is where I landed too. I think LW needs to know more before involving herself. Talk to Katie, see what the whole picture is.

    3. T2*

      She is not going “behind your back” in that situation. She is reporting that an issue you caused is causing her distress. The parties involved do not work in a vacuum. Going to her boss is very appropriate as she has no power over the offender.

      Think of it like this: Dudes on fire. Katie is trying to put it out, And OP is complaining about the smoke.

    4. Koala dreams*

      When the co-worker had a tantrum in front of other people at work, he already involved them. Tantrums, altercations, yelling, and other behaviour like that makes for a miserable work environment. Even if you personally thrive in such an environment, your co-workers are very unlikely to accept it. I’m sure nobody is happy in this situation.

  16. OP#2*

    OP#2 here – thank you for answering! For some reason, I’ve always been hesitant to ask what they’re looking for or anything that might draw attention to my flaws… which seems silly now that I say it. This is helpful, thank you.

    1. Lyudie*

      I totally get the impulse, the feeling that you need to be on your best behavior with them too. But good recruiters want to make sure there’s a good match and will be open with you on what they know about the position and the client. If it’s a regular client, they will have placed others there before and can share feedback and such with you. Maybe others will feel differently but I’ve generally been pretty honest with outside recruiters regarding what I was looking for and any limitations, and that’s been well received. If they want to shoehorn you into a position where you’re lacking something the role needs, that’s important information for you about the recruiter.

      1. Disgruntled Pelican*

        This was exactly what I came to say. I’m 13+ years into my professional career but transitioning into a new field, and although I readily admit that I’m extremely privileged in that I can afford to be picky, I have forged great relationships with several recruiters by being (tactfully) candid about what I’m looking for, what my dealbreakers are, and what I foresee as being less-than-ideal matches (regardless of which side the mismatch originates with). As a result, they have been equally candid on all fronts (including pay!), and they have all told me several times that they appreciate how upfront I am. I have found it helpful to think of them as collaborators and colleagues rather than people who hold my livelihood in their hands. Lots of recruiters suck, but the good ones take out as much of the guesswork as possible, so you don’t have to engage in the typical silly tap-dance routine that often goes along with talking to an internal hiring manager.

        I encourage you to reframe “flaws” as “areas for improvement,” “price of admission” (that is, tasks or skills that you don’t see yourself investing much time or energy into because they don’t align with your long-term career goals), or “preferences” as applicable. As Alison is always saying, you’re interviewing a given company/role just as much as they’re interviewing you. It’s okay to identify where needs don’t match and to have frank discussions about whether there’s a middle ground to aim for. Plus, a recruiter is going to be much more honest with you about whether a given skill is a must-have or a nice-to-have, which is super helpful for prepping you for the actual interview if/when it happens. Remember, they are quite literally invested in your success—use that to your advantage!

    2. drpuma*

      If the recruiter has a good relationship with the company/department and works with them frequently, you can even get a helpful outside perspective. So for example, ask why they’re hiring -now- for this position. Ask about the experiences and longevity of other folks they’ve placed there. Even outside recruiters want a good fit (arguably more is at stake for them when they strike out), and I’ve worked with many who speak more plainly than their inside counterparts.

    3. Fabulous*

      The point of that question isn’t really to draw attention to your flaws, but to uncover what they might see as a weakness so you can address it preemptively. Perhaps something they are hesitant about is just a simple misunderstanding; it would be good to clear up those snags before an actual interview.

      Other questions you could ask are for the recruiter to tell you a little bit about the company, its location, their impression of the manager, if they’ve ever filled positions for them before and what sort of success they’ve had placing people in the past, etc. so you can get an idea of what you’d be walking into.

  17. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    I disagree slightly with Alison on #3. OP stated his tantrums are distracting, so by all means if he’s impeding your ability to do your work, I think it’s okay to tell him so (in the context of the distraction). Outside of that, I’d stay in your lane. If Katie wants to play mommy, that’s her business.

  18. Phony Genius*

    On #5, the OP says that the company “claimed to shut down operations.” This suggests that the company was never shut down, but rather pretended to be. How could this be done, exactly? A business faking its own death?

    1. Black Horse Dancing*

      OP said temprarily. That happens with various companies. Many do it seasonally.

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      To me, it suggests that the boss is a lying liar who lies. All the boss needs is for OP to never actually drive by the company premises and see that they are open for business. And the boss could be (probably is) dozens or hundreds of miles away from OP’s location.

    3. OP 5*

      OP 5 here-
      I don’t want to say what industry we’re in, but we do work for external clients (in this instance, clients are individuals seeking our services). When all of the freelancers were unable to take on new projects, my “boss” would inform inquiries that we were not accepting new clients at the time. He told me he was going to do this for awhile because he need some time away from running the firm, but in reality, he was directing work to other freelancers.

  19. Syfygeek*

    OP # 4- I’m so glad you asked this question. There’s always a fine line between too soon/too late to reach out, and I will debate with myself to reach out or not for days, weeks, etc..

    It also brings back a horrible situation with a former horrible Boss. He called a meeting, informed us that Bob’s position was being restructured, and Bob would no longer be here. Bob wasn’t at the meeting, but Boss assured us Bob was aware and looking forward to new experiences. Bob’s assistant called Bob’s cell phone and left a message about how great it had been to work with him, how much he’d learned from him and hoped they could stay in touch. Turns out Bob was at the dentist having something done and had taken the day off. Found out he’d been terminated from the voice mail from his assistant!

    The best part of this is that Bob wound up in a great place and is still there. WonderKid the Boss brought in to fill Bob’s job (who literally started the next day) discovered she was pregnant the 2nd month she was there, worked a total of 6 months, went out for medical reasons, had the baby, and waited until the Friday before she was due to come back on Monday to let Boss know she wasn’t coming back.

    1. OP#4*

      OOP#4 here! Yikes, the Bob situation sounds awful. Layoffs are never pleasant, but at least my company has been as graceful as possible about letting people go.

      Nevertheless, I’ve struggled with questions of when/how to reach out to people. I find it so hard to find the right tone when I have no idea what the person’s frame of mind is. Are they crumpled on the floor sobbing? Disappointed but optimistic? Seething with resentment?

      Getting replies from my emails has given me a window into how varied the reactions can be. In some cases, though, it’s clear that people are going through a pretty devastating grieving process.

      These are always going to be tough emails to write, but I’m so glad Alison answered my question. it’s really helpful to get confirmation on the general timing and messaging that’s appropriate for these communications.

      1. CircleBack*

        I think next-day is a perfectly reasonable time to reach out! It can be very disorienting to be suddenly cut off from everyone after you’re laid off, and hearing from people sooner rather than later helps when you’re feeling “shunned” from the company and office friends.
        As long as you’re 100000% sure the person knows and has had ample time to get home and catch their breath, I think you’re good to go on a nice note to say you were sorry to hear the news and wanted to make sure the person has your contact information. I once offered to help make sure someone who lived near me got all their personal items from their desk, and it was well received.
        And for anyone reading this page who’s wondering about the appropriate time to reach out to someone who got laid off when you think you can offer them a job / point them to a job opportunity? Asap! I know multiple people who got a reach-out from a former colleague or current vendor within a day or two of getting laid off, and they jumped at the opportunities. If you leave room for great workers to grieve, they may get snatched up by someone else!

  20. natalie tulips*

    LW3 here: Thank you for your response! Both software administrators are above me; I am in a coordinator role, which is the lowest professional-track level we have. Katie, in her previous role in our organization, worked closely on a project with me though she was still above me then (however I was leading this project when I was here as a graduate intern so I wouldn’t say strict hierarchy is part of our company culture) so I will definitely think about whether that makes me comfortable at least letting her know that I see what goes on and the extra effort she has to give. I don’t think I’d be comfortable saying something directly to Robin in the moment; I don’t know him well at all and I also have an aversion due to some childhood stuff to interacting with angry/frustrated men.
    For those who were wondering, no, Robin does not have tantrums when Katie isn’t around. The tantrums aren’t a daily occurrence and I can count on one hand how often it’s been just Robin or just Katie so I don’t yet know what would happen if she wasn’t there.
    Someone else mentioned that something similar happened at their workplace and that in that case it was sexual: I really really don’t think that’s what’s going on here, but gross and I’m sorry to anyone at your workplace who had to deal with that.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      For those who were wondering, no, Robin does not have tantrums when Katie isn’t around.

      I wish I could say I was surprised.

      I hope the suggestions by Alison and commenters will be a useful arsenal for you when it happens next. It’s not acceptable.

      1. andy*

        I would point out that paragraph continues by this: “The tantrums aren’t a daily occurrence and I can count on one hand how often it’s been just Robin or just Katie so I don’t yet know what would happen if she wasn’t there.”

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      OP #3, what do you mean “The tantrums aren’t a daily occurrence and I can count on one hand how often it’s been just Robin or just Katie so I don’t yet know what would happen if she wasn’t there.”

      I’m confused about the “just Robin or just Katie.” Do you mean just Robin without Katie?

      1. andy*

        I interpreted it as Robin and Katie being present at the same time. Robin is rarely on the job when Katie is not. Katie is rarely on the job when Robin is not.

      2. toots*

        As I understand it, she means just Robin or just Katie present at work at a given time, as opposed to both of them there at the same time (which is the typical case)

      3. JSPA*

        I read it to mean, they have not happened enough to make a statistically significant conclusion.

        It’s happened no more than 5 times (“one hand”) with “a woman” present. It’s happened zero times with no woman present. Not knowing how often he’s there alone…how often there’s a woman present…and how often there’s a man present…it’s neither proven nor disproven that he’s doing it because a woman is present.

        And even if he does it only when women are present, it’s not necessarily true that he’s doing it to be comforted. It’s still problematic if he’s (say) tenser with a woman present, and thus not as deep in his own head, and thus being more expressive. After all, it’s still more distraction for a woman than it would be if she were a man, and that’d be a problem.

        But as a manager, or as someone bringing a problem to a manager, the beauty of it is that you don’t need to know his motivations to decide if it’s a problem. In fact, assigning motivation is, in itself, problematic. (Here, where we’re all strangers who know each other on the internet, it’s fine! In the workplace, “I am sure I know what Robin thinks inside his brain even if there’s no proof” is a problem.)

    3. T2*

      OP, Please be careful of this. the number and when it happens is not really relevant. Once is way way way too many.

      Anger issues in men, directed towards or around women are too often excused. Think “he only abuses me every other month or so.” I have seen too many abusive relationships where behavior is excused because it is not often. Not saying that it is happening here. But the point remains : Once is too much.

    4. Kat in VA*

      Chiming in to say I totally understand not wanting to be around when a man is getting angry / loud / belligerent. He could be the nicest guy on earth, wouldn’t hurt a fly, just blowing off steam, whatever – doesn’t matter. My childhood has taught me that when adult men start moving parts of their bodies fast (shoving back fast from a desk in a chair, standing up really quickly, etc.), yelling way above normal “Hey, Bob got a second” across-the-office volume, throwing/yanking inanimate things around, or generally acting in an aggressive, angry way…well, someone is about to get hit.

      No amount of mental talk will quell that instant queasy rise of fear when I’m near a man doing those things – even if it’s BossMan whom I think is great, my husband, my adult son, a stranger in a grocery store, whoever.

      1. JSPA*

        Trauma is real! And I’m not going to, “but have you tried [list any of 20 sorts of therapy].

        I wish there were a world where anybody could move faster or be louder without it being scary, because nobody was terrorized as a child.

        I don’t know what to say, though, as far as “what sorts of things should be assumed to be scary” (and whether that’s the normalization of trauma) vs. “irrational fear of birds = I will slam my coworker off her feet and into the gutter.”

        The thing about trauma, and PTSD, and phobias, and compulsions (and the list continues) is that whether they’re common or rare; whether they make intellectual sense or not; whether we correctly ascribe motivation or not; the threat or demand or need is starkly obvious to the person experiencing it.

    5. Wisteria*

      Just an observation — “tantrum” is not a behavior. Kicking is a behavior. “Tantrum” is a story that you are telling yourself about the kicking.

      If the kicking is annoying to you, then ask someone you trust something like, “Whenever Robin’s frustrated, he kicks his feet. Have you noticed this? It’s annoying to be around.” And be sure you describe the behavior accurately. If he is drumming his heels on the ground, that is very different from, say, actually directing a kick at something. The answer will tell you something about how Robin is perceived and whether it is worth bringing up to your manager.

      Another observation — you say he doesn’t do this when Katie is not around. Since Katie is his only cohort, I wonder who else he would be going to.

  21. Betty (the other betty)*

    #5 Freelancer leaving a consulting firm, wanting to work with a previous client.

    This is a good time to use LinkedIn. Make sure your LinkedIn account is connected to an email that you have access to. Then send the client a request to connect via LinkedIn, with a note that you are no longer working with the consulting firm but enjoyed working with the client and wanted to keep in touch. You could mention that you’ll be taking on a few select freelance clients.

    That gives the client a way to contact you if they are able (not bound by a non-solicitation agreement) and interested.

  22. Ann O'Nemity*

    #3 I would hate to see this situation play out in front of me on a regular basis, and I would start to resent the culture and the management that allowed it to happen.

  23. Stormy Weather*

    When it comes to external recruiters, there’s a lot you can ask. I like to try and get a feel for the personalities of the people doing the interviewing. Another is why have they rejected other potential candidates, if the recruiter knows why the position is open. I’ve dealt with multitudes of horrendous recruiters, several good ones, but the great ones can be a resource for you.

    I’ve landed my last 3 out of 4 jobs via external recruiters.

    1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      Or maybe OP or Katie is on the spectrum. Any of that is both diagnosing strangers and getting into advice column fanfic.

      There’s a long-standing pattern of “maybe he’s on the spectrum” being used to excuse male behavior, without considering that the person being mistreated might also be on the spectrum, and be having a harder time dealing with the tantrums and social “cluelessness.” Women, neurotypical or otherwise, shouldn’t be expected to handle their coworkers’ stress as well as their own.

      Obliviousness wouldn’t “accidentally” lead to a man expecting women, and not other men, to soothe his emotions. When a man knows to, or makes the effort to, manage his emotions around other men, while dumping emotional labor on women, sexism is definitely a factor.

      1. JSPA*

        We have someone at my workplace who has an accommodation that would cover this behavior. The specifics were worked out with full buy-in by the people who work directly with her. That’s not a diagnosis; it’s a statement. I don’t claim the situations are necessarily parallel. But surely it’s valid advice to OP that if OP is told “that’s how it is,” and OP is further told, “it’s not your place to probe further, as to why” that OP should be aware of the possibility that there’s an accommodation in effect.

        Sucks to be on PIP for pushing too hard because they were curious about someone’s accommodation that does not concern them directly. (I nearly got there not once but twice, involving people who had pregnancy-related accommodations, without having announced a pregnancy. In both cases, schedules and duties were re-assigned for “no reason,” and people were being weird and looking emotional or upset or queasy while everyone pretended things were normal, and it left me feeling very unmoored and unready to hear, “just not your business.”)

        “I read this as X, and if so, I find it troubling, but I realize this is beyond my pay grade and there may be a completely different explanation” is really, really as far as I’d push it, solo. If one of the women involved asks OP to back her up / document, that’s entirely different, or if Robin does it to OP directly, that’s also totally different. But in this exact situation, going in hot, sure that you know what the situation IS, based on what it LOOKS LIKE, is a good way to flame out spectacularly.

  24. Database Developer Dude*

    For LW3, I am betting my paycheck against anyone’s that Robin is white. This is why I have a superhuman amount of self-control…I have to. If I raise my voice even the slightest bit or express even the slightest bit of frustration about anything, no matter how professionally I act, I will be seen as worse than Robin…… This kind of thing frustrates me to no end….

    1. Serafina*

      LW 3 confirmed it upthread. Not at all surprising – I was betting on it too. White men get away with both abusive and toddler behavior that no person from any other demographic would be allowed. It’s disgusting.

      1. T2*

        As a white man, myself, I completely agree with you. Fortunately, I have long term close associations with my mixed family which have cured me of such pretensions.

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      Yes. What you say.

      DDD, I am so glad that you are a regular commenter here, and that you name your race since we can’t see you. I long for the days when there is no default race or sex! I so very much hate the question “Isn’t my (white) child too young to learn about race?” because EVERYONE has a race. Everyone has a skin color. (Mine is “white”.)

  25. Employment Lawyer*

    5. Can I suggest a client work with me directly when I leave my contracting firm?
    Generally yes, with some minor caveats.

    There’s no way we can cover the entire universe of “what is safe?” and it’s always possible that your existing employer will be a pain in the rear. If you want to be careful, here are the big three issues which I see most commonly and which are fairly simple to avoid:

    1) Be very, very, sure that you have not signed any noncompetes/nonsolicits/etc. You’d be surprised how often people forget!! I have gotten a ways into cases and clients have sworn ten times that they never signed one…. and, whaddya know, it pops up in discovery and they put on a shameful face and admit they forgot it was in some huge package when they started. That can be a very expensive mistake. Consider requesting a full copy of your contract and file “in preparation for leaving” or whatever.

    2) Do not solicit work or try to convince people to leave your employer while on the clock; while on employer phone/email; etc. Getting paid by Company A while acting to steal their clients later tends to piss Company A off and lead to suits and threats. In a perfect world you wouldn’t even do it while you were under contract: the ideal time to have the conversation is a) after your contract is over or b) while you are “between jobs”, i.e. if your contract ends on Friday and a new one starts on Monday, call over the weekend.

    3) To avoid the appearance of impropriety w/r/t #2 it can be very helpful if you manage to contact Potential Client in a *different way* than you routinely use for work. For example, say you always meet with the manager at Client’s office on Tuesdays to present graphs. You would, ideally, set up a “meeting to discuss something personal and unrelated to this contract” no a different time/place/day so there is no question about overlap.

    1. JSPA*

      I’d REALLY watch the wording on #3 to make sure it’s not misconstrued as a date / a request for a date. (Especially if you also do it on the weekend.) I’d feel skeeved out getting that call, and if there were an explanation about leaving / keeping contact after that point, I’d quite likely give it the side eye, having had the immediate “skeeve-detector” reaction.

      Maybe, “…to discuss other professional ideas beyond the scope of this contract, and unrelated to my work here”? Or, “I’ve particularly enjoyed working on your project. Given the volatile nature of the current economy, I’d like to give you my other email address, That way we can stay in touch professionally, whatever happens down the line.” Or just:”Please always feel free to contact me at [email].”

  26. drpuma*

    OP4, since you are already taking some time to think of specific things you appreciate about your former colleagues and are already on LinkedIn, it could also be a kindness to share their strengths (with some modifications) as a LinkedIn endorsement.

  27. Emma*

    Can I ask why comments are turned off on the post from the person who is concerned her boss hasn’t reached out? I just thought people might be able to offer advice in the comments. Apologies if this has already been explained somewhere and I’ve missed it!

    1. Viette*

      If you’re discussing the post titled: “I’m the only black person on my team and it seems to be “business as usual” this week”, it’s likely because Alison does not want to moderate any discussion in the comments.

      This is something she’s done in the past when she seems to not be up for hosting a site-wide discussion about a subject that’s prone to inciting people to posting things she may (just guessing) find very offensive. I do respect that and I recommend not pursuing the topic of that post further here, if anyone is so inclined.

      1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        I think you’re right on why comments were turned off.

        That said, as a black person I would have appreciated her allowing comments but stating that commenting be limited to black people with lived experiences or thoughts to share. She’s done that with other issues, asking the “general audience” not to chime in.

        I have a very different point of view than the OP and AAM for that one, and think sharing would have been useful to some people.

        1. Emma*

          This is why I thought it odd, there have been other questions that were thrown to readers for their experience, would’ve been useful with this.

        2. Traffic_Spiral*

          I have no idea how you think she could effectively ensure that only black people comment on a semi-anonymous open forum. That’s just not a feasible option.

          1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

            “I have no idea how you think she could effectively ensure that only black people :

            Not surprising, since I didn’t say that or think that. I used the words “stating” and “asking.” I never said “effectively ensure” which is not the same.

          2. A*

            I didn’t see that suggestion. However it is worth mentioning that Alison has done posts in the past asking only certain demographics to comment (although never anything as loaded as this topic).

        3. Mystery Bookworm*

          I like that idea and think it would be very helpful and interesting. I do wonder what it is like to write in to a blog for support and then see that the comments have been turned off (especially here, where the commentors are often so thoughtful and kind).

          More selfishly, I’ve personally found that thoughtful discussions (here and other places) have helped me to identify how I might not be as inclusive as I’d like, and not living my values as I hope.

          For example, I’ve found Alison’s posts on how Christmas is never secular and commentors experiences around that to be really helpful in changing the way I look at and talk about things. I also found the discussion on what people missed/gained from growing up in ‘blue’ vs ‘white’ collar families to be really illuminating.

          I think it’s particularly valuable on this blog, both because Alison maintains a reasonably high standard of comments, but also because the workplace theme gives context to the conversations that is applicable to daily life, particularly when it comes to subtler microaggressions that are contributing factors but not as easy to spot).

          That said, I can imagine that the trolls are out in force around BLM topics and I appreciate that it would be incredibly difficult to moderate such a discussion. (Especially if people claim to be black and then post inflammatory comments that raise doubt on their original claim, which is something I know has happened elsewhere.) Still, I agree that the idea sounds valuable and I’d love to hear your opinion on the letter.

        4. DyneinWalking*

          Building on what Traffic_Spiral* said, the one time I remember where Alison limited comments was when factual advice by actual professionals was desired. Making sure that only professionals post in a comment section like this is still difficult, but when it’s about objective, factual advice, it’s much easier to spot liars, especially when your large pool of readers certainly has a whole bunch of true professionals who can shoot them down.

          But when it comes to subjective experiences… how could you ever successfully moderate that in a widely-read, anonymous comment section? There’s no way to verify that a person is black and has truly made the stated experiences, no hard objective facts to fall back on! You’d have to moderate based on how “believable” the stated experiences are, and the “correctness” of the stated emotions and reactions… I shudder at the very thought of it. Reality can be unreal, and human reactions to injustice can be extremely messy and complicated (hello, internalized racism).

          I reckon the best bet at a “moderatable” blacks-only thread on this side would be to only allow commenters who a) have commented on this site before and b) have at some point stated that they are black. Which would probably be tricky to do, but, seriously, everything else sounds incredibly messy once you contemplate it in more detail. I understand why Alison just avoided it altogether.

        5. Observer*

          I’m sure that sharing could have been useful. But the last few times similar issues have come up, the discussion turned so toxic, that it was ridiculous and comments had to be turned off. Not just overtly racist comments and white-splaining of anti-black racism to the black op.

          I’m seeing this in other forums. It’s mostly working in one place, but that’s because it’s a smaller forum, with a moderation TEAM and the ability to actually know who is posting what.

        6. All BLM, not just that OP*

          Yes. I’m a POC of would be offended by communications following the scripts that were suggested. It’s disappointing to have the opposite assume without any opportunity for discussion. I respect Alison’s decision not to moderate, but would have prefer it not be posted at all in that case.

          Honestly it’s the first time in my AAM-reader history that I don’t actually feel like represented in any way, or protected – or whatever else the goal was.

          1. Important Moi*

            Please explain. I don’t exactly understand what you’re saying. I’d like to see more before I respond.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I responded further down more broadly, but thanks for saying this! I tend to think of the website as largely about the posts rather than the comments, because most readers don’t read or engage in the comments at all — so I don’t think of the point of posting content as being to generate an opportunity for discussion. So it’s helpful for me to hear this perspective. I’m not sure if I would have done it differently, but I want to think about it.

      2. LifeBeforeCorona*

        Most comments here are mature and thoughtful. However, the trolls who pee in the pool and run away are always looking for a chance to ruin it for everyone. It can be exhausting to constantly patrol for them,

    2. Nela*

      Probably because internet comments on race issues can be awful and that would be a mess to moderate. I was glad they were turned off.

      1. Vina*

        We aren’t even that far into today and we’ve already had two people trying to diagnose/justify/excuse the man-child’s tantrums. Can you imagine what it would be like to moderate anything on race today?

        1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

          You’re right.

          I must note, though, that there is something close to irony that that OP wrote in about a lack of conversation about race at her workplace, while here, in a place to discuss workplaces, there is hesitation to have a conversation about race.

          1. Vina*

            I understand, but I’d counter that it’s 1000% better for that discussion to be held in a space with a moderator who is African American.

            As someone who is not, but does has a lot of experience moderating, I know I would be far more likely to miss something that should be addressed, removed, etc. than an African American colleague.

            As a woman, I always cringe when men, even well-meaning ones, are the gatekeepers of discussions about gender. There are some male sex-columnists I read who very frequently make me cringe b/c they are being sexist and don’t know it. Their good intentions don’t matter. It’s still cringe and often harmful.

            Further, given that Allison can’t know which posters are AA and which aren’t, it’s really difficult to moderate.

            So, I totally understand why she didn’t do it.

            Heck, even at places like The Root, it’s a daily, exhausting battle for the mods. That’s a space by African Americans and for African Americans. It’s still exhausting.

            Anyone who wants this type of discussion can find it there on a daily basis. It’s there.

            This is very, very different than one-offs regarding “Hey, as a person who is AA, this is racist, so can we not?” As part of discussions on other matters.

            1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

              I’d urge her to try it as she did with some other discussions – I think it may have been on transgender rights or perhaps the situation of people with disabilities: asking only people in those groups to comment. And if it still got nasty, shut it down, turn off commenting at that point. Not very active moderation but observation. She might even learn something herself.

              Now, if it’s the time suck for her – that’s legit. It’s her time and her blog. But I would have hoped she’d have let it run.

              ” That’s a space by African Americans and for African Americans. It’s still exhausting.”

              I’m actually kind of hoping that doing it here would be a black people’s conversation in front of a white audience. Or at least get my point of view out there: I somewhat disagree with what Alison wrote, or at least might open some space in her thinking.

              1. Vina*

                Thanks for this repky.

                If it were done, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

                I hope it it happens it’s not too emotionally draining for you.
                I’m wrecked now. I can’t imagine being black.

                I know one of the privileges I have of being socially perceived as white (I’m not, but have the privilege of passing as Lilly white) is I can take a break in ways others can’t.

                I wonder if any of our other regular black commentators would be willing to do so. And have the bandwidth to do so.

                1. Vina*


                  One thing we white people have to learn is that we have to learn. We have to take criticism. not continually deflect and distance

                  I’m often in the other side of this in areas where I’m the less privileged. Getting people holding a privilege to see beyond protecting their egos is difficult.

                  I hope that we can have a space here for the nonblack folk to listen, learn, and admit we are wrong.

                  So much if the dialogue now is either why this isn’t a problem or it’s platitudes from white folks who want to virtue signal and protect egos. I would expect better here.

          2. I'd like to know what to say*

            When I read the letter I immediately thought of my co-worker, and picked up my phone a dozen times afterward to check in. I wasn’t sure what to say, and would love a forum to get educated on where to begin.

        2. Database Developer Dude*

          Sadly, Vina, I find myself having to cosign with you 100%. Good on Alison for not wanting to open that huge bucket of worms.

      2. Ayyy Nonny Nonny*

        Turning off comments suppresses voices, and especially BIPOC voices. While I understand that Alison wants to ensure that it doesn’t turn into a debate re: BLM (as there will inevitably be people ~missing the point~), note that other public figures (see: Justin Timberlake) have put out statements on social and turned off comments- and were met with backlash. Rightfully so, because posting in solidarity without following up with agitating for real change is performative activism. People need fora to speak truth to power. JT needed to be called on it. Members of the Black community who want Alison to refine or change her message, or who note something problematic, should be able to call it out (only if they want to! Remember to not put the labor on Black folks when trying to educate yourself. Don’t ask for resources or voluntell them to speak at your org).

        1. Vina*

          The issue with having totally open comments is you don’t know who is really a BIPOC voice.

          There’s a lot of sock-puppet in and fakery. Even on the Root you see a lot of people making comments who say they are a POC, but their comments seem very white.

          I’ve been in plenty of feminist spaces where the posters seemed to be men posing as women.

          I really, honestly don’t know how you could host something like this.

          It needs to happen and I think most posters here are honest about who they are. That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t get flooded with trolls.

          If we could keep it within the community and white folks would agree to listen and not speak over others, that would be great. But I don’t think hat would be the reality.

          I’m honestly at a loss. Not having the conversation is a problem. Trying to have it often leads to a troll tsunami.

        2. Allonge*

          Let me start by saying that I don’t disagree with what you are saying.

          At the same time, it just has to be ok for Alison to decide that she does not feel up to moderate that discussion on her own website, especially not under a post that will bring in people not familiar with AAM.

          I am sorry.

        3. Fieldpoppy*

          I don’t think we get to tell people what emotional labour they should commit to

          1. Ayyy Nonny Nonny*

            I understand and hear you on the labor. This is difficult. Please note that Alison has created and moderated open and respectful fora for other marginalized, underrepresented groups who are under attack, and who are constantly having to do the work of self-advocacy and public education- despite Alison not being, to my knowledge, a member of those groups. Not doing so now when she has in the past feels… not off-brand, but certainly surprising. There are members of the Black community trying to weigh in on this discussion and are unable to do so in the appropriate comment section.

            1. Fieldpoppy*

              I hear that Ayyy Nonny. I get that desire to crack open the conversation in new ways. I think this is a good place for that. And I’m also just feeling very aware of how quickly that can get harmful.

        4. Yorick*

          I don’t think “action” has to be “spending tons of time and energy moderating comments that are likely to be actively racist and/or well-meaning but problematic.” People can decide for themselves how they will work toward positive change.

        5. Colette*

          There are lots of ways to take action for change without hosting comments on a website, and Alison (like everyone else) is allowed to decide how she wants to spend her time and energy.

        6. tired*

          Hosting an open comment section isn’t ‘agitating for real change.’

          I’m a black reader who emailed Alison yesterday to thank her for closing comments on that post. I’m exhausted. I appreciated the decision.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes. I’ve attempted to host other discussions here on race and they were a shit show and not productive (loads of white-splaining racism to a black OP, for example).

        I got *flooded* with emails from people thanking me for closing comments, so it’s interesting to hear the counterpoint, but I will not host or moderate a discussion where people post things like they did last time. I’m not going to have that on my site.

        Also, this letter came in about an hour before I published it. I never publish that quickly, but I wanted to get it up this week since it was so timely. And I was going to be tied up all day, with limited ability to moderate, even had I thought opening comments up was a good idea.

        I am removing a lengthy off-topic thread here debating this. You’re welcome to discuss it on the open thread if you’d like though!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Arghh — no, I’m not removing it. I did, and then felt awfully gross about removing that discussion. I think it needs to stay, even though it’s off-topic for this post.

          1. A*

            Cheers. I think this speaks very highly of you – both as an individual and as a business owner. Thank you for not removing it.

        2. Grateful*

          Thank you Alison. Your thoughtful moderation of comments is honestly one of the most valuable parts of this site, and I completely understand why you made the call not to even open them for that post. I’m sure, as Emma suggested, there could be some value in advice from the comments, but in this case the risk clearly outweighed the potential benefits.

    3. Thankful for AAM*

      Hi Emma,
      I can understand both why comments were turned off and why we would want them open; I also wanted to have a convo about the topic.

      In a group I am in, for white people, for the purpose of education, and with many POC voices, there is disagreement about if and what to say to coworkers and direct reports who are POC. It would be interesting and helpful to explore questions like this here from a work perspective.

      Also sorry for being off topic.

    4. Important Moi*

      I was fine with comments being turned off. Pragmatically speaking, I believe that Alison does not have a large staff. Moderating that conversation would have been a lot for a small group (0r one person?). I believe that conversation would have to be moderated with a heavy hand. I’ve been here awhile and seen some train wrecks develop in real time.

      Also, as a black person I don’t want a conversation limited to black people without verification that the people commenting are black. How would that even be verified? This is the internet. People aren’t obligated to anything just because you state or ask. The topic is too important for that. The “general audience” chimes in all the time.

    5. NapkinThief*

      I initially felt disappointed that comments were closed, but then thought about the gaslighting mayhem I have seen erupt whenever BLM is brought up anywhere, and felt relieved to not have to see one of my favorite places on the internet become a new source of trauma.

      I will check in on the open thread with my own perspective on ways to reach out.

  28. Bob*

    LW3: Robin is incredibly lucky to have women who will take care of his misbehavior. But its not their job to do so, they may think its simply easier this way or its part of the soft skills used at work but they should not be having to doing this.
    His boss should be talking to him about it and a plan put into place, whether its counseling (are there health benefits?), or some kind of mentoring (though i would not want to volunteer to mentor him, nor should it be Katie since she is already involved in a maladaptive pattern that she should not have to shoulder).
    He needs a plan to shape up, he can’t spend Katie’s tenure taking advantage of her niceness. And if Katie leaves or Robin is let go the next coworker or employer probably won’t be so nice.

    I would love to see Clementine Ford’s thoughts on this matter. I’m sure she would have a few choice words to offer.

  29. Potatoes gonna potate*

    Re #3 – I had a really really strong reaction to that, as in I physically recoiled. Robin reminds me of a relative who throws tantrums and can get physical with foot stomping etc. I blame his family and the whole damn culture for raising him to be a spoiled brat and allowing him to behave this way and I shudder for his future wife.

    I can understand frustration but the second someone gets physical (throwing pens, foot stomping etc) esp on such a frequent basis, I would immediately have a WTF face going on. That’s something that I can easily see escalating into getting physical with a coworker.

    1. Database Developer Dude*

      …and this is another reason why I have to have a superhuman amount of self-control, regardless of the provocation. I will be perceived as about ready to get physical, even if I’m not, and will be considered a threat.

      1. Potatoes gonna potate*

        I’m sorry. It is unfair and it’s deplorable that white men get away with all sorts of behavior.

  30. Koala dreams*

    #3 Having to watch co-workers have tantrums at work in front of you is enough “involvement”, it’s very distracting and that’s bad enough. You don’t need to wait until they target you with their behaviour. There was a very similar question a few days back, about a swearing co-worker, you might be interested in reading the comments for that too, even though that instance was less awful as it didn’t have the added layer of sexism. If you feel safe doing so, it’s fine to talk to the co-worker directly, or you can bring it up with your manager or HR. Good luck!

  31. Mina, the Company Prom Queen*

    OP3: Does your company have one of those anonymous hotline numbers where you can report the incident the next time Robin throws a tantrum? It’s a shame that you might have to tiptoe around this since Robin is the one acting inappropriately, but maybe if you were able to report this anonymously, it might be investigated and at least Robin would be questioned about it. Be sure and mention that it’s distracting and that you’re concerned for your coworkers. If he knows people are talking about it, maybe he’ll reign it in. Unless he’s one of those a**holes who doesn’t care, then directly reporting the specific incident to a manager might be the way to go.

  32. Anon for this one*

    OP3 it’s a stretch using my experience and feel free to disregard if it doesn’t ring true, but do you think it’s possible that ‘Robin’ has had, what should I say? Tantrums? privately with these women previously (do they have any private interactions?) and so now they feel intimidated into managing his moods in a more “discreet” way?

    I get the sense Robin is this cliché type who has been the king of their own systems for years and years, then suddenly they are displaced and then they start to hit out in unexpected ways. (Is it possible that Robin is fearing for their own job security?)

    I would bring it up with your own boss if you think the boss is effective at getting things changed. It’s creating an unproductive environment for you at this point.

  33. OP 5*

    OP 5 here. Some things I think I need to clarify, though I don’t think changes advice. It will answer some of the questions:

    1. Without saying what industry my freelance job was in, or what I do, clients are individuals, not businesses. They were around the country, we worked one-on-one, with my so-called boss handling the billing, connecting clients to freelancers, etc.
    2. My full time job is in a wildly different industry than the one I freelanced in. Toward that end, my relationship with the client would be as a freelancer, just no more middle man and my company would have nothing to do with the client. (For example, imagine someone working in sales is transcribing recorded interviews during nights and weekends.)
    3. I never signed any contract or non-compete. The only documentation was what was needed for a 1099, nothing else had been signed.
    4. I responded to another comment directly, but the faux shutdown was possible because the firm was not a physical office, just a structure offering services, connecting individual clients to freelancers. He would shut down to new clients when all of the freelancers were unable to take on more work or if he needed to be away from the work (he has another job and manages this firm nights and weekends). Thus he was able to say “I’m not able to really work on the firm for awhile,” to me, while sending the clients to other freelancers. This way, I wouldn’t ask him about sending me more work.

  34. coffee please*

    Number 4: I went through a layoff, I appreciated the people who reached out. The one exception were two of the more senior people who were involved in the decision making process. They waited until after I landed another job to reach out to me.

    I didn’t take the layoff personally, the company wasn’t doing well and eventually went out of business. From a strictly logical perspective based on the company and department needs, I would have made the same decision they did.

    But I would have appreciated their good wishes and support during my job hunt. I also wondered if they were reaching out to me, now that I had a “connection” at my new job and was now more “valuable”. Or maybe they felt bad since they were involved in the decision making process. I let it go, but I do have a higher opinion of the ones who reached out sooner.

    IMO, waiting until after someone lands a job after a layoff seems like the office equivalent of a fair weather friend.

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