I overheard a client badmouthing my team

A reader writes:

I recently had a voicemail from a dissatisfied client with whom we frequently collaborate. She had called to notify me of a mistake made by my department, but at the end neglected to hang up her phone properly before commenting on my team’s lack of intelligence and other similarly unflattering remarks.

Of course I plan to follow up with her on a course of action to address her initial complaint, but should I make any mention of the end of her message? What do I say?

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • I asked my employee to have his emails forward to me while he’s on vacation
  • I’m worried we won’t have a temp for my maternity leave
  • Do people think thank-you’s for gifts are optional?
  • We can’t get a word in during conference calls

{ 174 comments… read them below }

  1. Alexis Rose*

    LW1 – Is there any truth to the complaint you overheard? If it rings any bells with you, put aside the fact that you’re understandably offended and see if there is something you need to fix. You might have gotten valuable feedback that will help your team improve in the long run. If it’s totally off base and this is a client with unrealistic expectations, then let it go.

    1. Anonapots*

      Like, truth to her team lacking intelligence? I don’t feel like the client was giving generally valid concerns to the people around her if the first thing out of her mouth was how dumb the OP’s team is.

      1. LGC*

        I’m kind of surprised that part got glossed over, actually. What was LW1 supposed to do – say, “Hey, I’m sorry that we hired idiots, we’re fixing our idiot problem?”

        I think that what the customer said matters – and if LW1 was using “commenting on my team’s lack of intelligence” instead of “commenting on my team’s inability to solve problems,” for example, that’s where I think Alison’s advice holds up. But if you take LW1 at her word and that was the substance of the complaint…that’s something a vendor (or anyone) shouldn’t hear.

      2. Barbara Eyiuche*

        Maybe the client just tends to rant like this. My former boss was always going on and on about how stupid everyone was. If someone overheard him talking like this on a phone call, there would be no point mentioning it or trying to do anything about it. It was just how he talked.

        1. Anonapots*

          Right. But Alexis Rose is saying for the OP to consider if the complaint is valid. Calling people stupid is not a valid complaint and the tone has been set. Was the OP supposed to listen to the whole thing “I should listen to all the terrible things she says about us because I bet at the end she’ll say what she’s really upset about.” No. That doesn’t work.

      3. Bippity*

        Some people are complete idiots though. Have you never ever encountered someone and just thought, “wow, that person was really, really dumb!”

        It’s not a kind way of articulating problems but the person was privately blowing off steam. Yes, it’s possible the team do lack intelligence and common sense and that it’s frustrating to clients.

        1. Anonapots*

          That’s not the point, though. Like LGC said, you’re not going to hear that and respond to the complaint by assessing if you have hired idiots and reassure the client you’re working on your idiot problem. That’s not how that works. As soon as I heard someone call into question the intelligence of my staff or coworkers, my interest in “legitimate” concerns goes out the window. Come back to me when you can tell me something constructive and even then your concern is suspect.

    2. kitty*

      Totally agreed. I have also noticed that vendors don’t like to take responsibility for their mess-ups. A simple nod to accountability goes a long way, particularly when you’re giving them money for a service. If your customer is dissatisfied, your first question should be “how can be we do better?”

    3. Wandering Scot*

      I was once handed a near-dead project with instructions to wind it up. In the process of going through the history, I found an email far down a long thread of quotes in which the client rep had completely trashed my organization before saying, “don’t forward this.” Someone a couple of steps along the chain had done just that, whether through carelessness, passive-aggressiveness, or because of internal politics. It was pretty clear to me that (a) the client relationship was already burned toast and (b) I couldn’t actually disagree with the writer. So I just quietly did what I’d been told to do. And ever after, made sure to edit email threads.

  2. BlondeSpiders*

    RE: We can’t get a word in during conference calls,
    My firm uses Microsoft Teams, and there’s a new function where you can raise your hand to get the meeting’s/facilitator’s attention. Do other conference call apps have a similar function?

    1. Mike*

      I get the feeling that this is an old school telephone conference call. And those suck for all but the basic tasks.

    2. Artemesia*

      We had this problem in our informal 6 couple movie club — a couple of the guys in particular really do go on and on and like to show off their expertise. Some people were good at wresting the floor and others never got a word in. So we started muting everyone and calling on people — in this type call you need a facilitator. Talk with this person ahead of time and ask if they might remind people to keep it short and on topic (then jump in when it goes off topic) and then ask if they can build in round robins or a system to make sure your team is checked with. If it is not zoom but a conference phone call then it is even harder to make this work without a very forceful facilitator and a system of turn taking or being called on.

    3. Hannahnannah*

      My team uses Zoom, and I have seen the raise-your-hand feature (along with “go faster”, “go slower”, and other nice options for feedback to the host). Though, I think it might be something that the meeting host enables in Settings.

    4. Taniwha Girl*

      I’ve noticed with the switch to mostly-phone conferencing that without the body language cues, it’s hard to know when someone is done talking, when someone has something to say and wants to jump in, when someone is looking for feedback/asking a question but not with the right intonation… There’s no looking around the room at everyone, there isn’t that same pause, because the pause might be tech issues rather than intentional communication.

      I’ve tried to make a conscious effort to treat my spoken words more like a letter–formulate my thoughts and send them out–to circumvent this. It’s really important to be aware and cut ourselves off so there is room for that back-and-forth.

  3. Former Usher*

    A recruiter once left me a voicemail and didn’t realize she hadn’t disconnected while she made various exaggerated imitations of the accent in my state. I did not return her call.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        Yeah, I would have been very, very tempted to forward the voicemail back to the company.

    1. lazy intellectual*

      Yeah – the problem was she forgot to disconnect *sarcasm*

      I guess that was a blessing in disguise – you didn’t have to work for a company of horrible people.

    2. Name Required*

      It’s amusing that this person is making fun of your accent, something you have limited control over and would have to go to great lengths to change, and yet they couldn’t manage the simple task of hanging up after a call. I also would have forwarded this back to her.

      1. stephistication1*

        Your response was funny as hell to me. Folks think they are so cute or smart. Thanks for the mid-day chuckles!

  4. A Poster Has No Name*

    For letter 2, unless it’s pretty standard in your company to forward emails to the boss when people are on vacation (and it doesn’t sound like it is), I’d be hesitant to ask that, mostly because other people might not expect it. Not that other employees are necessarily going to badmouth you or anything, but people might change their tone a bit or maybe leave out some editorializing or whatever if they knew the email they sent to your employee would be automatically sent to you.

    1. Rachel in NYC*

      I also wonder whether there aren’t other more general solutions. Like, I put up an away saying if it’s an emergency email my supervisor. But I also cc: my supervisor on a lot of my emails. He doesn’t read them but it means that since most people are in the habit of “replying all”- he’ll be included in emails they send when I’m away (or if they email at night or over weekends/holidays- since I don’t use my work emails during those periods.)

      That way most things that are urgent get caught without my away message ever coming into play.

    2. Lucia Pacciola*

      I’ve always used an OOO auto-reply that says I’m out and to contact my manager/alternate at [contact info] for any pressing issues. It’s never occurred to me or to anyone I’ve worked for to forward emails instead.

    3. RestroomTimeExtraordinaire*

      I have zero expectations for privacy for any word I type or read on any company equipment or via any company systems/networks, and adjust my behaviors accordingly, so I wouldn’t not expect such a request if I were to be 100% unavailable during a vacation or planned leave.
      There are mailbox rules that can be applied for specific circumstances that could cover this need: “if email from domain “importantclient.com” arrives and I am on the :to line, forward to bossemail immediately”
      or “if email arrives with “urgent” in the subject or email bodytext, forward to bossemail.”
      They are not that hard to set up. conversely, the reverse could be set up, if the employee has regular banking updates coming to work email or other specific personal messages, the out of office can be established, with the exception of those specific senders or subject lines.

  5. Metadata minion*

    LW3 – Let it gooooo. She said thank you, just maybe not as enthusiastically as you’d have liked. Graduations often come with very mixed feelings and I’d chalk up any weirdness to her being sad about that being her last day and/or stress about graduating and needing to line up a job and such.

    1. KateM*

      Yes – “she said a hollow-sounding “Aw, thanks!” […] I’ve received no thank-you whatsoever” – did you even read what you yourself wrote, LW3?

      1. Georgina Fredrika*

        describing it as “hollow sounding” makes me think letter writer wasn’t going to be happy unless the person stopped what they were doing & lavished thank you’s upon the giver.

        I mean, maybe it WAS “hollow sounding” but LW seems too invested in getting effusive thanks for a cool mug ( or whatever it was). The tracking of “well they know from X meeting that I had to pay for it myself so it’s especially important for them to thank me $$!” feels overbearing.

        I also want to just note for LW, if she maybe anticipated this, she may have intentionally avoided opening it in front of you? If I sensed someone expected lavish thank you’s I’d be nervous about seeming grateful enough opening it – esp because you never know what you’re going to get

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Yes, “hollow-sounding” could have just been surprise and then awkwardness since she probably didn’t expect to receive a gift. Not everyone is great at handling surprise moments.

          1. allathian*

            Yes, this. I have an intense, completely irrational dislike of surprises, even happy ones. Luckily surprise parties aren’t done in my culture at all, and organizing your own birthday or graduation party is seen as normal rather than attention-seeking, so the idea seems odd to me. If someone did organize a surprise party for me, I’d probably turn on my heels and hide in a corner, it’s that awkward.

            When a friend of mine got married, her husband had organized the honeymoon by himself. She didn’t even know the destination of their honeymoon until they got to the airport, he just told her she should pack for a vacation in the Mediterranean. If my husband had pulled a stunt like that, I would seriously have questioned my desire to remain married to him. Fortunately he knows me better than that!

    2. Legal Beagle*

      Yeah. I’m an old-fashioned curmudgeon about thank you notes, and I still think this is over the top. She did say thank you, in person! LW feels that was insincere for some reason, and then says the recipient “dashed out”…it sounds like LW might have too-high expectations of the show of gratitude they would receive in return for this gift. Sure, a thank you letter would have been nice – and the smart thing to do if LW is a potential job reference – but you have to let it go.

      1. Artemesia*

        If the gift isn’t opened then it hasn’t been thanked for. A quick email suffices — nothing is not appropriate. A note is nice but a sincere personal thanks, or email works —

        1. noahwynn*

          This is why I would just rather not receive gifts at all. What a stupid game to play. She said thank you, that is enough. The gift giver here has way too much invested mentally in the gift.

        2. Seacalliope*

          Whether to open a gift in person is very culturally bounded, so it’s unreasonable to read a lot into not opening a gift in front of the giver.

          1. allathian*

            Yes, this. In some cultures you don’t open the present in front of the giver, because that means putting people on the spot. There’s also the thing that in some cultures you don’t open presents in front of others who have also given presents, such as at a wedding. Or a children’s birthday party. Children are honest in their reactions, and once a present my son gave a friend was pretty much ignored while that friend waxed enthusiastic about all the other gifts he got. This was when they were 6 or 7, and my son wouldn’t go to a birthday party without me or my husband there, even if parents weren’t absolutely required to attend (I always did, and usually volunteered to help the hosting parents clean up afterwards and to help host in general). Their friendship was never the same after that, at least partly because my son had picked that present himself as something he thought his friend would like. Fortunately the family moved before my son’s birthday, so we could avoid the discussion of who to invite and who not to (there was a rule of inviting the whole group or less than half, but you weren’t supposed to not invite only a few).

            In this case, though, I expect the recipient was caught by surprise because they didn’t expect a gift and didn’t think to thank the giver afterwards. Sure, a sincere thank you is always nice to get, but in this case, I think the giver was too invested mentally in the gift.

        3. wanda*

          This is very cultural. In Chinese culture, it is considered rude to open a gift in front of the giver. The recipient will be labeled as greedy. Of course you still thank the giver for giving you this gift.
          (source: my mom is Chinese and my dad is white, and it was confusing to me to know in which situations I should open gifts and in which I shouldn’t)

          1. Name Required*

            I’m white and consider it rude to open gifts in front of other people. Plenty of white people follow this rule, so choose whichever makes you more comfortable.

        4. Taniwha Girl*

          I agree that the receiver should have followed up and sent a proper thank you. That is what I would have done. But it is also good manners (and saves you emotional grief) as a giver if you give with the expectation of not receiving anything in return. Especially if you give to young children who are still learning how to perform and signal gratitude. And if you give something to an adult and they don’t signal gratitude, well, you know not to give them anything anymore.

      2. Amy Sly*

        My one weird trick for increasing the odds of getting a thank-you note for a graduation or wedding: give a package of thank-you notes as the gift. The majority of the gift-givers will want them, but the recipient is unlikely to have a sufficient number already on hand. Thus, a package of thank-you notes is something that they will probably need, and my experience is that I generally get one of my own back for providing something useful instead of a tchotchke like a coffee mug.

        Seriously … I have to give away a box of coffee cups every few years, because I have all the tasteful ones I need and don’t want to have a shelf of random ones with silly slogans.

        1. VelociraptorAttack*

          This rubbed me all sorts of the wrong way. If I got a gift of a package of thank you notes, I’d, as KateM mentioned, find it really passive aggressive and puzzling. I’d also think it was really, really condescending. Maybe it’s worked for you as a trick to get thank you notes but you might want to be really careful about who you use this on.

        2. Anonapots*

          I received a book once from my husband’s aunt on “How To” and one of the things listed was “How To Write a Thank You Note.” This particular aunt is not passive-aggressive in the slightest, but I had to really talk myself through that when I got it. I know she wasn’t focused on the thank you notes, but it struck a nerve with me. It’s not only how the gift is given, but also how it will be received.

        3. JerryTerryLarryGary*

          Yeah, received that as a gift once. Giver did not receive a thank you. So incredibly passive-agressive. Even if the cards are used. Even if they are enthusiastic in their praise.

        4. Butterfly Counter*

          Huh. The thank you notes came in the same package as the invitations I ordered for my wedding. One for each invitation I sent, so I had plenty.

          Though I would probably like getting thank you cards as a gift. I like to have a variety on hand…

        5. Lady Meyneth*

          This seems so wrong and passive aggressive. Honestly, if I received a package of thank you notes in this situation, I’d be tempted to (and probably would) specifically not write a note to that person.

          If I got it at a random occasion, or as a just-because gift, sure, I’d be grateful. But as a graduation or wedding gift? Dude, no.

    3. Coder von Frankenstein*

      Gift-giving is not about spending money for the right to make somebody else perform gratitude.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        Louder, for those in the back!

        I see this a lot in crafting groups, and it’s incredibly irritating. It’s really not a gift if it’s given with strings of the exact kind of ‘thanks’ the giver thinks they should be getting.

        And if the person doesn’t thank you, well, now you know for next time. There’s not a lot you can politely do. Sure, you could go over and scold them, I guess, but making a scene like that is ruder than the person not saying thank you.

      2. Mayflower*

        What is your address please? I would like to write you a thank-you note, even though I normally don’t write them.

      3. UShoe*

        This! If you’re going to get huffy about the “correct” level of gratitude your gift will receive, stop giving gifts. You should want to give gifts because they make the recipient feel happy or appreciated, full stop.

      4. Name Required*

        Yes, yes, yes, yes! This is the much bigger social faux pas. OP, while you’re steaming mad you didn’t get a thank you note, keep in mind how incredibly rude it is to put so much emphasis on feeling entitled to a certain level of gratitude for a gift. The gift should be for the receiver’s benefit, not the giver’s emotional benefit.

    4. Anon 2.0*

      My BIL received a small statue from a professor as a gift his final week of college. Found out a few years later that the professor gave those to his top performers but if he didn’t receive a proper thank you it impacted his reference if he was ever asked to be a reference. When he found out this out my BIL couldn’t remember if he used the professor as a reference or if he had thanked him properly, whatever that means.

      1. Poor*

        These just sound like more obscure etiquette rules that are never taught in schools and are less likely to be known by individuals from underprivileged non-WASP backgrounds. People like OP or your BIL’s professor who retaliate against people who don’t know these unwritten etiquette rules are, intentionally or unintentionally, further perpetuating the inequities between the have’s and the havenot’s.

      2. Lady Meyneth*

        WTF! So this guy’s top performers gor a poor reference because they didn’t scrape sufficiently at his feet? What is wrong with people??

    5. Koalafied*

      She also described the student as “dashing” out of the office. Which, if true, suggests to me that perhaps the student had somewhere else to be and did not have much buffer to ensure she was on time. Graduations often come with very firm appointment times for photos, gown fittings, showing up at the venue to be placed in the proper alphabetical order in line, etc.

    6. Sabine the Very Mean*

      I NEVER open gifts in front of people. So many people were brought up this way. And it doesn’t matter what the gift was, you say thank you for the gesture regardless.

      I get shit my father found on the road. I say thank you and then donate it. Not that big of a deal.

  6. IL JimP*

    The thank you one is weird to me, the person say thanks in person. If I thank you in person I don’t send a separate thank you afterwards. If it something I really like I might thank you again in person when I see you assuming I think of it and it’s an appropriate time.

    1. Artemesia*

      You haven’t thanked for something if you don’t know what it is when it is handed to you. Aww Thanks for giving me something is not the same as being thanked for the thing itself.

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        It’s, “Thank you for the present.”

        And later, it’s still “Thank you for the presentX.” Just because ‘presentX’ is more specific in the second case doesn’t mean it’s not repetitive.

      2. Altair*

        I hold to this rule myself, but for other people I’m honestly just glad to get a single ‘thank you’ however delivered. My goal in giving someone a gift is to make them happier, not more stressed.

      3. MissBliss*

        If it’s the thought that counts, then why does the gift recipient need to thank for the specific item? I recently got married and wrote a bunch of thank you notes. That was pretty easy– most were cooking things, I could say thanks, we made this! But when my internship supervisor years ago gave me a scarf… The thank you was for the sentiment, not the item. I may have added that I appreciated she got me red, my favorite color. But the “thank you” itself was coming from the fact that I appreciated her thinking about me, not that she got me a scarf.

        1. allathian*

          Wedding presents are a bit different, and when you thank someone in writing, you’re expected to thank for the specific gift. But I don’t think this is necessary if you thank someone in person as you receive the gift. Although I do, in cases when I open gifts in front of the givers.
          “Thanks, this is lovely” or “Thanks, just what I needed” or “Thanks, you can never have too much chocolate”…

      4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Just don’t give gifts if you want to hold onto rules that not everyone is in agreement on. It’s really simple.

      5. Allonge*

        This sounds like some not even unreasonable rule of etiquette, but it’s far from universal. You say it like it’s like gravity, a fact of life. It is not so.

        Saying thank you – sure. Saying thank you under specific circumstances and in a particular tone of voice – you are welcome to do it like that, but an expectation to others is just going to get you disappointed.

      6. VelociraptorAttack*

        **In your opinion, you haven’t been thanked if the person doesn’t know what you’ve given them.

        The performative aspect of gift giving is absolutely exhausting. If you (the royal you, not you specifically Artemesia) are going to have such stringent rules about what you expect in exchange for a gift, just don’t do it because it seems like really you’re doing it purely to make yourself feel better and not really worried about the recipient.

      7. JerryTerryLarryGary*

        Agreed. Though a quick email, text, or thanks for (specific item) in person seems enough.

      8. Thankful for AAM*

        If you hand someone a gift and they say thank you for giving me a gift, they did indeed thank you.

        I don’t agree that they have to say thank you for the specific item in order to get credit for the thanks.

        I think it is thank you for thinking of me, not thank you for this specific item.

    2. What's in a name?*

      I can understand being annoyed if someone doesn’t say thank you, but I don’t understand the people the people writing “upset letters about lack of thank-yous for decades”. How does someone dwell on the lack of a thank you for months and think to write in about it? How do you have that free time?

      1. RussianInTexas*

        That is a lot of mental energy and anguish spent on some very small and insignificant things.

    3. Wintergreen*

      I don’t get thank you notes in general and will only send them for gifts received by persons not attending big celebratory events (weddings, baby showers, graduation parties, etc. – Birthday parties do not qualify unless it is an all out bash for a big milestone birthday) Otherwise, you’re getting a spoken thank you only.
      I don’t appreciate receiving thank you notes either. An obligatory thank you note is just as hollow as an “Aw… thanks” if not more so.

      1. Koalafied*

        For something like a wedding or graduation where the gift was given at the party but not opened (like a gift table) I honestly don’t care if I get a thank-you card or not. Especially with big ones, where to be totally honest I’m always keenly aware that someone might be facing the task of writing 250 thank you notes during or immediately after an incredibly stressful and busy time, so as a disorganized person myself I find it relatable if thank-you notes fall through the cracks and don’t make judgments about their character on the basis of this unique situation.

        If I had mailed a gift or send an electronic gift card or something, I like to get a “thank you,” but not for the gratitude, just to get confirmation that the gift was actually received. Just texting me, “Got your gift in the mail yesterday – thank you!” or even lacking the thanks entirely, “JSY, I may have/definitely spent that $20 gift card entirely on cat toys… ” is plenty for me. No need to stand on ceremony as long as I know you got the gift.

        That said, I do truly appreciate a well-written thank-you that you can tell someone put time into writing personally for you. It’s almost a gift itself (though I don’t send thank-yous for them). Here too it’s not really the gratitude that I touches me, it’s the letter writer signaling they care enough about our relationship to spend more than a perfunctory 30 seconds on the thank-you card. And because I believe all gifts should be freely given and not perfunctory obligations, I don’t expect that kind of thank-you note. I’m just delighted and touched when I do get one.

        1. Anonapots*

          I think the difference for weddings and big parties is the idea that it’s difficult to thank people then for the gift. It is a big table of gifts and the giver isn’t handing it directly to you so you can’t say thank you in person. It took me about 3 months to send thank you notes after the wedding and we didn’t even take our honeymoon right away. I think it’s nice, but I’m also of the mind for the couple to take all the time they need.

  7. OrigCassandra*

    Depending on… well, a lot of things… another possible solution to the email-forwarding situation would be to have a function-specific email address (something like purchasing@llamagroomers4u.com) that’s checkable by appropriate employees. Boss can look in on that while employee is on vacation, leaving alone any email sent directly to employee (which gets handled by auto-reply, as Alison suggested).

    1. WellRed*

      I’m not super bothered if I don’t get a thank you (I do notice it, though), but to everything saying, “If I say thanks, in person that’s enough” Well, yes and no. If you opened it, yes. If you didn’t until later, not so much. A gracious note acknowledges the gift and your appreciation for it. “Dear Antonia, thank you for the Mickey Mouse waffle iron. I love all things Disney and will enjoy my Sunday morning waffles all the more now!”

      Not hard.

  8. JJ*

    LW4 – I am not in academia, so forgive me if this isn’t in line with your norms, but a wrapped gift and card from a boss/advisor feels like a lot to me, and your miffed reaction also feels like a lot. You might be coming off as overly involved or some other thing that’s making the student feel awkward/avoiding getting in touch (especially depending on how personal the gift was).

    What about switching from a physical gift to a congratulatory email listing a few things you were impressed by during the student’s time with you?

    1. Heidi*

      So true about the advice column thing – they are filled with people who are hurt, confused, angry, saddened, lamenting, irate, etc. because a gift went unacknowledged. Yes, it is rude to not acknowledge a gift. But if you’re going to get so emotionally distraught over not receiving thanks, you should probably just stop giving people gifts (Gifting is voluntary – be free!). I can’t imagine staying so miserable and resentful over not being thanked.

      1. chocoholic*

        I used to get pretty annoyed when someone couldn’t be bothered to send me a thank you note, but I’ve largely gotten over it. I haven’t figured out how to politely inquire if a gift I sent was received without the recipient thinking I’m fishing for a thank you. My niece recently graduated from high school and I sent her a gift card, and then didn’t hear anything for like 2 months. I was worried that it didn’t make it and then just earlier this week got a thank you note, so was relieved it got there.

        1. Altair*

          How about something like, “Hi, X, I just wanted to check on something. I sent you Y thing at Z time and wanted to be sure it arrived. If it did and you hadn’t gotten around to letting me know, don’t worry about it! Life is busy. I’d just like to know if you got it.” I send my friends things pretty frequently (crafty person, yesterday’s post really resonated) and I will drop them a line if I haven’t heard from them in awhile.

          1. PhyllisB*

            If I give someone something in person and they say thank you that’s good enough for me. If I send something through the mail then I would appreciate a thank you so I know they got it.
            When my nephew got married I had a wedding gift sent from the store where she was registered. They got married in November and by February I still had not received a thank you/acknowledgement. Everyone else in family had received notes.
            Now I knew this girl was not one to not acknowledge a gift (even if she didn’t like it) so I called her and apologized for asking, but did she ever receive their wedding gift from us? No, she didn’t. Quick call to the store revealed that someone forgot to attach a name to it, and it was still sitting in the gift wrap area!! (Thankfully I remembered what gift wrap I had requested.) Of course it was delivered immediately with many apologies; but if I hadn’t called her she would have thought we didn’t give them a gift, and I would have been hurt that everyone got a thank you but me.

            1. allathian*

              I’m glad it worked out. This just goes to show that sometimes sent gifts don’t get there.

          2. allathian*

            I really like this wording, because you’re making it clear you’re not fishing for thanks, just wanting to know they received your gift.

        2. noahwynn*

          I usually just send a quick text or email to let people know something is on the way. I know I don’t ever really go through the front door of my house since I park in the garage. So I just frame it like “Hey I sent you a gift, tracking shows it’ll be there Thursday, wanted to let you know so you can be on the lookout for it.” I’m sure it violates some ettiquette rule, but works fine for people I’m close with.

          1. Heidi*

            I think it makes practical sense to give a heads up so that the recipient can get their presents before the porch pirates do.

            1. Taniwha Girl*

              I do this as well because of porch pirates. And it makes it easier to follow up: “did you get it or did the pirates get it?”

    2. I Can Never Decide On A Lasting Name Here*

      Seconding the congratulatory email with personal feedback about what the student did well – much more useful than a mug or the like!

      1. allathian*

        Yes, definitely. Especially if it’s accompanied by “I’d be happy to be your reference in future.”

    3. Metadata minion*

      It’s pretty common in academia, but it still might have felt weird to the student.

  9. Littorally*

    #3. You don’t get to be extra offended because you spent your own money on the gift. Frankly, that makes the whole situation a little weird, not a cause for extra groveling from the recipient. She said thank you! What more do you want?

    1. TTDH*

      Yeah, to be honest I wonder whether the whole “no budget for gifts” thing actually made the recipient feel *more* awkward. I’m often an overthinker, but I can imagine myself in her shoes going “oh no, I have to put this away before I make other people feel weird that one person got me a present out of their own money!” I can see why she wouldn’t have wanted to attract attention by opening it on the spot.

  10. The Vulture*

    I’m probably an obnoxious millennial (I’m 31 – and not particularly young in the cohort!) but…”Aw, thanks” sounds like a reasonable thank you to me, and I would be frustrated to find out someone was annoyed because 1. they judged my thank-you too hollow 2. I was supposed to know to open the gift right there (I tend to ask nowadays but I have feelings about opening gifts) 3. that I hadn’t sent a thank you. You knew this person for 2 years! Either the work she did for you over two years outweighs a little thoughtlessness or you didn’t particularly like her or value her work and probably shouldn’t have used your own money on what you clearly felt was an obligation, and she could probably tell your gift-giving was a touch hollow!

    Either you appreciate the work she did and the gift you gave her was just that, a gift in thanks and kind thoughts for her well-being

    1. IL JimP*

      I’m 40 and I would do the same thing, if I thank you in person that’s probably the only thanks you’re getting

    2. Always Late to the Party*

      Yeah I thought the letter read like there was already some tension in the relationship and the supervisor is all wrapped up in this thank you business because they are frustrated about something else in their relationship with the student.

      LW would do well to remember that gifts come with ribbons not strings! If your gifts are going to come with expectations, better stick to cards instead.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      Trailing-end, middle-aged GenX and I agree with this.

      I was raised by people big on thank-you notes, in general, and I’d have felt obligated to either open the gift and express specific gratitude or to open it later and send a follow-up email with specific thanks for the actual gift; HOWEVER, I’m clear that this is not universal and that the in-person acknowledgement is all the thanks the situation really requires. I had an older relative who used to complain about the minutia of thank-you notes all the time (not everyone has personalized stationary, Auntie Bertha), and it seemed like they spent more time hung up on that than the actual spirit of gift-giving.

      1. Delta Delta*

        I’m a late GenXer, also, but I like thank you notes. Some I write by hand, some I send by email. I’m not so hung up on the details, but I always like to send something, even if I’ve said thank you in person. It takes five minutes, and it’s a habit I like. I know not everyone does it; I feel like it doesn’t hurt either way.

        1. Altair*

          I’m another late Gen-X and I agree with both of you, haha. I personally like sending thank you notes, but I don’t really expect them in return. A verbal thanks or really anything better than “why is it so small? couldn’t you afford anything bigger?” will do.

          1. Anonapots*

            Gen X and I’m always pleasantly surprised when I get a thank you note. I never expect them.

      2. WFH....is it ok to...*

        Could you please teach this to my MIL, she expects a handwritten Thank you note for everything especially if it’s some I thanked her (specifically and sincerely as my momma taught) for in person. This makes me crazy.

        1. KateM*

          I’m maybe too used to give and receive gifts in person, but I somehow feel that the thank-you notes are plan B for when you can’t thank in person and kind of inferior to plan A.

          1. Anonapots*

            That’s exactly how they’re supposed to be used. “I cannot thank you in person, so here is a note I wrote and sent instead. I wish I could thank you to your stupid face.” Too aggressive? ;)

    4. Anononon*

      Yup, I’m your age, and I would be pretty annoyed, too. You gave me the gift and I said thank you! I would have never thought to send a thank you note follow up.

      1. Anonapots*

        I know for me personally I would have sent a follow up email to say “thank you for the specific thing” but that’s me.

    5. Smithy*

      Old millennial (and potentially still obnoxious) – and I’m also in agreement on this.

      Additionally, I would add that for the most part- all workplace gifts I’ve received from a boss are lower value tokens or gift cards they’ve purchased or organization swag. It’s appreciated, but also not typically seen as a gift in the same context as a gift given by a friend or family member.

    6. allathian*

      I’m 48 so not a millennial, but I’d most probably do the same. We had a small wedding (only immediate family members, no friends). We had asked for a coffee service as a wedding gift. Not that we expected anything, but they insisted, and it was delivered on the day before the wedding so we could run the new cups and saucers through the dishwasher and use them at the reception. So no written thank you notes, although my parents and in-laws got a framed wedding photo, because they still keep those. My sister and SIL got the photo in digital format, because they don’t keep framed photos on display.

      The only time in my life I’ve written thank you notes was for my high school graduation. I sent those as soon as I got the graduation photos. I mostly got checks and gift cards, so I didn’t even try to write personalized thank yous… As a kid, if I got a gift by mail from our extended family, I was expected to thank them by phone, and I did.

    7. littlelizard*

      I’m in my 20s and raised by immigrant parents. We would specifically write down what gifts us kids got for birthdays if they were from our school friends (i.e. not from our immigrant community) because those would be the people who expected a thank-you note. Thank-you notes are not a thing in every culture. This gift-documenting was done very much as a “they expect this and we don’t want people to think we’re rude, but it’s a little weird” rather than “this is how we show our appreciation”. The appreciation was a “this is cool, thank you!” and a hug.

      (And yes, since becoming an adult, no one of my generation has ever given or expected a thank-you note. It’s possible that will be different for more formalized events like weddings, but I think it’s likely that will still only be true for people not from the immigrant community).

  11. AthenaC*

    Conference calls – These days, this is SO common. So common that I believe it’s not even considered rude anymore to interrupt someone on a call as long as you accompany it with, “Let me just jump in here, sorry, this is Athena – I know we have a hard stop in 15 minutes and it’s important for us to discuss X topic while we’re all assembled, so if we could wrap this item up and jump to X topic within the next couple minutes that would be great.”

    Interrupting is really your only option, so tons of people interrupt all the time, at least on my conference calls.

    1. sunny-dee*

      Also, depending on people’s connections and the platform, there is a lot of lag sometimes on some people’s ends, so they can’t even tell they’re interrupting until, well, they’re already interrupting. I think with a lot of things, the rules are a lot more relaxed online than they would be in person.

    2. whocanpickone*

      I agree. When I’m hosting a virtual meeting, I actually encourage people to stop/interrupt me if they have something to add as it’s tough to know someone wants to speak and with the lag, interruptions are going to happen anyway.

      We also leave time on team meetings to “go around the room” for comment or missed topics.

  12. Another JD*

    Alison – for letter 3, if the OP’s office only has 3 people, then FMLA does not apply.

    1. Snow globe*

      She could mean her department or location has three people, but the entire company could be larger.

  13. Jennifer*

    LW1 You got a gift in disguise. Most people rarely find out what others truly think of them. I’d address it head on in the polite way Alison suggested just to get it out in the open instead of there being an elephant in the room. Plus, it’ll catch her off guard a bit. The devil in me would enjoy that.

    1. Sarah*

      I think that the results of any enjoyment would be short-lived. This client is going to be embarrassed for a very long time, and that’s not going to create a good association with LW1 in her mind.

      1. SomebodyElse*

        Or the client is going to be extra annoyed. “Oh typical OP heard that bit correctly but didn’t hear the part that caused the mistake”

        It wasn’t lost on me that the call topic was pointing out a mistake that the OP’s team made in the first place. Hopefully they used it as an opportunity to talk to the client to get a really good feeling for where the team was failing.

      2. Jennifer*

        Y’all. I’m simply saying I would follow this advice, directly from Alison’s response. “At the end of your message, before you hung up, the voice mail recorded your saying X and Y. I don’t think that was meant for me to hear, but obviously I want to make sure we address what’s causing you to feel that way. Here’s my take on the situation/how I’m handling the situation/etc.”

        Like I said below, if she gets some enjoyment from calling her out on what she said, that can remain internal. She still would be addressing the client’s issues while also clearing the air. It always makes me feel better to confront (politely) someone that has said something unkind about me.

        1. Sarah*

          I understand, I just think that depending on what was said it might be worth it or it might not be. Someone vaguely complaining, in a very abstract way, like “Ugh, can you believe these people” or “They’re always like this” is something I wouldn’t feel like bringing up because it’s not a concrete issue that the LW can tackle. But something like “They messed up the line spacing on the TPS reports again” or “Not looking forward to re-doing everything with the correct letterhead again” then I feel like LW has more of an opening to request constructive feedback and dialogue.

          1. Jennifer*

            She said they insulted their intelligence and made other unflattering remarks. Saying they screwed up the TPS reports again is one thing, but I think when you start making personal insults I think it takes it to the next level.

    2. sunny-dee*

      “The devil in me would enjoy that,” but I think it would be short-lived if the client unloaded a lot about the poor performance of the OP’s team, right? Especially if this is a frequent collaborator. If the OP’s team is making a lot of mistakes, they’re probably already on thin ice. If they try to embarrass the client – or seem to completely unaware of their performance problems – it could really backfire.

      1. Jennifer*

        I’m just suggesting she follow Alison’s advice to address it with her. If she gets some simple pleasure from calling her out, she can keep that a secret.

        1. sunny-dee*

          No, what I’m saying is there is no “pleasure” to that conversation and a lot of potential downside. Like…

          Customer voicemail: “What idiots, I can’t believe I’m stuck working with them. They all suck.”
          OP: “Hey, you said some things on the voicemail before – can you clarify what you meant by that?” [waits for embarrassed apology]
          C: “You need me to clarify? You messed up simple data entry, which we had to have a call about YESTERDAY, we’re two weeks behind schedule because I’ve had to send drafts back to your team multiple times, Sally has missed two meetings, and apparently despite my telling you this multiple times, you don’t remember and need me to ‘clarify.'”

          That may not be the case AT ALL, but the OP already admits that the initial voicemail was in response to a mistake her team made. Unless she really truly needs clarity, this is the only mistake the team has made and the comment was unfair, or she and the person have an excellent personal relationship and she wants to clear the air, it is definitely better just to let it rest.

    3. Coder von Frankenstein*

      “LW1 You got a gift in disguise.”

      But did you send a thank-you note? And was it hollow-sounding?

  14. Sarah*

    LW #4: I would be very careful about having an entitlement mentality, especially when the majority of it has been brought on by your own unsolicited actions. Your employee certainly didn’t expect or ask you to purchase her a gift with your own money, and at this point the only person you’re hurting by being “so annoyed” and “irritated” is yourself.

    What you see as a hollow-sounding “Thanks” could be a variety of things, from your graduate student feeling frazzled at tying up all her loose ends to her feeling awkward about you spending your own money, since she knows the gift-giving policy.

    In any event I think that you’re leaning too heavily on this expectation and being too hard on her-and I say this as someone who would have followed up with at least an email or quick note.

    1. Cassidy*


      Also, it could very well be that the student had every intention to send a follow-up note or email once she opened the gift but then life happened and she now has other priorities.

      Let this go for your own sake, LW. If she was otherwise of good character, focus on that and move on.

  15. WellRed*

    I’m not super bothered if I don’t get a thank you (I do notice it, though), but to everything saying, “If I say thanks, in person that’s enough” Well, yes and no. If you opened it, yes. If you didn’t until later, not so much. A gracious note acknowledges the gift and your appreciation for it. “Dear Antonia, thank you for the Mickey Mouse waffle iron. I love all things Disney and will enjoy my Sunday morning waffles all the more now!”

    Not hard.

    1. Marthooh*

      “Dear Antonia, thank you for the Mickey Mouse waffle iron. I don’t like waffles and and I object to Disney merchandise on principle, but of course it’s the thought that counts.”

      Would that work? Or do I have to be insincere? Are you sure I can’t just say “Thank you” and leave it at that?

      1. K*

        If this is a serious question, I think if you genuinely cannot find a SINGLE neutral/positive specific thing to say about the gift, just “thank you” is fine, but if it were me I would probably do a mild white lie and/or find something nice to say that didn’t involve my own feelings. (With your example, maybe “I made some waffles for (Son/Daughter/Roomate/Etc) and they loved them!”)

        The flip side of this is that like other comments have said, the gift-giver should not get bent out of shape over a thank you note that does not meet their expectations.

        1. bean*

          Every time we give my niece and nephew a gift (bdays, holidays, whatever) my SIL facetimes or sends a video where she tells them to thank us… and then asks them how much they like the present. Sometimes she asks them to rate how much they like it “on a scale of 1-10.” So far we’ve done pretty well, but they’re kids! And you just know one of these days they’re going to be like, “This thing sucks! It’s a -47, what was Aunt Bean thinking?!”

      2. bean*

        Replying seriously, though – even if you truly hate the gift, I think you can still send a really nice, genuine thank-you note. You can be truly, sincerely thankful for the thought they put into the gift (and, if it’s from a supervisor, you can be grateful for the experience or something else, too) even if the item is ridiculous.

        “Dear Antonia, Thank you so much for the Mickey Mouse waffle iron and matching golf clubs. It was so kind of you to think of me on my graduation. I have really loved working with you these past two years and have learned so much from you. Thank you for the opportunity, for welcoming me to the team, and for taking the time to teach me so much about teapots. I hope our paths continue to cross professionally, and I will be sure to keep in touch. Thank you again for the thoughtful gift.”

        1. Mizzle*

          (Thank you notes are not a thing in my culture.)

          I don’t understand this. If the person who gave the thing didn’t bother to put any thought into it, why would the recipient be obliged to bend over backwards to day something that’s both kind and true? It’s a gracious thing to do, but I don’t see how it would be an obligation.

          1. bean*

            Actually don’t think a handwritten note is an obligation in this case since the recipient actually did say thank you in person – but for cases like Marthooh mentioned above when you receive a gift you hate, I thought I’d give an example of a genuine thank-you a person could write where you don’t have to lie about liking the item. Just to show how it could be done if a person wanted to say thanks without having to be insincere.

            I do think it’s important to write a thank-you note for more formal occasions and milestones and things, especially when the recipient hasn’t thanked the giver in person… but really, the important thing is to convey thanks. Doing it via a handwritten note specifically is less important than just the act itself of conveying thanks.

            Honestly, though, even though I don’t think it’s strictly necessary here, I think it’d be nice and actually *smart* to write one in this case because it can continue/increase feelings of goodwill and set the stage for staying in touch with this person professionally. It’s a nice touch. If it’s not a thing in your culture, though, it’s of course not necessary.

    2. RSD*

      The fact that there’s so much debate about this goes to show that “it doesn’t count if you don’t open the gift in the moment” is far from a universal feeling on the topic, though, so it is also “not hard” to just accept that you’ve been thanked for thinking of them and not get caught up on “but they should have thanked me AGAIN to tell me what they liked about the gift!”

  16. Allonge*

    LW 4 – there are possible cultural issues here: in some places, it is not expected that you open a gift in front of the giver. Just wanted to put this out there.

    Honestly, on first read, I thought that the giftee was just not feeling well that day – the lacklustre reaction, the getting out of the room to me read like someone on the verge of fainting or something like that. My other thought was that they were surprised by a gift from you, and maybe expected one from someone else but did not get it… like, I know this is all fiction in my head, but it’s not that hard to come up with scenarios where they had something else on their mind.

    It’s difficult to not get excited about a gift we are giving sometimes, right? But it’s best long term to learn to let go of these expectations, as it’s tricky on the gift-receiving side too.

  17. Butterfly Counter*

    #4. Pure speculation, but maybe the giftee didn’t like the present or perhaps lost it between receiving it and when she intended to open it. In the first case, they might not have wanted to feign enthusiasm for a gift they didn’t like when they have already said thank you once. In the second case, maybe they were embarrassed that they couldn’t be specific about thanking OP for the lost item.

    Whenever I leave a work place, I am often frazzled and just trying to remember the big things (where to return keys, handing over paperwork and data, clearing and cleaning where expected) that I could very easily see myself forgetting a present on public transportation or accidentally handing it off when delivering other things to coworkers. I get spectacularly absent-minded when a lot is going on.

    Also, this might be somewhat affected by culture. I know some cultures where gifts are expected to be opened outside of the gift giver’s presence. I’m not sure about the thanking culture from those places, though, upon opening that gift later. But something to consider.

  18. Llama face!*

    Re: #4 insufficient thank-you complaint
    I am really surprised that not only OP #4 but several commenters are of the mindset that the only polite option that everyone should follow is to provide *double* thank yous for a gift (upon receiving and again after opening). Remember that rules of polite behaviour vary by region and culture and not everybody belongs to your specific subculture. That doesn’t make them rude, just different. I’m sure there are expressions of polite behaviour from my background that you would miss if you were interacting with me- because that’s not how you were taught. But I wouldn’t assume you were boorish or rude or ungrateful.

    (And frankly to me that rule seems bizarrely entitled. Why should anyone expect multiple displays of gratitude for a gift? I mean, maybe if you were donating a part of your liver to your boss’ relative… ;) )

    1. MsChanandlerBong*

      Yeah, I am really surprised. A lot of comments about etiquette, but good etiquette is to be gracious and warm, not to sit around cataloguing complaints about people who didn’t thank you effusively enough.

      1. HoHumDrum*

        ^^^ Thank you. Miss Manners would agree as well- the point of etiquette is to ensure everybody feels welcome/appreciated/generally positive. Nitpicking other people’s etiquette is always bad etiquette because it engenders the very opposite of positive feelings for both parties. Rules of etiquette are meant to provide a general guideline to help people navigate social situations, they’re not a code of laws meant to police and punish people.

    2. merp*

      I’m surprised too, and I totally agree there are a lot of assumptions going on related to what comes down to cultural teaching. And this comes up in professionalism conversations as well – people get punished for not knowing conventions that are typically only absorbed by those with more income/more opportunities, and that just perpetuates inequality.

      If you’re giving gifts just for a proper thank you, whatever that means to you, maybe try and remember that in most circumstances (like the OP’s), gift giving is optional. The OP is only stressing themselves out by getting offended and there is just no point to that.

  19. RussianInTexas*

    I just had a weird though.
    I have not had a single occasion in my life that I had to send thank you notes (not counting interviews).
    Have never had a wedding, baby, any shower, no one mails me gifts. Boyfriend gets some Christmas gifts from his mom (for both of us) in the mail and thanks her in person over the phone.
    We don’t send/receive cards either.
    I guess I never though of this before?

    1. RussianInTexas*

      I also can’t actually tell if I ever received thank you notes for gifts I’ve given, weddings, showers, whatever. I think I got some, but not others, and it’s not a thing that will ever get memorized by me.

    2. Georgina Fredrika*


      Only thinking of this because my cousin didn’t send me a thank you at all, lmao. It’s not that I care, but I’m kicking myself over sending a gift card instead of a check b/c it’s impossible to know if she got it and I don’t want her to feel guilty if I’m like “SO, DID YOU GET IT?” but also I worry that someone stole it and then I look uncaring

      Venmo-ing the future graduates ha

      1. RussianInTexas*

        I graduated in Russia where you don’t invite family to it, or receive a gift. It’s a lot lower key occasion than in the US, you don’t even get all kids together for it. High school or college.

        1. Traveller Here*

          Where in Russia? I was in Moscow one spring and high school graduation was a big thing as the graduates partied all around town. You could not miss them!

      2. allathian*

        There are some great comments elsewhere on this thread on how to ask for a confirmation of reception without making it sound like you’re explicitly asking for thanks.

    3. Taniwha Girl*

      Is this because the culture you live in gives thanks a different way (in person/over the phone, or with reciprocal gifts/gestures)? Or have you never gotten a gift before??

  20. Indy Dem*

    My department’s emails have to be viewed within 1 business day for legal reasons, so if we are going to be out for more than 24 hours, we forward our email to whomever is covering for us. We use Outlook, and it has a very good template for setting up forwarding messages. Typically we don’t forward internal emails, and I add my wife’s personal email as an exception to external emails forwarded. We also use out of office auto-reply too. It is a bit eye-rolling when we have to cover for the colleague who uses work email to sign up for every professional news alerts that seem to exist in our business.
    Maybe because it’s our culture, maybe because we are fulfilling a legal necessity, but it never feels weird to me.

    1. What we've got here is a failure to communicate*

      When my old boss left our company, his emails were forwarded to his boss, who later said that he’d been privy to some emails from my old boss’s wife that he wished hadn’t landed in his inbox. This is one of many reasons I don’t have personal emails in my work account.

  21. Brownie*

    For conference calls is there ever a point where, as the online meeting host, it’s acceptable to mute someone in order to get out the “Pat, I’m going to have to cut you off here in order to get to all of the agenda items” when Pat is someone who will just keep talking over the host who’s trying to cut them off, to the point of raising their voice to override the host? Dealing with that situation right now and I know Pat’s been told outside of the meeting to be more succinct/not to talk over the host, but they still continue to do it multiple times per meeting. Adding to the confusion of if this is acceptable is that Pat and the meeting host are coworkers at the same level so the meeting host doesn’t have the leverage of being a manager to stop the behavior.

    1. allathian*

      Not as a manager, no. But as the host? In my job, we take turns being the chair/host of our team meetings. We’re basically all peers, unless our manager attends the meeting. Whoever is the host calls the shots. Our manager sits in a lot of meetings and won’t waste our time when she attends, so the issue of the chair asking our manager to keep to the point has never come up even in theory, because she always does it anyway.

  22. Sanini*

    LW3….why is it such a huge deal that she *also* didn’t thank you via email? It’s not like she took the gift, rolled her eyes at you and then left. She said thank you, even if it was “hollow” sounding (not sure how that sounds). Should she write a haiku expressing her undying gratitude? Not trying to be funny, I’m just curious as to what else you would need in way of a thank you. And I’m someone who is big on manners. Maybe she had so much on her mind, maybe she had to run home for a very important appt, maybe there was a million other things that could be going on with her. But she did thank you.

    Here’s another take on it…..I can’t speak for your student, but personally, I feel very uncomfortable receiving gifts I didn’t expect, I don’t like any surprises at all. I would thank you, of course, and it may appear to you that I’m not grateful because of my anxious demeanor. But I am grateful. I just feel extremely anxious when people surprise me with gifts, especially someone who is not family or a very close friend (and even then I’m uncomfortable). I believe many people are just like me and feel nervous/anxious with gifts. You did a nice thing by thinking of your student and buying her something. She thanked you in person. If you sent it to her home instead of giving it to her in person, then yes, she should have sent a thank you email.

    For gift givers, please understand that people like me truly do appreciate the time/money/effort you took in picking out a gift. It’s just we feel uncomfortable and sometimes our minds blank and we get nervous/panicky and may not express ourselves in a way that is pleasing to you. But unless someone is really a rude person with no home training, even the most anxious of us will manage to squeak out a thank you. Please take it easy on us and don’t write in about how we didn’t give enough thanks.

    For LW3, just let it go. If this is something that bothers you, and you are certainly entitled to your feelings, then just don’t buy gifts for people anymore.

  23. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

    I’m a millennial, but its been ingrained in me that thank you letters are important (mom if you’re reading this, see I listened) so I think a handwritten thank you note would have been the most professional thing to do, an email thank you note would have been ok, but not as good as a handwritten one. This helps maintain a positive correlation with the grad student employee who may need old company at some point (reference, etc).

    I am completely reading in to what is not there, but hey, isn’t that what the internet is for? The awkward “aww, thanks” and running out could reflect that the employee felt uncomfortable with the LW to the point where the gift may have felt overbearing. Especially if the grad student employee had heard about the “no gifting” policy. The LWs tone of voice is a little strange, so I’m wondering if there was an awkward work dynamic going on there where a gift was not really that appreciated?

  24. Chronic Overthinker*

    Reminds me of that meme of the little boy opening a gift. “oh, an avocado! Thaaanks.” Maybe that’s what LW meant by a “hollow” thank you. It can come off as rude if said in a weird way; but to be matter of fact, they did express thanks. I would understand if you mailed them something and they never gave you a thank you, even if it was just an acknowledgment that it was received. I’ve never been good with gift receiving and can be horrible in regards to thank you notes. Usually if I have an email address of the person, I’ll send it that way as it saves time and paper. It may seem thoughtless in some people’s eyes, but it’s better than nothing at all.

  25. Poor*

    LW4: These just sound like more obscure etiquette rules that are never taught in schools and are less likely to be known by individuals from underprivileged non-WASP background. Retaliation against people who don’t know these unwritten etiquette rules are, intentionally or unintentionally, further perpetuating the inequities between the have’s and the havenot’s.

    1. RSD*


      “Etiquette” often isn’t universal even within the same regions/cultures due to other differences in backgrounds etc., and expecting others to read your mind about your preferred method of being thanked is unreasonable. Just let it go.

  26. AnotherSarah*

    I think written thank-yous are very important (I’m an elder millennial), BUT: When I’ve had students working for me, and given them a gift when they graduate/defend a thesis, that’s MY thank you to THEM. I typically include a card with a small gift to the effect of “thanks for your hard work, good luck in the future.” For that, I would certainly not want or expect a thank-you! Is it possible that the graduate in question took the present as a thank-you itself?

  27. Pigeon*

    LW2– the suggestion to leave contact information for your stand-in is excellent, and in my experience, will also cause most people to pause and reconsider whether their matter is truly urgent. Self-screening is great!

  28. Orange You Glad*

    #4 The whole gift thing between coworkers is weird and can be messy (especially for boss/employee relationships) but when I do something for my staff (like take them to coffee or buy them a small gift card on their last day), I look at it as my thank you to them! They worked hard for me and while the company may not do anything to highlight that, I want to make sure I’m showing them my gratitude.

  29. AnonPi*

    My small group used to forward emails when we were going to be out more than like a day or two because we have time sensitive work, so it’s not too big a deal to us. Use work email for work, personal email for personal stuff. All anyone would see on my account besides work is a few work related newsletters and nature related picture of the day, lol. Yet one of my coworkers got reprimanded for all the non-work stuff the rest of us had to wade through to find important emails. AFAIK none of it was NSFW but some of the email subject lines, I didn’t dare open those. Never ever use work email for anything you would not want someone else to see.

    We did try to set up a group email account (in Outlook) that we all could use separate from our personal work email, with the idea we all can see/respond to emails in that inbox, and don’t have to worry about forwarding the personal work email when we’re out. Unfortunately since only half of us will use it on a consistent basis, it’s not exactly worked out. So we end up with a mix of the shared email inbox, and the ones who won’t use it still end up forwarding their email (ironically those that complained the loudest about sharing their email are the ones that won’t use the shared email acct). But it may be an option for those that could use something like this, and you think your coworkers will use it.

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

    I’m sure we have all had calls where we hung up (or thought we had! .. I’ve never yet made the mistake in the OP, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time) and then spoke our mind about what we really thought about the person on the other end of the line…

    … like “Yes, yeah, ok, no prob, we’ll rewrite that part of the spec and send it right over… hahaha… no… no prob, alright, have a good day and look out for it in your inbox!” …. “***ing idiotic people can’t even propose their way out of a paper bag without every.little.detail being spelled out.! Why the *** are they sending it back just for this, are they just totally ***ing incompetent” etc etc etc.

    I would just reflect about whether (agnostic of the phrasing actually used) there might be a legit complaint in there, even if it’s unfounded from your perspective right now but maybe based on something real. If you’re confident they are just being jerks and there’s nothing “actionable” I’d be inclined to laugh it off, and maybe to be extra-accommodating in the future if you don’t want to deal with that sort of blowback again…

    I’m assuming that it is is a genuine “thought they had cut off the call and didn’t”, rather than a passive-aggressive “pretend we thought we were speaking in private, but really they will overhear it” sort of situation, which would be much more difficult to deal with. I’m not sure how I would tackle that one, probably take the lead from them in our next interaction with the willingness to call them out on it ‘indirectly’ like “I got the sense after our last call that you were unhappy with aspect x and y, so can we address those first”.

  31. Rose Sparrow*

    LW 4. Wow… where to begin. From your letter it does not sound like you were someone easy to work with if you are in this big of a fit over not receiving a thank you note for a gift..that you were already thanked for in person. A gift that no doubt the student employee had zero expectations of/possibly even want from you. The level of entitlement in your letter blows my mind. Should she have gotten on her knees and praised you for giving a gift to her..using your money when she should have known through a meeting about restrictions that you would give her ANYTHING. A budget meeting in my mind does not at all equal.. Oh so we have no money for X, Y, and Z so anything my boss gives me is from their personal bank account and so I must ensure to remain grateful for anything. What are you doing with your thank you notes anyways? Wallpapering your closet? If you are thanked in person…that’s it. End of story.

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