my boss asked me to reflect on my conflicts with coworkers and I don’t want to

A reader writes:

I’ve worked for four years in a research laboratory and my supervisor is an associate professor. Her husband is a professor and a director of the research group (and that’s how she easily got her position). As part of standard procedure, the university requires all employees to complete what is called a performance development review.

In our meeting, she highlighted two development goals. One was to improve individual conflict management skills by reflecting on all instances of conflicts and how those can be handled better. The second was to improve my skills in communication and dealing with feedback from other colleagues, especially staff members who are on a higher academic and professional level than myself, and to write and reflect on all instances where inappropriate responses were provided to queries by other staff members.

I replied that I disagreed that these should be listed in the development goals on my personal form, as the conflicts are common and have largely resolved by various means. Also, the conflicts were a thing of the past and I do not want to recall them. I agree that they can be improved on, but I do not want this to be on my permanent record, as it reflects badly on a HR record. For the second point I replied to her saying that I would have appreciated if private feedback was provided at the time rather than only bringing it up during the performance development review. (And to keep a long story short, I didn’t agree that my response was inappropriate. My [negative] response was based on the decisions made at that time.)

This was her response:

The development objectives will stay recorded in the PDR system because they are areas that I as your direct line of manager has identified that you need to DEVELOP in. The activities are activities created by me to make you reflect on some of these instances and identify ways you can mitigate future conflicts. They do not go into the online talent system. At the next PDR meeting, the report by me will be “have you achieved the goals set out by me pertaining to the activities or not?”

You can choose to go through with this PDR process set out by me as your direct line manager, or you can choose to ignore it. At the end of the day, I submit a report and that goes on the record.

My conflict management strategies in the past pertaining to all the complaints against yourself have been to work out the entire situation by listening to all parties, set up meetings and work it through with everyone including yourself. The example provided is just an example and not an isolated incident, nor is it only coming from a particular individual. It is simply the most recent example.

I just felt that it was very insensitive and bossy response, not to mention her already insensitive way of putting such items as “development goals.”

Oooooh, no.

You need to do what your manager is asking.

She’s clearly saying that if you don’t, it will be insubordination and likely have serious consequences for you.

When your manager tells you that you’ve had multiple conflicts with coworkers and you need to reflect on those incidents and figure out how to handle them better in the future, you cannot dismiss that by saying those conflicts are in the past and you don’t want to have to think about them. She’s saying clearly that she has determined that, in order to succeed in your job, you do need to recall them and work on alternate strategies.

There’s no option here to just say, “No, I don’t want to.” Or rather, it’s an option, but it means you’ll be putting your professional standing and your job in jeopardy. If you worked for me, that would put you far along the path to getting fired.

The multiple conflicts themselves are already a serious problem. Refusing to work on it when asked is a real F-you to your boss … and really reinforces that you’re a problem for the team. (In fact, it reinforces the very feedback she’s giving you.)

And make no mistake, based on your boss’s email to you (both the actual content and the clipped, frustrated tone), she already thinks of you as a pretty big problem, and she sounds ready to to act on that.

Now, should she have addressed issues with you as they came up? Yes. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have standing to address it now, and if you fight her on that rather than addressing the problems themselves, you’re going to look like you’re deflecting, missing the point, and continuing a pattern of combativeness that’s already been flagged as a problem. You’ll have much more luck if you first do what she’s asking and then later say you’d like to receive feedback in a more ongoing way, rather than hearing about problems for the first time in a formal review.

I’m not sure why you thought her response was insensitive (it was certainly direct, but in a context where that was necessary) or bossy (she is in fact your boss), or why you find framing this stuff as “development goals” to be insensitive. These are development goals, and there’s nothing weird or insulting about calling them that. It also seems to be the terminology your organization uses. Personally, I think it’s rather soft; I would call them “performance requirements” because they would be!

The best thing you can do is to drop your instinct to push back or defend yourself and just … do what she’s asking you to do: reflect on the past conflicts and how you could have handled them differently. That’s a reasonable thing for a manager to ask, and it sounds like it’s based in real necessity here.

{ 896 comments… read them below }

  1. Environmental Compliance*

    I’m more than a little bothered by the “boss only got her job because her husband is XYZ here” as well.

    1. Ali G*

      Yes. This person clearly has zero respect for their boss, and is very unprofessional about it.

      1. HR Exec Popping In*

        Yes, it does not matter if the LW feels it is “unfair” that this person is their boss and that they believe they are unqualified. Your boss is your boss. You choice is to leave if you don’t like that. You don’t get to say I’m not going to accept feedback because I don’t respect you or think you should be the boss.

        1. BasicWitch*

          I mean, I admit I’ve dismissed (in my head, to myself) feedback from bosses I held little respect for. If your boss is toxic or incompetent or both, taking feedback to heart can be derailing. It’s important to attempt to reflect on feedback honestly, but it’s also ok to dismiss it in part or in whole when it’s off-base.

          That said, the letter writer didn’t give us any examples of behavior that would lead us to reasonably believe this boss is incompetent or toxic, so dismissing this feedback likely isn’t helping our letter writer.

          1. Katrinka*

            And y the LW stated throughout the letter that there have been multiples times there was conflict. I really suspect that the boss HAS tried to address this with LW before and they simply dismissed her. She has put all of this as a development/performance goal because she wanted the LW to take it seriously. The hostlity and dismissiveness just drips off the letter. If this is LW’s attitude to other people, they’re definitely going to have problems with conflict and communication.

            1. GammaGirl1908*

              Agree. I would not be surprised if LW has heard this versions of before, but pooh-poohed it. Now LW is annoyed that Boss is apparently serious about this and has put it in writing.

              Also, quite rich of a person who is being called out on their rudeness to others and inappropriate and unprofessional responses to be complaining that someone else was “insensitive and bossy.”

              I would really like to know whether LW is a man or a woman.

              1. Traffic_Spiral*

                Either way, LW *definitely* has a serious problem with women in positions of authority. I mean… they complained about their boss – their actual boss – being boss-y.

                I mean… just… what?

                1. GammaGirl1908*

                  And ESPECIALLY when LW is clearly being called out with gravity on a bad pattern of unprofessional behavior.

                  That is, Boss clearly is having to Get Very Serious with LW about LW’s repeated bad behavior, and LW in turn … is mad that the boss is “bossy.” Seriously? What do you think your boss … does?

                  Yep, also notable that “bossy” is a word used almost exclusively for women.

              2. Lady Meyneth*

                The boss’ email literally says she talks to all parties when there’s conflict and help them work through it, and LW only said the email was bossy (!!), not that it was a lie. So yeah, they definitely heard some kind of feedback at the time.

                I honestly just can’t get past the LW calling the boss bossy. I mean – Whaa?

                1. Heffalump*

                  IMO “bossy” has overtones of unreasonable, authoritarian, tactless, and so on. Exercising authority in a reasonable manner is not bossy. I’ve applied the word “bossy” to bosses of both genders. I wouldn’t describe my current manager as bossy.

                  That said, I vote with the manager in this case.

            2. Idril Celebrindal*

              Probably late to the party, but absolutely this.

              The letter from the boss clearly states that she addresses every conflict with all parties involved. I am absolutely certain that this is the same kind of situation that I get into with my husband where I bring up problems and try to address them over and over and over until I blow up and start cry-yelling and then he asks me why I haven’t tried to talk to him about it before.

              LW sounds like someone who deflects and rationalizes away anything negative until they can’t anymore, and then gives denial their best shot.

        1. rmric0*

          If OP is typically this bad at reading a room, then I understand why this is going on their performance review. I hope they take heed of this advice and some of them comments to really evaluate how they’re looking at the world hete

    2. TotesMaGoats*

      It’s very common for spousal hires to happen in higher ed, especially on the academic side of the house. I won’t say that unqualified people get jobs just because of it. I sure it does happen but usually you still have to be qualified for the role.

      1. AcademicCommenter*

        First comment on this site just to push back against this: It is increasingly uncommon for spousal hires to happen in higher ed, especially for long-term or tenure-track/tenured positions. For this OP in particular, I think it’s important she understand that marriage =/= job in academia, especially for what sounds like a productive and large lab setting.

          1. TotesMaGoats*

            It’s may not be common or maybe it’s going out of style but it still happens. The size of the university is probably the key factor in determining how often it occurs.

            1. bleh*

              Size, location, whether there is a policy in place. Many large Universities have policies because spousal accommodations can help gender equity numbers. They can also help with retention. If two people have good jobs in same place, they are less likely to go.

              I’ve seen the policies used well, and I’ve seen them abused horribly to shove in the spouse of the chair’s favorite, despite chair’s favorite being a very very bad colleague.

              Nobody without qualifications gets a TT job. Hell barely anyone gets a TT job at all anymore.

            2. serenity*

              This may still be common at your institution, but it no longer is across higher ed. At all.

              1. Uranus Wars*

                My experience has been that wanted spouse may be on the academic side, but hiring of their partner/spouse is on administrative side unless qualified for an open position.

                1. Sparrow*

                  I feel like this varies a lot. I’ve seen trailing spouses get administrative hires at universities I’ve worked at, but I’ve also seen several members of my own grad school cohort negotiate academic hires for their partners at multiple institutions in the last couple of years (and they aren’t full faculty with a lot of negotiating power, either). But still, most universities aren’t in the habit of throwing *tenure* at a trailing spouse they don’t actively want on board. I feel like there may be more to OP’s bitterness here.

                2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

                  I’m a trailing spouse. My husband’s U only makes accommodations for trailing spouses with PhDs. If you do not have a PhD, they won’t even hook you up with their temp agency.

              2. Tati*

                The newest hire at my public state university was made specifically because of spousal hire. My department first offered the position to a woman but couldn’t find another position for her husband so she turned the offer down. They then offered it to their next candidate and were able to find a position for his wife. He was officially hired this year.

            3. Rachel in NYC*

              And I imagine it depends on how much they want the spouse.

              If you want to hire (or keep) an internationally renown professor, then you may hire (or keep) their spouse- even if their spouse doesn’t make tenure. The cost of the salary, lab, etc… is going to be considered part of the cost of getting the person you want. No different then providing housing or educational benefits.

              I’m sure it used to be more common but this isn’t going to change anytime soon.

          2. Probably Taking This Too Seriously*

            My SIL is a professor at a large university and I’ve been amazed by how many spousal hires there have been. Her boss is the wife of their dean. I believe part of it is that couples may meet while in the same academic training programs.

            1. IndustriousLabRat*

              Just coming to add exactly this! Grad school lasts a looong time! Post-doc work stretches it out even longer! I worked in academia for a decade and can’t even count the couples who met, fell in love, got married, and started families all during grad school/postdoc… and many stayed at the University where they had made wonderful personal and professional connections, situated in the town where their kids had friends, and there wasn’t a single odd thing about any of it! No one batted an eye, and CERTAINLY no one grumbled that one PhD got hired because they were married to another PhD who just happened to be offered a perfect fit position first. Ugh the sexism in this letter has got me muttering grumpily to myself.

              The LW may be having so much conflict because he (or she? didn’t catch it, not that it matters a ton, it’s a sexist statement from anyone) is simply RADIATING contempt. Who else might he or she have displayed it to? Pretty gross.

              1. Rainy*

                I was in grad school for a long time and now work in higher ed, and my suspicion is that OP thinks they deserve to run the lab and are resentful that a (n almost certainly VERY well-qualified) trailing spouse got the job “instead”. Post-doc burnout is a thing that happens a lot, especially for people who are unable to give up the dream of being one of the 3-8% of PhDs who actually land a TT job.

                I’ve definitely seen a lot of contempt for spousal hires over my time in higher ed and I don’t think I’ve ever judged any of it to be deserved. The department where I did my master’s degree had a shockingly good slate of faculty because of spousal hires–like, landed fish that they by rights should *never* have even gotten a hook into because the “trailing” spouse was a rock star excited for their partner to get the job. For that matter, that happened at the uni I did my PhD work at as well–our department worked with a related department to hired an absolute power couple in their fields, and everyone was absolutely stoked.

                I’ve also seen more frank misogyny in higher ed, especially in some fields, than I’d think would be present in the year of my patience 2020, so while I’m disappointed, I’m not surprised to hear the tone OP is taking. Sadly, they’re probably going to asshole themselves right out of a job if they’re not careful.

                1. allathian*

                  Yeah. I’m not in academia and never have been, but my parents met on the same graduate course and my dad went on to get a PhD while my mom was happy to be his lab assistant with her Master’s degree. My sister went on to get a PhD in the same field as my parents, and I’m sure their contacts helped her get started in her career, but after the start she’s done the work. When they start talking shop, it goes over my head very quickly.
                  Their field was very small and there weren’t very many alternative employers available. But growing up, I met several couples where both spouses were in a similar situation.

                  All that just to say that trailing spouses are a thing in academia and just because someone is a trailing spouse doesn’t make them incompetent by default.

                  There are lots of incompetent bosses out there, but I wouldn’t say the OP’s boss is one just judging by this letter and the email. This is a case where the OP really needs to do what their boss is asking or risk being fired. I wouldn’t blame the boss for deciding to cut their losses, this is more than just disrespect, it’s contempt.

                2. Mookie*

                  One hundred percent this, in my experience. The partnered pair hires I’ve had substantive experience with re-built the reactionary culture of my (small, waning, inherently reactionary) department, courted exciting, interesting visiting scholars and welcomed their families with open arms, and worked their asses off getting grants for damn near everybody and everything (including research funding for adjuncts!), including scary interdisciplinary technical stuff we’re supposed to loathe. Power couple is exactly right. With the right temperament and academic chops and a sense of which way the wind is blowing with respect to the threats facing faculty autonomy and hiring, these kinds of jack-of-all-trades two-for-ones, where both are probably overqualified on several levels, are morale-boosters, even for students. I applied for grad programs on the strength of these hires and ended up following one pair I’d met as an undergrad cross-country to a public university I’d, foolishly, never even have otherwise considered. I was not the only one.

                  It’s true that institutional rot succored with complacency is a real thing, but spousal hires are not examples of pernicious nepotism, not anti-meritocratic, and rarely contribute to the kind of pro-contingent/anti-tenure circumlocutory bureaucracy plaguing all trade schools and higher ed systems. As you say, it’s knee-jerk misogyny, not experience, that forms the largely automatic antipathy for this practice. Attracting people interested in putting roots down (and paying competitively for it while welcoming adjuncts into collective bargaining strategies) is a good, if increasingly rare, thing.

                  As for admin-academic couples, there’s no better means for a two-pronged approach to these ills. I’m well away from academia, but it’s heartening to see a younger cohort of administrative professionals recognizing the crisis of too many cooks, too few full-time gigs, but an overabundance of low level course loads.

            2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

              I was hoping someone would mention this. People in academia tend to pair off with other people in academia because, well, a lot of reasons. This means that a lot of trailing spouses tend to have education and work history that would make them competitive applicants for something in higher ed. These people usually aren’t just randoms who are unqualified for their positions, even if they benefit from a bit of preferential treatment.

              1. Blue Anne*

                I’m not surprised to know that people in the same academic field pair off in this way, or that universities hire couples, but I guess I am pretty surprised that people take them up on it that often. Is it really that common?

                My parents are academics in the same field. They met at a conference. They’re both accomplished and respected and were before they met, but my dad is a GIANT in the field. More than one university offered mom a professorship contingent on my dad accepting their offer to him, and it always really pissed her off. She wasn’t interested in anywhere that just wanted her in order to get dad in their department, because she’s incredibly qualified on her own. I think he turned down department chair at a large university because the way they’d approached mom had made her so livid.

                I dunno. I’m an accountant, growing up in the ivory tower was plenty for me. But thinking back on it reminds me of an episode of Mad Men. I’m surprised to hear that people are okay with it.

                1. Huttj*

                  Depends on context, timing, and delivery.

                  Turn it around. University X is wanting to hire person Y, which would involve moving across the country (since having adjacent academic facilities within easy commute distance is less common than them being further apart). Person Y is married to Z, who is currently working in an academic or adjacent field (such as department administration). Having a position available for the spouse as well can ease the decision with regards to relocating.

                  Of the people I’ve known who relocated while both spouses were employed, sometimes it was “go for it, I’ll figure something out,” sometimes having an opening in an administrative department role was very welcome, and pretty much a decision maker, and the more specialized the respective professional fields of the spouses are, the harder that decision can get.

                  That said I’ve also personally seen plenty of communication and offers where “in principle it doesn’t have to be horrible, but wow that’s a great example of what not to do.” These comments of mine are strictly in the abstract, with no knowledge of the specifics.

            3. TardyTardis*

              My daughter was in a good position at a Large University, and the university worked hard to get her husband a teaching position at a local other facility.

          3. MK*

            Was one of the siblings given a job to retain the other? Because that is what I consider a “spousal hire” or similar, you got a job because your relative would leave if not. If it’s plain favouritism (being known to the hiring panel socially, having your relative put in a good word), that’s a different matter; it’s not good, but it happens and sometimes it’s unavoidable.

          4. mgguy*

            I can think of two sets in my department too. One is a staff member who reports to her husband(faculty), while the other is a couple who didn’t know each other before they were on faculty, and as they say the rest is history.

            We do have a few who have spouses in different departments, but that’s a bit of a different situation. We did have one fairly poor employee who is no longer with us, and I suspect that her husband’s prominent faculty job in the medical school had something to do with her hiring. She’s the only spousal hire who hasn’t worked out, though, in my 10 years here.

            1. Cassie*

              A staff member reporting to her husband? Wow, that would not be allowed at my (state) university. Near-relatives working in the same dept or unit have to be disclosed and reviewed/approved, and a supervisory hierarchy would definitely not fly.

              1. allathian*

                My dad was a researcher and my mom was his lab assistant. I suppose technically he was her supervisor because she worked according to his instructions, but the lab director was responsible for hiring and firing, salary negotiations etc.
                I would not like to be in that situation, though. As much as I love my husband and have enjoyed these months WFH, I’m glad we work for different employers and don’t have a family business…

                1. PeanutButter*

                  Yeah my lab manager is my PI’s wife. It gives the lab a small family-business vibe within the larger impersonal academic research institution. It works for them/us but I won’t pretend I didn’t have serious misgivings when I first took the job.

          5. Cassie*

            There’s two sets of spouses in my dept (of about 45 profs) – both couples were hired within the last 10 years.

        1. Another name*

          Spousal hires were in fact a very common practice when I worked in higher ed (left a few years ago). They didn’t do it for everyone, but absolutely it was done for People a department really wanted to hire or retain.

          However this person got his or her job, though, is not really relevant to the issue and the letter writer needs to let go of feelings about that.

          1. Observer*

            Exactly. I think that the whole discussion about spousal hires, while interesting, is a total red herring here. The boss’ path to the job makes zero difference.

            1. IndustriousLabRat*

              ” The boss’ path to the job makes zero difference.” Absolutely, 100%! This is true. The discussion is interesting to me though because the LW putting the fact in the letter to somehow justify the insubordinate attitude struck me as a red herring to begin with. two red herrings do not a sushi platter make, but hopefully the LW will actually read this line of discussion and understand why he or she sounds like a bitter baitcutter!

              1. Them Boots*

                I need a ‘stop drinking tea warning!’ New AAM T-shirt quote!! “Two red herrings don’t make a sushi platter” BRAVO

            2. Nic*

              This. What matters is whether she can do the job, and from the tones of LW’s letter and Boss’s extract, I’m going with “she’s not the problem in this equation”.

            3. GammaGirl1908*

              The boss’ path to the job makes zero difference
              ——-
              Agreed, especially because, whether Boss got her job with help or not, zillions of people get their jobs exactly the same way. Many people network to get jobs, and you’re allowed to network through family members. Boss isn’t the first and won’t be the last, and it’s the way of the world. None of that means Boss isn’t qualified, and whether or not she is, she’s still your boss.

            4. allathian*

              Yeah, absolutely. It may explain why the OP feels the way they do about the boss, but it’s in no way justified. Even if the boss was a trailing spouse, that doesn’t make them a bad boss by default or give the OP the right to ignore any instructions given by the boss.
              I do hope the OP takes the instructions given by the boss seriously. I wonder, is EAP a thing in academia? The OP sounds like they could benefit from help with anger management and conflict resolution.

        2. Artemesia*

          I was in academia during the period when spousal hires were discouraged as nepotism and then the shift to them being routine when hiring senior people. I have observed literally dozens of spousal hires over the years. They are common. Usually they just mean that someone gets a job that would have been competitive, so someone else who might have been more qualified doesn’t get a chance at it — but the person qualified is usually qualified. It reduces opportunity for people seeking jobs in a very tight labor market (except for spouses of big shots of course). I have also seen some grossly unqualified people who get jobs in academic departments that way. Sometimes a non tenure job is created for the trailing spouse, but often tenure track positions go that way. In one hilarious situation the couple divorced and the big shot moved on leaving the unqualified ex happily camping on a tenure line for which they were grossly unqualified but had been imposed on the department in question. Hilarious to me in that I had literally predicted this outcome when I opposed agreeing to take the person into our department. I said ‘he will be long gone and we will be stuck with her.’ And so we were.

          It is common today where it was once forbidden.

          1. Important Moi*

            Is she still there? Did she ever improve at her job? I feel like you left us hanging.

        3. Southern Academic*

          Also, when spousal hires *do* happen, the spouse is almost certainly not underqualified. Academic jobs in general and spousal hires in particular are very, very difficult to get, you can’t just waltz into a position with a spouse.

          (In fact, that this boss is an associate professor, rather than a non tenure track employee, probably speaks to her eminent qualifications. Many of the spousal hires I know of have one person in a TT line, and the other in an NTT line.)

          1. Prof. Cat*

            Yes, the boss’ status as an associate professor means that even if she got her job in a spousal hire situation, she earned tenure herself. It’s not clear how her being a trailing spouse matters to the points in the letter, except that they reflect OP’s lack of respect for their boss.

            1. Yorkshire Canadian*

              I’m doing a doctorate in history at a major Canadian university and my supervisor is one of the leading lights in gender history for the region and time period I study. She’s brilliant. Her husband also works at the university, and is the more highly decorated (and also, between you, me, and the lamppost of anonymity, worse) scholar – he holds a major national research chair that’s very prestigious for the university to have. I don’t doubt that my supervisor was hired at least in part because the university wanted her husband, but she’s by no means unqualified. I grant that this example might not be ideal because we’re really kind of talking about an academic power-couple and that’s not always going to be the case, but I sadly don’t have much doubt that my supervisor would have been less likely to be hired had she not come attached to her husband (and I suspect that gender probably plays a role here as well, as gender history isn’t a school of historical inquiry that gets as much respect as her husband’s does).

          2. Annony*

            Yep. I’ve seen spousal hires happen, but the spouse is always very qualified for the job. They don’t give tenure track positions to unqualified people.

            1. Alice's Rabbit*

              Same. I have a few friends who are both professors at a local university. Quite frankly, if the spouse were to suddenly lose their job, they likely wouldn’t stay, either. Especially if there wasn’t another school nearby that would hire the spouse. They would both have to move to someplace new that had jobs for both of them.
              When a couple are both academics, they both need jobs in the same area, which often means at the same school.

          3. Kate*

            Not sure how about in OP’s university, but where I live, an associate professor tahes not only PhD but a certain amount of articles, supervisions etc. It’s all very reglamented and there’s no way that someone could have the title for just being a spouse. Heck, I have been a trailing spouse of a professor and there was no chance I’d get any higher title than “lecturer”.

          4. Anon Anon*

            One of my good friends was a spousal hire at the institution where her husband was hired. More than a decade later she’s been promoted to full professor, has tenure, and has won the professor of the year award four times. She’s the rock star between the two of them. If anyone tried to dismiss her authority because she had originally been a spousal hire, everyone from the President to the students would laugh in that person’s face.

        4. AvonLady Barksdale*

          But it does happen– and as Totes pointed out, that doesn’t mean that the university will put an unqualified person in the role just because they offered a spousal hire. It’s kind of two sides of the issue here– we can acknowledge that the OP’s boss had a big advantage in the hiring process while also pointing out that she wouldn’t have been offered the job simply because she was a spousal hire.

          Ultimately it doesn’t really matter, since she’s the boss. She could have been hired because she had a magic wand and Fairy Godmothered the job into existence, she’s still the OP’s manager and she’s made her instructions very clear.

          1. Vina*

            Even *if* boss would not have got this job without the spousal hook, she’s still the boss.

            If your boss is incompetent for some reason, the solution to that is not to be disrespectful and rebel against processes that were put in place by the institution. It’s not to create issues with coworkers and others (other than the boss).

            If it there is a clear “boss is incompetent” problem, LW still has zero way to justify the rest of their behavior or the tone that comes across in this letter.

            1. Momma Bear*

              LW isn’t helping themselves by not taking the feedback that they need to change their behavior. That the boss put in the business about higher-ranking people indicates that LW has had some serious run-ins with senior staff and is on much thinner ice than I think LW realizes. It is one thing to have a conflict with one peer. It is another to have many conflicts with many people at all levels of authority. LW needs to either abide by this request or dust off their resume.

              1. GammaGirl1908*

                The thin ice goes double because LW has not adjusted his / her attitude.

                LW has had run-ins with senior staff AND thinks there’s no need to examine the behavior that led to it OR have any documentation about it … AND is pooh-poohing his / her boss’ directions because Boss was a spousal hire. LW is dangerously close to thinking everyone else is the problem.

        5. Seven If You Count Bad John*

          As recently as 5 years ago I was in a program where not only was there a spousal hire, but scuttlebutt had it that the trailing spouse was the real treasure. The prof that got hired had the qualifications “on paper” and the spouse didn’t, but the position was tenure-track so they hired the prof to get the two-fer.

          I don’t miss academia.

          1. mgguy*

            Funny enough, in one of the spousal hires in my department, the tenured faculty(husband) is someone who on paper looks good for a lot of publications, but in my work I’ve interacted with him a lot and found his knowledge fairly lacking-to the point that the chair picked me(as staff) over him to teach a junior/senior level class in what’s supposed to be his area of expertise(chromatography and mass spectroscopy). It’s a poorly kept secret in the department that his wife-who works as his lab manager-is the one who actually knows what’s going on and keeps the lab churning out quality work.

            1. Nesprin*

              I am sort of delighted that I know at least 3 female run labs where the husband is the project scientist/lab manager/general factotum. Feels like progress.

              1. D'Arcy*

                Marie Curie absolutely had that dynamic with her husband Pierre, who was really only a very minor scientist in his own right but had a very good working dynamic in supporting her.

        6. Jack Be Nimble*

          I know we can’t be certain unless Alison or the LW clarifies, but I also felt that there was a strong gendered element at play here — it’s clear that the LW does not respect their boss, and the digs about her husband and her ‘bossiness’ reaaaallly makes me feel like her gender is a factor in LW’s response.

          1. Observer*

            Yeah, the heavy gender bias is really standing out. It could just as easily have been a woman writing in, but it’s still obvious that that’s playing a role. And I’d b willing to be that’s also playing a role in their other clashes, which is why the boss wants them to “reflect”.

        7. MCL*

          I think it kinda depends on the situation and the institution. We just had a bunch of TT faculty hires in my department (R1 public university), mostly hiring from industry in a pretty specialized/high demand field. Spousal hiring was definitely key to helping attract some of the hires. In fact, our last few TT faculty hires (from less “flashy” fields) have had spousal hires come along.

          But yeah, that first paragraph REALLY stood out as an indicator of OP’s disdain for their boss. I am 100% sure that this bleeds over into their interactions. OP, you have to really think about whether you want to try and salvage the goodwill of your boss and evidently your colleagues, or if you want to move on.

        8. Well...*

          It’s actually staying in style and has been directly and correctly cited as a strategy to increase diversity in heavily male-dominated fields.

          When two academics are married what are the supposed to do? One leaves the field so they can live near the others job? Long distance marriages that go from coast to coast? I’ve actually seen both. In my field it’s frequently women who leave when confronted with that choice.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            My academic family member says the choice is frequently between “work with spouse” and “work hundreds of miles from spouse”. Also, grad school is a classic time to be ready to meet The One, and if you spend all your time at work then it’s no wonder you’d shack up with someone from your program.

            1. IndustriousLabRat*

              When in doubt, marry your favorite lab partner. Hey, you already know you can solve problems as a team… isnt that half the battle?

          2. Cassie*

            My university is in a large enough metro area where there is at least one other similarly-ranked university (and some smaller universities both within the city area and within 20 miles). The wife in one of our married couples got an offer at one of the other universities and the husband made it known that he would go with her if she went. It wasn’t just the prospect of teaching at 2 different universities (they collaborate a lot in their research), but also finding a place to live that was geographically convenient for both of them and raising their young family (school drop-offs and pick-ups, etc). The 2 schools aren’t super far apart, but they’re not right across the street from each other either.

          3. allathian*

            This. The only worry is that while increasing gender equality, spousal hiring may make it even harder for
            ethnic minorities to get a foothold in academia.

          4. Blue Anne*

            My parents partly did distance when I was a toddler – my mom would take me with her to her university about 3 hours away for Tues-Fri or something. Then they got jobs at universities two hours apart, we lived right in between them, and they both had home offices which they worked from 2-3 days a week. But, I imagine that was helped by them being at points in their careers where the departments wanted them to be publishing more than teaching. Not a lot of telecommuting happening in the early 90s otherwise.

        9. else*

          It really depends on the institution and the type of job the spouse has. My cousin has a TT position and negotiated a lab position for their spouse when hired. I know another pair where one has tenure, and the spouse was offered an open clinical position that fit their qualifications. The spouses were fully qualified and had relevant experience, but the schools didn’t make them compete for the open positions that fit their qualifications. I think that’s the difference – they don’t commonly make new ones, but if there’s one that fits, they’ll offer it without competition.

        10. blackcat*

          I think it varies. The cases I know of recent (last 5 years) successful spousal hires have actually gone like this:
          1)
          Spouse A is highly respected
          Spouse B is a ROCKSTAR
          *Spouse A* gets an offer, asks for Spouse B get an offer as well. Since Spouse B is a rockstar, it is easier to make the pitch for them to get a TT job, too.
          OR
          2)
          Spouse A is a highly respected
          Spouse B’s record is slightly less awesome, but still fine
          Spouse A asks for a *non-TT* job for Spouse B, generally on the teaching side of things.

          I also have not seen spousal hires done in desirable metropolitan areas, but they definitely happen in rural areas. Too, it seems more common when Spouse A is a woman or POC in a white male-dominated field.

        11. Eukomos*

          That must depend on your field, because there are tons of spousal hires in mine. They aren’t freebies though, the spouse has to be genuinely worth hiring, however a lot of great scholars are married to other great scholars so it still happens frequently.

        12. Beth*

          Maybe there’s variation across academia (I can’t speak to anything with labs), but it’s pretty common in my specific field still. Of course if the spouse isn’t going to be offered a job they’re fundamentally not qualified for, but it would also be silly to pretend that it’s not an influencing factor at all (even in long-term or tenure-track roles); I personally know several recent examples of spouses getting this kind of offer in order to retain a professor. All were qualified and have done well, but given there are way more qualified and skilled potential applicants than potential jobs, it’s still a leg up.

        13. Junior Assistant Peon*

          Many big universities are in the middle of nowhere. My graduate alma mater did a lot of spousal hires because the spouse would have been waiting tables with a PhD otherwise, or more likely, they would have lost candidates they wanted to coastal universities. They usually made the spouse some kind of a staff scientist rather than a full professor, though.

        14. Springella*

          The thing is that academia is to an important degree patronage system You’re far better of if you have somebody mentoring and supporting you. Of course, you can argue that you get mentored and supported on the basis of merit. In practice, people get pushed ahead for all kind of reasons which have very little to do with merit, like office politics

        15. Nobody*

          My department prioritizes spousal hires because it helps retention and gender balance. But also because it’s a fantastic way to notice people you may not have noticed in the search (because they are in a slightly different field, because they weren’t applying that year, etc.). My favorite story about this: we got a top-notch person, who we didn’t interview because they were clearly far too good for us (they had offers from MIT and Stanford) and so why bother? But their spouse got an offer from another department, and so we gave them an offer too. And now they’re here!

      2. Matt*

        Yeah, the few friends I have who got academic jobs said it’s pretty a pretty complex process with multiple people on the hiring committee, and various stages, etc.. that it’s pretty difficult for someone to get their partner a job by that connection alone without said partner already being qualified.

        1. Artemesia*

          There is ‘qualified’ and then there is best qualified. when these ‘qualified’ spouses get hired, it means this rare tenure track position was not available to the thousands of PhDs desperately seeking jobs who are not married to big shots.

          1. iliketoknit*

            This is true, but the school that’s hiring gets two excellent scholars out of the process, so there’s little incentive to change. The continual ratcheting up of hiring standards means that you don’t have to be the “best qualified” (if anyone can agree on what that means) to still be exceedingly qualified and a good hire.

            1. kt*

              Yep, and if you can get the kids (if there are kids) into school, you have a better chance of keeping the scholars at your U instead of having them move off to greener pastures — because repeating the spousal hire is hard, too. The departments I know that do spousal hires are all about the retention, which is especially useful if you’re not in the greatest area for spouse to get another job.

          2. Paulina*

            Meanwhile, every other position is unavailable to this particular PhD, unless she wants to break up her marriage.

            1. Paulina*

              And there are a lot of opportunities that help unencumbered researchers become “best qualified” that won’t have been available to her. The whole academia pipeline is biased in various ways, it doesn’t make sense to pick on just one step as if the rest of it has been fair.

      3. Frankie*

        Yeah, search committees still have to justify the hire at the end of the day, or they could be open to legal action. I know of just one spousal hire at my university and she was extremely qualified and good at the job, and had held equivalent jobs in previous places.

      4. memyselfandi*

        Spousal hires were not at all common years ago and I remember as an undergraduate that the wives of several faculty members were not allowed to get a Ph.D. in the program because of conflict of interest concerns. In that program, spouses looking to work professionally were generally women, and generally looked down on. Many of these women were returning to complete their education after raising a family. It really influenced some personal decisions I made about my academic career as a woman. With more spouses with independent professional careers looking to be hired, colleges and universities have had to re-think these attitudes and policies. If they want to hire one researcher, they have to give consideration to the consequences for the spouse. Processes to protect the integrity of hiring have been put in place. Nothing is foolproof, but the assumption should not be made that a spouse received a position merely because of who they are married to.

      5. DollarStoreParty*

        I met my spouse at work, and we’ve worked at multiple businesses together because we’re in the same industry. I’d think that this could be the case for these two as well. It seems like LW has had multiple conflicts with coworkers, so there’s issues with everyone, not just the boss.

    3. Littorally*

      Yep. I got to that at the beginning and knew it was only going to be downhill from there.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Same. I actually said to myself, “Oh no,” because I knew where it was going, lol. The letter did not disappoint either. (Additionally, it sounds like OP also has issues with other higher ups in her lab as well, which is a massive problem she needs to correct ASAP.)

        1. Meredith*

          I’m not sure OP is a woman. And I hate to say it, but sometimes that factors into insubordination against women who are managers.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            I’m using the default “she” here as that’s been the standard on this site since Alison started it (unless the letter writer’s gender was obvious to her when they wrote in and pertinent to include in the story) – I’m not saying for sure that OP is a woman. And while I understand that sexism is a thing, so is internalized sexism. Women being managed by other women can be equally as insubordinate and disrespectful, especially if the insubordinate employee feels like the manager got her job based on non-work qualifications as the letter writer intimated.

            1. Artemesia*

              The letter was in a man’s voice when I read it — maybe it is a woman — I have known women like this, but I have known many more men with a chip on their shoulder who would argue like this. A problem employee either way of course.

            2. virago*

              “I’m using the default ‘she’ here as that’s been the standard on this site since Alison started it (unless the letter writer’s gender was obvious to her when they wrote in and pertinent to include in the story) – I’m not saying for sure that OP is a woman.”

              This x 1,000, per Allison’s July 15, 2011, post “Why I refer to everyone as ‘she’ when I write”:
              https://www.askamanager.org/2011/07/why-i-refer-to-everyone-as-she.html

          2. Oldbiddy*

            True, but my suspicion is that OP is male and that the more senior colleagues who he is being insubordinate to are also women. I’m getting an ‘male lab tech who doesn’t like working with all the lady PhD’s vibe’

              1. Oldbiddy*

                I’m in a STEM field without a lot of senior women, so that colors my perception, but it sounds like OP does too. In my 30 years in the field I’ve encountered a lot of sexism of the type that OP has, but have not experienced or heard of any instances where women have trouble with a female boss. (I have heard it’s more common in other businesses)

              1. Anonapots*

                I mean, it does. If the OP is a man and finds his push back to this and the conflicts referenced “just happen” to all be with senior women in the lab, the reflection part is going to have to include sexism, because there’s a chance sexism is playing a big part in this. That doesn’t change the fact that the OP has to reflect on these conflicts, but it adds a facet to that reflection that needs to be addressed.

                1. SarahKay*

                  But even if OP is a woman, that doesn’t exclude the possibility of sexism. I’ve encountered both women and men who didn’t care for women bosses. Just because we are hurt by sexism doesn’t make us immune from perpetuating it.

            1. AKchic*

              That is very much my read too. The OP didn’t cast any aspersions or blame towards the boss’s husband (for seemingly getting her the job, when it was alluded to, but certainly cast blame on the boss for accepting a position because of her husband’s connections).

              I’m reading a lot of jealousy, misogyny, a sense of superiority, and a willingness to avoid their own faults. Note that they didn’t even mention a single example of past conflict for an example. I mean, yeah, it could be for brevity, but it also could be to limit culpability.
              OP has a lot of personal growth and maturing to do.

          3. Cadmium*

            I’m with you. I keep seeing people refer to OP as a woman, but reading this letter, it sounded like the typical disgruntled man who doesn’t get along with anyone, but never thinks it’s his fault.

          4. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Hey all, I’m closing this thread because it’s all speculation (I don’t know the LW’s gender) and it’s starting to include some weird assumptions by gender.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I saw that comment and nearly face-palmed in real life. It totally plays into persistent stereotypes against women in STEM, but more importantly, it’s sexist and offensive. I have rarely heard people complain that about spousal hires or “package deals” when the trailing partner is a man.

        (Not saying people don’t sometimes denigrate a dude as a spousal hire. Just saying this line seems to be pulled out of the bag as a special way of suggesting that a woman is unqualified. Because y’know, top-tier tenure-track jobs and tenure are given out like candy in the academy, especially to women in STEM. /sarcasm)

    4. Hills to Die on*

      …So, OP, this is an opportunity for professional growth not only in conflict avoidance, but also professional and personal maturity. I know it’s not fun to look at your role in things but it doesn’t sound like conflicts are as common as you believe they are.

      1. AVP*

        Well, I think they’re common for the OP, but OP may be overestimating how often they occur in the rest of the department!

        1. Archaeopteryx*

          Yes, the common denominator in all of these conflicts is you. It sounds like you clash with people pretty frequently which is not really normal.

        2. JustaTech*

          And even if this department is full of conflicts, heck, even if the whole dang institution is full of conflicts, that’s still no excuse to refuse to work on *not* having so many conflicts with coworkers.
          Frankly, if the whole department is full of shouting matches, that’s all the more reason for everyone, including the OP to work on their conflict resolution.
          Many of my coworkers come from academia (and I’ve worked there too) and you know what not one person has ever said? “I miss the shouting matches between PIs in the hallway.” “I miss listening to the boss in the next lab over throw glassware.” “I miss scientist A passive-aggressively not emptying the biohazard because they’re mad at scientist B.”

          I don’t know why unprofessional responses to conflict are allowed to linger in academia to the extent that they do (and I know it’s not every PI, professor or lab that’s like that), but it’s clearly impacted the OP’s thinking about how to interact with their coworkers.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Right: even if conflict is common in that department, the boss is trying to address and reduce it.

      2. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        And whether those conflicts are or aren’t common, OP, the conflicts that your supervisor is addressing here are YOURS; “so-and-so does it too!” isn’t a winning argument (with either moms or managers!)

        Nor does it matter whether the OP identifies as male, female or non-binary; what matters are two very serious points. The OP’s contempt for their supervisor is clear right from the start, as is their refusal to believe that the supervisor even has the right to address the OP’s conflicts with their colleagues (the second attitude probably stems from the first.) Until and unless the OP gets those under control and really tackles the issue of getting along with their coworkers, this is likely to snowball into a job-threatening problem.

        1. Observer*

          Given the supervisor’s tone, I suspect that it already has reached this point. OP, I think you need to realize that what Alison said is true. If you fight your boss on this, it is likely to put your job in question.

          1. Paulina*

            The supervisor’s tone, and also the approach and wording. It doesn’t look much like researcher-speak, it looks like has-gotten-advice-from-HR-speak.

    5. EK*

      I mean, spousal hires are a thing, but unqualified spousal hires, in this academic job market? Lol no. If she was unqualified they would have gone with someone other than her husband, and would probably have had hundreds of qualified applicants to choose from.

      1. Patriot League Grad*

        My experience is that spousal hires usually go into the career counseling office, which is why you often see/hear such terrible advice

        1. EK*

          That is absolutely not my experience – almost all of the academic spousal hires I know, while they may not have been the first choice otherwise, were a) hired for similar-tier research positions, b) had the research chops to qualify for the position independently.

          1. Artemesia*

            In my experience about half went into made up admin roles — they were sometimes great and sometimes not. About half were given tenure track positions for which they were qualified but of course took a job that was then not available for the thousands of qualified unemployed PhDs to compete for. It isn’t that they are NOT qualified, it is that they were not hired as the best qualified candidate for the position they got.

        2. Eukomos*

          I have never seen that. Spousal hires usually get a non-TT job connected to the department’s students and with some kind of teaching component, like coordinating one of the department’s academic programs that none of the TT faculty want to spend time on.

    6. Meredith*

      That stood out to me too. Not that nepotism doesn’t exist in academia (it most certainly, absolutely does), but hiring decisions are not made by one individual when it comes to academic appointments. There are entire hiring committees and processes that are certainly not “easy,” and someone grossly unqualified would not be in that situation. Plus, given her feedback and direction, she sounds pretty qualified!

      1. Glitsy Gus*

        Yeah, that was something I noticed too. OP makes that dig at the beginning, but then in transcribing the Boss’s email, she comes across as an extremely professional and qualified manager.

    7. The New Wanderer*

      Definitely reeks of “she’s not qualified to manage me.” Combined with “I refuse to learn from my mistakes and she can’t make me” and the manager’s response that “Okay, you can say no but *that* is going to tank you, not doing the work I assigned,” this sounds like the problem will resolve itself very shortly with the LW out of a job.

      1. Ikora Ray*

        It really doesn’t matter if OP’s manger is the product of nepotism or not qualified to manage OP, they are still OP’s manager. Full stop. They have a right to do this, they are doing it, OP either needs to get with the program or try to find another job in this job market.

        1. PJ*

          The point she made about why the manager was hired is completely irrelevant except to give insight into the letter writer. My take is that the OP is looking for an excuse for why she shouldn’t have to do as she’s asked. I think the manager is completely correct in asking for some “reflection” and honestly, I think most mature and emotionally aware adults do that naturally. If we were in a conflict, we think about what happened and how we could have better handled it! The fact that the OP doesn’t want to do that and the comment about “multiple conflicts” is a big red flag. OP, we all have room to grow and it sounds like this is one last chance for you to step back and learn some important things.

    8. LSP*

      Yup. That and calling her response “bossy” are highly misogynistic ways to discuss someone. I am not even a little surprised by the fact OP has a history of conflict with coworkers. I think the boss here is being exceedingly patient in explaining why it’s in OP’s best interest to do what they are told.

      1. Cheese_Toast*

        Between calling her bossy and accusing her of only being hired because of her husband, OP is hitting several misogyny talking points. I suspect unless they do some serious soul searching,this will not end well.

        And now that I’m speculating, I wonder if there is a commonality among all the people OP has had conflicts with in this role…

        1. Observer*

          There is enough attitude in the OP’s letter that despite the obvious misogyny, I would not be at all surprised if they were having conflicts with a lot of people.

          1. Traffic_Spiral*

            Yeah, sexist and also a general asshole is not an unthinkable combination here.

      2. Kate R*

        Yes. Both the “that’s how she easily got her position” and “bossy” remarks screamed to me, “this is a person who doesn’t respect their boss, likely because she’s a woman.” And the supervisor’s response to OP indicates she knows that. I wondered if OP is a graduate student, and that’s why their supervisor is actually trying to get them to work on their behavior rather than just ending OP’s employment there. And if that’s the case, I find this even more egregious because your job as a graduate student is to learn not just information in your field, but how to grow as a professional. A graduate student having repeated conflicts with professors reflects really badly on them. OP shouldn’t just be concerned about the PDR, but the references they will need from their supervisor and other professors as they advance through their career.

        1. TL -*

          I sincerely doubt graduate student – scientific staff or postdoc, depending on the field; (maybe) a tech – 4 years is a really long time for a tech, though.

          1. Annony*

            It isn’t really. While a lot of people do a short tech position as a bridge to grad school, there are many lifetime techs. Most of the labs I’ve worked in have techs who have been there for over 4 years who have no intention of going back to school. It probably varies by institution. Most of them had specific tasks they were an expert in but no desire to design experiments.

            1. IndustriousLabRat*

              Totally. I was a tech for 10 years, working up and learning on the job from prep tech to de facto lab manager supporting specific projects for the duration of a grant. I LOVED it. I had zero interest in grad school; I just really like Lab Stuff. A friend from high school worked in the Extension Lab next door, and as of now, she has been there 20+ years with no intention of leaving or grad school either. Some of us are just loveable lifelong lab rats :)

              Interestingly, both of us are female, and comparing notes, we have found that we have both encountered grad students with strange hang ups about being trained in some Very Specific Thing they were sent to learn, by a woman with only a bachelors degree, as if somehow that made us unqualified to operate our Very Specific Equipment. I can totally imagine my most troublesome master’s candidate writing this letter! It’s giving me flashbacks! That sort of attitude was actually one of the reasons I thought about making the jump to Manufacturing.

              1. blackcatlady*

                I have 30+ years of being a tech. I have had my share of teaching new PostDocs our lab procedures when they come in. Yes they have a degree. I have the experience and yes the gained knowledge from sitting through years of lab meetings and seminars. I don’t need snotty superior attitude. I think the letter writer is overdue for an attitude adjustment.

              2. Solana*

                Yeesh, I had a doctor PI that was new to the university asking me questions about mouse behavior. (I’m a lab animal attendant, or ‘mouse butler’ as my friend describes it, and this doctor had no idea I have a Bachelor’s.) I’ve asked coworkers who had less experience in years about how to spot problems because I knew that their mice had the certain problem that I wanted to learn about. It’s a fool that thinks they have nothing to learn, even if from someone “lower”.

            2. Kate R*

              Yeah, I don’t think 4 years is too long for a tech. I’ve also know some research associates who have PhD’s, but still work in someone else’s lab because they like the lab work but don’t want to be a Principal Investigator. The reason I guessed grad student was, again, because the PI seems to be trying to coach them instead of just saying, “This isn’t working out.” When I was doing my grad work and postdoc, everyone in the group was paid on a grant, so if someone was a problem, it was really easy to use the end of their grant funding as an excuse to get rid of them, unless they were a grad student completing degree-related work. I’ve also known more than a few graduate students who butt heads with their advisors because they saw a research lab as a resource for money and equipment, but expected to have a lot more freedom to pursue their own research interests, and that was not my experience as a grad student.

              But I realize that’s all speculation, which is really not helpful to the OP. Regardless of their position, they do need to be thinking of their greater reputation and not just their PDR. If they list their supervisor on their resume, or if they have publications together which make clear who their supervisor is, it’s likely people will reach out to the supervisor for a reference even if she’s not listed. Just from the details provided in this letter, the OP is someone who has multiple conflicts with people, does not take feedback well even from people more senior to them, and pushed back on direct instruction from their supervisor to work on these behaviors. That’s not good at any stage of your career, but especially if they are early career and will likely need support as they try to advance.

              1. TL -*

                ” I’ve also know some research associates who have PhD’s, but still work in someone else’s lab because they like the lab work” – ah, those would fall under staff scientists for me. Very different payscales and job expectations, particularly as you get into the much bigger labs.

            3. TL -*

              Interesting. In my field/location, career techs in academia are pretty rare. They usually move over to industry or get moved to a lab manager or staff-scientist-umbrella position (most places around have different titles for techs versus PhD staff scientists versus long-term masters/undergrad staff.)

              But industry is booming where I am, and it’s 2x the pay, better hours, better benefits, and more opportunities for promotions without the degree, so most people who don’t want to go to grad school transition after a few years.

          2. Nesprin*

            I was thinking 5th yr postdoc- the frustration with a spouse getting a coveted PIship reads very much like a postdoc desperate for a hard won PI position.

      3. char*

        It wasn’t until reading your response that I realized how funny it is to call your own boss “bossy”. Yeah, how dare she order OP around like she was their boss or something! …oh, wait.

    9. Jenny*

      That immediately alerted me to LW potentially being a problem employee. The rest of the letter did not help. LW, I mean this as nicely as possible, but you are dancing in the edge of the cliff here. You need a serious attitude adjustment (and the process outlined by your boss may help with this) or you are going to seriously self sabotage yourself in your career, potentially including firing.

      1. MusicWithRocksIn*

        My mind just goggled that she thought having these massive conflicts with her coworkers is normal or should be overlooked. I have *never* had a conflict with a coworker that got to the level that any manager had to know about, and I’ve worked with some weird difficult people. And quite frankly, if the problem is always everyone else, then probably the problem is you.

    10. Engineer Woman*

      Yep, I picked up on this too and thinking: ooh, how is this relevant? It leads me to think this is now veering into BEC territory and OP’s supervisor can do no right because she’s “not qualified” in OP’s eyes.

      1. Kate*

        What is BEC? I have seen it several times now and acronym dictionary is no help, it has too many of BECs.

        1. Nesprin*

          As in when you’re so fed up with someone that if they eat crackers you could find something hateful in how they eat crackers, i.e. how dare that B eat crackers!

        2. redwinemom*

          I just looked it up in the Urban Dictionary, because like you, I had no idea what it meant.
          “BEC= – B**** Eating Crackers. Everything this person does annoys you, even something as simple as eating crackers.”

        3. Aquawoman*

          BEC = bitch eating crackers, i.e. that situation where you’re so annoyed with a person that everything they do seems to be awful, even innocuous things like eating crackers.

        4. adminanonymous*

          B*tch eating crackers. It’s from a meme, “Look at that BEC eating crackers like she owns the place”. Basically, someone who irritates you no matter what they do.

        5. K*

          I might be COMPLETELY making this up, but I have in my head that it actually originated from another letter on this site several years ago? Like, someone was writing in to complain about their annoying coworker, and it was a mix of valid complaints and stuff like “…And she’s always eating crackers at her desk!” and Alison wisely observed that the LW had been stewing over her issues with the coworker for so long that things that weren’t actually huge problems were feeling just as bad as the valid problems? I don’t know how to find that letter now though, so I could be wrong.

          1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

            I always thought it was originally from a someecards card – there is a BEC card, but I don’t know if it was influenced by AAM or the other way around. In any case Google Trends tells me that people started searching for it in 2011, but none of the meme encyclopedias seem to know where it started. Weird.

    11. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      That’s what jumped out to me as well. It sounds like OP thinks her manager got her job based on favoritism and not by her qualifications and therefore anything manager wants her to do is ridiculous and unfounded because she isn’t qualified to do her job. Sounds like OP needs to do A LOT of self reflection and stop going directly to defensive or she’s going to be looking for a new job very soon.

    12. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Yup – that line screams resentment and lack of respect to me. It also makes me wonder if OP tried and failed to get the job that boss has now and this is the “only reason” why that they have sold themselves on. It’s not a great look.

    13. ToS*

      It’s also common for doctoral students in the same major to end up being spouses, so this isn’t necessarily about qualifications either. If they are in two different departments, LW could be contributing to their own poor reputation more broadly on their campus because spouses can check in on having a bad day at work.
      Also, there are many MANY initiatives to help academic professionals develop conflict resolution skills. How many PhDs got where they are by people pleasing or over-performing within group projects? Too many. This can leave conflict resolution muscles flaccid and underdeveloped. Listening to understand is part of developing that competency. It’s great that LW reached out,because it’s excellent (and frightening/energizing) to ask anything and discover something unexpected.

      Campuses and communities are rumbling with racism, as well as all of its intersections. Could there be some unconscious bias toward married faculty? A culture of misogyny that you need to not perpetuate? (Do you know that this spouse is leading, trailing, or of equal merit?) Your boss is putting out too many fires. You have been identified as someone who lights matches, reach out to EAP or your mental health benefits if a deeper, confidential dive with a professional that will push back on your defensiveness might help.

    14. Georgina Fredrika*

      exactly what I highlighted, considering nothing in this response spells “incompetent boss.”

      People SAY stuff like that all the time, OP, which may be the case with your office, but if you weren’t on the hiring board you don’t know if it’s true. It’s also true that people you know OFTEN get a leg up in interviews not because of nepotism per se but because HR values that a trusted employee has recommended them because it can be both easier to get those people on board, and they’re less likely to be wildcard hires that are great on paper/interview but horrible employees.

    15. Lost academic*

      You said it. Plus the “bossy” phrasing at the end: this is an employee who does not respect their boss and it’s definitely gendered on top of the spousal hire. In my previous department we had a lot of these and the majority of them were actually better qualified and turned out to be more successful than the target hire. Academic hires aren’t exactly broad open ones, they’re generally targeted at certain subdisciplines and it’s hard at times to get the person you want in the door. The committee will (in my experience) use whatever means they have to make it easier – reach out to private firms, hospitals, other universities to help make the two body problem less of one. But it’s easy to get opinionated about it because it’s not like abuse doesn’t exist. Honestly what I saw in this letter was a pretty good job of the boss identifying good development goals and communicating them and the employee not wanting and not being prepared to hear it. Good management isn’t that common in academia, so negative reactions to it can be.

    16. MistOrMister*

      That jumped out at me,too. I kept waiting for it to move into some explanation of how the boss is not good at her job but…..we never saw any indication of that.

      1. Observer*

        Even that would have been a bit suspect. But here it seems to be the case that the OP just *assumes* that boss MUST be incompetent because she’s the wife of the head. It’s SO obvious in their mind that they don’t even need to explain or illustrate.

      2. Traffic_Spiral*

        I mean, if nothing else, I am amazed at the boss’s patience in explaining that “no, you actually do have to follow the instructions I give.”

    17. Dust Bunny*

      Was just getting on here to comment about the massive chip on this person’s shoulder.

      I’ve never been asked to reflect on conflicts with my coworkers because I don’t have any. Even my supervisor would agree that we’d have to invent theoretical ones if we wanted to discuss this. We’re a very fortunate department made up of very reasonable people, knock on wood. But if it were a thing then, yes, I expect I’d be called on to analyze it in a performance review.

      1. JustaTech*

        The sciences can be very high-conflict fields, but that’s because you are supposed to carefully pick apart every bit of data and every conclusion to see if it really is supported or not. But. None of that is every supposed to be a personal attack or mean or nasty or directed at the person who had the idea, who generated the data, or who drew the conclusion. It’s a skill that has to be learned, where you can poke at the data without poking at the *person* with the data. I know it was hard for me to learn to take myself out of the discussion that could feel very personal (“I know I did that assay right!”), but the other half of the skill is to make it clear that it is the data, the conclusion, the idea that is being interrogated and not the person. (“I don’t think that data supports that conclusion because of X, Y, Z” not “That’s a stupid idea and you’re a blithering idiot for thinking it.”)

        Sadly, not everyone learns this. And there are some (too many) very senior people out there that don’t bother to separate the idea from the person.

        So it’s not unusual to have conflict with your fellow researchers, but it needs to be professional conflict, not personal conflict.

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          Sigh. Yes. Absolutely. A lot of these people don’t quite get that being able to question something doesn’t mean that you’re supposed to not have an underlying sense of trust in your colleagues’ capabilities.

          I’ve dealt with one too many science-trained folk who’ve ended up in the private sector or in an staff position in higher ed who can’t figure out how not to pull this kind of contrarian nonsense. In a professional setting, your colleagues aren’t obliged to justify every single choice they make, and the moment someone tries to justify their constant questioning with “but I was trained as a scientist! I know how to be thoughtful!” I want to stuff them into a cannon and shoot them into the sea.

    18. Another worker bee*

      Yeah, it does sounds like boss might have been a spousal hire but….for anyone to even make it to that point in academia they are extremely qualified.

    19. Senor Montoya*

      Her supervisor is an associate professor. At most American higher ed institutions that doesn’t just happen — that’s part of a long and onerous promotion and tenure process.

      A lot of contempt in OP’s letter. I feel for them — it’s frustrating to feel that you’ve addressed issues and then be told, whelp, no you haven’t.

      1. Eukomos*

        That’s a good point–even if you got a leg up in the hiring process because you were a spousal hire, that won’t have much impact on the tenure process. This woman spent seven years working her butt off, researching and publishing and teaching and doing committee work for the department, and the department gave her significant recognition for it. It’s a hell of a lot more than the OP’s done spending four years picking fights in the lab.

      2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        I agree with a lot of the comments posted, but the part that got me was the OP saying that essentially, those conflicts were in the past and are no longer happening.

        In that case maybe they have been ‘handled’ or improved on in some way, in response to past events/discussions? I don’t know a great deal about how things work in academia but in my (for-profit, office work type) experience I’d be a bit salty if I were asked to reflect and address something in a “performance review” process that was no longer actually an issue and presumably had been dealt with somehow in the past.

        I would fill in that paperwork, though, even if it was with an internal eye-roll of “this is just something I have to fill in to shut the boss up about it so we can tick a box”!

        1. JustaTech*

          I guess the question is, was the conflict really resolved, or does it look that way to the OP because Coworker A isn’t speaking to them anymore? Or Coworker B just works around them?
          Because if it’s the latter then the conflict isn’t resolved, it’s just under the surface and not active at the moment. And that should be addressed.

          Or if it’s a pattern of conflicts, like always getting into an argument with the summer intern. The conflict with Inter 2018 is resolved because they’re gone, but if it happened with Intern 2017 and Intern 2019 then that’s a pattern that needs to be addressed.

          But you’re right that if it were a genuine one-off that was successfully addressed to everyone’s satisfaction, then it would be annoying to be asked to write that up.

      3. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        You know, this makes me wonder what OP’s familiarity with academic career paths looks like. I mean, I would generally expect someone who’s been immersed in this world for several years to understand the difference between an assistant and associate professor and the implications of getting tenure. There’s probably some folk (mostly younger ones a couple years out of undergrad) working in labs who might not get it, though, and I can see how that might lead to some weird misconceptions.

        I mean, an ex of mine didn’t understand the implications of tenure and academic freedom while working in a lab, for a PI who had just gotten tenure, as a graduate student, at an Ivy League university. It happens.

    20. ColdBrew fiend*

      This this this. Spousal hires are very common, but they don’t usually just throw someone in who has no experience. The OP needs to recognize that their boss presumably has some pretty serious research chops, and needs to give them the respect they’ve earned. That’s not to say that spousal hires can’t be awful managers, but if you’re approaching your supervisor with a “you only have this job b/c of your spouse’s role” then you will lose.

      It’s true that managers shouldn’t use the annual review process to bring up new issues–there should be no surprises in your annual review. But it sounds like the boss is referring to a history of conflicts. Maybe the OP didn’t think these were a problem, but clearly they are. The OP needs to recognize that people with more status and seniority are viewing their style as a problem, and they need to take a deep breath and use this as a growth opportunity.

      1. Observer*

        Given what the OP writes, it seems to me that the overall issue should not have been a surprise. And the Boss’ response highlights this. They say that they have been involved in a number of these conflicts, which means that it’s highly likely that the boss DID say something to the OP at the time. More importantly, they also state clearly that this not a response to a single event but a pattern of behavior. When people don’t want to hear it, they don’t hear it. We’ve seen numerous letters from people who say things like “I’ve spoken to wakeen numerous times, but they aren’t getting it.”

        The fact that the boss is telling the to REFLECT says that she probably is frustrated that the OP is not really taking her feedback on board.

    21. Nesprin*

      Hrm. Speaking as an academic, lab politics can intersect with job norms in ways that are not obvious. IE it is absolutely my job to disagree with my coworkers and PI on subject matter relevant to the lab, and the sign of a good lab is one where this sort of disagreement is encouraged and where everyone can work well with each others once disagreements have been aired and settled with science. However this requires a TON of trust between coworkers, that feedback is on subject matter and not ad hominem, that feedback is well thought out and not spurious, and that the PI will quash either of the former types of issues quickly. If you run into a PI who will not referee scientific debates… run.

      That OP is receiving “interpersonal conflict” feedback at review season and not earlier, raises 3 possibles to my mind (I’ve personally experienced/been guilty of all 3.). 1: OP is not raising criticism in a way that is professional/allows for good interactions once raised. 2: OP’s PI is not enough of a subject matter expert to settle disputes or is not willing to step in when she should. 3: OP is getting the brunt of some feedback that is not appropriate and PI is not protecting her people from politics, and thus OP is losing her cool/professionalism in response.

      1. TL -*

        Yes to all of this. Adding 4) Other people in the lab are difficult personalities and the PI is putting it on the OP to ‘fix’ the issues by managing up/sideways instead of the PI managing other people, due to politics, funding, etc…

        Honestly, I think this is most likely to be (1) given the tone of the letter, but 2-4 could also be playing into it.

        1. Nesprin*

          It’s my experience that it’s never just one of the 4- personality conflicts require some level of lab dysfunction to fester.

          But I really wanted to point out that healthy research programs require conflict and that managing that conflict is a skill that not all PIs have. I found this thread fascinating for the frequent tone that all conflict is bad and that OP must just be difficult to work with.

          1. TL -*

            I think I could have written a letter very similar to this at one point in my career and it was a big mix of 1-4. Mostly 3 and 4) but the (1) came from the fact that I was early-career and the PI & project manager were putting all the conflict management on me instead of handling it themselves.

            In my next lab, the one time I got pulled into a conflict (not a research-related one – there was plenty of that, but it was all excellently managed without heat or personality disputes), three people above me stepped in and the PI who initiated it actually apologized to me with no effort on my part, except to accept as graciously as I possibly could.

        2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          I’m in a totally different field, not academia/labs, but the 1-3 and 4 above mentioned “trajectories” of conflict becoming an issue ring true with my experience as well (e.g. replacing ‘PI’ with ‘my supervisor’ and ‘the lab’ with ‘my workplace’).

          I’m not saying it is or isn’t the case here, but it’s interesting to think about: I’ve found that people who are quite “conflict-averse” themselves also tend to perceive any ‘conflict’ between others, even when it’s really just what I would see as a robust discussion, as “excessive amounts of conflict”.

          For example at a previous job I worked in a team with (among others) a tech lead who knew his stuff, as did I, and we frequently didn’t see eye-to-eye over the ‘best’ or ‘correct’ approach to doing something. Some of the discussions could get quite heated as we were each convinced that our viewpoint was the ‘correct’ one (because of rational reasons). He and I both saw this as healthy disagreement helping to promote the best eventual outcome (let the best argument win!)… However, in our team was another person who was extremely conflict-averse (by her own account and from what I observed) and even if she wasn’t involved in these discussions between me and the lead… I could see her visibly “shrink” and try to go invisible when they happened! And to be clear it wasn’t shouting, just robust debate at a normal volume with a lot of disagreement and “but what about X? You haven’t even thought about possibility Y in that scenario!” etc.

          I’m not convinced that it is most likely (1) above (again, based on my office experience, not in academia where maybe things are different). It seems equally likely that maybe the other people complaining of ‘conflict’ with OP are also conflict-averse types, have brought it up with OPs boss, who is also conflict-averse and recognises that that is a Bad Thing but doesn’t know what to do about it, isn’t direct with OP (I can’t tell from the quoted response whether the boss is just being very direct, or falling back on citing “the rules” and “the process”), blames the conflicts on OP needing to reflect and improve, rather than asking what’s the root cause of the conflict and is it genuine?

          It’s not clear from the letter what the conflicts were ‘about’. Whether they are (for example!) “should we use carbon dating method X or method Y in this research” or more interpersonal stuff like rude responses to reasonable enquiries.

          1. kt*

            I’d like to know more about what the conflicts are about, too: because it could be the type of culture clash you’re mentioning, or the OP could be… hiding reagents from a grad student because the grad student “keeps doing it wrong”. I think the way the OP mentions s/he doesn’t want to think about the conflicts indicates some degree of shame, actually, and I don’t see it as a logical reaction to “I argue robustly and respectfully when I think I’m right”. I’m coming from mathematics, myself, and have had to re-acclimate my conversational style now that I’m in industry because the kind of arguing I used to engage in is, mm, distressing to some folks. But I would never say “I want to leave it in the past” or call it interpersonal conflict! It’s just a mode of communication that isn’t appropriate everywhere, just like the dress I’m wearing today is only appropriate for WFH ;)

          2. DyneinWalking*

            Rereading the letter, it really doesn’t sound like the issue is healthy scientific debates, given OP’s own description:

            “the conflicts were a thing of the past and I do not want to recall them”
            ” I agree that they can be improved on, but I do not want this to be on my permanent record”

            As someone who is all about heated but healthy debates (grew up in a household where voicing disagreement was heavily encouraged even – but if you couldn’t defend your opinion or, god forbid, succumbed to personal attacks, all hell would break loose), that would NOT be my reaction, especially not the first one! I’d argue that these were professional disagreements, not personal conflicts, and that my understanding was that the other person saw it the same.*

            Also, there’s the boss’s assessment that OP could stand to “improve [their] skills in communication and dealing with feedback from other colleagues, [i]especially staff members who are on a higher academic and professional level[/i]”. Obviously we can’t verify that, but I find it telling that OP calls their boss’s(!) response “very insensitive and bossy”.

            *Adjusting your tone to the person is a necessary skill. If you overshoot your vehemence of disagreement so that the person is put off of voicing their own reasons, the result is not a healthy debate. You MUST be willing to hear the other persons reasoning. In fact, scratch the “willing to” – you HAVE to hear the other person’s reasoning, full stop! Else, how do you know your reasons are better? I’ve definitely come across as too vehement in the past, but it’s amazing how focusing on facts and reasons and wanting to understand [i]why[/i] these shouldn’t count smooths the waves.

        3. My cat typed this*

          There’s also 5), which is the flip side of 1) — OP might be reacting defensively or otherwise inappropriately to perfectly valid criticism/suggestions. Like if I said “hey, there’s a fifth possibility you could add to this list” and you replied with “how DARE you question the completeness of my list, you unqualified [redacted]”.

          1. DyneinWalking*

            The letter DOES say that among the things boss wants them to improve, there is the item “dealing with feedback from other colleagues, especially staff members who are on a higher academic and professional level than myself”.

            And then they go on to call boss’s feedback “bossy” and “very insensitive”.

      2. Observer*

        Given the tone of the letter, the flat refusal to do what their boss is asking, their reasons for refusing and the clear misogyny at play, I would have to say that #1 has to be playing a huge role.

        1. Nesprin*

          Eh, I don’t want to excuse the OP entirely, but I’ve refused to do things my PI asked me to do that were either not feasible, not aligned with my research priorities or not likely to work given thermodynamics or the like. Good postdocs, especially self funded postdocs, are essentially independent researchers in someone else’s space, who have their own research directions which are not owned/directed by the PI. There’s a reason that PIs are referred to as “mentors” and not “managers”

          The misogyny I can’t excuse.

          1. Observer*

            What the boss is asking the OP to cannot be classed as not feasible or scientifically unsound, though. And to claim that figuring out better ways to deal with people, including people more senior to you is not “aligned with your priorities” is not something that reflects on the boss.

        2. JustaTech*

          I was just a tech and flat out refused to do a few things my PI asked of me, because they weren’t safe, weren’t good science, or flat out broke the laws of physics (which is a bit much for a biology lab). But even in my refusal I had reasons and alternatives, not just “I don’t want to”.

          (There was no reason for me to work 20 hours straight; there was a perfectly good stopping point, trying to do the really fiddly bit after being in the lab for 14 hours was only going to result in mistakes, and it would not have been even slightly safe for me to drive home.)

          But something that isn’t about safety or what is physically possible? Yeah, a flat refusal there is farther outside professional norms.

          1. TL -*

            Yes. The field accepted norm is to agree and then delay doing it with the expectation that they will forget they brought it up.

        3. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          I’m not sure that it is “clear misogyny”, as such (can you point me to why it is?), depending on the OPs ‘motive’ I could easily see a scenario where the husband was hired as a trailing spouse, or someone was given the job because they are the owner’s nephew, or whatever.

          I expect there are also a lot of cases where people (of any gender!) have a bit of a contemptuous view of a male boss. I’m not proud of it but I (as a cis female) had a boss, many years ago now, who for various reasons I felt wasn’t really a “legitimate” boss in that he seemed to have been chosen as a favourite of the “big boss” without any management aptitude or even desire to be manager (his motivation was just the higher salary of a management position), then the big boss tried to “slip in under the radar” this guy as our boss.. he didn’t know what he was talking about on most of the stuff we dealt with, had no idea how to handle standard management issues (either just shutting down or forwarding them on to the Big Boss to deal with — mundane stuff like scheduling conflicts! Not things that ought to be escalated!)… etc. I’m afraid my younger self wasn’t circumspect enough to hide what must have been my obvious contempt!

          For me it wasn’t about gender at all. It was purely that I felt like someone had been given a “leg-up”, non-legitimately, with no experience or aptitude to back it up. And no, I didn’t want to be the manager myself! I just wanted a competent manager to report to.

          1. Kella*

            I think there are two reasons people are flagging the potential for misogyny here.

            1. It’s a pretty commonly used sexist narrative that women can only get into positions of significant power by “sleeping their way to the top.” It’s not that this never happens but OP didn’t offer any examples of how their boss is unqualified for the job so that claim that OP’s boss only has her job because her husband works there, is weird and unsubstantiated.

            2. They called THEIR BOSS “bossy”. Women get called bossy for acting like leaders quite a lot (in ways that men do not) and this case of a woman being called bossy is particularly ludicrous.

            Basically, when your insults match common sexist narratives and don’t accurately describe what’s actually happening, there’s a good time misogyny is involved.

      3. Mazzy*

        This is interesting, I think I was not on the OP’s side until I saw this. I don’t know how to digest “I didn’t agree that my response was inappropriate. My [negative] response was based on the decisions made at that time.”

        Is it possible someone was trying to push through a horrible idea and they just tried to hard to stop it, and got into a disagreement? I’m wondering if that is the case, how does that impact the OP’s response. Maybe it will make them look good if they just wrote the truth in their review? The truth here is probably better than “doesn’t get along with and argues with coworkers.”

        1. Nesprin*

          It’s happened to me- scientist A in another management chain proposes idea X which is a bad idea for reasons which I’m a subject matter expert in. The best possible outcome is that we discuss thing X and resolve at lower level with PI or PIs involved refereeing and making a decision if it can’t be resolved at a lower level.

          At the lower level, discussion and possibly some conflict is absolutely necessary to the process: sometimes I’m wrong about thing X, sometimes other person is wrong about thing X, and often discussing directly is the easiest way to figure it out. I do my damnedest to not ask my PI for help, but I have needed to.

          And sometimes PIs really do need to step in: sometimes thing X needs to be done to appease funding agency/important well connected scientist/to actually determine who is right about thing X, and sometimes A and I can’t work with because A is sexist/requires a translator/willing to steal ideas and not play nice/completely nuts but the only person who can turn on an important tool.

          Asking me to manage interpersonal interactions with a bad actor will not be successful because I do not have the same standing as my PI, and cannot simply decide to not work with A’s lab or A’s equipment.

        2. Calanthea*

          But if so, the fact OP is being asked to reflect on how that went down is still an area of growth. Like, if you want to create a lab where people can share ideas and accept criticism, if you have someone who disagrees with things in an unpleasant way, that’s really disruptive. Maybe the issue is that OP has great ideas/knowledge, but can’t communicate that constructively, in which case reflecting on how to manage that conflict would get OP better results. So… it’s still a good set of objectives for the PDR.

        3. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          I don’t know how to digest “I didn’t agree that my response was inappropriate. My [negative] response was based on the decisions made at that time.”

          I got a sense that maybe the OP in writing their initial draft (?) of their letter, included details about a specific situation that the manager gave as an example of conflict, but then edited it out for reasons of (brevity, identifiability, whatever) and now we are left with this dangling “my response” [to what? I can only speculate!!]

          I’m inferring that a question was asked about feasibility of something, whether something ought to go ahead as per the current plan, etc. It could be pretty much anything, but it sounds like it must be a “factual” question in some sense (vs an interpersonal issue). I’m aware I am “interpolating” a lot of things here but… OP didn’t call this out as an unusual example (and even says that the manager said this was just the most recent occurrence they gave as an example, and OP didn’t challenge that in their letter) so presumably other examples cited by their manager would have been along similar lines.

          It does call into question what is an “appropriate” response in these types of scenarios. It seems OP answered negatively to something, based on the facts that were known at the time, and (presumably) based on the OPs best knowledge of how things are in their field.

          Is it possible that OP was expected to give a “rubber stamp” sort of approval to something, but they said no because rationally ‘no’ was the right response? In which case “conflict” may be the outcome of an answer like that, but isn’t really the root cause!

          If that’s the case it sounds like the manager isn’t very good at finding out “root causes” or looking more deeply into an issue (I inferred this from other parts of the letter as well).

      4. blackcat*

        I also read possible
        4) OP has been problematic for a while and the PI has struggled with how to deal with this and has finally roped in HR for advice.

        1. Nesprin*

          Also possible. My point was not to state that OP is blameless, but to point out that debate and conflict in research programs is not always a sign of dysfunction, and to point out that PIs can contribute greatly to either quashing dysfunction or perpetuating it.
          I’ve been in similar situations not (at least entirely) of my own making, and TL above has commented similarly.

          1. blackcat*

            I’ve been a part of research groups with extremely lively debates and with conversation patterns that might be off-putting to some (like interrupting). It was not an infrequent occurrence for me to tell my PhD adviser that he was wrong because of XYZ, engage in a debate, and then concede that I was wrong or have him concede that he was wrong. The fraction of debates settled one way or the other shifted over the course of my PhD, as naturally it should. But it was entirely common for me to argue passionately for something and then suddenly, stop and say “Yep, you’re right. I’m good and confident your approach is the right one.” For me, verbalizing the disagreement and exploring the arguments on both sides thoroughly is really helpful!
            I very much viewed these debates as a sign of a *functional* work relationship, and a good part of my training as a researcher. It’s important for me to defend my work to aggressive questioning, and it’s also important for me to listen to the critiques of my work and adjust accordingly.

            But I’d call all of these things “debates” or “disagreements” not “conflicts.” Conflict suggests something else to me, and suggests that disagreements are not being handled respectfully (and are therefore turning into “conflicts”). Like I definitely had an ongoing conflict with a member of my department, but he thought my subfield shouldn’t exist and was taking it out on me. That was a conflict, full of digs directed my way and nothing productive ever came from it.

          2. Calanthea*

            Given how the personal objectives have been described, this sounds like a more functional research group than some I’ve encountered. Which does make me think it’s OP who needs to really think about their place in the group.

          3. Ethyl*

            I think there’s a difference between robust scientific debate or lively discussion of how to approach something and an interpersonal conflict that requires the lab manager to stop what they’re doing to “mediate” the conflict. I haven’t worked in an academic lab since college, but I can remember examples of both types of conflict and they aren’t the same thing at all.

      5. Eukomos*

        It’s also reasonably likely that the OP DID get this feedback earlier, but ignored it or pretended it was some mild suggestion, and now that the boss is making the issue unavoidable OP is turning around and calling her rude for pushing it so hard. It’s not uncommon.

    22. Casey*

      That bothered me, too. We relocated when my husband got a new job, and I got a position at the same large company a few months later. My hiring manager had no idea that my spouse worked there, too, until months after my start date.

    23. Otto*

      Yeah, especially as in Acadamia it’s really common for spouses to negotiate two job offers at once. That might sound crazy but universities are far enough apart that two academics who are married have to either do that or end up having to live in different cities or having one of them have a 3 hour commute. It’s not 100 percent universal of course but if a college has applicable openings for both people it’s very common for the couple to say, hire us both or neither of us.

    24. Eukomos*

      Agreed! Spousal hires aren’t handed out to just anyone these days, you do still have to earn your position. I saw a department reject an initial request for a spousal hire and not come around to agreeing to it until the spouse in question came back with a MacArthur grant. And I’ve seen departments hold firm on refusals even when it meant losing the initial hire. She deserves her position as the OP’s boss, and OP needs to respect her for it.

    25. Beth*

      Yes. Even if it’s true (which it might be–spousal hires are a thing in academia, they aren’t generally offered if the spouse isn’t at least a decent fit for the opening but it can give a major leg up in a field where there can be a ton of well-qualified candidates), the way OP is phrasing this comes off very much as “I have no respect for my boss and will absolutely be insubordinate without thinking twice.” I’m going to bet that attitude shows in their work, too. Whether they like it or not, she is still their boss, and they have to accept that and act accordingly!

      1. pancakes*

        Yes. And being uncooperative during an annual review is not an effective or productive way to question the boss’s legitimacy, or to articulate a question about their legitimacy. It’s self-defeating.

    26. Patty*

      Yes! As if her boss probably doesn’t have a PhD and a track record of publishing etc..

      I have to wonder if there isn’t a gender component as well.

    27. menchildren of the corn*

      Well if the boss is a nepotism hire which it sounds like she is then obviously it’s harder to respect and work for someone like that.

      1. Beth*

        Nah, spousal hires are common in a lot of branches of academia and don’t come with this kind of connotation. They still require the spouse being hired to be a qualified candidate. If the department wanted to make a spousal hire but OP’s boss wasn’t qualified to run a lab, they may have offered an administrative position, but they wouldn’t have made her a supervisor just because her husband works there.

    28. Three Flowers*

      THIS. It comes across as uber-sexist and somehow entirely unaware of norms in academia, which is that highly qualified spouses get hired *all the time* (whether we think that’s just or not, it’s industry standard because it’s so hard for an academic couple to individually get hired FT in the same city unless they’re hired as a package). But spousal hires do not always equal full-time tenured positions; if she’s an associate professor, she’s very, very qualified. So yeah, sexist and unprofessional.

    29. Lavender Menace*

      It’s also probably untrue. An associate professor is tenured, usually, so this is a person who had to get hired and earn tenure at some university large enough to have a lab with a director and an employee who has been there four years. There are some concessions made for spousal hires, but the more competitive the university the stronger a candidate has to be.

    30. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yeah, that’s a pretty big red flag and it really only goes downhill from there. This letter seems very much to be lacking in a sense of self-awareness, which seems to be exactly the sort of thing they are trying to address with their development goals.

  2. TotesMaGoats*

    Based on the “response from the boss” it sounds like she did address it in the moment. Maybe no in a “go to your room and think about what you’ve done” kind of way but in the investigative and solution seeking approach. Probably not ideal but it’s not like you didn’t know that X was an issue. I bet your boss was hoping you’d realize the repeated process was an indication of a problem.

    Everyone should have development goals. You should want to continue growing in your role and maybe out of it as appropriate. They don’t have to be punitive but in your case you have a serious area where you need to work on. Do that.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      And in fact, if OP doesn’t work on developing in these areas that the boss pointed out, OP won’t ever move out of where she is. Who wants to work with someone combative and insubordinate when they don’t have to?

    2. Clisby*

      From the boss: “My conflict management strategies in the past pertaining to all the complaints against yourself have been to work out the entire situation by listening to all parties, set up meetings and work it through with everyone including yourself. The example provided is just an example and not an isolated incident, nor is it only coming from a particular individual. It is simply the most recent example.”

      If this is even halfway accurate, OP should have recognized this was a problem a long time ago. What boss wants to have to step in and work through every conflict that arises? Even kindergarten teachers encourage their students to try to work out their own problems, and they’re dealing with 5-year-olds.

      1. embertine*

        “All the complaints against yourself”
        A) Yikes
        B) This makes it clear that boss has definitely brought up these issues on what sounds like many occasions. I fear that OP may be the kind of person who thinks that because they go through life in high dudgeon that everyone else must do so as well.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          I had a boss who would constantly lie about such things. If he observed one thing he didn’t like, he’d lie and say multiple people had approached him complaining about that behavior, and everyone was upset, and it was clearly a pattern of behavior. When, in reality, it was a one-off incident that he misunderstood. He absolutely would have written an e-mail like the boss in OP’s situation, and been completely off base.

          1. Annony*

            Except the OP even says “the conflicts are common”. I don’t think that they disagree about the frequency of the conflicts and complaints, just on whether the OP should change their behavior.

            1. Trout 'Waver*

              I was referring to the boss’s line of “The example provided is just an example and not an isolated incident, nor is it only coming from a particular individual. It is simply the most recent example.”

              That’s almost exactly what my old boss would say.

              1. LabGirl*

                Trout, I think what Annony is saying is that the OP themselves actually described the conflicts (plural) as “common”. In your circumstance I don’t think you would have used a plural and the word common to describe your single incident. If the OP had said this was how the supervisor had described it there may be more of a similarity. I don’t see that the OP disagrees with the description of multiple incidents with multiple colleagues anywhere in the letter, only that they weren’t addressed at the time of the issue and what should now be done about it.

              2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

                I too had a boss like this, he used the “Lots of people are saying you are X,” when really it was “I think X about you and I’m going to obfuscate by saying everyone else thinks so too.”

                1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

                  I had one like this who didn’t even try to obfuscate with “lots of people are saying X” but rather went straight to just “I keep hearing X”.

                  From whom? Turned out to be from his internal monologue!

              3. Genny*

                It’s also exactly what someone who wants to prevent OP from going on a witch hunt or dismissing the problem out of hand because “Wakeen is just too sensitive and he’s the only one complaining/ Jane’s always had it out for me” would say. I think the overall context of the letter indicates it’s much more likely than not that these complaints are real and are coming from real people.

          2. rhododendron*

            If that were the case, I think the OP definitely would have said so, rather than “I thought it was insensitive and bossy to say that.”

            1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

              Alternate explanation: (may or may not be true, but it’s a possibility!) that OP has an idea that managers ought to be sensitive (vs insensitive) and collaborative (vs ‘bossy’) when approaching issues that need to be worked on for their reports’ “development goals” etc. (Or just in handling day-to-day interactions!)

              What follows from that is potentially that OP has an idea[l] in their mind of how a boss “should” act or what their characteristics “ought” to be.. and now the boss isn’t acting according to those idea[l]s and as a result the OP feels that the manager isn’t “doing management” correctly. Just a possibility to throw out there!

      2. TootsNYC*

        all the complaints against yourself

        I notice that the boss didn’t say “all the complaints between members of the department”

    3. Malty*

      “Based on the “response from the boss” it sounds like she did address it in the moment.”
      This, very much this

    4. Ali G*

      Boss has done a lot of work helping the OP resolve these conflicts. She’s now putting the work on the OP, which is appropriate, to figure out how not to have so many conflicts, so she doesn’t have to clean up after them anymore. If the OP doesn’t do the work, it sounds like Boss is ready to just stop putting in any effort, as the OP thinks conflicts are “normal” and has shown no willingness to change, and eventually the OP will put themselves out of a job.

      1. fposte*

        Yes, I think this is a really important thing the OP is missing: the boss has spent a lot of time on the OP’s issue, and the OP’s unwillingness to spend time in turn is going to seriously damage an already troubled work relationship.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I can’t imagine a boss having to sit down with me and hash out an argument with cohorts. yikes.
          And it appears that OP’s boss has done this more than once? oh no.
          Most bosses just do not have time for this stuff, OP. If she is making time for it, then this is a serious, serious problem.

          1. Clisby*

            Yeah – none of us were there, so we don’t know exactly what happened. However, the OP doesn’t dispute the boss’s description of mediating multiple conflicts.

      2. Willis*

        Yeah, I think the OP is really over-estimating how normal it is to have conflicts with co-workers and higher ups to the extent that your boss needs to mediate. Differences of opinions or approaches you discuss, sure. But having frequent, serious conflicts is a big deal. Refusing to reflect on how you can moderate your behavior to mitigate them is even more serious, and like Alison said, on the road to firing.

        1. Up Too Late*

          Agreed. Have I civilly disagreed with a colleague in the past? Certainly. Have I ever had a conflict with a coworker that had to be mediated?? I have been in the workforce for over forty years. Has there been one single instance when I was involved in a conflict that required mediation? The answer is never. And, if I had been involved in a mediated conflict, you can bet I would reflect long and hard about what I personally could have done differently to avoid the conflict in the first place.

          When a person is in the workforce an extremely important part of one’s job is to get along well with others. IMO, the OP needs to learn and reflect on this. Otherwise they are only hurting themself.

    5. biobotb*

      Right? If the boss has to mediate every conflict, she is *literally* addressing it in the moment.

  3. Sylvan*

    This might be nitpicky. You say the conflicts were a thing of the past, but you also say they “are common and have largely resolved by various means.” You’ve also been in the role for four years. It sounds like you’ve had multiple conflicts with people, and that’s worth working on so you and they can have a better time working together. Also, working on it with your boss’s support is a way for your improvements to be recognized. I think this could be a good opportunity for you.

    1. Vina*

      Just b/c LW thinks they are in the past doesn’t mean their coworkers, boss, or anyone else thinks they are. Conflicts are ‘in the past” when everyone agrees.

      Instead of asking “what should I do” the response was “it’s not a problem.” That’s really tone-deaf at best. AT worst, it’s a sign of a much deeper problem.

      I think LW either has a problem with authority or a problem with women in authority or X in authority. I don’t know for sure, but something deeper is oozing out of this letter.

      As someone who always tries to approach things from empathy and kindness, I say that LW does have some issue they aren’t seeing. They likely need some coaching or counseling beyond what their boss can do. They have some issue multiple other people see but it is part of their own personal blind-spot.

      1. Prof. Cat*

        “Just b/c LW thinks they are in the past doesn’t mean….everyone agrees”
        That is such a good point. OP is perhaps an unreliable narrator on this. When others tell you it’s an issue, you don’t get to deny their reality or sweep it under the rug as something in the past that doesn’t matter now. The past does matter, particularly if it predicts future performance.

      2. fposte*

        And I’d put conflicts alongside any other errors there–the fact that they were resolved doesn’t mean that they don’t matter. Maybe you fixed all the errors you had in the grant proposal and then in the budget projection and then in the report, but you could still be making too many errors for your position.

        1. Vina*

          Good point!

          As with any other type of error or mistake, they have to be evaluated to ensure they aren’t repeated. The steps (IMH)) are (1) acknowledge (2) understand (3) setup process corrections/personal correction (4) test correction (5) if correction works, put in the past.

          LW is not even on step (1) of acknowledging. the boss is trying to give LW a path to get from (1) to (5), but LW is fighting even step 1.

          The only conclusion boss can draw is that these issues will repeat and LW will be the reason they do so.

          LW is putting themselves on a path to being fired.

        2. Grey Coder*

          “All the times I’ve tripped on my shoelaces are in the past, and all the scrapes and bruises have healed. I don’t need to learn to tie my shoelaces!”

      3. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        I think LW either has a problem with authority or a problem with women in authority or X in authority.
        It sounds like LW may have a problem with people in authority who, as they perceive it, haven’t legitimately earned it. I’m not sure that that is about women or any other minority (?) as such. I think it’s genuine on some level to at least question the legitimacy of someone who has been “installed” as a boss when it’s not clear that they are the best candidate for the position.

        1. Kt*

          I notice that you’re very consistent in this comment section in pushing back against suggestions of misogyny and very persistent in suggesting the boss really isn’t “the best person for the job”. But you know what? Most bosses aren’t! And yet… They’re the boss! My boss is my boss in part by being at the company when there were only 15 people in the department rather than 60. All the managers came from that group. No surprise. They did not do a nationwide search for my boss’s job; they didn’t even look outside the company. And yet, do I go around saying I don’t need to pay attention to or respect my boss? My boss’s boss was an outside hire, but none of the VPs or C-suite above him were outside hires. How can I be sure they’re the best for the job? Should I tell the CEO to shove it because I know he was friends with the last CEO and they golf a lot together?

          This person’s boss got tenure and is leading a research lab that has enough funding to pay this person. She is therefore qualified. You can quibble as much as you like, but she’s got the money, and if the University doesn’t have a hiring freeze I’d suggest she’s better off hiring someone else.

          1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

            Sorry if it came off as overly insistent — I didn’t intend to be (I think I’ve only alluded to it in 2 comments, but admittedly with a consistent view!). It’s possible that I’ve drawn on my own experience too much, but what I was trying to get across was that misogyny and related issues isn’t the only explanation for the OPs problems with conflict, and to try and see it from other perspectives!

            You are totally right that there’s all sorts of reasons bosses aren’t “the best person for the job” but yet they are still the boss… and regardless of issues about gender, nepotism, “politics” about people being un-fire-able or whatever… well, I am able to work with them and as you say, “pay attention to or respect” the boss — but all the while it’s in the back of my mind, and I’ve come across many people who also think this way, that you have to pay attention etc because of the “hierarchy” and “chain of command” and all that, but it’s certainly in the back of my mind if someone didn’t get their position in what you could call a legitimate or ‘objective’ process (e.g. the owner’s nephew).

        2. allathian*

          The fact is that lots of things affect hiring and jobs don’t necessarily always go to the “best” candidate. As long as they go to a qualified candidate it should be enough.

        3. pancakes*

          Being uncooperative in an annual review led by that boss isn’t an effective way to articulate genuine concerns about the boss’s legitimacy, though. It’s not even close.

        4. DyneinWalking*

          Getting defensive when someone criticizes your ability to take feedback and your conflict management skills is about the WORST way to defend yourself! Everything OP has said basically boils down to “I am right, they’re wrong, and everyone should just drop the issue”.

          That doesn’t mean it’s not possible to push back at that kind of feedback – but the correct way to go about it is to ask for clarification, specific examples, and clearly defined goals of what constitutes improvement. You can also clarify your own reasoning (“I pushed back against higher-up’s request because they wanted to use a method that would’ve been much more time-intensive and expensive while giving less accurate data, which I think was a reasonable concern. How exactly do you want me to address situations where important factors appear to be overlooked?”).
          But a reaction like OP’s is a seriously bad look, no matter how justified the original feedback is.

          And while OP’s description is too vague to say for sure if their position is unreasonable, it’s also not enough to prove the opposite.

          And honestly? I feel that someone with GOOD communication and conflict-management skills would never have sent a letter with such a vague description of the conflicts in question!
          The very reason that OP only provides his opinion but not the facts to justify it makes me seriously doubt his assessment of the situation.

    2. Code Monkey, the SQL*

      Yes, OP, this is a great time to reflect on what you feel is an appropriate number of conflicts with co-workers.

      I’ve been in my job close to ten years. I have worked with seven different clients on nine different 5-20 person teams, along with an office of 30-40 people I work alongside. In that time I’ve maybe had true, needed-mediation, cannot work together at all, conflict with 3 people.

      If you’re getting into power struggles, or strong arguments, or even just ongoing disagreements enough that you’re calling them ‘common’, I think that your boss is right, and you need to work on your conflict resolution skills in order to become a more enjoyable person to work with.

      1. Ikora Ray*

        I’ve been working in high pressure environments for twenty years now (law offices dealing with major litigation and mergers/acquisitions worth billions of dollars) and can count on one hand the number of coworkers I’ve had conflicts with that needed to be mediated (I’m not counting the kind of little spats that happen when everyone is overworked and cranky at the end of a big merger). OP really needs what their manager is doing and should be grateful their manager is doing this rather than just firing them.

        1. Vina*

          Yes. I’m not as high-conflict, but I can say that I’ve never, ever had to go to mediation for any professional conflicts. Ever. And I’ve dealt with some real jerks, including one attorney who later was diagnosed with some major psychopathy and institutionalized for everyone’s safety. I’ve also had to play a part in removing children from members of gangs and other organized crime organizations as well as other career criminals who had committed multiple premeditated murders. In short: scary, dangerous people.

          The people I’ve dealt with compared to who LW is dealing with? And yet, we’ve all managed to behave.

          Heck, the only time I’ve had issues that required a firm response was when a party (usually a parent) was detoxing after being thrown in jail. They can get real aggressive. Like attack the attorneys and judge aggressive. Even then, I let the bailiff handle it. I don’t feel the need to get aggressive back.

          (You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a Judge whip off his robe, jump over a bench, and tackle a shackled inmate who was threatening his own 5’2” young female attorney. Dude was a meth addict with several mental health issues who was not getting proper care).

          LW: This level of conflict is not normal, even when the people you are dealing with are aggressive, criminal, or mentally ill. It’s either the environment or it’s you.

          1. Vina*

            PS The Judge’s response to all this? He ordered an immediate psych hold and evaluation. He wanted the dude to get help.

            He wasn’t focused on blame or retribution or score-keeping. Just resolving the situation.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Kudos to the judge for retaining focus on the main goal there. That’s a tough situation, real tough.

              I’d like to point out that for many people, probably most of us, retaining our cool under fire comes from practice. We can feel our blood pressure going up, we can feel the angry thoughts rushing forward in our brains and what do we do next?
              OP, do you have any sort of a plan what to do when you are faced with an upsetting situation?

              Some people take a five minute break, “I’ll be right back. I need to check on something else first.”

              Some folks sip on their water, which breaks up the pacing of the conversation and tends to slow down the angry words.

              Some people spot points of misunderstanding and say, “Oh, I was not very clear on that, it sounded like I said XY and what I meant was XYZ which probably makes more sense.”

              One statement that made a HUGE impression on Younger Me was, “If you can’t handle the small things that come up, what EVER will you do if you are faced with something LARGE?” It’s in the small lessons we learn and we are better prepared to handle the harder things that happen. OP, very, very few people escape this planet without facing some reeeeally hard issues.

            2. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

              It would have been even cooler if he’d left the robe on. A real caped crusader moment.

            1. Vina*

              Happens way to frequently in the dependency/neglect/abuse courts.

              I don’t think our jail system is doing a good job of dealing with mental illness or substance abuse. When they get both, the results are catastrophic.

            2. Serafina*

              Bailiffs are sturdy souls. Courtroom uproar videos are my guilty pleasure and I always admire how bailiffs respond and how calm they usually stay.

              1. RadManCF*

                I’d imagine it depends on how they get the assignment. In my experience as a law student in MN, in some counties (Dakota for one), it’s a seniority bid position, while in others (like Ramsey), deputies are rotated through on a set schedule. In at least one county (Hennepin), the deputies are hand-picked by management. In some cases, the sworn deputies are supplemented with non-sworn security officers and/or correctional deputies. My observation in Dakota county was that the deputies assigned to court security were older, desirous of a set schedule, and mostly concerned with keeping the temperature down. The youngest deputy who was there regularly was a union steward. At one of the two satellite courthouses, the three deputies there actually seemed incredibly bored, and perfectly fine with that. Hennepin county had a wider age spread, but similar attitudes to what I saw in Dakota. Haven’t spent much time in Ramsey. In Dakota county, the Sheriff’s deputies tended to be older on average than the municipal officers I encountered. In the time I spent in Dakota county, I only heard of one use-of-force incident, a defendant who had to be pulled off of a witness.

      2. Environmental Compliance*

        Exactly – OP, I’m literally the person who can (and has) shut down entire projects. My job often creates more work for people, because I do environmental compliance. Either I’m the person they’re calling because of a spill, or because they need a permit. I can’t make regulations go away. I can only try to make it more streamlined in-house so *I* deal with the regulators, not them, and it’s as easy to comply within their jobs as possible. EHS isn’t always the favorite department, is what I’m saying.

        I can count on one hand in several years of this field having that kind of conflict that needed or should have had mediation. I can count on the same hand with the number of times I would count having an actual “conflict” that we worked out between each other, no mediation. And to be honest, the individuals within that count were difficult to work with for everyone.

        And, OP – my references all will tell you about how well I work with people. Seriously. That has been noted in hiring documents and within performance reviews, consistently. It is a huge part of most anyone’s job to be someone other people can work with. You will lose out on promotions. You will stagnant and/or get fired, and being difficult to work with *will* follow you. Working on that and becoming someone easy to work with *will* help you in the long run.

        Your manager is trying to help you still, OP. Let them help you. It is a *huge* favor to you, and will be a *huge* disservice to yourself by refusing.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I remember my first boss saying, “Part of what we are compensated for is our willingness to get along with others. No one ever talks about this. It’s taken for granted that everyone knows.”

          So it’s covered in your paycheck, OP. You are receiving money in part for your work but also in part for your willingness to get along with others. It doesn’t look like you are getting along with others. Here, you are even showing your boss you are not willing to get along with HER. Yikes! OP!
          At bare minimum tell her with sincerity that you don’t understand what is wrong and ask her to explain further. Then LISTEN. But don’t tell her there is no problem or you refuse to help yourself here.

          1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

            “Willingness to get along with others.”

            See, this is something I find a little tricky, because you don’t always decide if someone is going to get along with you or not. You can be perfectly easygoing and pleasant, and run into someone who wants to be a bully or just plain difficult, and then it’s a “you are both not getting along” situation.

            1. Environmental Compliance*

              There’s a difference between being willing to get along with others and others that won’t get along with you (or anyone). It is generally clear which side is causing the disruption. If you are professional, polite, and they are not…. it’s not your unwillingness to play nice, it’s the other party’s.

              It’s only tricky when it’s bad management, and then the problem is bad management, not your ability to get along with other people.

              1. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

                I would love to believe that is true but unfortunately, it’s often not until you’ve been around a certain person long enough to see a pattern of them being involved in certain kinds of issues. People who consistently won’t get along and but nevertheless stay employed usually have some instinct or strategy for making others look like the bad guy at first glance.

            2. IndustriousLabRat*

              Oh yeah, and that’s the most frustrating of all. But being able to manage one’s own half of that equation with finesse/patience is under one’s own control, while the unfriendly person’s actions are not, and being able to navigate that is an important life skill. We see so much of that here on AAM- up to and including ‘managing your response means extricating yourself from that situation or even that job if you aren’t supported in your response by someone who has standing to help’.

            3. Not So NewReader*

              Generally, if you are around for any length of time the people around you can identify the problem person easily and they KNOW it’s not you.

              Sometimes I have been able to find a trusted person at work and ask them as a self-check. “I thought I was supposed to do A, but now I am hearing to do B instead, was I wrong?”

              See there are many components that go into being willing to get along with others.
              Self-checks/double checks are one way.
              Admitting to mistakes and quickly fixing those mistakes where possible is another way.
              Giving others random small helps also conveys, “I am willing to get along with others.”
              We can make a longer list. However, the point is no ONE thing/one instance shows an unwillingness to get along. It is part of a pattern.

      3. Guacamole Bob*

        Came here to say this. In over 15 years in the working world in a variety of jobs and industries, I can’t recall a manager of mine ever needing to step in to help me work out an issue with a coworker, and to my knowledge no one has ever complained about me to my boss in the way that it sounds like is common with OP. Maybe a manager has told me “let it go” or “knock it off” about a minor thing that came to their attention once or twice? But definitely no formal mediation-type meetings. The fact that OP has had several formal conflict processes over a fairly short period of time is a huge red flag and Not Normal.

        Actually, my boss does help me manage interactions with one coworker, but that’s because Coworker is a known brilliant jerk with some history with other colleagues and my boss likes to check in with me when I’m on a project with Coworker to make sure I have the support I need, and to volunteer to step in if I’m getting fed up. But even then we’re not talking about formal complaints and mediation – my boss is just a good manager who doesn’t want his employees to feel caught in bad situations so tries to shield them where he can.

        1. Code Monkey, the SQL*

          Yes, several formal conflict processes is what caught my eye too.

          There’s of course the possibility that this is an overly-regulated environment where every little interpersonal conflict becomes a BFD, and OP is getting called on the carpet for their workplace’s equivalent of The Doughnut Wars, but usually those aren’t the kind of places where a manager’s feedback is so clear and candid. And regardless, there’s nothing to be lost from reflecting on that sort of thing and saying “In retrospect, helping myself to 3 doughnuts before the rest of the lab got into the room was not the best move in terms of morale and interpersonal relationships, even if I do feel that Sandra’s reaction was out of proportion.”

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            Yeah, I wondered if maybe this was a dysfunctional environment where the more senior staff are quick to take offense if they aren’t treated with great deference or something. But OP’s attitude and the professional nature of the boss’s response here makes me think that’s not actually the issue.

            1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

              It could be a dysfunction thing, but it might also have to do with having a lot of lab workers who are in some respect student-employees. This adds a extra layer of difficulty to resolving conflicts because senior staff have more power over their careers than they would if they were just employees.

      4. Trout 'Waver*

        I think it really depends on what your threshold for conflict is. Technically, deciding who’s samples go into the autosampler first is a conflict. It’s relatively low-stakes and should be resolved through group norms. But conflicts like this happen every single day in an academic research laboratory.

        It’s not good management, imo, to be singling out one person and picking sides as OP’s boss is seeming to do. I can think of three reasons for this. Either OP is a huge jerk, OP is being bullied by the rest of the lab, or the supervisor lacks conflict management skills. There isn’t enough info here to definitively say which of the three it is. Or maybe all 3.

        And honestly, I don’t think the situation is resolvable. OP should reflect on the source of this conflict and look for a new job and a fresh start.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          I think OP’s defensiveness and refusal to engage in a reasonable way with what the boss is asking is a huge part of why most people here are assuming that OP is the problem. If it was a lack of conflict management skills, then the fact that she writes that OP has had numerous complaints against them would still be a big red flag. And if OP is being bullied, they’d most likely write a very different letter, talking about how the complaints weren’t justified instead of basically admitting fault but wanting to leave the in the past.

          Deciding which work task takes priority is a “conflict”, but I certainly read this to be about interpersonal conflict and communication issues. Having to go to the boss and ask whether project A or project B should get kicked to tomorrow because the equipment is needed for both would result in coaching about better balancing of work priorities or something if the boss expected that the question shouldn’t have to involve her, not this stuff about communication skills.

        2. Bippity*

          Why is everyone overlooking the fact the LW’s manager used the word “complaints” as well as “conflicts”?

          The letter literally says the LW has had multiple complaints made about them. That’s vastly different from minor conflicts.

      5. Academic Addie*

        This. I’ve never had to step in and resolve a conflict in my lab, and I’ve been at the job for three years. I assume conflict means something that wasn’t just “Hey, you borrowed my pipette without asking!” “Oh, sorry, thought it was general use.”

        I’m sure there are interpersonal disagreements on my staff. But none in three years and 12 personnel have risen to the point where I needed to be alerted. You need to think hard on this.

      6. Lora*

        You know, from my personal experience, yeah, agree with you – there are only a handful of people I cannot work with, needed to make an HR complaint about, boss had to step in (or should have stepped in) in a few decades.

        But…in academic STEM in particular, I happen to know of some labs which I and many others avoid like the plague. These are internationally famous, big giant labs with zillions of taxpayer dollars invested every year. You have heard of them. And amongst insiders, they have a reputation for high conflict. Even internationally, it’s well known that grad students in those labs commit suicide at alarming rates from the stress. Conflict, fighting over whose turn it is on the shared instrumentation, really is a daily event. It’s horrible, but the bottom line is that these places are very personality driven, and you’re not going to ever get rid of program directors with tenure – your choices really are, learn to live with being constantly berated and having sharp implements and hazardous chemicals thrown at you, figure out how to not upset Mr Personality quite so much however you have to do that, or leave.

        It’s one of those, it’s hard to believe it is really so common until you see for yourself how many academic scientists are absolute garbage humans. I suspect civil servants in government type jobs dependent on political appointments probably feel the same way – you wouldn’t believe what absolute disgraces of human beings these masters of the universe are until you see for yourself. It’s not normal at all, but it doesn’t change the advice.

      7. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        But that depends on what’s characterized as “conflict” vs, e.g., fact based discussions about the right way to approach something in the course of the role.

        I’ve been in my job close to ten years. I have worked with seven different clients on nine different 5-20 person teams, along with an office of 30-40 people I work alongside. In that time I’ve maybe had true, needed-mediation, cannot work together at all, conflict with 3 people.

        Sounds like a standard amount. But I think OPs manager is characterising all the “differences of viewpoint” (of which there must be many more than 3 in your example!) instances as “conflict”. Lets say you had a difference of view point resulting in a “conflict” of some sort (even if it was just a mild “should we do X? or Y?”) once every 3 months, which seems very little to me. Then over 10 years, assuming there are 3-4 “conflicts” like this per year… that adds up to 30-40 “conflict” events! But I’m pretty sure they are just the normal course of doing business, not needing intervention by managers and so on.

        you need to work on your conflict resolution skills in order to become a more enjoyable person to work with.
        Or it’s what we know on Stack Overflow as a X/Y problem. i.e. Person asks how can I do “strange thing X”? … Well, there are ways to do that but really the person should have been asking “how can I do Y” which is their real problem but they didn’t know it.

        1. Kt*

          Do you have any evidence for the statement that the OP’s manager is classifying all differences of viewpoint as conflict?

        2. DyneinWalking*

          Listen –

          whenever I – a person who tries very much to incorporate feedback – am criticized, my very first reaction is to run the criticism through some kind of mental processing unit that tries to figure out all the possible reasons why the feedback might be justified, no matter how insignificant those possible reasons are.
          And then I go and compare them to my own reasons , and base my conclusion on that.

          And whenever I turn to other people to get their assessment of the situation, I don’t just state the opinions, I give the REASONS for each.

          I (and many, many other commenters here) am not critical of OP because I think that a boss’s opinion is necessarily right, or that someone who gets into many conflicts is necessarily the cause of them… I’m critical because OP’s tone is more defensive than concerned, and because they so firmly insist on their opinion while not providing enough information to justify it.
          In fact, they aren’t providing ANY information apart from the verbatim letter of their boss – which is just another statement of opinion. But there’s no specific example of a conflict, no explanation of WHY the conflicts weren’t that bad, no mentioning of their strategies to keep disagreements from turning into actual conflicts, no mentioning of their coworkers’ opinions on the matter, no examples of how boss always picks on them, no mentioning of the boss being unreasonable in other specific cases… they literally just state opinions.

          And I’m ever so suspicious of people who vehemently insist on their opinion but so thoroughly avoid anything that would allow me to form my own.

    3. beanie gee*

      Yep, it’s an opportunity to either avoid those conflicts in the future, not just get better at dealing with them when they come up, since it sounds like they come up too often.

    4. Trek*

      I read it as there being conflicts in the work place and the supervisor wanted this employee to reflect on who did what and what could have been done better. However I realize that this employee was involved in these conflicts not just that they are happening in the department. If OP is part of the conflict on a regular basis than there is a pattern. Perhaps this has been addressed but employee is not seeing it as a pattern or as a problem and thinks its business as usual when in reality others are not wanting to work with OP because of how they handle differences/conflict.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Here’s the real kicker: Reflecting on what we have done/said and sorting out what we could have done better is just plain good advice for many situations, not just conflict situations. We can also think about the parts we did well and make them our SOPs.
        OP, I have found that any superstar employee is always analyzing what they could have done better. This is how they get to superstar.

    5. Quinalla*

      Sounds like they were mostly resolved by your boss having to step in each time and talk to all parties and work through it with everyone. Your boss should not have to be doing that every time you have a conflict and her doing this work WAS her bringing it up to you in the moment! It sounds to me like she is saying this cannot continue and you need to learn to work through conflicts yourself without the boss having to come in and sort things out every time you have a conflict with someone(s). That sort of conflict resolution by a boss is usually a kind of “last resort” situation, not the way you conflicts are going to get resolved for all time.

      I do hope you will take the time to reflect OP with an open mind, this is something you need to deal with. I know it doesn’t seem like it, but your boss is trying to help you as this is going to hold you back at best and get you fired at worst.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        Yeah, this. My entire team hasn’t had any conflicts of a severity requiring mediation-type meetings in that time span, much less multiple centered around one person.

      2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        Depends what you characterise a “conflict” as, though. In my current tech field I can point to at least 5 “conflicts” I’ve had with co-workers in the last 2 months. Where a “conflict” could be a situation, usually resolved quickly but could last a day or more, over what to do in a particular scenario or the best way forward or similar.

        1. Bippity*

          Were those conflicts serious enough that multiple complaints were lodged against you, by multiple people, as is the case for the LW?

    6. A Social Worker*

      Yes, as Alison has said many times, part of your job is getting along with your colleagues.

    7. FirstComment*

      Is everyone other than me totally certain that the LW meant “common” as in “frequent” conflict at work, as opposed to “common” as in “typical, minor, normal, or everyday” work conflict? To be transparent, I’m intentionally playing devil’s advocate. The letter reads differently to me if assume the latter, and then make some other assumptions based on that being true, that the conflicts actually are minor and typical.

      In that case, why is the boss involving herself in every little spat over copy machine usage, or who did or didn’t wash their coffee mug? If I assume that the dysfunction is on the LW’s boss’s end, then try to be honest with myself about how mature I’d sound or act if my boss wanted me to write a self effacing diatribe concerning how I dealt with my missing stapler eight months ago, I don’t know how mature I’d be acting.

      Even if I were at fault, and if I were as immature as I’d have to be to be totally in the wrong, the assignment can only feel insulting and infantilizing to me. If I were that immature, this would only make me more angry and self-righteous. If I’m actually in the right, if my boss is a drama-stirring whackadoodle, I’m now outraged by the assignment and probably exhausted by the nonsense at what’s supposed to be a workplace, not a high school.

      1. Snarl Trolley*

        If this were the case, the LW can simply comply with the request for reflection without writing a “self-effacing diatribe” (??? where are you getting something so absurdly dramatic; this is a workplace issue and should be handled as such, with objectivity and professionalism) and then look for another job, if this is so utterly out of acceptable behavior for them to put up with.

        Frankly, if LW really is feeling so “infantilized and insulted” by their boss, assuming they aren’t just maladjusted and out of touch, they need to find another job regardless, and get out of an environment that wreaks havoc on their sense of self to such a degree.

      2. Bippity*

        The letter says that multiple people have lodged complaints against the LW. Managers can’t ignore that.

    8. RagingADHD*

      I have known my share of people who “didn’t want to dwell on the past” or decided that major behavioral patterns were “in the past.”

      To them, “in the past” meant yesterday. And of course the exact same thing happened again very quickly – to nobody’s surprise except the person in denial about their behavior problems.

      A problematic pattern is not truly in the past until you have a long track record of improved behavior and improved skills and relationships to show for it. Which, from the tone and attitude in this letter, is obviously not the case.

  4. Lemon Ginger Tea*

    Anyone else getting a strong “man does not like to be managed by a woman” vibe?

      1. nose*

        same. I think I’ve seen a really similar scenario happen where both manager and managee were women. Internalized sexism is a thing too and I know I need to work on it in myself.

      2. CTT*

        Same. Not to make generalizations, but in my experience I’ve only heard “she was just hired because her husband works here” from other women.

      3. sunny-dee*

        I also assumed the OP was a woman. Honestly, in real life, the only people I’ve heard use the term “bossy” are other women.

      4. Dust Bunny*

        I thought woman, too, but maybe it’s because AAM has trained me to think that.

        I did sort of get a “young person resentful of slightly older, better-paid person”, though.

        1. Another worker bee*

          heh, I actually got the opposite – in my head OP and boss were the same age or boss was a bit younger, just more successful

        2. Catabodua*

          That’s so funny, because I was thinking older person who’s pissed off the boss is younger and better paid.

    1. LDN Layabout*

      The language is all so angrily gendered that my shoulders moved further up and around my ears as I kept reading.

      It sounds like his boss has been fully professional with him, none of this is bossy or ‘insensitive’.

      1. Vina*

        The word “bossy” coupled with the insinuation that the woman only got her job b/c of her husband makes this gendered to me irrespective of how LW identifies.

        It is about the boss’s gender, irrespective of what gender the LW actually is.

        1. LSP*

          Exactly. Sexism is so deeply baked in to our society in so many ways, people all can be equally guilty, regardless of gender identity.

          1. The Beagle has Landed*

            I think it would help give context if pronouns were included in the posts, like at Captain Awkward.

            1. Vina*

              It’s a problem whatever LW’s gender. If, however, the LW is a cisman, there’s an extra layer of ick.

              1. The Beagle has Landed*

                Yup. I actually read it as a cis woman having a problem with being managed by a woman but either way, ick.

              2. Ethyl*

                Right, but including gender identification would help keep all this off topic speculation at bay. I’m not sure that 250 comments about whether the LW is a man or a woman are actually that helpful to the LW in resolving this situation. And, it’s boring to scroll through.

    2. Massive Dynamic*

      Unfortunately it could also be a “woman does not liked to be managed by a woman” vibe… ingrained misogyny can infect anyone. “Insensitive” (as in, how dare you not feel/feed my emotional needs) and “bossy” are definitely negative characteristics that are thrown at women because they’re women.

      1. Lemon Ginger Tea*

        Fair point, there are definitely women out there who feel the same way as men do about being managed by women.

      2. lemon*

        Yes, I was also struck by the particular combination of words– “bossy” + “insensitive.” I’m constantly shocked by how many men in the workplace expect women to always cater to and center their emotional needs.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        My feeling was less “doesn’t like being managed by a woman” than “doesn’t like being managed by a [perceived] undeserving nepotism hire”. It could just as easily have been somebody resentful of the boss’ son, etc.

        1. Vina*

          There is other misogynistic language in the letter.

          It’s not just that, it’s the totality of the letter.

          “Bossy” is not a word that is often used wrt to men. There are some other trigger words in there.

          It’s not 100% certain, but it is a possibility LW really needs to consider.

        2. ampersand*

          My thought was that LW (who I assumed is a woman) was at the BEC stage of not liking her boss and mentioned the perceived/assumed nepotism hire as one.more.thing. about the boss that she doesn’t like or agree with.

          That was the first part of the letter that stood out to me. It came across as angry, and I wondered if it was somehow relevant to the situation. Nope, it was not.

    3. SomebodyElse*

      Oddly no… I read it in the persona of a petulant teen girl, if I’m honest.

      Either way, this is probably not going to end well for the OP. My advice is to start looking for other jobs. I really don’t see the OP turning the attitude around on this one and needs to focus on damage control.

      I would prefer to give the advice for the OP to listen to the very clear message that the boss is giving, as multiple conflicts rising to the level of their manager in 4 years is a huge red flag and will likely derail their professional career if not addressed now. They are still in that spot where things can be chalked up to inexperience in the workplace but that ship has almost (if not already) sailed. The OP is the one that needs to do some soul searching and work, not the boss. To be clear… the boss is not the problem, the OP is in this situation.

      1. Altair*

        True, women can dreadfully often be misogynistic, either seeing themselves as exceptions or just considering all women and femininity to be lesser than men and masculinity. Simply being disrespectful towards a woman (such as by saying she only got her job by who she’s married to) or using femininity as a negative indicator (such as by saying someone is a ‘petulant teen girl”, because teenage boys are not defined as petulant) isn’t necessarily an indication of gender either way.

        Whatever LW’s identity, LW definitely could use to make peace with being managed by a woman in general, by this woman in specific, and with doing as the manager instructs.

    4. Thankful for AAM*

      The OP’s tone reminds me of the post here from the woman who got hired after being a SAHM, did well on some projects, then when the boss was on holiday, took over projects she was told not to do and then was enraged that her boss, a women, had the nerve to undo all her work. She got fired.

    5. Trout 'Waver*

      Nitpicking language to arrive at the conclusion that OP has a problem taking feedback from women goes against the fact that OP wrote a letter to a woman asking for feedback…….

    6. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hey all, I’m closing this thread because it’s all speculation (I don’t know the LW’s gender) and it’s starting to include some weird assumptions by gender.

  5. Nonny*

    You sound like you have a bit of a chip on your shoulder about other people’s career advancement in relation to yours, looking at the snide comment about your boss getting her job because of her husband, and your boss’s specifically pointing out that your attitude problems relate to people at a higher level than you. It might be worth stepping back and thinking about this as the possible root of your conflicts with other people, and trying to work through it so your resentment (or whatever it is) doesn’t continue to color your interactions with people. If your career isn’t where you want it to be, or you feel like your work superiors have something you deserve, that can be really difficult! But you can’t let it make you act like a jerk at work.

    1. Anon Anons*

      Agreed. That initial remark about assuming how she got her job is pretty telling. And yeah, it’s not uncommon for universities to hire the spouse of someone they want to hire IF they are also an academic (because academia is very competitive and the odds are slim that they’d both find jobs in the same area otherwise). Even then, that’s usually reserved for really high achievers/rock stars in the field or if the spouse is really well qualified themselves and they have a need (at least that’s been my experience).

      But definitely, the attitude of “there’s no problem” combined with “everyone else is actually the problem” seems to point squarely at OP actually being the problem.

      1. Ray Gillette*

        …the attitude of “there’s no problem” combined with “everyone else is actually the problem” seems to point squarely at OP actually being the problem.
        I think you nailed it here.

    2. Jane Austin Texas*

      +1, and research is a VERY small world. Your professional reputation far precedes you, and you’d better believe that your next boss will call your current boss for an unsolicited reference if they are IN ANY WAY connected. So, I’d think hard on what you do next here.

  6. GigglyPuff*

    Yikes, I totally get wanting feedback on a more consistent basis. I’ve totally had the manager who waited until the performance review and it’s awful. But you lost any sympathy when you said “and that’s how she easily got her position”. Sounds like your attitude needs to be checked at the door.

    1. biobotb*

      Except if the manager has been mediating all these disputes (as mentioned in her letter to the LW), she HAS been giving feedback consistently.

    2. san junipero*

      I’ve also been in that position, but I don’t think it’s the same at all. She’s very, very aware of her conflicts — she just doesn’t think they’re important. That’s not the same as being genuinely blindsided by feedback.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Right – this is the really alarming part of the letter. OP should not have had that many negative run-ins with senior staff in four years. I’ve been working in high stress, fast-paced environments for a decade now, and I’ve only had conflicts with two managers that needed others to step in to mediate the situations (and both managers were known in these companies for being horrible bosses who ran off an alarming number of employees during their reigns of terror). In both instances, I ended up with new and better internal positions with either a higher title and/or more money, so the problem was clearly not me.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      Ugh, I absolutely cannot deal with letting a performance issue go unaddressed and then torpedoing someone’s annual review with it. If the goal is to give someone feedback to do their job better, it has to be as contemporaneous and specific as possible. I (perhaps unfairly) assume that people who wait until year-end to address things are more interested in punishing people or being right than actually developing their team’s skills.
      That one is a fairly hard line for me, and all my direct-report managers know it.

      It does sound to me like OP’s manager did address issues in the moment, and a persistent issue that a supervisor routinely has to referee is ripe for performance development targets.

    4. Trout 'Waver*

      Y’know, the commenting policy is to take letter writers at their word. It’s common for people to get jobs that way in academic labs. It’s also common, in my own personal experience, that people who get jobs that way aren’t good at their jobs. Instead of assuming OP is sexist, why don’t we take them at their word and actually address the questions in the letter?

      1. Annony*

        What is rubbing me the wrong way is how completely irrelevant it was to the actual issue in the letter. How the OP’s boss got her job does not at all affect whether the OP needs to work on conflict resolution. The fact that they felt the need to throw that in there is unpleasant and petty.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          Respectfully, I disagree. If someone only got the job because they’re married to the director, that’s a problem. It points to a general lack of professionalism and best practices. Honestly, no matter if OP is right or wrong, OP’s boss screwed up. Either by poor conflict resolution skills on the boss’s part or by keeping a jerk on the team. Add in the ridiculousness of the proposed solution (A conflict resolution journal, particularly of interactions with higher-ups? Are you kidding me?). All of these things are kinda pointing in the same direction.

      2. Observer*

        There are three reasons, all based in what the OP writes. One is that they use extremely gendered language. “Bossy” is a word that is almost never used for men. Complaining that your BOSS is “bossy” just speaks to a total lack of acceptance of the role of a BOSS.

        Secondly, the fact that the boss may have been a spousal hire is totally not relevant here, even if the boss is incompetent.

        Lastly, nothing the OP says indicates any issue with the competence of the boss.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I scanned for a question mark somewhere and I did not find one. It could be I missed it.
        It’s much easier if LWs ask a direct question. I have noticed in the past that when letters do not contain a direct question, people are more apt to pick up on other parts of the letter. Questions are one way of steering a conversation, if there are no questions, the conversation can open up to cover many, many angles.

        I did land on the last sentence which said: “I just felt that it was very insensitive and bossy response, not to mention her already insensitive way of putting such items as “development goals.”

        OP, development goals come under the boss’ watch, a good boss will want her employees to grow and flourish. A bad boss would let their employees do the same wrong things over and over with out saying a word. It could be that you have never had a boss who was interested in your development as an employee, I can see that happening as I have had more than a few of these bosses. So when a boss does take an interest it’s so weird it almost feels like overstepping or an invasion of privacy. No. If she is talking about something that happens at work, then it is under her watch.

      4. Annie Moose*

        Because LW hasn’t actually said anything that indicates her boss is bad at her job, except (possibly!) not directly addressing that LW has had a notable number of serious conflicts with coworkers. While that’s not a sign of an amazing manager, it isn’t a sign of a bad one either–especially when you factor in the quotes from the boss (which LW doesn’t say are untrue) indicating the manager has been intervening in these conflicts.

        Taking LWs at their word doesn’t mean we aren’t allowed to do any form of interpretation at all!

        1. Academic Addie*

          I agree with this. It’s one thing to take the LWs at their word. It’s another to look at a thread of people pointing out that a situation in which someone is only in a job because of a spouse would be pretty unusual.

      5. Eukomos*

        She’s an associate professor. She may have been a spousal hire, but that still requires a fair amount of base competency, and her husband certainly didn’t get tenure for her. She clearly deserves her position.

      6. DyneinWalking*

        There’s a difference between facts and opinions.
        I’m certain that the rule was installed because every so often, there were letters that seemed unbelievable and thereby caused people to say “But how do we know this happened at all? No boss would ever demand their employees’ livers!”. But if you start to doubt the very fundamentals of the letter, you might just not write any advice at all.

        So the thing we have to believe is that the stated events and actions (like conflicts happening and boss giving feedback) happened, and that OP feels about them the way they say.

        What we do NOT have to believe is that OP is giving sufficient information to properly assess the situation, nor that their interpretation of the situation is correct.

        And while nitpicking language is not welcome here, either, I have only ever seen that rule enforced when single debatable phrases were criticized (and only when heavily so), but not when it pertained the entire tone of the letter (and certainly not when it wasn’t just a problematic phrase but a clearly stated opinion, especially when it is repeated throughout the letter).

        1. DyneinWalking*

          And to answer your point more specifically, the only real fact that OP gives about their boss is that she is a spousal hire, which btw no one disputes! Everyone believes OP in that regard. The only thing disputed is OP’s opinion (that the boss is therefore incompetent). Because OP didn’t provide any information to support that.

      7. Bippity*

        Well in this case the LW’s word is “multiple people have complained about my behaviour but I firstly refuse to engage with any kind of conflict resolution and disobey my boss because my boss is a [misogynistic slur] who got her job by opening her legs.”

        So… how do you respond to that?

    5. James*

      I had a different interpretation about the issue of wanting feedback. The folks I’ve known with issues like this (not necessarily conflict, but pushing back against performance reviews) tend to largely overlap with the people I know that don’t pick up on cues. And I’m not talking about missing subtle hints, either; anything short of “Do that again and you’re fired” wasn’t considered negative feedback, and if you DID say it they would complain that they hadn’t received any feedback. I’ve also seen people deliberately disobey instructions, then complain to HR when their manager reprimanded me (not in academia, but among private sector scientists).

      My guess is that if we asked the people the OP works with, they’d say they have given feedback, the OP simply didn’t take it.

  7. Ginger*

    OP – I mean this kindly, you really need to step back and do some serious self reflection. Your boss is telling you there are significant issues with how you interact with your colleagues and that’s a big deal. It may feel like it’s not performance related because it’s not your actual work but how you navigate your working environment is extremely important and is impacting other people’s performances. That is serious and arguing with her is just cementing her point.

    And how she got her job is irrelevant. You need to find a way to let that go, it is clouding your relationship with her.

    1. Vina*

      And many of us here are sensing the same thing from the LW’s own description of the events. If this is how LW comes across when they have time to think about their words and present their case in it’s best light, they are coming off much, much worse when dealing with people in the heat of the matter.

      LW really needs some external neutral party to give them a reality check on this b/c they are not coming across sympathetically at all.

    2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      ” Your boss is telling you there are significant issues with how you interact with your colleagues and that’s a big deal.”

      And how does OP react? Exactly in a way that proves her manager’s point.

    3. Jules the 3rd*

      +1

      OP, you remind me of a friend who has shared these kinds of complaints with me in the past. When I ask about how they know things, like the reason someone was hired, or how common conflict is, there’s no factual basis. It’s all assumptions.

      My friend has been passed over for promotions three times and fired once for this, and has struggled to find jobs that pay living wages because of that firing. Their current workplace sounds objectively toxic (married boss having affair with employee + some other red flags), but they can’t find anything better.

      Stop and reflect on your assumptions, and your interpersonal skills, before you end up tanking your career. If you are having conflicts that need more than a calm, quick conversation to resolve more than once a year, that’s a lot more than normal. I’ve had two in the last five years, and it feels like a lot – I can’t think of *any* in the five years before that.

      In the end, you are the piece of the situation that you can change. There’s classes and tools for increasing your emotional intelligence, which is being recognized as an important professional skill.

      A possible way to dig into this: start by assuming that the other person in the conflict is not wrong. You may find that there’s miscommunications and misunderstandings, or that you have different assumptions, but if you start by looking at it from their side, you learn a lot, fast. Go back through a couple of conflicts and see if you can see how things started, how they escalated, and whether the other side had a point, or a goal, that they thought was legitimate. (ie, were you going for speed, and they wanted low cost? both legit, you need to know both are legit to discuss, and your employer’s rules determine which has priority.)

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        I sincerely hope that your friend is more capable of self-reflection in their personal life than in their work life, because they sound pretty awful. I don’t think I could stay friends with someone like this unless they were so completely compartmentalized that they never did that kind of thing when I was around!

    4. Not So NewReader*

      She’s actually handling the problem in a correct manner.
      We have seen some bosses back stab, undermine their work and put down the pot stirrer but the boss never actually talks to the person about their behavior.
      She IS being professional.

    5. cncx*

      also like, it’s a kindness to OP that the boss is doing it this way and framing it this way given the context clues. This is really a chance here for OP to get it together, maybe the last one.

  8. Jean*

    You clearly don’t respect your manager. You would be doing her a favor by refusing her (perfectly reasonable) request and giving her a reason to fire you.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      Yep. I am sure she is so done and you are just providing her with ammo at this point.

  9. animaniactoo*

    OP, if nothing else, look at it this way: Having a record of overcoming a conflict issue will not look bad on an HR record. It will have context. It will show that you are aware of the issue, and have worked to make it stop being an issue.

    Now contrast that with what your manager will write if you don’t do it: “Employee was directed to do an exercise in creating better conflict resolution strategies for personal development and refused the assignment.”

    Which of those is going to look better in your HR record?

    1. animaniactoo*

      And to follow up:

      Also, the conflicts were a thing of the past and I do not want to recall them.

      Are the individual conflicts a thing of the past, or is the pattern of them a thing of the past? Because if you’re referring to them as fairly common, that means it’s only the individual that are a thing of the past. What she’s telling you is that you need to make the pattern a thing of the past, and that doing this exercise is a step towards figuring out how to make that happen.

      As someone who has been through therapy designed to improve my ability to analyze situations better, and pick responses that were more likely to achieve my goals – and without conflict when possible – I’m going to tell you that this exercise is invaluable. She is actually giving you a gift by making it part of your development goals where the actual work can be seen to be happening and noted by others who would otherwise only have a reference of yourself as a combative person for every future interaction.

      That you think she easily got her job because of who her husband is doesn’t mean she doesn’t know what she’s doing. You need to drop that line of thinking post-haste.

      1. Jane Austin Texas*

        This is so thoughtful. I am stealing the “giving you a gift” perspective for the next time I have someone who needs to re-frame their thinking.

      2. Academic Addie*

        “She is actually giving you a gift by making it part of your development goals where the actual work can be seen to be happening and noted by others who would otherwise only have a reference of yourself as a combative person for every future interaction.”

        Yes. Many academics don’t do performance reviews with lab staff. This is rare, and she’s offering you a chance to right the wrong.

    2. Moo*

      You will also be asked about conflict in practically every interview you have in your academic/research career. The aim is not to pretend conflict never happened but to show that you have several successful ways of resolving conflict. A response that was in anyway similar to this letter would be a red flag. However if an interviewee said they had conflicts early on in their career which made them reflect and develop through mentorship/training etc and now they handled conflict in XYZ positive ways that would be very impressive.

    3. DaisyGrrl*

      Agreed. A few years ago, we had two new employees who had less-than-glowing performance reviews for their first annual review. Gallant thanked their manager for the feedback, acknowledged that they had fallen short, and resolved to do better in the future (and then did). Goofus decided to fight the review tooth and nail, refusing to accept their role in poor outcomes, and was generally a pain in the neck about it.

      The management team certainly thought much more highly of Gallant than they did of Goofus. While both have since moved on in their careers, I would 100% hire Gallant if I had a role for them, and meanwhile would never hire Goofus.

      In fact, I’d hire Gallant over someone with an average performance history and no record of overcoming challenges. Why? Because they have demonstrated that they are responsive to feedback and will work hard to improve when shortcomings are noted.

    4. Trout 'Waver*

      I’m sorry, but this is naive. Having any formal documented conflict issues, even if resolves, will place a target on that person’s back. It increases scrutiny and bullies and the like will use it as leverage.

      In academic research labs, conflict is inevitable and constant. Resources are almost always both scarce and shared.

      Honestly, OP’s boss sounds terrible to me. The proper way to address the conflicts is as a team by setting norms, creating resource schedules, and then actively managing them; and then the manager should hold people accountable to the norms and schedules. You do this by naming specific behaviors and directly addressing them. “Multiple people have a problem with you, and no I won’t get into specifics” is frustrating and the opposite of good feedback. Forcing someone to create a permanent record conflict journal on everything they could have done better, especially when it comes to those on a higher academic or professional level is straight up infantilizing.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        ‘The example I listed was just the latest’ and ‘conflicts are in the past’ actually sounds like the manager got into specifics, LW just didn’t share them with us. ‘Examine how you handled conflict, as in Scenario X’ is very good feedback.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          I’m choosing to take the LW at their word when they say, “For the second point I replied to her saying that I would have appreciated if private feedback was provided at the time rather than only bringing it up during the performance development review.”

          1. iliketoknit*

            I really don’t agree that we can conclude the boss is terrible. I don’t think we can take the LW’s word on “not getting feedback at the time,” when they also quote the boss talking about working through individual conflicts in the past by talking to everyone, including the LW. Also, the journal doesn’t go into the permanent record; the journal is just for the boss to see the LW’s thinking about the conflicts, and the boss’s assessment goes into the permanent record. I get there may be other ways to address the issue than written reflection, but if I were the LW’s boss and had already handled a number of conflicts that I had to work through with everyone involved, and the LW doesn’t seem to get that this is feedback, I see the point in getting the LW to produce something concrete for the boss to review.

          2. Merci Dee*

            I’m not sure why you’re so determined to just hand-wave the information from the manager’s letter away without any serious consideration, when the manager’s letter as copied/pasted into the OP’s original inquiry specifically states that the manager has worked with every individual involved in these conflicts and set up multiple meetings to resolve each instance of conflict. And then had to do this in a number of cases, because the OP has had multiple conflicts with other coworkers. No objective outside observer could see that letter from the manager and conclude that there’s no way that the OP received feedback before their review.

            I agree that, in general, we should take those who write in at their word about the situation with which they’re dealing. But in this case, the OP has proven themselves to be something of an unreliable narrator about the situation when the manager’s letter details the multiple meetings on multiple occasions to clean up the OP’s conflicts. I’m not sure why you’re insisting so strongly that the manager is clearly a jerk and in the wrong and the OP is clearly innocent and hard-done-by in this scenario, when the OP themselves is presenting ample evidence that this is not the case.

            1. Kella*

              Agreed. OP is clearly frustrated with their boss enough that if they thought their boss were *lying* about having addressed it in the moment, OP would’ve said so. It’s hard not to read that OP is an unreliable narrator since OP’s also demonstrating in multiple ways that they are disconnected from the reality of what’s happening such as by calling their *boss* bossy, and saying the phrase “development goals” is insensitive. We also see truth in what the boss is saying because we hear that one of the pieces of feedback OP received was that they especially have trouble with receiving feedback from higher ups… and then OP proceeds to insult their boss multiple times, without naming problematic behaviors to back it up, and reject the feedback their higher up gave them. So, sounds like the feedback is accurate.

              But regardless of how the manager’s qualifications or who is right or wrong, what this letter boils down to is the OP received feedback and instructions for how to proceed on evolving their performance as an employee and OP has rejected both. While there are certainly scenarios where that’s justified, OP doesn’t seem to think that doing this is much of a big deal at all and it most certainly is a big deal. You would need a very good reason to reject feedback and instructions from your boss this way and OP hasn’t made a very compelling case for doing that.

          3. Elfie*

            I think you’re projecting a lot of your own experience onto this letter, as opposed to necessarily taking the LW at their word. They don’t dispute their manager’s feedback at all, just how it was delivered. And the things you describe as conflict in your experience don’t sound like “conflict” to me – they sound more like disagreements or competing priorities. They don’t sound like something that rises to the level of dispute mediation (which again, the LW doesn’t disagree happened).

      2. lemon*

        It doesn’t sound like OP’s boss intends this to create a “permanent record conflict journal.” She told OP that the reflection activities were activities she came up with herself to help OP, and that it wouldn’t go into their org’s performance-management system officially.

      3. Manchmal*

        I wondered something similar about how the OP’s boss is handling things. I think the advice to the OP is solid. But I’m not so sure that the best response to a subordinate who has conflicts with other colleagues is to ask them to “reflect” on those events. Why not be more proactive about discussing the specifics, and laying out norms and expectations? To me it sounds a bit like “think more about what happened, and come to a specific conclusion that I have in my mind, which I will not tell you beforehand.” If we knew the specifics, we could guess at the kind of reflection the boss is looking for, and it is likely a reasonable one. I just don’t love how she’s asking the OP to get there. Instead of refusing to do this exercise, the OP (if they could drop their defenses and go in with an open mind) could ask their boss to discuss some of these events together rather than doing the whole thing on their own.

      4. LQ*

        I certainly agree that bullies and the like would use it against someone, but bullies will use anything and make stuff up, they aren’t a good set of characters to try to deal with here. (And if my “permanent record” prevented any bullies from hiring me in the future, I’d be delighted.)

        We just hired someone from another area with a similar kind of “mark” on their record. We reviewed old performance reviews and this person clearly had a chunk of time where something negative was happening and performance was poor, but then it improved significantly, and with the same manager, which makes me think that it’s a real improvement. Someone who makes marked improvement was important because we promote from within a lot, so we want people with a history of growth if possible. I don’t think it has to be a negative thing to have something like this on your “permanent record”. (Which is kind of silly thing to call it anyway, it only matters in that way if you don’t leave that employer. If you want to erase something that is BS you find another employer. Then the things that are reputation follow you, but that someone wrote something in your “permanent record” won’t matter at all.)

      5. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        “The proper way to address the conflicts is as a team by setting norms, creating resource schedules, and then actively managing them; and then the manager should hold people accountable to the norms and schedules.”

        You’re spot-on on this, but there’s nothing at all to suggest that OP’s manager hasn’t set team norms. If they have, and OP keeps violating those norms, what else can the manager do short of firing them?

        This is especially the case when someone’s violating the spirit of a rule but not necessarily the letter in a way that is very different from their colleagues. You don’t want to tone/style police someone but you do need to encourage them to develop some insight into their behaviours and motivations.

      6. Random IT person*

        While all of that MIGHT be true…
        I`m having a hard time accepting that the boss is bad – given the opening statement by OP:

        “I’ve worked for four years in a research laboratory and my supervisor is an associate professor. Her husband is a professor and a director of the research group (and that’s how she easily got her position)”

        Maybe i`m simplistic – but EVERYTHING OP then says I view through that lens – and am wondering if OP IS the problem. The entire wording leaves a strange feeling with me.

  10. MissGirl*

    You’re mad because your boss is “bossy?”

    That you have zero respect for this person is abundantly clear. Going by her email, it seems these communication problems were dealt with at the time individually, but now she’s dealing with the broader problem. My guess is that broader problem may be disdain for those who disagree with you.

    1. NoviceManagerGuy*

      That was my favorite part – of course your boss is acting like your boss!

    2. Wintermute*

      I wonder if they also get mad that the techs are technical, the analysts are analytical or the generalists are too general.

      The entire thing smacks of stamping of feet and yelling “you’re not the boss of me!” when, in fact, your boss is literally the boss of you.

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        *sings*

        You’re not the boss of me now
        You’re not the boss of me now
        You’re not the boss of me now, and you’re not so big…

        Yeah, that’s exactly what popped into my head when I read that bit.

        1. Merci Dee*

          . . . . Life is unfair . . . .

          Thanks for that little chorus, Professor Sprout.

    3. Rose*

      I found that comment hilarious.

      Is your preacher to preachy? Is your doctor too doctory?

      Op, she’s paid to boss you around. It’s her literal job. I just had a very similar talk with an employee who also accused me of bossing him around. I fired him the next time he had a toe out of line. Assume your job is in danger and act accordingly.

  11. DocIsIn*

    I also want to point out that the OP’s choice of tone throughout the letter e.g.

    >Her husband is a professor and a director of the research group (and that’s how she easily got her position).
    >bossy

    Reads to me like he routinely disrespects his boss. I bet at least some of the interpersonal conflicts in the lab are due to his flagrant disrespect for her, and I disagree that
    >conflicts are common and have largely resolved by various means.

    The fact that the OP has an ongoing problem with his boss means it is not resolved and having such huge disrespect for your boss is not such a common problem that it should go unaddressed.

    Even if the performance review referred to conflict with peers, I bet OP’s attitude towards this manager is why this metric was added to the performance review.

    1. Littorally*

      “Insensitive” is the one that really gets me. OP, what are you expecting your boss to show sensitivity toward? Usually when a term like that gets used, it means there’s some kind of vulnerable spot that someone’s hitting at — ie, you’re coping with the death of a loved one and therefore showing less composure at work than usual. Do you feel that there is some reason your boss needs to show you especial sensitivity?

      1. anonymous this time*

        “Insensitive” also struck me. So I’ll preface this by saying I don’t know OP, don’t know the situation, and I offer my own experience up here, fully understanding that it’s pure conjecture and may not be applicable to OP at all.

        I used to manage someone who could have written this letter. This person was one of the most hostile people I’ve ever worked with, but was also far and away the most fragile and unable to handle even perceived criticism. The hostility was a defense mechanism to deflect from their own insecurity, which meant the cycle of inappropriate conflicts was almost a self-reinforcing thing, since it flared up whenever this person felt threatened, criticized or belittled. And I emphasize “felt,” because very normal workplace situations turned into major power struggles on the strength (or lack thereof) of this person’s ego. This employee was not a bad person but was challenging to manage because of this.

        So let’s suppose OP is at all like my former direct report. If that’s the case, OP doesn’t see a request for constructive reflection, they see someone throwing bygones in their face. OP doesn’t find self-reflection helpful, because self-awareness and accountability is hot lava. So the manager’s performance review isn’t a consequence of OP’s own actions, it’s an issue of the boss being “bossy” and “insensitive.” Because if boss’s email is reasonable, then OP has to follow directions, and if OP does that, then they have to deal with any feelings of shame, humiliation, etc. that come along with reflecting on a pattern of poor behavior.

        Again, OP may have other reasons for reacting the way they did to the manager’s email. But you’re bang-on that “insensitive” is an interesting word choice. It’s entirely possible that OP reacted the way they did because OP is a deeply vulnerable person, and anything that calls attention to their mistakes is a problem for them.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          Perhaps this is true. But it’s simply not reasonable to expect that they be allowed, in a workplace, to continue behaving badly because they are unwilling ever to accept correction and also unwilling to do the necessary reflection to correct themself.

          Accountability is part of what you get paid for in the workplace — it’s built right into the word, coming from the same route as “accounting.” You have to behave in ways which give the workplace value commensurate with what they’re paying you, and if you don’t account for your own actions to keep them up to that level, somebody else will count it up and see that you’re not pulling your weight, and call you to account for it. An emotional allergy to accountability is a good way to get yourself off the accounts payable rolls for that workplace or any other.

          1. anonymous this time*

            As someone who was formerly in the manager’s shoes, I’m not even remotely suggesting they should. I’m speculating on why “insensitive” was a word OP reached for.

            1. anonymous this time*

              I will also note that the behavior issues are the sole reason why this person who OP reminds me of so much is a *former* direct report of mine – managing this person made my work life absolutely miserable for a while, and from that email OP’s manager wrote, I’m sure OP is doing the same to hers. I tamped down quite a bit of what I wanted to say in my response because I didn’t want to be unduly harsh with OP because of a bad experience of my own. Maybe I overcorrected and sounded overly sympathetic to OP who is clearly in the wrong in this situation, but it didn’t occur to me that it was necessary to qualify that emotional baggage is not a get-out-of-doing-your-job-free card.

      2. fhqwhgads*

        I think OP said “insensitive” but meant “harsh” but may or may not realize that.

      1. Vina*

        Anytime someone talks about things in passive voice, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

        I think LW *may* have problem with authority and a problem owning the negative things that happen to them.

        LW needs to consider that both are an issue for them.

      2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        I wondered about that too. Either they’re trying to distance themselves from their behaviour or they’re falling into that habitual passive voice trap that sometimes happens with students in science disciplines.

    2. EgyptMarge*

      I’d also add: “And to keep a long story short, I didn’t agree that my response was inappropriate. My [negative] response was based on the decisions made at that time.”

      Not sounding much like a well-adjusted colleague who handles disagreements in a professional manner.

  12. Falling Diphthong*

    This seems to have that misconception that things can only go on your employment record, HR file, etc if you first agree that they are accurate and fair. This is not the case.

    And OP I, a disinterested third party getting your perspective on the situation, think this is a lining up to fire you if you don’t improve in this area thing. Not an unreasonable manager thing.

    1. Wednesday*

      yeah, this whole thing is definitely going to be documented in OP’s HR file, including how OP responds. OP isn’t doing themselves any favors by trying to ignore the situation.

    2. AKchic*

      Right?

      OP is very invested in keeping their HR file sanitized to reflect well on them so they can advance, but they don’t want to put in any effort towards making themselves advanceable in the first place. No conflict-resolution skills, no interpersonal skills, no group dynamics, no respect for authority / women, doesn’t seem to want to take responsibility for their actions…

      In this economy, this is a make or break review, and I think that the OP is doing no favors to their career.

      1. Mazzy*

        People keep trying to start threads on sexism. I would never just throw that in a review unless there was concrete proof.

        If I wrote about any -ism, my company would document a meeting with me asking me if I wanted to pursue investigating it or if the case is closed. If I choose to keep saying sexism is at play, they hire a third party investigator, and this is not hypothetical, they’ve been used for other types of mediation. They are on speed dial. If I say the issue is closed, then I’m going to get called out or have another meeting for bringing up sexism again, and asked if the conditions changed, and if they did not, I will have to explain why I don’t want it investigated.

        All of this happens quickly, they’d cancel other meetings to meet with me. It can feel a little overwhelming when it happens. No, it’s not to stifle raising complaints. It’s precisely because they take them seriously but want to solve them ASAP.

        So in reality, in the office, I don’t think you can just go around speculating that sexism is at play.

        It doesn’t even matter in this case what the genders are, since this is pretty basic request that the OP isn’t doing.

        1. genevieve*

          I’m curious at this response because I didn’t see anyone suggesting that the boss was accusing OP of sexism, was going to put it in the HR file, or anything like that. I think that sexism, racism, ablism, etc, are all things that should be addressed, even if they are happening at a small, interpersonal level. Frankly, it’s is misogyny to suggest that the only sexism that is a problem is sexism that rises to the level of sustaining some sort of independent investigation, and it’s misogynist to suggest that women should only bring it up at all if it is that severe. If someone disrespects women regularly, they not only need to fix it for their personal career development, but also because it harms the women they are disrespecting—again, even if each incident or even the pattern taken as a whole are not “severe.” I think it’s very harmful to think that the only problems that need to be solved are those that require an authority’s intervention.

          1. AKchic*

            Especially when women can operate under their own internalized misogynistic biases as well, and the OP could very well be a woman (we don’t know the gender of this person, we just know that they aren’t taking well to a coded-female boss, and have problems with many other people in the department).

            While we all agree that there is misogyny at play here, my point was the sanitized file to hide any and all problematic behaviors in general, not just that. I mean, sure, a throwaway line of “doesn’t take direction from female leads/managers” should be noted in a review, but so should “no conflict-resolution skills”, “verbally antagonistic”, “doesn’t take direction”, “not a team player”, “does not work well in group situations”, “doesn’t work collaboratively”, “does not take feedback well,” etc.
            As a collective, it paints a picture of someone who should not advance, and maybe shouldn’t even be there in the first place. Scrubbing all of that information to sooth the ego of this individual does a disservice to the coworkers, the management, and anyone who may hire them from another department, or try to get rid of them down the road.

      2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        And let’s be real here, it doesn’t matter how squeaky clean their HR file is, their attitude towards conflict resolution and reflective practice will become obvious the moment they have a behavioural interview. Even them being all like “well I don’t have any conflicts at work at all” is a red flag that they’ll be likely to wave.

    3. Mazzy*

      Oh this is a good one. Maybe better to write the account yourself than let your boss do it!

    4. MrsHRLady*

      This!! I am an HR professional for a large company, and I am always baffled by the number of people who DEMAND negative feedback be “removed” from their file. That’s… not how it works. If you perform badly, have interpersonal conflicts, and regularly respond poorly to criticism (to the extent of going to HR to try to subvert your manager and get them in trouble / get things removed from your file), the Company has every single right to keep a written record of it all… in the likely event that they have no choice but to terminate you.

      I’ve seen this story plenty of times. I’ve actually had employees like this try to get me fired. One of my favorite stories like this was when I sat down in a conflict resolution at the offending employee’s request. (Well, demanded… They refused to come in to work until I drove 200 miles to sit down in this meeting with them.)Then the employee was combative, unprofessional, called the other party names, mocked them repeatedly, and stormed out of the meeting. When they were written up for their absolutely inexcusable behavior, they 1. threatened me (HR Director!) over the phone and 2. crumpled up the written warning and threw it on the floor before leaving. They ended up quitting shortly after, but our lawyer assured us that our written documentation (which we refused to remove from her personnel record despite numerous requests) would cover us in the event that the employee came back with any claims.

      OP, I kindly suggest that you take an introspective look at the way you’ve contributed to the situations you’ve been apart of, because it seems as though you’re well on your way to a hostile relationship with your line manager… and that simply won’t bode well for you long term. Best of luck.

      1. LQ*

        This wanting to get things struck from the record can work in a union environment, which the OP may be in. In which case the OP may want to work with union representatives to help out with this. Though I’d wonder if part of what is happening, in that case, is if the OP is essentially handling conflicts with the boss and coworkers through grievances. (doesn’t sound like it, but you wouldn’t make it sound like it in your letter if you were the boss of this person and that’s what they were doing)

      2. Working Hypothesis*

        Out of curiosity, do they usually try to offer any kind of reason why the feedback *should* be removed from their file? I mean, I could understand something like “I did not actually steal copier paper. I have here the names of four eyewitnesses who saw X do it instead and will be happy to confirm this to you, plus the attendance record which shows that I was home on a sick day when the paper went missing. Therefore I respectfully request that Z’s speculative comment that they believed that I had taken it be removed from my file.” I could ever understand, “My manager has given me a written complaint for filling a teapot order without the proper paperwork, but in this email from said manager, she explicitly told me to just go ahead and skip the paperwork because the client was going bananas and we had to have it done by the end of the business day. Since I did the action on her direct written instructions, I request that you remove her later complaint about my having done what she told me to do.”

        Both of those are rather different from “My manager said I sometimes behave immaturely! That’s mean and rotten and unfair, and I’m going to hold my breath until I turn blue if you don’t take all her comments out and pretend she never said them; so there!”

  13. londonedit*

    I’m really enjoying the fact that one of the development goals that OP is pushing back on is ‘to improve my skills in … dealing with feedback from other colleagues, especially staff members who are on a higher academic and professional level than myself, and to write and reflect on all instances where inappropriate responses were provided to queries by other staff members’, given the fact that this letter amply demonstrates an instance of them not dealing well with feedback from a staff member on a higher academic and professional level (their boss, no less!)

    OP, you’re probably not going to get great feedback here either, but I really do think you do need to reflect on how you deal with your interactions with other people at work. If your boss has brought these things up as areas where you need to improve, then you need to accept that, and work to make those improvements.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Right? This is so meta. The response to, “Please think about ways you can better deal with conflict” is to… foster conflict?

      1. Malty*

        I caught that too – agree this letter will likely get a lot of comments but OP this is worth reflecting on if you can. This kneejerk reaction is likely not helping

      2. HR Exec Popping In*

        So true. That actually made me chuckle when reading the letter. LW is being argumentative about working on better conflict management skills. Ironic.

      3. Anne Elliot*

        Me: “No one can say anything to you that you don’t immediately disagree with. You argue about everything, all the time.”
        My Brother: “No I don’t.”

      4. Not So NewReader*

        OP, do you catch yourself being contrary just for the sake of being contrary and NOT because you actually believe what you are saying? Some people just insist on using the *down* escalator to go *up*. Have you ever actually tried running UP a down escalator? It’s a lot of work for something that can be done in a much easier manner.

    2. LDN Layabout*

      The wording of the goals and the fact that the OP doesn’t deny the conflicts makes me think his boss has had quite a bit of feedback about his behaviour from others…

      1. londonedit*

        Absolutely. It’s very specific feedback and it sounds like it’s coming out of a series of incidents.

        1. LDN Layabout*

          There’s an unfortunate strain of this in STEM academia sometimes, where people seem to think their scientific acumen excuses them from the softer skills. It can often be a very rough learning experience or they may not even realise what chances they miss out on.

          1. Vina*

            I also think there’s some assumptions by STEM types that they are in a profession based on logic, so that means they are superior at reasoning and anyone who disagrees with them is wrong. Often, they are no better at logic than the average person. They are better at specific processes and applications of logic.

            I have a lawyer friend who works with researchers who are in a bleeding-edge field. They assume b/c they are the guys out there “curing cancer”/“sending men to the moon”/etc. that their are always smarter, better at reasoning, etc. They think they are always right. Often, they are dead wrong. They may be very, very good at figuring out how to research in their own area. They are horrible at being logical in any other arena.

            I think there’s a chance that LW thinks that they are better at seeing reality than those around them. They are letting their ego and pride get in the way of seeing that they aren’t actually being logical or fair.

            I’m struck by the “don’t put this feedback in my feedback form” and “it’s part of my permanent record” concerns. LW is missing the whole point of the process. LW is also focused way to much not he record and. Not enough on the reality.

            In short, they aren’t seeing things accurately and fairly , so even if their logic process after that is perfect, they are making assumptions based on a skewed and inaccurate set of facts and circumstances. Their logical though process on this may also be broken. IDK.

            But something is broken here. Where it is may not be easy to find.

            LW needs to spend some serious time reflecting. They may have already derailed their chances at this job/this institution. They are in danger of derailing their entire career.

            I have seen this so, so many times.

            LW: please listen to everyone here. Please do some reflection.

            1. Littorally*

              Agreed. I’ve wound up interacting with a lot of people over the years who consider themselves to be extremely logic-oriented — and what it actually means is that they mistake their subjective emotional experiences for objective reality.

              1. pie*

                This is beautiful and so true! Also, I’m also a marine ecologist :) (I’m assuming a bit here, based on your name).

                1. Littorally*

                  I’m no kind of scientist, sadly, just a dude who really loves the ocean. But go you! I’m all for better understanding of the watery world :)

            2. Dust Bunny*

              I can vouch: My dad is an engineer and he is wildly illogical in many other areas.

              Don’t even get me started on his soft skills.

          2. Moo*

            And while many established academics may have got away with this in the past, the sector is so competitive now that you can have your choice of exceptional candidates and choose not to work with those without “soft skills”

    3. The New Wanderer*

      Because of the avoidant word choice, it took me a few read-throughs to understand that the “inappropriate responses” were the LW’s to people asking LW something or providing feedback (and getting rudeness in return).

      LW does not seem to be accepting any responsibility (yet) for their negative interactions with colleagues in the first place, much less inclined to consider the role they are playing in this situation. Hopefully that changes before they are fired, but it might take getting dismissed before they realize they can’t just coast on being a jerk to colleagues.

    4. KC*

      On my managerial experience, the “doesn’t accept feedback well” development area is the WORST. Just as here, the response is almost always “No boss, YOU’RE the problem!!” It’s always such a bummer because these types of people often are very technically skilled, but when they insist they are perfect and have no learning to do, it nearly always ends in a termination.

    5. Kella*

      Yeah, after I read the bit about how their boss was only hired because of her husband’s position and then saw that one of their performance problems was difficulty receiving feedback from higher-ups I was like, you don’t say! You? Struggle to accept feedback? Never! /sarcasm

  14. Ferret*

    “I don’t want to think about it” is not a good reason not to include something on your review form. In fact it is actually a very good reason to include it.

    It sounds like there have been several incidents – you believe they were relatively minor and that you should be able to move past without worrying about them whereas your manager is trying to address what she sees as a larger pattern. This is entirely within her prerogative and is actually pretty common advice from Alison when managers ask about how to deal with employees who demonstrate inappropriate or irritating behaviour that isn’t necessarily a huge problem in the moment but which keep reoccurring.

    Overall the tone of your letter comes across as you resenting your boss and rejecting her right to give you feedback and force you to reflect on your own behaviour – but these are pretty much the fundamentals of her job and catty comments about how she only got the position because of her husband aren’t going to fix that

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Echoing the first paragraph.

      Ignoring this problem isn’t going to make it go away.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I am wondering why OP does not want to think about it? What is gained by not thinking about it?

      OP, if you do as you always did then you get what you always got. Do you want what you have always gotten?

      What are you protecting yourself from, OP? Seriously, you sound like you want to put a wall around yourself to protect you.

  15. EvieK*

    I’ve been in your shoes. It turned out that I was a terrible culture fit for my employer AND there were lots of conflict resolution skills I was missing. I took classes on change management, mediation and conflict resolution through my community college. Changed nothing about myself but gave me the skills to present myself differently. I couldn’t undo what my socially unlearned self had done to my rep at that job but every job since has been much easier. Take the opportunity you are being offered here to acquire and practice new skills. We never stop learning-so pick a learning that will make the rest of your work life easier for you.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Or, you know, sometimes you realize you are a bad fit for that company culture or job.

      I don’t know if there is more going on here OP is not saying (possible it is a just a bad place) or if OP is the source of the problems, but it sounds like OP must change TO fit the culture or leave to find a culture that fits them. Either way there they’ll need to evaluate what they want the outcome to be.

      It sucks if you otherwise like the work but not the culture. I’m sort of looking at this myself right now.

      1. LQ*

        Cultural fit is a good point. There are some workplace cultures where a sort of have a “conflict” and move on attitude is totally fine. People engage in vigorous “No, this is a bad idea for these 10 reasons” debate in a meeting and are laughing totally moved on by the time the meeting is over and someone who hedged would be totally ignored. There are others where the whole culture is very conflict-averse and lots of walking into conflicts and the like sideways and someone who is a “No, this is a bad idea for these 10 reasons” person would be downright offensive.

        It’s hard if you’re really that different from your general culture and then you have to decide if you’re willing to change to fit in. You can decide to change the culture, but that does take an enormous amount of time, energy, will-power, political power, and a lot of other stuff. That’s move a mountain stuff.

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          You’re right, and yet even in those vigorous-conflict cultures OP might still have problems because of the way they approach conflict. It’s not clear what OP’s issues are, but they might not have the skills to approach workplace conflict in a way that lends itself to cultural fit anywhere.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      +1 As someone else said, this boss is giving a gift, OP’s got an *opportunity* to make their career (and maybe life) better. “classes on change management, mediation and conflict resolution” is a solid, actionable recommendation, I hope OP gets this far.

    3. Curmudgeon in California*

      This. You can be a bad fit *and* have poor conflict resolution skills. Gaining better conflict handling skills is *always* a good investment of your learning time. It’s not just a job skill, it’s a life skill.

  16. The Original K.*

    Even the way this letter is written suggests a lack of respect for the boss and a difficult personality. Doubling down on the way OP handled conflicts, “those are in the past and I don’t want to recall them…” OP sounds difficult to work with, and might want to take the boss’s feedback to heart if s/he wants to continue moving forward.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      If the same mistakes are occurring in the present then past mistakes are part of a pattern. Patterns need to be addressed.

      I have a friend who has spent 10s of thousands of dollars on rehabs for their adult child. Friend has also probably spent 100s of thousands raising Adult Child’s kids. If Adult Child borrows money now, the Adult Child is reminded to pay it back. WHEN the Adult Child argues about that, they are reminded of the rehabs, their kids, etc. To which the Adult Child says, “Oh that is all in the past!” Yeah, 100s of thousands of dollars in the past, that has never been repaid! And no attempt at repayment has ever been made.
      At this point the ship has sailed, Adult Child will never be able to repay that money. But because it is decades later and the Adult Child is STILL asking for money, the past is highly relevant as the Adult Child has never learned to take responsbility for entire parts of their life.

      OP, if you want people to LET GO of the past, YOU have to create a NEW PRESENT and future. This is how life works.

  17. Grits McGee*

    I’ll be honest, having you do this sounds like a last step before being put on a PIP or fired. Especially because this deals with pretty critical soft skills and OP already pushed back on what seems to be a completely reasonable request.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Yep, I was thinking that too. The boss is saying OP’s attitude and conflict resolution skills are a real problem, and could very well legitimately be trying to HELP them, but OP doesn’t seem to want help. Even just this pushback is proof they don’t think they did anything wrong and aren’t open to improving.

    2. RabbitRabbit*

      I was thinking that this sounds like a “soft” PIP, basically a way to demonstrate that OP understands the problem, before having to haul out the PIP which *really* does not look good on a HR record.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Yep, the boss is getting the ducks in a row. She has no choice, OP, she cannot allow on-going arguing in her work area.

      1. MrsHRLady*

        Yep. Sounds like manager has been coached by HR on how to deal with difficult employees. Good HR people will always try to help managers correct the behavior, because it is far less costly to retain someone than to terminate/replace them, however, it’s also important to have ducks and documentation in a row in the event it doesn’t work out.

  18. Assistant Manager*

    I have a team member in a leadership position who is great at her job but has problems playing nice with others. She also has an emotional reaction when she is giving constructive criticism, no matter how gently it is given to her. Because of this, I could never advocate for her to get a promotion.

    I’m not at the point of wanting her gone, but I’m past the point of not fighting for her to stay. Unless you want to be in that position, you need to do your job, and part of your job includes working on your conflict resolution skills as your boss has outlined. Period.

    1. Assistant Manager*

      Ugh. That should read “past the point of fighting for her to stay.” I should have waited for the coffee to kick in a little more before commenting! Haha

    2. Clisby*

      I would say a person who has problems playing nice with others and can’t take constructive criticism is not great at her job.

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        This. Part of any job is accepting feedback and correcting one’s actions in future in response to it. Part of almost any job (the exceptions being the few positions done in complete isolation) is behaving well to colleagues. Somebody who does neither of these two important job functions well is not “great at their job” no matter what else they can do well.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, this. The fallacy that being good at the hard skills gives you a free pass on the soft skills is a pervasive one.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      It’s not just a promotion.

      If these cohorts go work somewhere else they WILL relay what they know of OP , if OP applies there in the future. And this can go on for DECADES.

  19. EBStarr*

    OP: in general when you have reached the point where complaints against you are this regular an occurrence, you should probably already be aware that there’s a problem without having it brought up in a performance review. Your boss maybe should have alerted you to the trend when she first noticed it, but perhaps she thought, incorrectly, that having this many complaints against you would make it redundant to point out that there’s a trend. As for the review, she’s trying to help you improve in the future. That is what a development goal *is*! The wisest response is to be grateful that you haven’t yet been fired after causing this many problems, and make a genuine attempt at doing better in the future.

  20. Lynn*

    Think of it this way: You can use this opportunity to prove to your boss that you have matured and changed, or you can refuse to do this (fairly normal) activity and prove that you haven’t matured at all.

  21. LGC*

    So, I’m in the middle of a mountain of performance reviews, and I will throw LW a small bone: that suggestion was a bit awkwardly worded. It kind of sounds like your boss is telling you to sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done.

    ALL THAT SAID: your boss was ABSOLUTELY right. If these were regular enough conflicts, they absolutely should go in your permanent record. Interpersonal relationships are a huge part of most jobs, and the fact that you’re repeatedly doing the wrong thing and you’re unwilling to improve is enough cause to note this.

    You can be competent at the actual deliverables, but if you’re a jerk to people, that doesn’t count.

    1. Anon for this*

      I agree with this. Maybe in academia development goals directing the employee to “reflect[ing] on” and “write and reflect on” are common, but they don’t strike me as something that would lead to a change, and I don’t think they would fly in my workplace. I do like the stated goals of improving conflict management and communication skills, and agree that such improvement is sorely needed.

      The employee sounds like the lab problem child. This is not good and s/he should be looking for a new job, as this looks to me like the beginning of a disciplinary process.

      1. LGC*

        …it IS the beginning of a disciplinary proceeding! It’s not ideal, but the professor is documenting LW’s behavior formally and that she did ask them to improve.

        But yeah. I thought about it and the only problem I have with the review is that it imposes a solution. Like, I’ll be 100, LW has not endeared themselves to me at all in this letter. But maybe journaling about their conflicts isn’t the ideal solution for them. They need to fix their behavior, but they also should have some opportunity to give input for the solution.

        (The way I’ve written reviews is more as a statement than as a road map – these things are good, these things need to be worked on.)

        1. Observer*

          Fine. But if the only problem were that the solution is not the best one, the OP could have said “I see that this is a problem. I think I might do better with a conflict resolution class / coach / whatever solution. Would that be an acceptable alternative?” Or even “Can I do a conflict resolution class instead?”

          Instead they came back with “I don’t want to think about it”; “I don’t need to develop.” and “I don’t think I was wrong in the first place”. In other words total rejection of the right of the boss to do her job.

          1. LGC*

            Okay, I probably should have explicitly stated that my opinion was that this was the only thing that LW’s supervising professor (using LW’s terms here) did wrong. And my opinion is distinct from LW’s opinion, which is that the entire criticism was unfair, and that this was not a problem at all (which you accurately noted, and which I mentioned in my OP).

            For what it’s worth, it does muddy the message a bit, but…I didn’t think I needed to repeat what everyone else was saying (even when I posted this comment).

      2. Sara without an H*

        “Reflection” is, indeed, the New Shiny Thing in higher education. I haven’t seen it used in a PIP yet (and what the OP describes sounds very much like a PIP, or the next thing to it), but it’s within the realm of possibility that a manager would assign a “reflection” exercise as part of an employee development process.

      3. Percysowner*

        I’ll defend the manager here. Her evaluation notes that there have been several conflicts and that she has mediated them with the LW in the room. So the LW has heard from her and the people the LW had the conflicts with what he did that caused issues. They state in the letter that in the concrete example the manager gave their reaction was Okay, but I wasn’t wrong. So direct instructions as to how the LW needs to behave have resulted in a negative reaction.

        From the tone of the letter, is the manager tells him how to behave in certain situations, the LW won’t generalize and the next time there is a conflict the response will be “you didn’t tell me not to do” whatever set off the conflict. The manager is telling the LW to examine their behavior and think about how they react in general, not in specific situations. I’m guessing the manager is also trying to forgo the conversation where they tell the LW that they were asked to and the LW says, “I did think about it and you can’t prove I didn’t”. Asking for documentation that actual thought was given to how to improve the LW’s behavior is a pretty good way to avoid having another hurdle to jump over before a PIP or firing is instituted.

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          Your second paragraph is what I suspect is going on too. People like the LW can be tricky to manage or work through patterns of conflict with because they won’t or can’t make and apply generalizations. Sometimes it’s a matter of them being obstinate, other times there’s…other stuff going on that makes it difficult for them to have insight. Neither of these situations are ones that the LW’s manager can fix.

        2. Mookie*

          Yep. Cut through the once-removed jargon and anybody can pick up on exactly what she’s laying down. The LW clearly senses what’s on the horizon, and appears fearful of putting any promises on paper, any written acknowledgement that they’ve both navigated conflict poorly in the past and have no intention of working on that obvious deficiency in future. They’d rather rules-lawyer their internal HR file, never a good sign. Hopefully the manager makes note of that. This isn’t ignorance of professional norms but just a bog-standard bad attitude.

        3. LGC*

          …you’re absolutely right, of course!

          IME, though, some people (and yes, it’s often men…although I’ve often gotten it from older adults myself – I’ve supervised people 15-20 years older than me) are really sensitive to feeling condescended to. That’s not the reason why LW is reacting like a toddler (or even 10% of it), but it is a very small part of it.

          Basically, the professor was totally in the right to put that in the PDR…the wording could have just been touched up a bit. Which – I’ll now admit – is much like criticizing a justified protest’s slogans for being a bit alienating. The critique is valid, especially because it might take away from the broader message.

  22. Cheese Please*

    Hi OP. You state that your boss asked you to ” improve [your] skills in communication and dealing with feedback from other colleagues, especially staff members who are on a higher academic and professional level” and in response this request (a form of feedback), you reacted negatively – most likely the type of behavior that she is trying to help you correct moving forward! Her request to have you reflect on past conflicts seems very appropriate. Personal growth (in areas like conflict management, communication, emotional intelligence etc) can be uncomfortable, but it is not insensitive for someone to point out areas that are hindering your professional development.

  23. WorkIsADarkComedy*

    OP, this is all very stressful for you, and you are perceiving the process as painful and unfair.

    Let me suggest an alternate framing.

    Based on the history of conflicts, and the conflicts you are having now with your supervisor, even if your supervisor wasn’t insisting on the communications and conflict management skill enhancement, the lack of such enhancement is going to keep making work life miserable for you. Your supervisor is actually throwing you a lifeline. Take advantage of it as a way to reboot your relationship with your management and coworkers, and you will be happier where you are (and anywhere else you will be during your career).

    1. anonymous this time*

      +1 to this. OP, nobody likes dwelling on their own mistakes, but sometimes the only way out is through. Your manager’s specific feedback on this issue might suck to hear, but it’s a favor in the long run.

  24. MsClaw*

    ‘ I do not want this to be on my permanent record, as it reflects badly on a HR record. ‘

    This OP somehow does not get that this completely intentional? He’s repeatedly made an ass of himself, which indeed reflects badly on him. This is his boss formally recording that he is a problem.

    Honestly, this response is appalling and means the boss is doing the exact right thing. The OP has been a problem repeatedly. The problems have been formally documented. He’s been given an opportunity to address the problem. And his response is basically ‘I don’t wanna and you can’t make me’, which is a really great way to make it easy to fire him for cause.

    1. Vina*

      Even if it were magically erased from the record, people will still remember it.

      The only way to erase the damage that has been done is to do better. Not jsut better than your old self, but better than everyone else. Because people already have a presumption that LW is a problem child.

      There’s a lot of focus here on the “permanent record” and not enough on reputation and respect from colleagues.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        Yeah, people are still going to remember it and LW doesn’t seem super interested in repairing their relationships – in fact, they seem primed to go forward creating more toxicity. Does LW really believe that their shiny permanent record will trump the fact that no one, anywhere, will have anything favourable to say about working with them?

    2. Blarg*

      Getting fired looks even worse … which OP doesn’t seem to realize is on the table.

    3. biobotb*

      The LW also seems to think she deserves a glowing record despite a pattern of not-so-glowing behavior, which doesn’t make sense.

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        Or at least that she *wants* a glowing record, and that what she wants should matter a lot more to anybody than it actually does. That was one of the things that struck me first about this letter: the extent to which “I don’t want to” was pretty much the whole reason given for not following the boss’ directions. Not “I don’t think this is reasonable because…” and not “I don’t think this is necessary because…” — just “I don’t wanna!”

    4. Not So NewReader*

      OP, if your HR record concerns you then that should be your goal, to do things that go to a wonderful record with this organization.

      It’s interesting to me that the boss is insensitive, but it sounds like you can be insensitive yourself because others are pretty upset with you. Other people can feel sensitive, too, OP. And we can hurt/injure others with our actions and our words.

    5. Three Flowers*

      What I’m confused about is how the OP thinks their email will somehow *not* go into the HR record right beside the performance review. Which it will. They have made their situation worse *in writing* in addition to burning more relational bridges with the boss, when it sounds like they’ve already burnt a lot of bridges with colleagues.

  25. AvonLady Barksdale*

    OP, I had a conversation with someone very, very close to me recently about dealing with something at work that he didn’t want to do. I pointed out that his bosses were not nearly as interested in the result of the task as they were in how he approached it, and his suggested method– throwing up his hands and refusing to do it– would look really, really bad. Really bad. He countered with, “But if I fail at this project, won’t that look worse?” Nope.

    You’re in a lab. Think about all the times in your career it’s been important to show your work, even if you ultimately missed the mark or got something wrong. It’s important to recognize that you, like all human beings, have things you need to improve upon and that you are willing to take the initiative to show your work.

    Basically, you’re missing the point of the request. Combine that with your obvious lack of respect for your supervisor (who actually sounds pretty reasonable and articulate in that message) and I have a feeling that unless you do some serious introspection, you won’t be at that job for long and you might find other jobs pretty difficult to navigate.

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      I’ve got things wrong. Everyone has. No, it isn’t worse to make a mistake (then let people know and fix it!). You get a GOOD reputation from handling errors well (as long as they are few and far between if course).

    2. LGC*

      Not your point, but…I’ve noticed just how common it is that people are afraid to make mistakes, to the point of self sabotage! One of my employees asked if he could be temporarily furloughed…instead of just being reassigned to a different job for two days (and we were clear that it was for two days and he’d be back on his primary job after).

      I told him he could stay home without pay if he didn’t want to do it. He came in. He’s back on his regular job now.

      1. allathian*

        Yes. But the company culture needs to be such that it doesn’t punish people for making simple mistakes if they own up to them and try to figure out how to prevent the mistakes from happening again. Or are open to feedback on how to prevent the same mistake from happening again.
        This also needs to take into account the person’s background. I know of at least one person who was grounded for months if they didn’t get straight As on their report cards. Perfection was expected, anything else was totally unacceptable. Finally they just opted out of living because no matter what they did, they couldn’t win their parents’ approval. This former classmate of mine ended up dying of a (probably intentional) drug overdose because they couldn’t take it anymore.

        1. allathian*

          I’m not saying that things need to be this bad for someone who’s scared of making mistakes to the point of not even wanting to try. I’ve been there too when I was younger, without growing up in a home with excessively high expectations.

  26. Amy*

    OP, your manager is giving you a gift. My manager sat me down 2-ish years ago and explained to me that I needed to work on some of my reactions/interactions with others. It was an uncomfortable conversation that I am SO GLAD she had with me. It alerted me to the fact that maybe I needed to go back to therapy and work on some things, which I did. I’m not saying that’s the answer for you, but just…be open about this. You’re making this way harder than it has to be.

    1. cncx*

      yes yes yes. this is a gift and a kindness. the manager could have handled it so many different ways but chose to do it this way. even if it doesn’t help for this job (even if it is a ramp up for a pip) this is still helpful for future jobs. my therapist says that if you keep running from situations the same situations are going to keep finding you until you fix them.

  27. ZSD*

    I love it when the titles of the posts make me laugh.

    OP, I’ve also received difficult feedback regarding interpersonal relations, and I know that it can be tough to acknowledge that the problem isn’t always the other person. But you really need to take a look at your own language here and recognize that if you read this from another person, you would almost certainly find that person’s position unreasonable. It sounds like you do truly have a problem with creating conflict in the workplace, and if you don’t find a way to address it, this will have negative effects not only on this job, but also for the rest of your career.

    I’d suggest seeing if your university’s benefits office (or FSAP, if you have one) offer training in conflict resolution and/or communication skills. If so, sign up!

  28. RP*

    Having worked in research labs for almost 6 years, there is no way OP is not the one causing problems. You can’t be an effective researcher or co-worker if you can’t think about mistakes and fix them. I can also say that (aside from one guy who just got on the nerves of every woman in the lab, and none of the men…) I have only ever had small issues with co-workers (not emptying out waste containers being the #1 issue), and it’s always just solved with a reminder at lab meeting and zero drama.

    The email back from your PI makes her seem like a much more straightforward and competent manager than the *vast* majority of supervisors in academia. She has meetings to resolve conflicts! And is telling you exactly what you need to do! That’s not common, in my experience. Take the opportunity to improve or don’t, but it’s not her fault for holding you to a standard of professional behavior.

    1. Jenny*

      I remember when I was a senior we had a grad student who always always had trouble with everyone. He ended up on probation because of how badly he treated the undergrads and actually ended up getting kicked out of the program because he’d committed some ethical issues based on his interpersonal issues.

      My spouse has an engineering PhD and also says people in the research groupnwh I caused issues usually ended up gone.

    2. Heidi*

      Agree times a million. The very fact that a boss in academia is going through this process is remarkable. Most of us get very little training in management and getting someone remediated or fired is a painstaking process. Often, problematic employees are allowed to stay on and destroy others’ morale for way too long before they are let go. I’m wondering if these prior conflicts are actually issues for which the OP should have already been fired and it has finally a reached a point that other employees are going to bolt if something isn’t done. Hopefully, OP will find a way to let go of the resentment and turn things around.

    3. Office sweater lady*

      Perhaps the OP feels unfairly targeted if the conflicts were academic disagreements where they believe they were correct on the issues. If that is the case, it is really important to learn how to debate issues and disagree without antagonizing colleagues and supervisors. As you are the junior, you should also learn how to gracefully concede a point to a senior collaborator at times, especially if you have already stated your opinion. I would suggest actually watching some debates/QAs from leading researchers you respect to learn how to remain cordial while disagreeing. No matter how good you are at your work, most papers and projects are a team effort (look at how long co-author lists are getting these days!). Long term, potential collaborators are much more likely to want to work with you if you can be collegial.

    4. TL -*

      I worked in a lab where I was regularly being talked to about my conflict management skills because other people – above me in the lab hierarchy – were yelling, slamming doors, having unprofessional disagreements, not doing their lab jobs, or I wasn’t doing something that wasn’t my job or my responsibility (and was often explicitly someone else’s responsibility) to their standards.

      While my conflict resolution skills were reasonable for someone at the start of their career, they weren’t exceptional, but I was the one who always ended up getting lectured about ‘behaving professionally.’ (Yes, I reported their behaviors, no nothing was ever done or said to them, but I did receive multiple lectures on how the expectations for my behavior was higher than the expectations for literally everybody who managed my work/I reported to. In those words.)

      I don’t think that’s what’s happening here, but I want to point out how incredibly dysfunctional labs can be.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        I’ve worked at places like that, and ended up being the one expected to bow and adapt to others’ dysfunction. I found a new job – I hated being the whipping point.

  29. Jam Today*

    Your boss is giving you your final chance to get it together. That is the subtext of this. You are certainly welcome to decide its not worth it, but if you’re going to do that you have to be willing to accept the consequences.

  30. Ashley*

    I know it’s been said multiple times but I can’t get over the OP calling their boss bossy.

    1. KayDeeAye*

      Yeah, it’s kind of like telling a little kid not to be “childish” (a thing I actually did once to my little sister, who was then about 7). :-)

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        I remember telling my parents once, when they told me to “act my age,” that I was six and what did they think acting six was like? Yeah, I was a bit of a smartass 6-year-old, but I still think, 45 years later, that I had a point. :)

        1. Cedrus Libani*

          Perhaps my first coherent memory was telling my mom she shouldn’t yell at me – I was only two years old! She burst out laughing, then told me that if I was old enough to make that argument, then I was definitely old enough to know better. I don’t remember what I did…but she was probably right.

        2. DarnTheMan*

          Are we related? :D My mom always credits one of her best lessons as a parent as the time a then-8 or 9 year old me shrieked at her “I can’t stop doing something if I don’t know what you mean by it!” (‘something’ being giving her ‘attitude’ in my mom’s parlance). She actually did end up reflecting and getting a lot better at naming specific behaviour rather than using vague descriptors like ‘attitude.’

    2. Anathema Device*

      Besides being ridiculous because she *is* the boss, it is a very gendered term that comes across badly, particularly after the crack about how she got hired due to her husband.

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        Part of the reason why calling someone “bossy” is seen (correctly) as a gendered term in the first place is that it carries the assumption that women should not BE bosses. It’s okay for a boss to act like a boss; therefore, if it’s not okay for a woman to act like a boss it’s either because the person using the term thinks she shouldn’t be the boss in the first place, and therefore shouldn’t have the gall to act like she is, if she is.

        Coupled with the complaint about how she purportedly *became* the boss — which also demonstrates the OP’s core belief that she should not have the role she, in fact, has — and the whole thing reeks of the classic misogynistic trope that women should not be in management roles in the first place, and should not act like it if they are. Also that their subordinates should not actually be required to obey them.

        Newsflash to OP: this is your boss. Regards of your feelings or opinions about that, the fact is that she IS your boss. She gets to boss you around. She gets to be bossy. That is because SHE IS YOUR BOSS. Either start doing what she tells you to do, or expect not to have this job in the very near future, because, as your boss, she also has the right to fire you if you don’t do as she tells you.

        1. Mookie*

          +1

          Bossy always feels like a gendered playground insult, directed in youth at girls who assume unilateral control and disregard privileging the more delicate aspects of another child’s feelings at the expense of the group’s well-being. The beginning of the schism between Natural Male Leadership and Icky Female Dictatorship.

          It’s automatically suspect when an adult uses it, invariably against a woman, whose principle crimes involve behaving as a manager or supervisor or boss while adopting a neutral, perhaps even discreet tone minus the usual hedging or placating. Always a bit befuddling to hear how a woman, expected to be touchy-feely to a fault, is still wrong when she (quite politely, still) resists the touchy-feely approach and instead insists upon providing clear examples, giving directions for improvement, and laying out metrics for acceptable outcomes, while more-or-less spelling out the consequences for failing to participate.

          Keep in mind, LW. If you get yourself fired, it’s on you, not whomever your boss is married to.

  31. Safely Retired*

    I find it easy to imagine the boss writing in to Alison about this employee. Who knows, we may have read that one last month! 8-)

    1. allathian*

      I actually hope the boss recognizes the email and writes in! That would be an interesting update.

  32. Roscoe*

    I could already tell by this line “Her husband is a professor and a director of the research group (and that’s how she easily got her position).” That you were the problem here. At that point it was clear you don’t respect her or think she deserved her job since it was only because of her husband that you think she “easily” got it. But even if it was pure nepotism, it doesn’t matter. What she is asking of you is a very normal thing. You can’t just not revisit things in the past because “I don’t wanna…”. Also you insistence that your negative reaction was valid means that you clearly haven’t learned how to better deal with conflict, because you are doubling down on dealing with it badly.

    You may want to just start job hunting now, because it sounds like you may not have a choice soon, and I can’t say I’d blame your boss

  33. EverybodyHasOne*

    Is professional development not a common term/ practice? Your manager is trying to “manage” you and your are pushing back.

    Also, this sounds like there are a lot more complaints about your interactions than you realize.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      A lot of complaints – OP’s manager even said that her goals for OP weren’t based on one isolated incident, but rather on multiple issues she’s been made aware of. That’s very problematic that OP already has this kind of reputation in only four years of being in this lab.

      1. EverybodyHasOne*

        Right? It kind of feels like the manager is trying to let them know that this is an issue that people have been coming to her with. But OP is not picking up on the size on the problem because 1) the complaints were not made to them directly 2) they are “in the past “.

    1. LunaLena*

      I was actually wondering if the boss DOES read the blog, and we are seeing the flip side of a letter that was sent in! Something along the lines of “I have an employee who has been here several years and was causing conflicts before I became their manager. Is it too late to address these issues now? How should I do it?”

        1. Not So NewReader*

          The letter has a feel to it that OP is looking for affirmations of being right as opposed to OP looking for how to take responsibility and fix this.
          I have gone 3/4 of the way through the replies here and I see no sign of OP. It’s too bad. This is not a hopeless situation, it is fixable. If OP wants to do the work that is. So the way the letter is written and the lack of responses from OP might not look too good to their boss if their boss is reading along here.

          1. Sir Lena Clare*

            Ah ok. When I made the comment, I was thinking along the lines of “well there is no sign of the OP taking responsibly for this, so it would serve the OP right if the boss did read it!”

  34. ResuMAYDAY*

    OP is trying to control things she’ll never be able to control, and refusing to control things that she alone can.

  35. Lobsterman*

    To me, this letter reads as why you don’t give abusive people a chance to reform, you just get them out. They just . . . can’t. It’s not what they want, it’s not what they do.

    1. beanie gee*

      Woah, jumping to “abusive” sounds a bit harsh. Also, let’s assume people can change. Most of us have had a point in our career where we resisted feedback or had a hard time accepting that we’d made a mistake. A lot of us have grown and learned from those mistakes.

    2. Working Hypothesis*

      Oh, they can, when it is worth their while. They just don’t see “because it harms people who are not me” as being any reason to change anything. If it gets them what they want, or if they really understand on a gut level that it is the ONLY way to avoid consequences they really don’t want, they’re capable of making change… for as long as that status lasts.

  36. WMM*

    I feel like anyone who has worked in a science or technology setting KNOWS this person. The attitude, the sense that if you’re brilliant (or think you are), you don’t have to bother with getting along with people, the attitude that anyone above you got there some ‘easy way’. Some of these people do eventually learn that you can do so much more on a functioning team than you ever can alone, but many others will never accept that people’s feelings and attitudes actually matter.

    1. Jenny*

      It’s funny because research labs basically run on goodwill. Jerks generally don’t get research dollars.

      1. Em*

        I’m always really surprised that so many people in STEM fields don’t realize that machines need lubricant. A working group of people is a machine — lots of individual parts plus an energy input of some kind, achieving a purpose. Courtesy and respect are lubricants.

        OP, your boss is asking you to do an oil change. Maybe you already have oil, but it sounds like it’s not the right kind for the machine you’re currently a part of. Maybe it’s old and full of particles — that’s normal, everyone gets tired, and past stresses and conflicts build up! Take some time, swap out the filter, figure out what kind of oil is appropriate for your climate and machinery. It’s a messy job and you might not enjoy it, but things will run so much more smoothly afterwards.

      2. biobotb*

        Unfortunately plenty of jerks do. But they’re mostly jerks who mistreat their underlings and know how to play nice with peers, I guess.

      3. Student*

        You are so, so deeply mistaken. I hope that’s true for your field – it is not true for mine.

        People who are jerks to sponsors don’t get research money.

        People who are jerks to peers, subordinates, and even managers do get money on a regular basis. Those people learn how to blame any problems on others while taking credit for themselves, so they often get MORE money for their work than people who don’t hide or deflect blame for problems.

        1. Jenny*

          I don’t know what to tell you. My experience with grad students and post docs in my engineering lab was that the ones who bullied the people who went into industry later regretted it because they didn’t get the contracts or grants from those companies. It’s also a case of chain employment. The professors who had good relationships with their students who went into the private sector got their group members money and jobs at those companies and then everyone wants to be in the research group that gets you a iob. Maybe engineering is a different world. But good relationships = jobs = money.

        2. Cedrus Libani*

          I’m with Student on this. Jerks drag down the performance of the entire group – that much is obvious. But in the academic system, that doesn’t matter. It’s all about you.

          A postdoc who bullies their way onto shared equipment at will, uses the junior grad students as gofers, terrorizes the admin staff, “accidentally” leaves a temperature-sensitive reagent out and says nothing about it, etc…no reason this person can’t be hired as an assistant professor. They’re the most productive person in the lab! Look at that CV!

          An assistant professor who bullies their way into ongoing projects, intentionally hires students on visa and works them until they break, terrorizes the admin staff, “accidentally” borrows from unpublished papers and grant applications…no reason this person can’t get tenure. Look at all these grants!

          A senior professor who openly ignores their service obligations, has yet to graduate a PhD student who is not of their preferred race and/or sex, terrorizes the admin staff, uses their influence to ruin the career of anyone who dares challenge their findings…nothing we can do, they’re tenured and they’re famous.

          Industry is mostly not like this, and I’ve been trying to figure out why. I think it’s because industry isn’t a zero-sum game (though the occasional MBA-having doofus will try to make it so). A manager can’t easily make themselves look better by making their fellow managers look worse. If they try, their own boss will notice, and will tell them to shape up or ship out – their boss is being evaluated on how well their unit performs as a whole, and so will not appreciate one manager sabotaging the others.

    2. Batgirl*

      Indeed. The whole letter reeks of “People skills are laaaaaame. I get along great with inanimate objects!”
      Maybe OP, but you work with people and those who can’t do that will get fired by..yep you guessed it! A person.
      I do hope people are wrong about the male subordinate/female boss dynamic because that adds an extra layer of ick in expecting the boss to do their peopling skills for them, on a case by case, ‘in private’ like an emotional labour secretary. It’s still icky if the genders are the same, come to that. People skills are important enough to reflect on, develop and address formally. You don’t get to say that you’re better than that, or to ask your boss to do that work for you without coming across as hugely arrogant.

      1. Three Flowers*

        “Emotional labour secretary” – I 110% think that’s what’s going on here, and I love this phrase. So many men, especially in drastically male-dominated fields where emotional intelligence is valued less than manifestations of overt power and expert status, treat their not-men colleagues and bosses this way…and in a lab setting, it seems highly likely.

      2. Mookie*

        Yes. In this world, it’s the financiers and tenured muckety-mucks who can afford to be, even thrive as, willfully socially maladapted self-styled iconoclasts.

        When your peers are logging this amount of complaints, it’s safe to say you’ve lost their abundantly generous good will. Without cooperation, collaboration, and collegiality, you’ve not much of a serious future. Dismissing feedback as inconvenient (for your ego?) will get you laughed out of a lot of labs.

        1. Mookie*

          And adopting the attitude that you are superior, impervious to oversight, and otherwise irreplaceable is just… very ill-advised in this job market but also in academic and research environments in general. Presumably you are aware
          of the gargantuan glut of qualified applicants and graduates, nipping at your heels. It’s pretty audacious to sacrifice job security, where such security is scarce, in service of your pride at being “bossed” bu somebody’s inconsequential “wife,” but there you are.

    3. NRG*

      Yes, one of this person’s several clones has the office next to mine. He is quite bitter about how long it’s taking to get a promotion. Meanwhile, his team is quietly leaving him out of projects because he’s so difficult.

    4. Foila*

      Y’know, I’ve been full time in research labs for 10+ years, and I’ve never worked directly with “that guy”. I’ve had some colleagues with iffy social skills, but nobody who was as as high-conflict as our LW sounds.

      I worked with someone who was just, like, profoundly inept, to the extent that they would badly insult people without meaning to. And you know what? Even they took feedback graciously. I wouldn’t say they improved easily or anything, but there was none of this fighting the messenger.

    5. brand new prof*

      Agreed. I feel like I’m seeing into the mind of my grad school lab technician in this letter. Those years were so much harder than they needed to be! I found a functional workplace as a postdoc and the difference in my productivity and overall mood was marvelous.

  37. Where’s the Orchestra?*

    I am wondering if OP had also applied for the job to be the boss, but boss who happens to also have “her husband is a professor and a director of the research group (and that’s how she easily got her position)” got hired instead. It honestly sounds like OP brings a constant stream of drama and conflict, and hiring managers decided not to sign up for that. Now OP’s resentment/disrespect is going to scuttle this job they’ve had for four years. Also, how you navigate relationships in the office is just as important as the work you produce.

    Reference point – my husband and a co-worker who had been there longer both applied for the same promotion, and my husband was the one promoted – and was told that he was selected over the other person because of the constant conflict and drama the other candidate caused. Other candidate flounced about refusing to take direction or advice from my husband and was out of a job because of drama/conflict six months after not getting the promotion. Attitude Matters.

    1. sciencenerd*

      This is probably common in a lot of job areas, but not in academia, at least not in STEM. I say this having worked as a lab technician for several years before going to grad school to get my PhD and then working as a postdoc. From my experience, the OP is probably a lab technician a few years out of undergrad who thinks they’re smarter than everyone else there, including the person running the lab. Unfortunately, this mentality is super common in the science world.

      1. Agnes*

        Yeah, unlikely given the way academic hiring works. The basic model is a professor has a research agenda and hires people to do it. If they leave, so does the research agenda (and people often take staff with them if they switch institutions). People do not move up the ladder to fill their place.
        Even if this is, say a postdoctoral fellow who was hoping to get hired as a professor by their own department (not very common), they would start their own lab.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Fair enough, husband and I are not in anything close to Academia so we have no experience how that hiring process works. In what we do, staying for a long time is common, but more advanced degrees aren’t as common.

    2. CatsAway*

      OP said their boss is an associate professor. Most often, in the US at least, professor positions go ‘Assistant Professor’ to ‘Associate Professor’ to ‘Professor’ . She’s been at that institution at least 5-7 years (or was already a professor at another institution and her current institution hired her as an Associate Professor). OP could not have applied for her job.

      1. Three Flowers*

        Yeah…I agree with earlier commenters that OP is probably a lab tech a few years out of college or a master’s program, or maybe a PhD student who thinks they know everything (I’ve seen the possibility of a postdoc in a couple of other comments, but if OP has been there four years, that seems unlikely). But it is vaguely possible the job was listed as Assistant/Associate and OP, with a new PhD, applied and ended up competing with a more qualified person who also had an edge on them as a spousal hire. So there’s a tiny chance they were in direct competition, but…either way, there’s definitely a sexist superiority complex going on here, because she is 1000% more qualified than OP and OP clearly thinks they should have her job.

  38. KayEss*

    My experience at universities (though not in a research/lab context) was that they’re willing to tolerate a depressing amount of interpersonal dysfunction, so my first thought was that either the LW has an uncommonly good manager or they must be a REAL problem.

    You could always tell when certain people in my department received their performance review feedback because they’d suddenly become significantly more polite and collaborative… unfortunately they always eventually returned to their standoffish jerk ways.

    1. reelist1*

      I’m in government and have had the same experience. Most supervisors are afraid to confront the jerk and instead the rest of us are supposed to get used to it. IF it is addressed, minor if any improvement is short-lived, and it is back to dealing with the rage monster…

  39. Lora*

    I mean, you could suggest perhaps that a better way of you learning conflict management skills might be to take a formal course or seminar since just reflecting on what you’ve done doesn’t seem to be cutting it? Read some books, maybe. But you can’t just not. She’s telling you clearly that you are creating problems that she has to solve, and this is BAD and you need to knock it off. She might not have a budget for you to do the full Dale Carnegie series, but you definitely need to do something about this. You can’t just not. I’m not a fan of the “just think about what you’ve done,” without specific examples, because I’ve seen that used soooo many times by managers who just don’t like you for whatever reason (you’re the wrong color / gender / sexuality / religion and they’d rather have their golf buddy’s nephew, sort of thing), but it sounds like you DO know which examples she is referring to, so it’s not that.

    This part: ” I agree that they can be improved on, but I do not want this to be on my permanent record, as it reflects badly on a HR record” makes me think, yeah, she is building a case to get rid of you. Yes, you messed up…over the years it will go away as you build a better record of successes. And people definitely get a lot of credit for fixing their problems, so if you can fix this it will be viewed as a really good win. But if you decided that you want a transfer within the university prior to that track record of having resolved the problem, it’s good for her colleagues that they should have some warning of you looking for jobs in their lab.

    1. Littorally*

      In a different context, I think you would be right — but the effectiveness of those classes and whatnot heavily hinges on a person’s willingness to also engage in self-reflection and look for the places in their mindset and/or behavior where those lessons need to be applied. The OP doesn’t sound like they’re even remotely willing to do that. Taking the classes simply to fill in a box on a performance review won’t accomplish anything.

  40. hufflepuff hobbit*

    Hoo, boy. I work in academia. OP, it’s quite clear that your boss is giving you one last chance to be a collaborative co-worker instead of the office jerk that everyone else is hoping the boss will just fire already. I read this as saying that the conflicts you frequently and repeatedly cause with co-workers are exceeding the value of your technical/scientific knowledge and skill set. Actually, based on how firing procedures work at most research universities, it’s very likely that you are LONG PAST the point where your technical and scientific skills can compensate for your lack of interpersonal skills. Labs are teams and based on your own letter you are not a good teammate.

    1. Prof. Cat*

      OP, be careful here. It’s not your boss who is in danger of losing her job over this. There are plenty of other PhDs with the right skills now looking for research jobs, especially with the hits academia has taken lately.

      1. fposte*

        Right? And if the OP loses their job, it’s going to be tough to get a good reference from this supervisor either formally or, given how academics often operates, informally.

  41. AnotherAnon*

    “I agree the past conflicts I’ve had can be improved upon, but let me continue to conflict with you.”

  42. Veryanon*

    Full disclosure: I am in HR. I’m currently working with a manager who has given his employee very direct feedback about her performance based on feedback he’s received from multiple internal and external stakeholders (she is in a client-facing position). She’s reported to him for two years and has basically been difficult to work with from day one (yes, he should have gotten HR involved sooner…). He also is requiring her to go through some communications training. Instead of hearing and acknowledging the feedback, she is basically saying that she doesn’t agree and is doing the training only under protest. So we will most likely be moving to terminate her if she can’t get with the program; her job depends on her ability to develop and sustain relationships, and she is not doing it. This LW sounds similar.

  43. Cynical B*****

    It is part of your manager’s job to help you develop professionally and personally. She has a vested interest in you getting along with people because conflicts mean work doesn’t get done.

    You sound rather entitled. Where do you get off saying, “I don’t want to,” to your boss about a required review?

    Being asked to write and reflect about what happened is an opportunity to show that you’re aware of the problems you’ve been causing (people don’t go to to your boss otherwise), and to show your strategies to fix. Your manager will likely go through them with you and suggest ways to enhance and improve. If you can’t handle that, then leave before you’re fired.

  44. SaffyTaffy*

    I wonder if the OP, when reading all these replies, will feel they’ve explained themselves poorly or left out important context. I hope they’ll feel comfortable replying if that’s the case.

  45. san junipero*

    Y’all should have seen the way my face changed while reading this letter. The title was dubious, but I was trying to give the OP the benefit of the doubt. OP, as kindly as I can put it: you are very much in the wrong here.

    Also, I hope your boss isn’t aware that you seem to feel she only has her position because her husband is in charge!

    1. Anathema Device*

      Considering that part of the feedback was changing how OP responds to people in higher-level positions, my guess would be that the boss does know that OP feels that way, and it’s coming across loud and clear in their interactions. It definitely is in this letter.

    2. MsChanandlerBong*

      When I read the title, I thought, hmm, maybe this person had an awful incident at work–something to do with bullying or even assault by a former coworker–and it would be really painful to revisit. But then I read the first sentence and immediately understood that was not going to be the case.

      1. No Name Yet*

        Yes, that was my thought as well. Or they had had conflicts with others in the past, *actively worked* on their conflict management skills, and then it was being revisited years after the last conflict.

  46. Keymaster of Gozer*

    It’s not easy to be told that you’re being too confrontational, or aggressive, or argumentative at work. Believe me I know (long story short: I was in chronic pain but lashed out a LOT at my coworkers till my boss pulled me up on it).

    First thing I’d suggest is go back to all these conflicts (I know, you don’t want to) and identify if there’s any common cause. Is it “I don’t like being told what to do in that manner”, “they’re poking their nose in where it doesn’t belong”…etc. I strongly suspect there’ll be at least 2 common triggers. Certainly was with me.

    Then really look closely at the situations. Is it worth risking your continued employment to argue in those cases? Or in all honesty would it make for an easier time if some things were just let go without comment?

    I found that stage hard, and it involved a few tears when I realised just how much I’d been determined to be ‘right’ at any and all costs. I’d nearly ended up on an official warning, I’d been that bad.

    So, then, once you get to this stage of identifying the underlying issue(s) you have it’s time to accept the boss’ plan and tell them very frankly about all the thinking you’ve done and what you’re going to do in the future (personally I went to a lot of therapy and practiced being calmer and more agreeable in the office)

    I expected to walk out of THAT meeting with a reprimand. Instead, my boss added a long note to HR about how impressed he was that I was taking this on board and really was going to change.

    And I did. 2 years later my boss nominated me for a company award for outstanding performance. Same boss. Every day I try to remember that yes, I have a very confrontational nature and being in pain 24/7 makes me angry a lot of the time, but I’ve got to watch to make sure I don’t cause others unnecessary conflict or stress.

    I really do wish you the best in this. It was a really unpleasant time in my life and looking back I cringe at it. What I learnt though did make me a better person.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I still cringe at that time. I was 22 and knew everything. Now I’m 42 and know bugger all!

        1. embertine*

          You’ve crested the hill of Dunning-Kruger and are now footling around in the rolling meadows of actual expertise!

    1. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

      This is a great way to approach it and I hope the OP considers this method. Personal growth is messy in the present but important for the future.

    2. Butter Makes Things Better*

      I hope OP reads this if they’re in comments today. Thanks for sharing a success story from the other side.

    3. fposte*

      This is a super-useful comment. I think this is also especially relevant right now when the pandemic is making many of us touchier than normal.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        God yes. The pandemic on top of everything else threw me into a nervous breakdown earlier this year. It’s taken a long time to feel I’ve got enough of a handle on things to go looking for a job again. Got no desire to revisit my arsehole days!

    4. Jules the 3rd*

      +1 to this is good, actionable advice for OP, and I hope they make it this far.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      There is something about pain, especially chronic pain, that can make us feel like we have to protect ourselves even when we don’t have to protect ourselves.

      I remember one bad episode with pain and I was a super grump. My (toxic) boss came over to me and said, “You are so hard to work next to!” That was a wake up call. I apologized (to the toxic boss). I said I was having a problem and I was going to see a doc about it. I did explain that the pain not only hurt but it frightened me. I said that I would try to work away from others for the rest of the day and go to my appointment after work. She accepted my explanation and action plan and nothing further was said.

      This goes back to a post I made earlier, OP. What are you trying to protect yourself from?

  47. Not really a waitress*

    Several years back, in my annual performance evaluation, my boss wrote as a negative that I had a “low tolerance for incompetence”. At the time, it made me prickle. Alot. I was having to take on a lot of extra work and project management for a peer and we were at sr levels (one of 4 people who reported directly to site operations manager) . My peer made more than me, and was in a different role in a field I was not in but because of his incompetence and my ability I ended up with way more spill over then I should have had.

    So when I read my review, and I saw that line, my initial response was “Damn straight I have low tolerance for incompetence, why the hell don’t you?”

    Over time (and distance) I came to realize the problem wasn’t my low tolerance for incompetence but that fact that everyone KNEW I had a low tolerance for incompetence. For one particular incompetent.

    Every performance review, even a poorly written one, is an opportunity for self reflection.

    1. Jaybeetee*

      It’s an important lesson that a lot of people miss, that being correct about something doesn’t make you immune to being a jerk about it – and being correct about something doesn’t justify being a jerk about it.

      “Well, I was right!” Doesn’t give people the pass they think it does if they’ve mistreated people.

    2. Also low tolerance*

      Thanks for sharing that. I haven’t heard it framed quite that way before! It’s never been said quite that way to me before, but I know I have a low tolerance for incompetence and probably too many other people do too.

  48. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    Unpopular advice: Cut your losses and move on. This doesn’t sound like a situation the OP can “win” in, and boss has already gone nuclear by putting it in the permanent record before giving OP feedback–which signals to me that the lack of faith in the boss’s ability and judgment are probably more accurate and less the OP’s immaturity.

    1. Sir Lena Clare*

      Lol are you the OP?
      Seriously though, the boss hasn’t gone nuclear – and from reading the email it seems like the actual content of the objective isn’t recorded, just whether OP has met it or not?

      1. MuseumChick*

        Agree, this is nowhere near nuclear. This is at most a “warning shot” in that the message is “this is something you need to work on and it could affect your job if you do not”.

      2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        No, I’m not the OP. I’m just looking at it realistically.

        By putting this in the Annual Review system, the boss has forfeited one huge incentive she had to offer OP–that if OP could improve, it would not have to be recorded to haunt OP. Boss has also clouded judgment of OP with any future supervisor at this school.

        It takes two to conflict. If the other parties to these conflicts aren’t being tasked with the same analysis of the past, that suggests to me that boss is assigning all the blame to OP. That may be warranted, or OP may be the designated scapegoat–it doesn’t matter. And, personally, that’s where I quit on this boss–I’m more than happy to adjust my modus operandi going forward, but dredging up every war I’ve fought to analyze how I could fight them better would just make those memories current. Even once OP pays the penance, the past won’t change.

        Once word gets around the OP can’t be involved in a conflict, whatever stimulus was causing those conflicts will get an order of magnitude worse. The hole is too deep and the die has been cast, whether it was by OP’s hand or OP is innocent. Frankly, it’s irrelevant. OP isn’t coming back from this situation; does OP really need the experience of being fired?

        My advice to OP is to treat this as advance notice of a layoff or position elimination. Be cordial and polite with the rest of your time there, walk away from any disagreement, and live to fight another day. Polish your résumé, marshal your references, and apply to every external position that looks interesting and plausible–because I don’t see how you’re coming back from this, and boss has already told you how she is going to fire you.

        1. MissDisplaced*

          Sad to say, but I sort of agree with this. Sometimes it’s too late, the damage has been done, and just time to move on. Maybe OP is the problem, or maybe it’s the culture of the place. Either way, it doesn’t matter.

        2. Jules the First*

          You may not be the OP, but you’ve offered a useful insight into their thinking, so let me reciprocate with an insight into the manager’s…

          You say “dredging up every war I’ve ever fought to see how I could have fought it better” is entirely not what the manager is asking OP to do. She’s asking the OP to go back through every war they’ve ever fought to see whether war could have been avoided.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            I’m still not the OP, but I could have been.

            I did stay in a job too long, where a petty vendetta by a manager kept me from advancing into the career I wanted. (N.B. I’m not saying this supervisor is petty nor that there is a vendetta, though I am inclined to believe it). The advice from this column would not have been helpful in that situation, and 15 years ago it would have been dead on arrival. The last ten years of my career show that I wasn’t the problem, and the advice I needed to hear 15 years ago was “cut your losses, get out, start over.” In retrospect, nothing was going to make a bad culture fit good, nor change a closed mind. Unfortunately, it was being laid off after a merger three years later that brought that job to a close; three years where I tried to follow the advice given here and was worse off for it.

            We must agree to disagree on the past analysis, because all I see in your wording is a distinction without a difference (in part because not fighting a war you don’t have to fight is fighting that war better. No casualties).

            1. Observer*

              If you look at Alison’s track record, you will see that she gives that kind of advice on a regular basis. “Your boss is an ass and is not going to change” has come us so often that it’s almost a tag line. And even what it’s not that bad, she frequently brings up the idea that the culture may be a problem etc.

              Which is to say that she is NOT reflexively giving advice that “you are the problem and your boss must be right.” But in this case, it’s clear that, whatever else is going on, the OP is clearly a major part of the problem.

              Perhaps if they take the advice and work with it, the rest of their career will be different. We’ve seen a few followup letters in that vein – saying things like “the advice was hard to hear, but I’ve taken it on board and although I had to move on from that job, things are SO much better.”

            2. Lora*

              This is why I suggested above that maybe some sort of conflict resolution class might be in order – because I’ve been very much in the position you describe, where one particular manager who had a Problem With Women (capital letters don’t begin to describe the enormity of this Problem) gave me heck and put me on a PIP for what he had decided was an inappropriate email. That manager’s contract was not renewed, and when I got a new manager, he went over the file (which included a printout of the offending email) and said, “I don’t know what Mark’s problem with you was, I don’t know what went on there, but I’m just going to ignore this and we will not need to speak of it again.” And a few years later, when I had a conflict with another man who had a Problem With Women, it was really helpful to be able to go back to the Dale Carnegie class notes and compare and contrast with sort of an outside “here’s how to do it properly” rubric and think, am I really the crazy one here, or is this a terrible environment I need to get out of pronto? Because academia is, forgive me for saying, full of friggin bananacrackers people, and sometimes it is very very hard to tell what reality should look like without a sort of third party calibration.

              And the thing is, if you believe you are absolutely RIGHT and other people are WRONG (and in STEM it can often matter very, VERY much who is right and who is wrong – some of the compromise type techniques used in other kinds of conflict resolution just do not work, we cannot decide that 2+2=5 just because one person feels very strongly), then you need to be equipped with the skills to convey this in a non-confrontational way that focuses on the data and the problem in front of you – and simply “go think about what you’ve done” isn’t going to cut it. You need people to demonstrate to you, how to phrase things as gentle questions and lead them through your thought process and calculations. It’s not intuitive and it’s not demonstrated ANYWHERE by actual faculty, who by and large prefer to rip each other to shreds as a sort of hobby in long faculty meetings. Reducing a problem to only the facts of the actual problem, leaving people themselves out of it, repeating and rephrasing to show understanding of the problem, and working out the results together, is a skill that can be taught; I’m not too sure it is a thing you can independently think up all by yourself.

        3. Diahann Carroll*

          It takes two to conflict. If the other parties to these conflicts aren’t being tasked with the same analysis of the past, that suggests to me that boss is assigning all the blame to OP.

          If multiple people have had conflict with the OP, who is the common denominator in all of these situations?

          OP.

          We do letter writers no favors when we try to give them scenarios where they’re potentially not the problem when it’s plain as day from their own retelling that they are in fact the cause of their own issues at work. That being said, if OP doesn’t feel the need to re-evaluate her behavior, then you’re absolutely correct – she needs to get her resume in order and roll out because the boss’s standards for behavior in this lab are not going to change.

        4. Rusty Shackelford*

          I’m more than happy to adjust my modus operandi going forward, but dredging up every war I’ve fought to analyze how I could fight them better would just make those memories current.

          This is an interesting viewpoint. I know some people think “what’s past is past” and there’s no need to discuss it further, especially when those people consider the incident “closed.” But the thing is, no one is out there saying “sure, Sola was an absolute jerk the last time this came up, but I’m sure it will be different this time, because that was in the past.” What the manager wants is Sola saying “I realize now that I did X when the Sucracorp report was late, and that was the wrong way to handle it, and I should have done Y instead, which I will do in the future.” It’s not about fessing up to your mistakes and wearing a scarlet letter on your chest. It’s about showing that you understand what’s happening and why it’s a problem.

        5. Observer*

          The OP would have no way to know if others are being tasked or not. But also, what makes you think that the others NEED to do this reflection? The OP’s response makes it very clear that they do NOT take feedback well and that they have had a number of conflicts – and that they don’t think that this is a problem!

          Furthermore, they have made it clear that they don’t see that they have to respect the authority of anyone they have decided is not “worthy” of the position.

          The OP’s boss had to document the problem. Yes. Others will now know that the OP is hard to get along with. That’s information that is legitimate for a prospective manager to take into consideration. But, if the OP DOES SOMETHING ABOUT IT, they might be able to come back from it.

          Ultimately, though, you are probably right that they should be looking for a new job. Because they are already taking a hole and turning it into a huge pit. If there is was every a chance for them, the OP has started to methodically demolish it by refusing to get on board.

          To her credit, the boss HAS made the consequences very clear. The fact that the OP’s response is “She’s so bossy!” rather than “How do I keep my job” is telling. And going to make it extremely difficult or even impossible for them to come back from it.

    2. embertine*

      The boss’s email makes it clear that a lot of feedback has been given over the time of their employment, if she has been having to step in and organise conflict resolution meetings with multiple colleagues on multiple occasions. OP would have been on thin ice with me the first time I had to sit down and mediate like this was the UN Security Council. Having to do it several times? OP is lucky they still have a job.