my voice makes callers think I’m a kid, former coworker keeps trying to contact me, and more

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

1. My voice sounds so young that callers think I’m a kid

I have to answer external phone calls in my job, but I have a really young-sounding voice and often customers ask if they can speak to my mum. When I say I’m an employee here and ask if I can help, sometimes they don’t believe me. Some even ask why I’m not at school. Occasionally they can get quite rude. I’m 39 years old.

When it happens to me at home, if it’s a telemarketer I can have a bit of fun with them and say my mum doesn’t live here, and no my dad doesn’t live here either. When they ask for the homeowner, I say, “oh yes, that’s me,” at which point they hang up.

Obviously I can’t do this at work. Nor can I answer all calls with, “hello, *company name*, I’m an actual grown-up, how can I help?” Do you have any suggestions?

You’ve somewhat stumped me, but let’s try to puzzle through it. If you just had a young-sounding voice and it was making it hard to sound authoritative, that would be one thing (still challenging, but manageable), but if people are regularly refusing to believe you’re an adult, that’s trickier. Advice like “make sure you’re being extra professional and polished in how you speak” doesn’t work if they’re going to assume you’re a kid playing around.

I think your basic options are: (a) work on changing your voice with practice, possibly even with the aid of a vocal coach if you want to invest in that, or (b) breezily embrace it — “yep, I sound young, but I assure you I’m well into adulthood, now how can I help you?” If someone continues to question you or is otherwise rude, I think you’re allowed to sound annoyed — “sir, I don’t want to debate my age with you, I’m the (job title) here, how can I help?” (Adapt based on how direct you can be with customers in your context.)

2. Is it true you should never rate yourself “needs improvement”?

I often see the advice that people should never under any circumstances give themselves the rating of “Needs Improvement” (or “Does Not Meet Expectations,” or however their company phrases the rating for poor performance) when filling out self-evaluations for performance reviews. I understand this to an extent — you don’t want to undercut yourself or emphasize your mistakes unnecessarily. I also think if someone’s performance is right on the line between the two ratings and they can make the case for the higher one, it’s fine for them to select the higher rating, even if ultimately their boss doesn’t agree.

But as a manager who gives performance reviews each year, if I had an employee who was clearly underperforming and they still rated themselves “Meets Expectations,” I would immediately be concerned that there was such a discrepancy in how they viewed their performance versus what I was seeing. This is particularly true since, as you talk about so often, managers should be giving feedback regularly so employees aren’t surprised by performance reviews — i.e., if an employee’s performance is poor and a rating of “Needs Improvement” is likely, they should know that, which means it would make even less sense for them to still give themselves a “Meets Expectations” rating.

What do you think? Is this a smart way for employees to protect themselves, or could it potentially do people more harm than good to give themselves “Meets Expectations” ratings on self-evaluations no matter what?

Yep, I’m with you. If I’ve been giving clear feedback about serious concerns with someone’s work and making it clear they’re not meeting expectations, I’m going to be concerned if their self-evaluation says they are. An exception to this would be if we had a clear disagreement about those expectations and how their work measured up, and if their self-eval acknowledged that disagreement and laid out their case for the rating … but most of the time, if we’re talking about serious performance problems and you hand in a self-eval that doesn’t reflect those conversations, that’s worrisome.

There are some work environments that are toxic and dysfunctional enough that what you describe is a reasonable self-preservation strategy — but otherwise it’s a weird and sort of clueless move.

3. Is it rude to bold and highlight key parts of an email?

I have a particular client who is very busy – too busy to read long emails (or get on a phone call instead). I often need a decision from her on, for example, three key questions, but she’ll only answer one, or give a nonsensical answer because she’s clearly just skimming the email and misread something important.

I make the emails as short as I possibly can, but I often need to include technical documentation and supporting data within the email itself. I also try to put the important questions at the top and the details on context below, but she still sometimes misses it.

Is it considered acceptable to format the key things she needs to know or answer in bold with a bright yellow highlight, or is that rude? I’ve done this once or twice when I really needed an answer fast and it worked great, but it also feels a bit aggressive. What’s your take?

It’s not rude, as long as you’re doing it sparingly. It would come across aggressively if the email is dripping with bold and highlighting — at that point the formatting is sort of yelling at the person and signaling “PAY ATTENTION, DAMN IT” — but if you’re only bolding/highlighting a few key phrases, it’s fine and often useful.

Another option, of course, is to talk to her about it — saying something like, “I’m finding we’re spending more time emailing because you’re only noticing one question in an email with three of them, so then I need to check back with you on the other two. I don’t mind doing that but is there a better way for me to highlight when I need multiple things from your end?” (For example, maybe she’d rather you send each question in its own email or something diabolical like that.) But yeah, some people are just not careful email readers (and that may be true even with the most strategic bolding in the world).

4. Former coworker keeps trying to contact me and he’s way too persistent

A former coworker persists in trying to contact me, and it’s become a bit strange. Back in January I left my job with a horrendously toxic organization. It was a truly soul-crushing environment rife with every sort of managerial abuse of power imaginable. During my nearly two years with this employer I reluctantly became acquainted with a coworker who was a union representative. My first impression of him was that he was a pathologically nosy, somewhat unhinged piece of work with whom I wanted nothing to do. But, I would at times need union support, and especially as I was leaving the organization I required a bit of union assistance, so I had to deal with him. Despite his strangeness, he actually provided great support and I was grateful for it but ready to move on with my life and put the awful experience behind me.

The first few months after I left the job, he would contact me every four to six weeks or so to vent about the place and try to wheedle from me personal information that I wouldn’t give him. On one call he was actually screaming about the place; I told him I had to go and hung up. Another time, I flat out told him that I wasn’t going to answer a personal question he had asked, and I ended the call. I responded to a few calls and texts, briefly. I really do not want anything to do with this guy, don’t care about the continual drama at the old job, and do not want him knowing anything about my current life. My strategy was to fade out, hoping if I ignored him hard enough he would go away.

Now his attempts to contact me have increased to every couple of weeks. A couple of weeks ago he went so far as to essentially pretend that he provided a job reference for me and texted me asking whether I “got the job.” It was a transparent attempt to elicit a response or some information from me. I had not applied for any jobs where I listed him as a reference. It was strange. I disregarded the text and didn’t respond in any way.

Now I see that he just tried calling me, but didn’t leave a message. I blocked his number. The attempts at contact are never a barrage and haven’t been threatening. I just don’t want anything to do with him.

My boyfriend thinks I should directly confront him and tell him I’m not interested in keeping in contact, I’ve got my own life and issues, and my life is none of his business. I’ve been hesitant to do that because I think he would see it as a challenge and it would inflame him. But then the ghosting hasn’t seemed to work. Again, this guy seems mentally unhinged to some degree so I’m trying to tread lightly.

Trust your own instincts on this; your boyfriend’s instincts probably aren’t honed by a lifetime of thinking about safety around men in the way that women have to (or by actual experiences with men who react badly to rejection). I’d also pick up The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker, which is excellent on how to deal with persistent, unwanted attention. One of the points he makes is that when you’re dealing with this kind of behavior, you should tell the person once, clearly, that you’re not interested in further contact and then ignore all future attempts to reach you … because if you give in and respond after 50 calls, you teach the person that calling 50 times is what it takes to get your response. So it might make sense to send a message saying something like, “Got your messages, so busy that I’m not able to stay in contact, good luck with everything” and then set your phone and email so you don’t see future attempts at contact. (Note that de Becker advises that you set this up in a way where you don’t have to see the contacts but there’s a record of them in case you ever need it — like a separate folder in your email that bypasses your inbox, etc.)

But read the book; it’s enormously helpful. (Obligatory note that I make a commission if you use that Amazon link.)

5. Can I use my vacation time to work at a second job?

I have two jobs: my main salaried job and a second weekend gig. They are completely different and don’t overlap at all (think corporate finance and tutoring). I’ve been doing SideJob for years on a volunteer basis and recently discovered I can monetize it. It’s not much, really just coffee/beer money. I’ve been in MainJob for several years and have 15+ years in the industry under my belt.

I have a lot of leave to burn this year for MainJob. It’s use-it-or-lose-it and they’ve been clear there’s no flexibility because of 2020. I’m debating making myself available for a few hours at SideJob while on leave since there’s not much else to do and am having trouble figuring out if this is okay or A Bad Idea. MainJob does not mention or forbid this in the employee manual, but I know that’s not a blanket green light (and there’s always one person who inspires these rules, right?). Both gigs are remote, though SideJob does need me on-site (with no one around), so COVID isn’t a strong consideration.

To be clear, this is not about the money. This is solely about not spending several consecutive days watching Hallmark movies in sweatpants while consuming every pumpkin spice product ever created, and getting out and doing a bit of good in the world when the big stuff is so far outside of my control. If annual leave is meant to refresh and relax, SideJob does this really well. It gets me out of my head for at least a couple of hours and that is something to be treasured right now. I have few other outlets for this at the moment because of Things.

I don’t think it’d be an issue for my management if it ever came to light, knowing them as people, but I’m sensitive to the optics and am not sure if I’m overreacting. Going back to volunteering is unfortunately not an option because of The Times We’re In.

You’re fine. Your vacation time is yours to do what you want with. As long as your main job doesn’t prohibit you from having a second job and you’re not doing anything that’s a conflict of interest, there’s no reason you can’t do something that happens to generate money during your time off.

Normally I’d caution you about getting a real break from work, especially this year, but if the side job really does help you relax and refresh, I don’t see any issues here. Just make sure you get in some actual leisure time as well (there is nothing wrong with a few consecutive days in sweatpants binge-watching TV, and there is often plenty right with it).

{ 454 comments… read them below }

  1. CurrentlyBill*

    OP3: One option is to write the email the way you normally do and then go back to the beginning, ask the three or so actions you need in short bullet points, and say “Details below.”

    That will also make it easier for them to follow the email since they know what to look for from the beginning.

    1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      This is what I was going to ask, as bullet points may be less patronizing than highlights.

    2. Idril Celebrindal*

      This is what I’ve had to do for my manager and it’s worked really well. I’d write 3 sentences and she’d complain about long emails, so I started breaking them up into bullet points and said the same things, and suddenly she understood it all and responded to what I needed.

      It might feel really awkward and contrived at first, but it might be worth a shot. I know the things I was sending really weren’t bullet point material, and I know there were times that I was kind of passive aggressive about making every sentence a bullet point, but there is something about those little dots and indents that seemed to really help our communication. So I’d give it a try even if it seems like a contrived format to you.

      1. Mystery Bookworm*

        I don’t think I have a problem with skimming emails, but I still love it when people do this. It’s often much easier than finding relevant info in a block of text (especially if it’s an email you have to revisit on occasion).

      2. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

        +1 for bullet points, I’ve had to do this for my manager too.

        I also reread and get rid of superfluous joining words and indirect statements. I think women are more conditioned to worry about their language being too direct, but when you’re writing to a skimmer they just want you to land the plane already and won’t be offended by it.

      3. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        I was going to say something like this.

        Bolding is OK for emphasis, but it’s also important to structure the text in a way that emphasizes what’s important. This makes it easy for readers to spot the important stuff, and also with email sometimes formatting might not appear for the reader due to their phone/computer/email program (or even printer, if they print it).

        As an example, a paragraph with various words inside the paragraph bolded is nowhere near as good as a set of bullet points with the first key words or each item bolded.

        I will disagree with AAM on highlighting – I do think it’s a little rude, or at least weird: it’s not a common formatting except in notetaking/reviewing documents. I would not ever use that in a message I sent to another person.

        1. Anononon*

          Rarely, I’ll use highlight when I’m emailing more than one person, with different requests to each (on the same topic) – I’ll highlight their name at the beginning of the paragraph so they see that something is addressed specifically to them. So something like the below with just the names highlighted.

          Jane, can you forward this to XYZ and keep an eye on it until you get a response?

          Sarah, can you prepare these docs for ABC.

        2. Jack Russell Terrier*

          Yes – there’s a reason layout is part of graphic design. Huge blocks or words are intimidation and don’t draw the eye.

        3. azvlr*

          I have communicated to my stakeholders that items in bold are the key takeaways for an email. I try to be as concise as I can and use bullets when possible.
          When I bold something, I’ll often reword it so that the bold/super important point is all grouped together in a sentence. I find that doing this helps me write more clearly, since it forces me to focus my message.
          So it seems to be effective, but only because I do some work on my end to make it so.

    3. Mystery Bookworm*

      I also think if you do this, you can use some bolding (like bold the most vital detail or whatever) and it will look more like a stylistic formatting choice.

      1. Quill*

        Generally I bold additions to normal procedure.

        I need the beverage carbonation reports in BOLD parts per gallon BOLD for the american market because nobody over here knows metric.

    4. Snuck*

      Another vote for this. Save the bold, highlight and underline for when you are really making a point, and if you have to do that with any regularity then you need to rethink your communication (because if she’s your boss you are best to work out how to work with her, not agitate!).

      Use dot points. And keep to topic. Put spaces between paragraphs.

      If you have a range of questions across a couple of different areas and are jumbling them in consider breaking it up into multiple emails so that one type of topic/project/specialty has all the questions for that, and another email for a different project/topic/reference. This way she can answer at different points all the things on a topic, but save others for another time/refer them to another person etc.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Oh please put spaces between paragraphs. I have clients that send me one dense block of text. Then complain I missed point 87 in the 100 points they were trying to make.

        I have other clients who send lists of questions, but they are lists — numbered and separated. I LOVE THOSER. I respond back right to their list, putting my responses in a different color. That way they see Question: Response. Instead of list of questions in their email, then my email with a list of responses. It helps us keep track of what was said. If they have further questions based on my reply, their questions go right after my reply. So everything is right there in one place.

        1. SweetestCin*

          Oh heavens yes, this is how the most clear emails function in my world too. So many start with “see below quoted text, my responses are in (fill in the color here)”. That way I can trace who said what and there’s documentation of it.

        2. Insert Clever Name Here*

          I love seeing all the different ways people use email. One of my roles is sending technical questions we receive from suppliers to the technical team to answer and then posting the responses back to the suppliers. It drives me BATTY when all 5 of the technical folks answer in the text of my email because then I have to scroll through 4 lines of header (the From/Sent/To/Subject that’s auto generated), “mine below in (color)”, and 2 lines of signature FIVE TIMES to actually see the responses. I so badly want them to paste my list into their reply and answer there.

      2. Aquawoman*

        As a manager, I agree that step one is for the LW to look at their own writing style and structure. If it’s verbal vomit of all the details, quit it. I find it helpful for people to address the purpose of the email up front. So, Dear Petunia, Regarding the Llama Acquisition, I need your input on 3 issues.
        1. Do we want an equal number of male and female llamas? Although our past practice has been to acquire equal numbers of male and female llamas, recent research shows that that increases aggression among the male llamas…
        (etc)
        One or two of my reports use underlining to show where the questions are in an otherwise large block of text, and I appreciate that. I have ADHD and reading a long email is unpleasant, especially when there are irrelevant (to me) details, and I do find that most people have trouble editing details for the level above their own.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          This is basically how we train people to write. Start with what you need, then provide a reasonable amount of relevant info, offer to discuss or provide more, if they need it. Number questions/bullet key points. Make it as easy as possible for someone to get you the information you need as soon as possible. If you can get it onto one iPhone screen (no scrolling), you’ve probably got it rightsized. :)

          This does not mean that you’re not going to still get “Yes” as an answer to “Do you prefer option A or B?” question. But it cuts it down a great deal. (And, for those people, I use the, “I am going to do X, let me know if you prefer another tact.” whenever possible.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            “If you can get it onto one iPhone screen (no scrolling), you’ve probably got it rightsized”
            I used to spend an inordinate amount of time doing that, but then I realised people have different sized screens and different sized fonts so it’s never the same.

            Keep It Short and Simple works whatever the size of anything.

        2. Snuck*

          Dear Petunia, Re Llamas for 2021, Purchasing arrangements

          Do we buy equal numbers of male and female llamas? My understanding is that the males are getting grumpy and frankly feel that they need less competition, and science suggests this is the case and three in five of our major competitions have trialled this, data on their success is limited but I think we could consider it. Let me know if you want the science, but it’s very solid.

          If we buy less males can we get nicer ones? There’s a theory that better quality llamas are better breeders, and some evidence to back it up. Llamas R Us have half the number of males we have but get a better unit price on their llama wool due to grading. Apparently nicer llamas spit less and cost more, but provide better wool. Pricing of ‘nice male llamas’ is 50% more than ‘normal’ ones, but the increase in wool value is 100% and if we buy less ‘normal’ we can transition the budget to a few ‘nice’. Details to follow if you want to read them.

          Can we save on dye lots of we buy pink and blue llamas? I hear pink and blue are all the rage next year, and Fashion House A and B have both requested ‘natural pink and blue marble wool’. Our dye processes are struggling to produce ‘natural’ pinks and blues, so we need to decide whether to buy breeding stock in these colours or let these orders go. I can send through the numbers on this if you need more, but they currently show a market price of 10% more than brown and orange llamas.

          Petunia, are you happy for us to go ahead, or shall we meet to discuss. Let me know your thoughts, I’m happy to do a full work up of the costs and numbers if you think that would help,

          Snuck

          Question, followed by minor detail, followed by business imperative, followed by offer of data. If a person is very data driven and always asks for it add the numbers in and put the detail in attachments. One paragraph each, with a space between so the person has a pause to mentally shift to the new ‘topic’ as they read. Wall of text is rude to the reader and doesn’t let them process.

          1. Ace in the Hole*

            The problem is a lot of people will respond to the question in the first paragraph and ignore the rest. I have more success structuring emails this way:

            “Dear Petunia,

            I need your input on two llama-purchasing questions (details below):

            1. If we buy fewer males, can we get higher quality ones?
            2. Can we buy pink and blue llamas to save on dye lots?

            Background:

            Male llama quality – There’s a theory that better quality llamas are better breeders, and some evidence to back it up. Llamas R Us have half the number of males we have but get a better unit price on their llama wool due to grading. Apparently nicer llamas spit less and cost more, but provide better wool. Pricing of ‘nice male llamas’ is 50% more than ‘normal’ ones, but the increase in wool value is 100% and if we buy less ‘normal’ we can transition the budget to a few ‘nice’. Details to follow if you want to read them.

            Pink and blue llamas – I hear pink and blue are all the rage next year, and Fashion House A and B have both requested ‘natural pink and blue marble wool’. Our dye processes are struggling to produce ‘natural’ pinks and blues, so we need to decide whether to buy breeding stock in these colours or let these orders go. I can send through the numbers on this if you need more, but they currently show a market price of 10% more than brown and orange llamas.

            Are you happy for us to go ahead, or shall we meet to discuss? Let me know your thoughts, I’m happy to do a full work up of the costs and numbers if you think that would help,

            -Ace”

            1. Liz*

              I agree. I’ve found it useful to say explicitly, “I need your answer to 2 questions” and then have a numerical list. Much harder for people to miss something.

              Of course, there are still people who can’t handle more than one question per email. Luckily they are in a minority, but once you figure out who they are, just send separate emails. It’s so much easier…

    5. Mel_05*

      Yes to this. I work with a bunch of sales people. Most of them are capable of reading a whole email and responding to the info reasonably. But, one of our best sellers is *terrible* at reading & retaining info.

      So, for most people I just write normal emails, but for this one person, I do extra formatting to make it more likely she will get everything I need her to.

      It makes my life easier and I’m sure it helps her too.

    6. Asenath*

      Bullet points are very useful in making the questios, but so are splitting up emails – it doesn’t have to be one email per question, but in my experience, the fewer questions per email the better when dealing with people who skim them and miss questions. And phrase the questions as briefly and clearly as possible – this is not the sort of person to ask “We’re coming up on the season for X, and I’d like to get a jump on it. In the past, we’ve used process Y, but I’m considering process A. What do you think about it?” Write “Do you want switch to Process A?” and “Details below (or attached) of the pros and cons” if needed.

      1. Chinook*

        Yes. I had a boss who woukd onky answer the first question in a list or answer a choice question with “yes” but no choice.

        When I asked him about this, he said he was often answering emails on his phone and doesn’t scroll down, so he woukd rather have 5 emails over 1 email with 5 questioms. I also learned to make a choice for him and ask for confirmation so he could answer with on or two words.

    7. CupcakeCounter*

      Exactly what I was coming to say. Its worked for me and I usually put in the email subject “3 questions on X”, then list the questions as a bullet point, and put the detail below. Kind of like

      To: boss
      Subject: 3 Question on Project X

      Hey Boss, I need answers to the following items to move forward with the project:
      1. Question
      2. Question
      3. Question

      Below is some detail you may need to answer these questions…

      1. Kes*

        Yes, this – use a numbered list of questions so it’s obvious how many things you’re asking for answers on, at the top of the email where they can’t miss it, with context below

        1. Teapot Librarian*

          This is helpful until the recipient ignores questions 2 and 3 anyway. Not that this has ever happened to me, or anything like that…

          1. MassMatt*

            This drives me batty, along with those that respond to multiple questions with “yes” and no context for what they are replying to. What should take one email now takes several as I try to get the info I need while you insist I already have it, it’s as painful as medieval dentistry.

      2. Hi there*

        That is what I do, too. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to understand and give me what I need.

      3. RG*

        I like this a lot. Generally I don’t mind having an action item for me bolded or highlighted, especially if it’s in a text-dense email, but I had one coworker who would bold/highlight the action item for me in every. single. email. that he ever sent, no matter how short the email or non-urgent the action. It came off as really patronizing and tone-deaf of any other priorities I might be working on, so if you’re worried about your ability to pull off the bold/highlight or how it will be received, the bullets seem like a really good way to go!

        1. kalli*

          Yes, it can definitely come off as being unaware or disregarding of other people’s priorities in a way bullet points and summaries don’t. Bullet points and summaries are formatting choices but they’re invisible ones; they’re not designed to draw more attention and they exist in regular grammar and documents, so the functions they perform are ingrained and people don’t necessarily realise that the end summary is a summary, or that the bullet point separates this item in a list from the others. Bold and highlighting, excepting bolded headings and limited other applications where they are convention – italicising in footnotes is another one – are explicitly going ‘hey look at me’ because they aren’t used as attention items elsewhere. (Like, you’ll see words bolded in a dictionary for finding stuff and to separate the word from the meaning; you won’t see Chekhov’s gun highlighted on page 7 and bolded when it returns on page 493.) People notice that you’re directing their attention and people don’t always like that – even the translation convention of having Japanese and Chinese names (and those belonging to people in other family-name first language cultures) translated with the family name in all caps is being redebated because it looks like shouting, whereas it was initially developed pre-Internet to emphasis that the name order differed from the family name last style.

    8. BethDH*

      I’m going to add that a summary at the end is not a bad idea either if, as OP mentions, there is a lot of detail that has to be included.
      “So, if you could answer these three questions by next Tuesday we can keep the project on schedule: “ then bullets.
      I read and answer emails frequently and really appreciate this. It makes it easier to remember the exact question versus just saying something about the general subject it’s also especially helpful if one question is easier to answer or has less supporting info included. I’ll often be so focused on the more complicated bits that I forget to answer an easy question that was asked at the beginning.

    9. Sam Buca*

      I had a manager point out pretty early on how important it is to understand how to learn people’s communication styles. He was able to point out 3 various managers/directors who had different styles and work through how best to communicate with each.
      The first was like OP3 contact. They did better by having the ask front and center with details behind.
      The second was back story first, followed by the ask.
      The third would prefer more of a mixed style of having asks mixed in with the background.

      You can try the three different styles and see what works best for each person if you run into issues.

    10. Littorally*

      Yes!

      Something I found helpful: look up BLUF formatting — Bottom Line Up Front. It’s good advice for making your emails as quick and easy to parse as possible for people who are busy or not great with reading comprehension.

      1. Elbereth*

        I was always taught to front-load. If the recipient only reads the first line, they already have the main point.
        It works.

    11. Llama Wrangler*

      I agree with all the points above re: bulleting, but also came here to say that I have had clients (leaders who are very busy) explicitly ask for bolding, and other ones who told me never to do it because it was patronizing.

    12. Artemesia*

      for this person I would put the 3 questions in the subject line ‘3 ?s on Delicata project’. and lead with ‘I need your response on these 3 questions:
      1
      2
      3

      And then unpack each below
      1. yadda yadda
      2 yadda yadda
      etc

    13. Half-Caf Latte*

      A colleague who has a gift with emails turned me on to the slide deck as attachment for situations that require lots of context/background or multipart decision making.

      Example: I manage a program that is recurring but infrequently offered. We needed to modify the program due to covid, and I needed sign off from the directors of rice sculpture in the sushi, Jasmine, basmati, and brown-basmati divisions, and the sculpture experts from those divisions, who report to the director of sculpture development in a separate unit. Many of these people haven’t thought about the program in over a year, and Covid left far more pressing issues on their plates.

      Slide deck allowed me to refresh them on the background on an exec Summary slide, and then list the options with pro, con, and recommended actions, one per slide. Only 7-8 slides but it would have been an impossible email.

      1. Binderry*

        I think it’s also important to evaluate whether something is better presented in an email or an actual conversation. If your email is getting upwards of 4-5 paragraphs of detail, maybe that’s too much and it would be better to schedule a phone call or meeting to go over the details. I know the joke is that every meeting could have been an email, but that may not always be the case. Sometimes an email should be a meeting if its relaying detailed or complex information or likely to generate more involved discussion.

        If I know an email is likely to include a lot of detailed explanation or result in more discussion, I will instead only list the highlights or main points and suggest scheduling a follow-up meeting/phone call to go over the details if necessary.

    14. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

      When I was in more of a project management role, I used to send weekly email updates that included open items, questions, etc. I absolutely second (third, fourth…) everyone who’s recommended bullet points. I would also say in the intro paragraph “As always, action items for your team are in red” plus I’d also use that intro to say “We especially need an answer on X, in the first bullet” or “As you can see in bullet #2, we’re past our deadline for getting Y from you.”

      I’d also include an occasional check-in when we’d meet in person: “How are the weekly updates working for you? Let me know if there’s a format that would work better on your end.” That served a dual purpose — it was a sincere question and I was happy to change things up, within reason, if a different style would work better. It also put the onus back on the other team/client to meet me halfway: I’m willing to collaborate on a better system, but if you don’t speak up, you have to take responsibility for missed deadlines or confusion on your end. That last point worked because these were generally other internal teams, not paying clients; definitely a little trickier when you’re in more of a customer service role.

    15. kalli*

      I’d second this approach. As an alternative based on workplace convention or style, putting each question as a Task (with the flag and everything so that when it’s answered it disappears) or in a separate email, as the subject or IM – if they’re on different topics or for different clients, handling them in separate emails might be better because they can be billed separately to each matter, for example. If you have one email with three questions and only put one in the subject, or the person is going through a preview and not reading the whole email, it’s easy for the rest to get missed.

      I absolutely do not want people writing to me with highlights or different colours because unless they use the exact same colours I use, I may not be able to read what they are writing (at best) or it might give me a migraine (at worst), and I have had to leave work in the middle of the day because of people (okay, one person, a lot) doing this to me. Other people may have different colours that are hard for them based on their custom settings and their medical needs. For me, the worst colors are the most common ones used for highlights and often are recommended by the program itself – bright yellow, bright red, bright blue etc. Other people may have different colors that are particularly difficult for them, or that may not show in the way you intended. Not everyone generally needs to modify their computer environment to account for them, and some only do so if they know they’ll be looking at something that they need to modify (a technical document yes, an email at random, no), and some that do strip formatting like bolding, highlight and color out entirely. So using colors this way in emails raises the potential for causing issues, or is entirely pointless.

      So framing your email to prioritise what you need in response is going to be the best way to reach someone regardless of whether they have issues with vision on screens or not. Putting the things you need addressed first and or/clearly delineated, with a clear subject (if not the question itself), with supplementary information attached or set out below is the best and is generally going to ensure the whole message gets there. If your workplace has IM, or you routinely use Tasks, putting the questions as one of those with a note to refer to a particular email (Jane, I need to know whether we’re using green or brown paint; please check your email for swatches and quotes, Task: Let Clayton know whether we use green or brown by 25/9/20, swatches attached, more info in email dated 23/9), or with the supplementary information attached, can also help because in this way, the thing you need is separated from the information they need from you, and you can track it directly back, if not have its removal tied directly to you getting what you need.

      Focusing also on plain language for things you need from people and making the answers as simple as possible can also be really helpful; ‘I need a decision on ‘technical blah’ by Friday’ vs. ‘Can you tell me whether to proceed with decorated handles or plain handles? Here’s the technical information if you need to refresh your memory from our previous conversations.’ If OP did this and highlighted the information required, it might not be the highlight getting the desired result, or at least not on its own. In my work I definitely notice a difference in queries and follow-ups depending on who wrote the letter, absent any different formatting – the younger people who had to do a plain language course as part of their qualification write letters that result in fewer queries and follow-ups than people who did qualifications that didn’t require that language component – and some clients, even technically minded ones, respond more easily to things that don’t take effort to find and understand.

  2. My Dear Wormwood*

    #4, your former colleague is making my skin crawl a bit just reading about it. Sure, you could tell him to back off directly, just to avoid any plausible deniability, but really most people understand what being blocked means. You don’t have to spell it out before you’re allowed to cut him off.

    1. It's mce w*

      I would also adjust your LinkedIn profile so he can’t find out where you’re working now and block him.

    2. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

      Sounds a lot like he’s trying to turn that union rep support into some version of favour-sharking. And I’d bet that if OP said anything he’d be straight onto gaslighting her.

      Engaging with entitled creepers like that is a huge waste of time and emotional energy, so good on you OP for just going straight to blocking. You need that energy for your own self care right now.

      1. Forrest*

        Yes, and this is an extremely dodgy use of information he has presumably acquired in the course of his duties as a union rep. I don’t know what the US laws are about this kind of thing, but in the UK you’d be well within your rights to ask him to delete any personal contact details he has (personal mobile number or email address, for example, and *definitely* home address.)

        I would also consider informing the union. It sounds like he’s trying to stay on the side of plausible-deniability “this could be professional contact”, but he’s clearly creating a nuisance for you. This is the kind of thing that will put people off joining the union, and they should have clear expectations that it’s not acceptable for their reps.

        1. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

          I’d definitely see if there is someone else you can contact at the union. This is not on, as they say here.

        2. Harper the Other One*

          +1 to contacting the union. This is very concerning behaviour and a real abuse of the position.

          1. Mel_05*

            I wondered about that too. I’ve never been in a union, but I don’t think thisnis how it’s supposed to work.

        3. Keymaster of Gozer*

          This is a good point. I know the union I used to belong to had very very strict procedures regarding any of its reps who used their position to harass or intimidate others.

        4. Artemesia*

          Yes this is stalker territory especially since he isn’t asking work questions but wants the LW for an audience. Stalker rules apply including one last pleasant but firm email that you dn’t have time to follow up on issues of Boilers Inc and then firm no contact. And watch your back.

          1. Forrest*

            I think it’s definitely heading that way, but my point was that it doesn’t have to be anywhere approaching stalker territory to be a completely unethical, unprofessional and damaging way of using his position as a union rep. Calling someone *once* for a personal chat using information you’ve acquired as a union rep is reprehensible: it doesn’t have to come anywhere close to being illegal or harmful behaviour!

        5. norma rae*

          Union staff person here, and I strongly second contacting the union office! Or even the international if the local isn’t helpful. Every union is different, but most unions have some sort of oath or code of conduct that union stewards/reps are held to. People don’t always speak up when there’s an issue with a steward because they feel like union leadership will take the steward’s side, but if this guy were one of my stewards I’d 100% want to know about the issue so we can address it. (I’ve particiapted in a trial of a steward who was abusing his role and going against the oath laid out in the union’s constitution, and most unions should have a similar process.)

          1. kvite*

            I agree! Contact the union. OP is grateful for the representation he provided, but that’s representation that OP is entitled to as a union member. There’s no personal debt there. Many unions would want to know, and would take action to shut down that behavior.

    3. Snuck*

      I would do a text (so you have a record of it). One final “Dear Union Rep, please stop contacting me about Workplace. I am not able to help you with the personal information of parties there, and am concerned that this is going to be misconstrued. I appreciate the Union support I needed when I was working for the organisation, but as I am no longer an employee you are no longer my representative. Thankyou for respecting this professional boundary.” And then ‘do not disturb’.

      If you really think he’s risky (listen to that intuition!) then maybe not the message above. Instead sit and work out how you’d deal with an amorous stalker…. I’d stuff him on Do Not Disturb and just ignore, gosh that feature is awesome! If you do that and he ramps up – finds new ways to contact you, rings repeatedly more often, doesn’t slow fade himself then ring the Union Office one day directly and say “Bob keeps trying to ring me on my cell phone but I left the employer in April so if there’s something union related I need to tie up can you tell me know, otherwise I thought you’d like to know that Bob has been ringing every few weeks and I’m not sure why”… Is Bob bored? Is Bob romantically hopeful? Is Bob one of those blokes who ‘reserves the right to pursue’? Is Bob professionally incompetent? Which of those rings bells for you? My guess is he’s the kind of guy who hangs around a lot of women he is interested in and one eventually becomes ‘available’ and he then ramps up with them… the mozzie constantly whining on the side until it can strike. Act accordingly. Your boyfriend won’t ‘get it’ because he’s not had guys making passes at him since the year before he hit puberty ;)

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        100% disagree. Alison is right. Contact – in any form – is an invitation to keep trying. She’s already blocked him and should continue to ignore him. If it escalates, she needs to contact the authorities, but she should absolutely NOT contact him again.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’ve been stalked and this letter sent my shoulders up into orbit.

      I tried telling my stalker (an ex coworker who developed a really weird crush on me) once to go the eff away and leave me alone forever. All that did was confirm to me that the particular method of contact he’d used that time (waiting outside my car, at my new job, in a different city) was effective in getting some form of attention from me! Result!

      So I’d recommend shutting down all lines of communication. Tell family or employers that if he tries asking after you not to give him anything. He has shown he’s not going to back off.

      1. Kuododi*

        I’ve found in general, that addressing this type of behavior as a professional collegue is similar to dealing with a child throwing an epic tantrum. If the child gets “any” attention for their behavior, they’ve gotten the message that after say 20 min my parents will wear out and give me what I want.
        Any response to the stalker behavior simply reinforce the idea that maintaining the same level of… contact will get me the object of my wishes.
        Haven’t had to deal with a professional setting version of this nuisance but I have found myself dealing with the problem in my personal life.
        Best wishes… Kuododi

        1. Artemesia*

          Which is why the one last email saying no contact is recommended then absolutely no contact at all and if stalking increases to actually physically showing up you contact the police. You may need to be able to show the absolute ‘no contact’ request at some point if legal processes become involved.

          1. Finland*

            I disagree with this. Just the fact that he obtained her contact information through his union position and then proceeded to call her on multiple occasions is enough to show that he is being extremely unprofessional, at the least.

            His continuing to initiate calls, and pretending to give her a job reference as a pretext for contact, is enough to show that he is unethical and has no integrity. Her blocking his number, when he called and left no message, is enough to show that he’s harassing her. I’m not saying it’s enough legally, as I’m not a lawyer, but it is enough to show that it’s unwanted.

            Even if he doesn’t get successfully sued for harassment, the fact that he is behaving this way using company resources is enough to get him fired, and (hopefully) blacklisted from union representation and more.

          2. Snuck*

            Artemesia, this is why I recommended one written last polite ‘we’re done here’ message.

            You WILL need it to prove the extent of harassment legally. You might think that’s unreasonable, but you actually do need it. If you can’t show you never said “go away” then the weasels will claim that they were never told, that they didn’t realise, that …..

            Nope. Tell them. Firmly. Clearly. Professionally. Once. Keep a record of that. Back it up somewhere so when you break your phone you’ve still got it. And then mute the hell out of their ability to contact you.

            It is awful that the onus is on the stalked, but this is the way the world works. You might report to a sympathetic police officer who says “oh, I will act on this and give him a warning” but if you are going to stand up in court you need proof that you’ve tried all reasonable efforts… and ghosting someone isn’t enough. This person is sending one message or call a week or two… it’s annoying, it’s stalking, it’s awful, but it’s not *yet* hundreds of texts a day or whatever extreme awfulness the courts see. So the stalked has to prove they’ve done reasonable attempts.

            This is also why I suggested contacting the union in a round about way – it tips them off they’ve got a rogue person, it shows that the person has no legit reason to be contacting you, it means you can then say to the person “I spoke to Union and they said there’s nothing, so we are done professionally here, do not contact me again” and there’s the door SHUT without it being ‘personal’. Sure, stalker guy might pick up pace, but you have sent the message, now you can go to police and courts for a restraining order.

      2. Mama Bear*

        Agreed to tell people what is going on so everyone knows that this guy is harassing you. You don’t want him to weasel into your office with any professional association, for example.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Yeah. I verbally tore into my then manager when I found he’d answered a call from my stalker who claimed he was a ‘close personal friend’ and given him the address of the firm and when I was next in the office.

          To this day I worry that the next car I see pull up outside my house will be creepy stalker crush guy. Last communication I got from him (I did not reply) was that he didn’t understand why I couldn’t just say I’m not interested in dating him, that since I’d never said that he HAD to assume I was into him.

          Dunno mate, if a woman screams at you to leave her alone else she’ll run her car over you I think that’s a clear no…..

          1. Them Boots*

            And there is an extreme example of gaslighting. So sorry you had this happen to you and fingers crossed he is safely locked away in a safe situation where he can be helped-or at least kept out of circulation.

      3. MassMatt*

        My partner has been stalked and one big lesson is that a stalker can reinterpret any contact or response (even as unambiguous as “go away”) as some sort of hook for additional contact.

        OP, trust your instincts and alarm bells, they are telling you to beware for a reason.

        Don’t respond, have all his calls or emails go to a stalker folder so you don’t have to see them but have a record in case this escalates. Good luck!

        1. KoiFeeder*

          Wasn’t there a post from someone on here where their stalker thought they were somehow communicating with them via the commercials in the stalker’s favorite radio program?

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Before I got diagnosed and put on effective medications (better living through chemistry!) I actually did hear messages for me on the radio. Luckily I realised they couldn’t possibly be real (my sister would text me if she wanted something, not hide secret messages on Radio 2) and actually removed the radio antenna from my car.

      4. Wired Wolf*

        I was stalked once by a truly clueless jerk (from an Aspergers social group run by a local organization). It started when a simple meetup for lunch–innocent enough, right?–turned into him planting one on me and then laughing off my disgust. I think I wound up ditching him in a bookstore and taking the long way home–we had taken the train to the mall one way and I took the other way which was more convoluted but unlikely he would know it even existed (relying solely on public transit has its perks). He started calling/texting and then found me on Facebook–I abandoned that account. After telling him in no uncertain terms to stop twice, I contacted the org, who then said that he had recently been booted from all their programs for various violations of their norms and that they would handle things from there (I did give them his full name, cell #–as much information as he had given me).

        1. Anon for this one*

          This to me is a little different. Very very annoying for the person being stalked, but I presume there’s a lot of social skill deficits at play for both sides who go to an Asperger’s social group. It sounds very much more so on one side than another. I feel like the group organisers should do more in this situation to protect individuals from unexpected social encounters, and to support people through something like this.

          Going for a lunch date with someone, who then attempts to kiss you (but doesn’t read the signals well), and then rings you and reaches out on Facebook is crossing various lines, but it’s kind of an unsurprising result of going on a date with someone with a social skills lifelong disability. I don’t mean to say your reading of the experience isn’t valid! But I am feeling like throwing the Aspergers in there helps to explain the behaviour a little. If you took the Aspergers out it’d just be an inconsiderate butt head who was immature and didn’t read the plays right, but by putting it in it then becomes about his social skills disability, so if it’s about his Aspergers… then that’s part of the deal of having interactions with people who are disabled in this way. (I keep saying ‘disabled’ because the line between Aspergers/Autism and ‘normal’ is pretty solid, and it doesn’t go away)

          Part of the risk of dating people with Aspergers is the fact that they won’t read your signals well, they won’t react in predictable ways… but they will bring an astonishing amount of loyalty, honesty, integrity and planned kindness if you let them. Maybe ask the organisation to run some sessions on how to date successfully?

          1. Anon for this one*

            And I’m back to clarify… having a label of ASD / Aspergers isnt’ a free pass to get it wrong at all! But if you understand the complexities of the social dysfunction it can help to de-weaponise the hurt or confusion that surrounds social interaction. Particularly so with very high functioning ASDers who ‘look normal but act weird’. Michelle Garcia Winner hit the nail on the head when she said “when it’s obvious when a person is challenged, they get a pass, but when a person is only a bit challenged they get pushed back on for not fitting in the way the rest of the world expects” (I’m paraphrasing a seminar of hers I went to here). When someone missteps a little here and there we as a society slap them hard back into line, but if a person has obvious completely visible deficits we give them a lot of free reign to be different. For a person with Aspergers, with high functioning Autism, this is challenging, because often they are punished ruthlessly for the social norms they get wrong and that’s a little like saying to a person who has a limp “why can’t you run after a bus? Everyone else who walks can!”.

            This said, the vast majority of people with Aspergers are rule followers, they like to understand the way the world works, the rules of social interaction etc. They might not be able to read it well themselves, they are kind of speaking a different social language, and not bi-lingual in social skills – they are stuttering their way through. Would you lose your mind at a person who only had limited English but used the wrong words with you? Nah. You’d laugh and correct them.

            All of this said, back to my main point. A person with Aspergers doesn’t get a free pass to be an arse hat. They also can be this very much so, but it’s not hte ‘norm’ for them to be (I hate that any time someone does something wrong they suddenly now get an ASD diagnosis as an excuse. Nope. Doesn’t wash. ASD people are more likely to come into contact with police for misdemeanours as a result of the non-traditional-social interactions, but less likely to commit serious crime). You can say “this isn’t expected, please stop. You’ve read this wrong, normally what would happen going forward is xxxxx and no I cannot be your friend and help you with this. Good luck, good bye.” And be done with it. But if you don’t explain your self clearly they might still not read it right. It’s not like the slimy guy who thinks (learns?) if he presses the button enough times he’ll get what he wants, it’s different. Do them the respect and courtesy of explaining. After that they are being an arsehat and can be told “Nope. I said No. Now… never contact me again.”

            1. biobotb*

              Wired Wolf said they did explicitly tell him *twice* to leave them alone, so I’m not sure why you’re implying it was Wired Wolf’s fault the guy kept pushing. If he was such a rule follower as you’re envisioning, he would have backed off after the first explicit request to do so.

              1. Anon for this*

                Of course it’s not WiredWolf’s fault. It was never my intention to imply it was.

                I’m a little tired of people assuming everyone with Aspergers is an arsehole just because they don’t read the social rules right. Also a little tired of hearing about how someone with Autism is deemed to be a stalker or a deadbeat or dangerous just because they mis step socially.

                In an ideal world we’d never have to tell any guy more than once to back off… but the real world is such that we repeatedly have to tell them regardless of their Autism status or not. So why bring Autism in. Or if you are going to bring Autism in then please gain a deeper understanding of how Autism affects social skills and decision making, and accept that it means things like a polite “I am busy go away” is not a ‘no’, and while Wired Wolf says they said it directly (and I’ll take that as truth), it’s entirely possible that Person with Aspergers has miss read, just as a non Aspergian might have, because people don’t listen/only hear/reinterpret what they want to hear. I’m aiming for some Autism advocacy here, but maybe the crowd or tone is wrong.

                1. MCMonkeyBean*

                  WiredWolf said they they met them at an Asperger’s social group which means presumably they are both on the spectrum, so it’s very clear they are not in any way saying everyone with Aspergers is an asshole. I think trying to justify his asshole actions as being just because he is on the spectrum as you are doing is far more harmful.

    5. Firecat*

      The good news for OP #4 is – they do eventually get bored. Be persistent, lock down your social media, and know that your instincts to ignore and not engage are right on course.

      As a fantastic male mentor once told me – once you engage you’ve proven you care about them. No matter how rude or nasty you think you were – the contact is nothing to them but validation that their feelings are just and you do care. You can’t treat these guys like normal humans because they are not. Ignore them and safeguard yourself.

      A guy – I’ll call him Bob – did this to me after I left my first company. While I was at the company we did not get along, so the contact doesn’t have to be romantic or even friendly to be obsessive and creepy. I think in Bob’s case he saw me as a rival and couldn’t stand the fact that I just didn’t think of him.

      For 5 years after I left he:
      Would attempt to friend me on Facebook and LinkedIn.
      Would follow me on those platforms (thankfully you can block who follows you).
      Would attempt to friend my spouse.
      And in one final, extremely creepy move, he friended my mother in law 5 years after I had left. I may not have caught this but then he made a point of commenting on every single photo or post about me that was on her timeline.
      At that point I messaged all my close friends to not friend him and found out he had sent friend requests to many of my spouse’s family (he couldn’t see mine since my page was locked down).
      After that last hurrah I have thankfully not heard from him again.

      1. limotruck*

        When she mentioned his attempts to contact her were escalating, my first thought was that her pattern of occasional responses had created an intermittent reward for him, encouraging him to actually try harder to get another response.

        In general, yes, it’s good to give one clear: “I am not interested in corresponding; please do not contact me again,” and then NEVER RESPOND AGAIN, but the pattern of his behavior does seem concerning enough that I agree with OP–just go straight to never responding again. And that means NEVER. As Firecat said, they will eventually give up if they stop getting interaction. But first they will throw anything they can think of at you to get a response (i.e., pretending they provided a reference from a job you never applied to) and a lot of people have a hard time staying strong with no-contact through the efforts of a toxic manipulator.

        1. MassMatt*

          I’m thinking of the famous Skinner box experiment in psychology, when the rewards are shut off there can be an “extinction burst” of activity from the rat/stalker as they ramp up their attempts to get that next food pellet/voice message.

      2. AKchic*

        “… they do eventually get bored.”
        Not always.

        -Signed the woman who still gets contacted 18 years after the divorce with intermittent death threats

        1. Firecat*

          Sorry you are going through that.

          The “they” in my comment is specifically casual work acquantences who you were never involved with romantically or even outside of work friends who creepily latch onto you post workplace departures.

          When starved those types tend to fizzle as there isn’t much shared history to dwell on. Exes on the other hand are a whole other ball game. Their can be kids, relatives, mutual friends, and various other mind fields that can keep a fire going. I don’t think it helps the OP much to treat the two the same though.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            See below. Sadly my stalker was never more than a guy in a different department who I had to deal with who invented this whole ‘she’s nice to me and attractive so therefore she must be my one hope for love’ thing in his head. I left that firm over a decade ago now and he still tries to hunt me down.

            1. Gazebo Slayer*

              Oh God, men who think you’re their one and only hope to ever have love. I had one of those, who would call me at 2 am to cry about how he was getting too old to ever marry or have children (he was in his early 30s). We were friends, but I’d repeatedly told him I was not interested in dating him. Funnily enough, he also believed all single women over 30 were “emotionally damaged.”

              He married someone else a couple years later. Unless he’s greatly changed as a person, I feel bad for her.

        2. Anon for this one*

          “…they do eventually get bored”
          Not always

          – Signed the woman who still has to lock down every new online contact account more than a dozen years after walking out on Scary Domestic Ramp Up Abuser three months into a relationship

        3. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Additional signature from the woman still being stalked by an ex-coworker 10 years after leaving the firm.

          1. female peter gibbons*

            yeah, the “they do get bored” thing I wouldn’t put too much stock in. And I don’t think Gavin deBecker would agree either and after reading The Gift of Fear I trust him!

      3. Cat's Melee*

        An email just reminded me that I was due to train new staff about not giving out personal information, because my stalker found my current email address. I did the math… we’re now approaching 30 years of her behaviour. Probably a few years before that! 30 years ago, she sent my first real workplace into lockdown, and my boss insisted on walking me to my car every day for months. I was mortified. About 8 years ago I sent the “do not contact me again” email (on an account she had already burned), but then and ever, the only thing that any kind of response got was a scary escalation in her attacks, attempts to get closer to me or those close to me, attempts to get information, etc. I suppose, if you’re lucky, they might get bored. But in my experience, my advice would be: do not respond. And also: this is not your fault.

    6. About blocking...*

      If you block someone and they still write to you, do they get any notice that they have been blocked, or does the email just go into oblivion and the writer just never gets an answer?

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        On the platforms that I know of, the person who was blocked will have no indication that their email went into a black hole.

      2. Anon for this one*

        The sender gets nothing back at all.

        Where this comes unstuck is some apps and software and devices don’t do the blocking of ‘read receipts’ or allow communication software (such as messenger or messaging platforms) to show when something is read. If you are dealing with a stalker then research your device and software you are being contacted on thoroughly – there is a LOT of information out there now on how to stop a stalker tracing you via your phone, and a whole wealth of knowledge in the domestic violence industry on this (because mobile phones have become the normal standard in abusers tracking their exes). Have a look on some of their websites for how to lock your phone down for safety, and which apps to use/not use. And open NOTHING ever from the abuser/stalker, not a link, not ever, it will possibly download Trojan software so they can track you. Don’t ask how I learnt all this :/

    7. designbot*

      YES, this is the one time I disagree with Alison, I wouldn’t say you’re too busy to stay in contact, because it just opens up the option for him to check in periodically and see if that’s still the case. I’d say that I’d prefer not to receive more calls please.

  3. t*

    OP4: I cannot recommend The Gift of Fear enough. Such an eye opening and validating book. He basically says trust your gut. If something seems off, don’t give into be nice (as women are encouraged to do). Say no and be firm.

    The book was published more than 20 years ago, but it’s core message especially resonates today – trust women, and women, trust yourselves.

    1. Mystery Bookworm*

      You know, I read it years ago when Alison first recommended it, and I didn’t get the popularity.

      Maybe I’ll revisit it? I have historically been pretty good at boundary setting and holding the line*, so maybe it was preaching to the choir a bit?

      *Those are actually not things I would have said about myself in my early 20s, (when I read the book) but looking back, I think I was good at those things. Boundary setting just didn’t look like what I thought it would look like.

      1. Jay*

        Maybe he’s rewritten it. I also read it about 20 years ago. I appreciate the core message that you don’t have to manage the other person’s feelings at the expense of your safety. I found the emphasis on gut reaction a little troubling, since he didn’t (at least in that edition) acknowledge that bias and prejudice play a role in our gut reactions. Even after years of working on myself and doing anti-racism work, I am aware that my gut response to black men is different from my gut response to white men. I don’t want to trust that response because it’s racist.

        1. Mystery Bookworm*

          “you don’t have to manage the other person’s feelings at the expense of your safety.”

          That sounds really good. I like that.

          I share your reservations re: ‘gut feeling’ both because of taught and internalized prejudices that you mentioned and also because many who struggle with anxiety and past trauma can find advice to focus on gut-feelings immobilizing.

          I had a client once who told me that if she followed her ‘instincts’ then she would literally never leave the house. There is a lot of value to parsing out what we mean when we say ‘go with your gut’ and what are healthy ways to check in with it.

          1. Observer*

            This is actually something that DeBecker addresses. I have not read everything he has to say about it, but he is very clear that this creates a real issue. Essentially, you want a high signal to noise ration in your intuition / instinct / gut. If you are someone who has huge amounts of “noise” for some reason that creates a problem because it can be extremely difficult to figure out what is what.

            Which is to say that there is not one size fits all. What he has to say is extremely useful and important for people who are not dealing with this issue. It’s not useful to dismiss it because it won’t work for some people. On the other hand, of course, it’s also worth understanding the limits of this approach, as with any approach to complex issues.

            1. Jay*

              Ah. He must have added those comments after I read the book – I’m not surprised. I was attempting to understand the limits of the approach, not dismiss the work.

            2. TootsNYC*

              I remember him talking about how it was important to listen to your gut, but also to question it. So, don’t brush it aside, and don’t over react.
              It’s a warning system that tells you to look closely at the situation. And that by letting yourself be always afraid (“I’d never leave the house!”), you actually damage those instincts through overuse.

              1. LunaLena*

                Yeah, I think this is the key here. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to have a gut reaction – it’s not like you can control it, after all – but you should also be able to question why you had that gut reaction and what it is rooted in, and what your subsequent actions should be based on it. I had a moment of terror the other day when I walked past a car in the parking lot and, out of the corner of my eye, saw two ghostly white faces staring at me. Good thing I stopped to look instead of running away screaming, because it turned out to be just two Havanese dogs standing on the front seat with their faces pressed to the window and not the demented ghost children I initially thought they were.

        2. Observer*

          Which is a problem. But to a large extent, “gut reaction” is often all we have. And the kind of reasoning you provide is often, still, used to convince women that they should not trust their intuition in cases where they most definitely should.

          The problem actually shows up here ALL the time. Women write in about some “socially awkward” creeper in the workplace, and sure as sure, someone pops up with a suggestion about ASD, Aspergers, etc. At least here in this community, people push back on it.

          Don’t get me wrong, the issue you talk about is real, and presents a real problem. But we also give waaaay to much credit to a lot of the people whose reactions we point to when we talk about disproportionate responses to Black people’s behavior vs white.

          Look at some of the cases that have been in the news in the last year – What happened with the birding incident was not about someone over-reacting to border-line behavior behavior because someone was black. Her tearful claims (after she got fired) that she’s not racist are an offensive joke – the clearly and knowingly weaponized his race. The woman who called the police on a family in the park was not “over-reacting” to borderline behavior due to latent, subconscious bias. She was reacting to the “temerity” of this family acting like the BELONG at the park, due to her very overt racism. etc. etc. to a depressing degree.

          1. Jay*

            So in case that’s not evident, I am a woman. And you’re right about the episodes you cite. What I’m talking about (and I suspect you know this, but whatever) are the people who act on their “you don’t belong here” gut reaction.

            As I think I said in my first comment, the book has a lot of valuable information, especially the message that we should not manage other people’s feelings at the expense of our safety. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect.

            1. TootsNYC*

              De Becker’s point was to keep yourself safe, well before there is a confrontation. So if you see a random Black man as you’re walking down the street, and you cross the street to avoid contact, that might sting a little to him, and yes, you might be acting on that bias. But you are safe, and he hasn’t really been harmed.

              De Becker also wants you to start working WITH your gut and educating it.

              1. Malarkey01*

                I would push back a little here- “he hasn’t really been harmed”. There is mountains of research that show the “othering” of minorities does real harm even in these small micro bias and is more than a little sting. There is a real inability, especially for white women, to adequately access risk in minorities, and that leads to serious issues of safety for minorities.

                Speaking with black and Latino men, the clutching the purse moment or the scared elevator look, or the crossing the street does way more than sting and constantly reminds them that they are seen as “less”.

              2. nona*

                eh – I’m pretty sure DeBecker’s talking about reacting to behavior, and not just inherent characteristics. Behaviors are what is dangerous. And you can not consistently link behavior with inherent characteristics.

                So, learn to recognize behaviors and react. That’s the valuable data to feed your gut.

              3. Paperwhite*

                As Malarkey01 pointed out, the Black man has indeed been harmed, especially since he saw you not avoid the loudly ranting White man just before, and now he knows you think he’s more dangerous because of his skin color, regardless of how quiet and unassuming he might be, than a White man who’s actually acting dangerous. And, to be honest, if you assume the White men aren’t dangerous but the Black men are you’re increasing your own chances of trouble, because some of the White men are actually dangerous.

                1. limotruck*

                  I also found that the book made me feel more safe/less paranoid. Since I learned what specific behaviors and statements that were often predictors of dangerous behavior, I was able to relax in a lot of situations where I hadn’t been before. Again, de Becker is not talking about your ‘gut reaction’ that a Black man is dangerous and crossing the street just in case. He talks about figuring out what specific behaviors you are reacting to and why.

                  I have avoided or ignored Black men in public, and I have avoided or ignored White men in public. The specific instances I am recalling all involve the individuals behaving in a way that set off my alarm bells. This is not to say that I do not carry bias, as all White people do to some extent, but I try very hard to focus on what someone is actually DOING that is making me uncomfortable. While de Becker’s book isn’t perfect, it is a great tool for discerning what you should really be worried about, so that you don’t have to be afraid of all men, or all Black men, or whatever.

        3. Jackalope*

          The issues raised here are legit but I will add that I personally found that the book helped with both of them bcs the author is helping you train your gut to give better feedback. I found that once I knew what was problem behavior, a) my gut calmed down because I could ignore behaviors that were merely annoying rather than threatening, and b) if I saw a group of, say, young Hispanic or Black men I could think about what they were doing and dismiss any possible threat by observing their actions. I’ve found that my automatic hackles raised knee-jerk response has gotten much better. I can also say that I live in an ethnically diverse city in a neighborhood with many people of color, and I can count on one hand the number of people of color that have set off my alarm bells since I read that book (and could also tell you what specific threatening behavior they were engaged in that set off my gut response). And I’ve been able to be much more relaxed in general around men because I can suss out threats better. YMMV but that’s been my experience. (I will add that after I first read it I deliberately went through my daily life thinking about interactions with others and looking at the threat level to practice, which helped with the above experiences.)

          1. TootsNYC*

            I agree! I felt that this was what he was saying: Stop dismissing your warning bells, and start using them to get you to calmly analyze what’s really happening.

            if I saw a group of, say, young Hispanic or Black men I could think about what they were doing and dismiss any possible threat by observing their actions. I’ve found that my automatic hackles raised knee-jerk response has gotten much better.

            I remember riding the A train up to Dyckman Street, and being suddenly alarmed by a loud group of young men of color who’d gotten on the train. I scolded myself for being prejudiced, and then I remembered that two stops before, there’d been a loud group of young men of color who had made me smile indulgently.
            What was the difference? I wondered. Then I realized: the indulged group had all their attention on one another–they looked at once another while they were talking. The alarming group were all looking at us.

            So that exercise told me my instincts were actually working well; they were picking up cues I wasn’t even quite aware of. And it helped me begin to identify the attitudes and behaviors someone might exhibit that I were useful indicators.

      2. Rosalind Montague*

        I read it a decade ago and have recommended it so many times since. Perhaps you already had the skills he explains; I, although generally feeling safe in the world, did not.

        For me it had one key effect: it reinforced that I don’t have to be polite all the time. If someone raises my hackles, I listen to that. I no longer ignore my own qualms just in case someone else might be offended.

        Another great message of the book is that you don’t HAVE to be afraid all the time. Your body and brain know how to interpret the data around you, and with a little training we can also recognize when a person is testing our boundaries and just not participate. (Simplistic, but accurate.)

        I credit The Gift of Fear with helping me handle a situation where I was physically assaulted in a restaurant while I was eating alone. The next place the person went, he sexually assaulted someone and was arrested. (By the time I got home, shaken, and called the police after my sister encouraged me to, he was already in custody.) What I experienced was upsetting but could have been much much worse. I swear I channeled that book’s voice with me reading the situation, trusting my instincts that he was acting like a predator, and, in my case, telling him to get his hands off me.

    2. Anonymous Penguin*

      Just avoid the chapter on domestic violence, which is very victim-blaming. If you are dealing with a domestic violence situation, I very strongly recommend Why Does He Do That by Lundy Bancroft.

      1. Observer*

        This is true. So much so, that he’s actually spoken about it himself. I have no idea if he’s rewritten that chapter.

      2. Firecat*

        It can be very tough to strike the right cord on that as an outsider.

        I struggle with this with my sister. Most of our family didn’t like her new boyfriend, and it was clear even she saw flags but ignored them for one reason or another.

        Now years later she was given many free and safe chances to leave abusive boyfriend – escorts during moving, new phones, new places to live with other people… But she kept going back, kept sharing her numbers with him. She’s lost her kids and her continued contact with abusive ex is very much a reason why – but yet she will still defend him, claim they aren’t together only to be seen together the next day, and then rail about how unfair it is that she can’t be with him.

        It definitely feels like she has set up a denial of her own gut insticts, which abusive ex has naturally reinforced.

        There is a fine line between victim blaming and needing the abused party to take ownership in their part of the situation.

        1. MassMatt*

          This is indeed heartbreaking, I have a good friend that just could not leave a terrible ex for long. I don’t know the statistics but I believe most abused attempt to leave multiple times before they are able to do so permanently. Abusers excel at manipulating with guilt, fear, and occasional acts of love to keep their victims around.

        2. Jessen*

          The chapter is heavily influenced by the author growing up with domestic violence. I think that especially is where it’s such a tough balance to hit. I’ll be honest that as a kid who grew up in that situation, I often feel that the push to avoid victim-blaming ends up sidelining us pretty hard. It’s like, at least you were legally allowed to leave, you know? And if the non-abusive parent won’t do anything other adults will often take that as a sign that nothing’s wrong.

  4. Heidi*

    The Gift of Fear is a very interesting read. Makes you feel a bit paranoid, though. He describes a case of repeated unwanted calls where it got so persistent his company had all of the client’s voicemails forwarded to them for screening. A staff member would send all of the legitimate messages back to the client, and all the perpetrator’s calls were analyzed for possible threats. The perpetrator eventually quit. I guess it worked because the client never had to deal with the calls and the perpetrator was disincentivized because the victim didn’t even know he was calling.

    1. Artemesia*

      Hard to imagine a company that felt it necessary to screen all of a workers calls to clients for abuse that did not instantly fire that employee after one episode of abuse. WOW.

      1. Batgirl*

        I don’t believe the harasser was employed by them at all. If it’s the story I’m thinking of, he simply wanted to work for them.

      2. Emi.*

        No, it’s de Becker’s client — he runs a security company and was screening calls for a harassment victim (“quit” as in the perpetrator gave up the harassment).

        1. Heidi*

          Yes to this. Thanks for clarifying. I did not give enough relevant detail in the middle of the night. de Becker runs a threat assessment company and his clients include celebrities, politicians, and other people who are being stalked or harassed. His client in this case was receiving numerous calls from a guy who had this elaborate fantasy that they were going to work together. de Becker’s company had to screen all the calls the victim received to weed out the perpetrator’s many messages.

  5. All Outrage, All The Time*

    #4 I wouldn’t mind betting cashy money that you’re not the only person he is contacting. I wouldn’t even bother with a polite “I’m too busy” message. Just block him everywhere and don’t respond to anything further. He is way past the sound barrier in terms of social norms. Blockity block block.

  6. Sophie1*

    OP4: Whether or not he is “mentally unhinged” (he could just be a person with a very entitled world view – as domestic violence perps, abusers and stalkers often are) being myself a person with a highly stigmatised mental illness, my advice is to not worry about hurting the feelings or making worse the symptoms of someone treating you badly and abusively because they may or may not have a mental illness. It doesn’t give them an excuse for acting the way they do and your only concern needs to be your safety. It’s too high a risk for something that may or may not even exists

    The Gift of Fear is a very good resource for dealing with scary behaviour like this in a way that will be safe for you. I hope you stay safe and this gets sorted out.

    1. Caroline Bowman*

      I agree with you. In a way, if he does struggle with mental health issues and doesn’t really get the very obvious message, telling him directly might feel cruel, but in fact if that’s the case and he’s harmless but creepy, you are doing him a service in spelling out what most people would grasp immediately.

      Saying that, of course the OP owes him precisely zero and must do what she personally wants to do, regardless of guilt or anything else. Your safety and wellbeing are paramount.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I do also hate the ‘you can’t tell people with mental illness that they’re acting wrong’ trope. I think it’s far crueller to me if I’m doing something horribly wrong and everyone makes ‘accommodations’ that allow me to keep doing it.

      (Am open here about being schizophrenic and having severe depression. Neither should be an excuse for acting badly to others. Reason to up my meds maybe….)

      1. Mystery Bookworm*

        Yes. The idea that you can’t set boundaries around people with mental illness is unfair to them and akin to ‘benevolent sexism’, IMO.

        No matter how well intentioned, it ultimately reinforces the idea that people with mental illness are ‘less than’.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I once joked that because I sometimes have multiple different voices in my head I’m actually *more* than an ordinary human. :p

      2. Alexandra Lynch*

        It’s not wrong to expect people to behave decently in public and in relationships. I’m in a relationship with two people with a laundry list of mental health conditions (both have DID, one has major depressive disorder, one is bipolar and has ADHD, both have anxiety and PTSD…and I am autistic with ADHD.) Part of what we do for each other is to say, “Hey, I know you’re upset/having a rough day, but we have to do this thing, and the basic minimum adulting we need to do is this and that and this, and I’ll support you in doing it.” If one of us knows we are at a point where we can’t behave in public, then we say so and avoid going out in public. And we have rules about how we all behave to each other, and it is perfectly okay for us to say, “I need some space/need not to be talked to/ need reassurance and mommying/need you to be the adult on this.” And so we don’t usually have to get to statements like “It’s not okay for you to throw things in the room I am in because that scares me. If you keep doing that I will leave.” And of course we have a rule that if you aren’t safe with yourself or the rest of the family that you have to go to the hospital and get a meds adjustment.

        Is it fun and easy? No. But we don’t have a choice. We have chronic conditions that need management, and that’s our job so we can be in society effectively. I ask nothing more or less from the rest of the world. Manage your own stuff, and don’t bring it into the public sphere or inflict it on non-consenting people.

      3. Ambivalent*

        My colleague set firm boundaries with her fired employee, who did come across strangely in the past. His messages immediately escalated to ‘I bought a gun’. He said other things that definitely sounded out of touch with reality. We had to have campus’s security full time and eventually the ex-employee went to prison. He is now out and my colleague is still a bit scared. Would it have been less hassle for my colleague if she had quietly ghosted away rather than sent a firm message? Possible.

          1. Ambivalent*

            It was pretty clear from his multiple texts that he was saying he bought the gun in response to what he perceived as a harsh rejection. He was in a different state so most likely this was just a threat, but it seems it was a credible enough that the police acted on it. My point is, the idea that if you provoke an unstable person they might pick on you and escalate the situation isn’t entirely unfounded.

            1. Paperwhite*

              What’s the alternative, though? Give them what they want and we get the If You Give A Mouse A Cookie situation.

  7. Courtney*

    LW#1, I have the same problem (especially with telemarketers). I remember one instance where the telemarketer became verbally abusive towards me because I told him I was an adult and wouldn’t put my ‘mummy or daddy’ on the phone. I haven’t found a way to stop it happening unfortunately, I wish you luck.

    LW#4, I genuinely hope you never have need to send an update outside of ‘I took your advice, it went well and I haven’t heard from him in months, thank you’. Good luck <3

    1. Pennyworth*

      If a telemarketer became abusive because I wouldn’t put a parent on the phone, I would probably say ‘Wait one moment please’, put the phone down and wander away to a place close enough for the telemarketer to hear me and have a one-sided conversation with an imaginary parent about whether they wanted to talk with someone who had just been shouting at me. Then I’d go back to the phone and tell them ‘No’ and hang up.

      1. Courtney*

        That probably would have been a great way to handle it! I wish I had thought of it… gosh it must be 10 years ago now? I don’t know what I’d do these days, probably just hang up. SOmetimes I ask repeatedly ‘what is this regarding’ because they never have a satisfactory answer and then after 4-5 repeats, I say ‘oh, we don’t need [something adjacent to what they’re selling]. Thanks!’ and hang up.

        1. Pennyworth*

          I often lie. They want to sell me solar panels for my roof? I already have them, or I am just a tenant. My ‘favorite’ callers are the scammers who tell me I am owed a credit on my phone bill, assuming I am with a company I have never used. I ask them to confirm that they are calling for the phone company then I tell them they are lying and that they are criminals. If I have time to spare I string them along for a while just to annoy them first.

          1. Amethystmoon*

            I just don’t answer my cell phone if I don’t recognize the number. They can always leave a message if it’s important.

            1. Artemesia*

              Before we got cell phones (we were very late with that — didn’t get them until we had a near tragedy traveling and realized being able to contact each other was important) we just used the phone answering machine to screen. If we were there and recognized the caller we would grab the phone otherwise we avoided the collection agencies harassing my husband because he has a name shared by thousands many of whom are apparently dead beats. After that we had a collection agency calling for ‘Juana’ and it gave us some pleasure to never answer and thus help ‘Juana’ out — we became quite fond of her and wish her well. No idea how our number got attached to her.

            2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

              Same. I don’t answer if I don’t recognize the number, unless I’m expecting a call and the area codes match.

              If I do answer and it’s a live human, not a recording, I’ll just say, “No thanks, sorry,” and hang up on them.

          2. Nikki*

            Yes! There’s a ring of Social Security scammers working from my home state. They managed to call my younger sister and really frighten her (though thankfully she didn’t give up any info).

            A few weeks later they called me, so I got revenge by pretending to be all young and frightened while gathering as much info as I could to report them to the SSA. Hilariously, because I picked up the phone and spoke to them, their system has flagged me as a good lead, so I now get 1-2 calls per week. Every time I tell them I know it’s a scam and I’m reporting them, but they haven’t taken me off the list! Guess they enjoy it as much as I do. ;)

          3. LunaLena*

            There was a guy in the UK called Lee Beaumont who installed the equivalent of a 900 number at his house, so that telemarketers who called him got charged for calling him. He figured if he was going to get interrupted during his day, he might as well get paid for it. Sometimes he would even pretend to be interested in whatever they were selling to keep them on the line and rack up extra money.

          4. Clisby*

            My favorite is to string them along when they tell me they’ve discovered that my Windows PC has been infected, yada, yada, yada. I drag it out as long as I can and then say, “But I have Linux.”

          5. TardyTardis*

            My husband sometimes amuses himself with telemarketers (we just hang up on the robos). But he’s retired…

        2. Forrest*

          I always say, “Can you make sure my name and contact details are removed from this list, please?” I’m in the UK so it’s a clear GDPR violation if you ask for your details to be deleted and they don’t.

          (All bets off after January, of course.)

          1. Akcipitrokulo*

            Not saying current people in charge won’t change it… but as it stands, GDPR is OK after January because the legislation was specifically written to be brexit-proof. It’s not dependent on EU membership.

      2. Prof Space Cadet*

        You’re nicer than I am. I would probably just hang up.

        I’m frankly surprised telemarketers still exist in 2020. I haven’t had a home landline since 2004, and I don’t answer unfamiliar numbers on my cell phone anymore unless I’m expeting a phone call from someone.

        1. Mama Bear*

          If you annoy them enough, they learn that your number is not a good one to call. My spouse messes with the few telemarketers we get and now if they figure out whose line got robodialed, they tend to hang up quickly. We must be on a list or something.

        2. Artemesia*

          Our rule too and when I am expecting a call and may not know and so pick up it is invariably the car warranty people alarmed that I have ‘let the warranty expire’ on my now 15 year old car which has not had a warranty since we bought it used 10 years ago.

          1. soon to be former fed really*

            I get so many of these bogus car warranty calls. I’m filing TCPA complaints on them all, both my numbers are on the Do Not Call list. I intend to make them pay.

        3. MassMatt*

          The problem is that while most people hang up, some people are gullible/vulnerable and are lucrative marks. The elderly are frequent targets.

          As more people joined do not call lists or just screen their calls legit telemarketing has been replaced more and more by outright scammers. They are hard to stamp out because it’s so easy to spoof the “call from” number. Robocalling also makes it very cheap to call thousands of people a day.

          Political campaigns and charities are exempt from do not call lists but I really wish they wouldn’t call, IMO they damage their reputations by using a medium dominated by scammers.

      3. Kathlynn (Canada)*

        Going to be honest. If anyone does this in the course of their job, ask to be transferred to their manager or how to contact their manager/customer support, and issue a complaint.

        1. Observer*

          Way to much work for zero response. Because 99% of the time, this is perfectly acceptable behavior for cold calling telemarketers.

      4. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        I do this all the time. I either hang up or just put the phone down till they end the call.

        If it’s a “legit” telemarketer – fund raising for something I care about from a legit sources, for example – I simply ask to be taken off their list and hang up. Trying not to waste their time, and not wasting mine.

        Others – hang up or waste their time if it’s easy. Don’t talk.

      5. SweetestCin*

        I used to do this as a child…put the handset down and leave it. Mom would ask later why it was off the hook and beeping “Because someone who wanted to speak to my Mother about XYZ magazine was insisting I go get you.”

      6. Richard Hershberger*

        For extra credit, have the fake conversation include the parents speaking in the Peanuts cartoon adult “wah wah, wah wah, wah” voice.

    2. MK*

      This is what I find mindboggling: anyone can make a mistake about the age of a person on the phone, but what kind of an idiot pushes back when corrected? I have been mistaken for a kid on the phone a few times and every single one the caller was mortified about their mistake and apologized! What are the chances that you happened to reach a bored teenager that finds it funny to impersonate their parent so that they can listen to a probably boring bussiness call? As for telemarketers, do they really believe they are likely to make a sale by abusing a perspective client? Or a client’s child!

      1. Jayn*

        Especially true when you’re (presumably) calling a business line. I also have a pretty young-sounding voice, but while I’ve been asked for my parents on my home phone, when I was working the front desk for my parents as a teen I never had anyone assume I was too young to be working there.

        1. GothicBee*

          Yes! I find it astounding that someone would assume that a kid is even answering a business line. Much less then double-down when they’re corrected.

          That said, OP1 I worked in a call center and had a youthful voice. Probably not to the extent yours is, but I found a couple of things helped:

          1 – slightly deepening my voice when I initially answered. The initial greeting is when they’re forming an opinion, so just working on the greeting sounding more “adult” may be enough even if you revert to your normal voice later.

          2 – brush off the comment with a “no, I’m staff” or “okay” and ask how you can help, so basically just say “Okay, How can I help you?” to every comment about it they make. They might still be rude, but I found that when I was dealing with someone who wanted me to talk to them about my voice (or other unwanted off topic stuff), then repeating roughly the same response would make them move on fairly quickly because they realize you’re not going to indulge them.

          But it does suck and you shouldn’t have to deal with this at all.

      2. Dasein9*

        What kind of idiot, MK? Probably the same kind who argues with people about what their gender is. Voices can vary sooooo much!

        OP, you should not have to do anything at all to accommodate pushy people.
        That said, if you want to try messing around with vocal training but don’t want to invest money, consider trying some singing warmups on YouTube. Having more control over tonality and vocal tone may give you what you need.

      3. Risha*

        There are all sorts of idiots in the world! At a former job, I had a phone number that was one digit of the area code off from the local convention-slash-visitors center (1-803- instead of 1-800-), and locals were unused to having to dial area codes at all as the state had only relatively recently gotten a second code. So I fielded wrong numbers all day long. A not insignificant percentage would attempt to argue that I was, in fact, the convention center, no matter how many times I said I wasn’t. (At least one memorable caller had apparently no understanding of area codes at all, and said she had never heard of 1-800 numbers.)

      4. TardyTardis*

        Yes, really. General Patton had a high, squeaky voice and yet nobody teased *him*. Maybe it was all those tanks?

    3. Homebody*

      You are loads more patience with telemarketers than I ever am! I just hang up.

      As a person who has the exact same problem with LW1, one thing that helps is to make my voice “go down” near the end of a sentence when I’m at work in person or on the on the phone. It’s a small tip but it goes a long way.

    4. Dagny*

      “LW#1, I have the same problem (especially with telemarketers). I remember one instance where the telemarketer became verbally abusive towards me because I told him I was an adult and wouldn’t put my ‘mummy or daddy’ on the phone. I haven’t found a way to stop it happening unfortunately, I wish you luck.”

      In that case, you ask for the company name and ask to speak with a manager. The telemarketer should not be verbally abusive to anyone, and the fact that they thought you were a child is inappropriate.

      I look a LOT younger than I am. When people imply that I am young, I respond with “I’m almost 40,” “I started going grey in 2002,” or thereabouts.

    5. Chinook*

      LW #1, I worked with awoman with a similair issue. Her phone was answered by her assistant who was also her identical twin and the manager twin would often have callers tell her to stop faking having an assistant because it is obviously the same voice. She would politely explain what happemed and, if they chose to complain to her boss, he would laugh at the complaint and verify that there are two of them.

      For the company, which dealt with bankruptcies, it was a great way to see which clients were high maintenance because the issue was on the client, not the twins.

    6. Rainy*

      I had a telemarketer once threaten to report me for truancy. I shit you not.

      I still sound pretty young on the phone, but not eight anymore, thank god. I think my voice started sounding a bit older on the phone maybe ten years ago, so there’s always hope. (I’m 45.)

    7. LW#1*

      Although it’s a bit of a nuisance with telemarketers I don’t mind it so much as ultimately they can’t get me into any trouble over what I say. Often I deliberately try to sound childish and they end up hanging up on me quite quickly. Obviously that’s the opposite of what I want to be doing at work though!

      1. Flower*

        If I were you I might tell them “yeah, a few people have told me my permanently young voice would make me a great voice actor, but that’s not the line of work I want. Thanks for reinforcing that though!” (I’m thinking along the lines of Dante Bosco, who reliably sounds like a teenager no longer how long he’s needed to provide the voice.)

        Acknowledge, point out a somewhat obscure bonus, and deflect back to the actual conversation all in one.

  8. Junior Dev*

    Re: 1, I wonder if it would help to have a somewhat overly formal script to answer the phone: “Widgets Inc., you’ve reached Jane Smith in the Llama Grooming department, how can I help you?” And the equivalent for outgoing calls: “Hello, this is Jane Smith calling from Widgets Inc., can I speak to XYZ?” Something “professional” enough that it’s clear you’re not a child or teenager. You can try recording it a bunch of times to practice and pick the wording and tone you like best. If you have a title like “doctor” or “director” now is the time to pull it out (“this is Dr. Jane Smith, director of llama grooming…”)

    1. Maggie*

      +1 to practicing scripts to avoid the situation as much as possible. My sister and I have nearly identical voices on the phone. Not the same as your problem, but similar in the fact that I didn’t know how to change genetics when we lived at the same house as a late teen. This was pre cell phones, and our boyfriends would get us mixed up when they called. It only took a few times of hearing my sister’s boyfriend say “Hey sexy” to me or vice versa before I started answering my home phone with my name. The script helped. You don’t have much to lose by trying it.

      1. Idril Celebrindal*

        Omg on the identical voices thing! When I was in college and working at the library, my supervisor’s sister called after she had left for the day. It was the circulation desk and I answered because I was the evening team lead, and I heard my supervisor start asking when I was getting off work and something about our mom. I got so confused and started asking what was going on, and then the person on the phone got confused and asked where my supervisor was and we were confused back and forth until we figured out that she was my supervisor’s sister and thought she was calling her cell number, not the library front desk. She sounded exactly the same though, it was so confusing.

        1. Idril Celebrindal*

          Also, autocorrect almost made me say “my supervisor’s disaster” instead of “sister” which is giving me a lot of giggles.

      2. Quinalla*

        My sister and my mom and I all have near identical voices – I think that has changed a bit since we all don’t live together anymore – but geez when my sister or I would answer the phone at home, sometimes it was easier to just go with the caller thinking we were Mom and write down the message for her!

        Sorry OP, that has got to be so frustrating. I agree a really formal script for answering and calling may help a bit. The more rehearsed the better IMO, it makes it sound like you’ve been doing it forever. My voice is low and I’m tall and tend to dress non-feminine (think jeans and t-shirt) so I get mistaken for a man occasionally even in person, so I have some inkling on what this might be like!

        1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

          Same! Even my Dad gave up years ago figuring out who answered the phone without saying enough for context as to who it was!

      3. A Hermit before it was Cool*

        Oh yes! My mother is an identical twin so my mom, my aunt, myself, and my cousin all look VERY similar. In fact due to the youthful looking genes that run in our family, most people think my mom and I are twins when we are out and about together. But, all 4 of us used to work for the same company in the same division. We’d get mistaken for each other all the time. The most awkward one of all for me though was being caught in the lobby by the CEO of our company who thought I was my mother. He just kept talking and I didn’t feel like I could interrupt him so I gave my mother the play by play when I got back to our floor.

        1. Chinook*

          As a public service, if two twins ever work at the same place, 0lease let reception know. It took me a month before I stopped thinking that our one manger changed clothes during the day. I was told to rueball who left as they walked by (which otherwise worked) and kept getting her availability mixed up because, as it turned out, it was her assistant who had gone for coffee.

          Turns out that everybody had thought that someone else had told me.

          1. Mama Bear*

            I went to a college that was attended by a lot of twins – probably in part due to low tuition. There was one girl at our on-campus job that I did not know was a twin. One day I was so surprised to see my coworker on one side of the desk and…my coworker on the other side of the desk. Her sister transferred.

            1. Artemesia*

              I taught at an elite college with lots of rich students and a typical class might be 60% thin, well dressed, blond young women. I would have trouble learning names and really worked at it — took pictures when they were first in teams so I could ‘study’ names– black kids, red heads, girls with curls, boys were all easy but the very similar blond girls a challenge. After having real difficulty with a couple of them, my TA said ‘you do realize that Kimberly and Jennifer are identical twins?’ — No, they were just two more attractive blond girls — but that did explain my problem.

              1. Rainy*

                I have a difficulty telling certain kinds of “Hollywood handsome” men and “Hollywood pretty” blonde women apart. Not really prosopagnosia per se, but there are certain features and colouring that just don’t register as anything but “generic hot guy/girl” to me.

            2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

              My expensive college both offered a ton of aid to make it less expensive, and one of those was a “one family, one tuition” deal. So if you enrolled multiple kids at the same time, you would only be charged the tuition fee for one student. We had a LOT of twins and siblings that were 1-2 years apart.

      4. WorkIsADarkComedy*

        As a teenager, when I answered the phone (oh the days of one phone line for an entire household!) people thought I was my dad. It feels a bit different when the confusion is in the opposite age direction.

        1. Jay*

          My mother and I sounded so much alike that my dad couldn’t always tell us apart. And then I went to med school (dad was also a doc). Sometimes when I visited I’d pick up the phone to someone who asked for Dr. Jay. Without thinking, I’d say “speaking,” and there would be a bit of silence before I remembered that it wasn’t my phone and I wasn’t the Dr. Jay they were looking for.

      5. Richard Hershberger*

        I once had occasion to call my brother at work. This wasn’t something I normally did, and didn’t have his office number. He was a chemistry professor, so I looked up the department phone number and got the department secretary and asked for “Doctor Hershberger.” She immediately began giving me a ration of crap. It turns out that we have the same voice. This was the sort of joke he might pull, so she was giving it right back at him. She was mortified once she realized the mistake. I thought it was hilarious.

    2. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yes, I had to do this as I also sound super young on the phone. Fortunately, now that I’m over 30 my voice as mostly gotten deeper enough. When I was in my 20s, I was constantly asked if the caller could speak to “my boss” or “a full employee” as they thought I was a high school intern. Answering the phone, “llama grooming, this is X” really helped. I also found that sometimes, you do just have to get firm with people as Alison suggests. Sorry, Op#1, I feel your pain!

      1. Artemesia*

        I think if I had this problem I would get vocal coaching especially if my goal were professional advancement. Voice is just one more hurdle women face in establishing authority and add to that a very young voice and you will have issues.

    3. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      Scripts are good, but a very formal script would seem to me like an intern or high school kid playing grown up.

      That said, I don’t think your scripts are overly formal, apart from the one with the title through in.

    4. Oh No She Di'int*

      I was going to recommend a variation of this. If you give your name, etc. and the caller pushes back, could you go to a couple of ready-made highly technical scripts that might give pause. Such as: “You’ve reached the Requisitions Department. I can help you with your TPS Reports or I can route you to a specialist on the 44-90’s, but in that case you’ll need to have all of your Upper J-Level information ready before the call…”

  9. NYWeasel*

    OP 2: Frankly I question your company’s self evaluations if employees are selecting generic ratings like “meets expectations”. At my last company, they used this type of broad categorization to discourage exceptional employees from asking for more, but it also meant that poor performers also had no reason not to choose the middle option as well.

    The self evaluations we use at my current company ask us to outline our behaviors in relation to established skylines, and that framework uses tangible examples so it’s clear if someone is meeting, exceeding or not meeting expectations without needing to self select anything. For example a manager is expected to lead high risk projects that drive our KPIs and help develop the broader team. If Fergus drags out all the smaller projects he won’t have examples to share, and if he’s delusional and thinks those are the big projects, his manager can clearly explain what projects would qualify. An added benefit is that it becomes crystal clear who the high performers are, and gives a framework to encourage them to continue to exceed as well.

    As to your question about low performers rating themselves that way, it sounds as though the limited framework means that they only can pick from “I suck” or “I’m ok”. Even if I was drowning at a job, I wouldn’t willingly pick an option where there’s no nuance about my performance and it makes me sound useless. But with our current system, I would feel comfortable saying “here’s what I’m doing” and then having the conversation with my manager about why it wasn’t where it should be for my skyline.

    1. Casper Lives*

      Yeah, who wants to give themselves a bad review? Especially if it could affect bonuses, assignments, and upper management’s perception (who have no contact with you, unlike your direct manager)? I say never rate yourself below “meets expectations.”

      1. Harper the Other One*

        I think if you’re in a functional environment, there’s value to rating yourself honestly – I’ve rated myself “needs improvement” once, on a new product line that I hadn’t had much training with, and I knew I didn’t understand it well. It made for a positive conversation with my manager about overall training plans, and I got to spend some time shadowing a product specialist.

        I would have felt worse saying I was meeting expectations with that product line, which would have been an outright lie and would have been much more likely to damage my relationship with my manager when I inevitably made a significant error.

      2. winter frog*

        I know someone who gave themselves a “needs improvement” on a self evaluation once. He had a good relationship with his manager “George”. But after he gave himself “needs improvement” (and maybe it was only because of impostor syndrome), his relationship with George changed. The manager started to judge him more harshly, George’s view of this employee dimmed, and the work relationship soured. It was as if the “needs improvement” self rating caused the manager to suddenly focus on his (the employee’s) performance and look for things to criticize. If the employee criticized himself but George had thought everything was ok, then surely George must not have been paying enough attention and not doing an adequate job managing? Thus, perhaps, the harsh attention from George. That’s what my friend guessed was going on in George’s head, anyway.

        If the situation is obvious, where the manager has already discussed performance shortfalls with the employee, then yes giving a self rating of “needs improvement” makes sense. But I would generally advise to not be too hard on yourself otherwise.

        1. Firecat*

          Yes I have also seen this. Worse still it tends to happen to young, high performing women. They will give themselves a “needs improvement”, because they genuinely see where they can improve, and then suddenly they are “not doing well” in the eyes of the manager.

          I think Op and Alison missed the spirit of “don’t ever give yourself a needs improvement.” My experience has been that getting clear and consistent feedback so you know where you stand with your manager is rare – so OP and Alison’s take that it’s problematic to rate yourself meets when they were clear your job is on the line misses the target audience for this advice. Are there dunderheads out there who will read this and put meets when their managers have been clear they are really struggling? Sure but I’ll put money down that for every 1 person in that scenario there are at least a dozen good or high performers saving themself from inventing a problem.

          These reviews are often the only time I get feedback from management. Rating yourself “meets expectations” is safe, even if you think you could be doing better or if you think you’re a rockstar. Also in a lot of places, a rating of needs improvement is step 1 for firing, usually means no raises or internal transfers are allowed, etc. You definitely don’t want to offer that up unless management has indicated they feel that way first.

          1. Casper Lives*

            Yes exactly. Admittedly I’m a young, anxious woman with a bit of imposter syndrome. I was concerned I wasn’t meeting expectations despite good metrics. (Rating your performance solely on metrics is a different issue…) My female mentor told me not to be a fool and create an issue for myself by rating anything negative. It’s true. The bosses complete evaluations after the self evaluations so it could influence their view.

            1. Birdie*

              Yeah, I’m always tempted to say, “Needs improvement” or “meets expectations” because in my mind there are always things that CAN be improved – I’m never going to be the optimum employee 100% of the time. In fact, it feels like lying to say I’m above expectations, etc. because I’m not above MY expectations. At my current job, I actually declined to mark that part of the self-eval – I provided context and examples of my work, etc. but it felt wrong to me to mark one of the higher boxes even though I was pretty confident that’s where my boss would put me (fortunately, she didn’t have an issue with me skipping that part, and she did mark me as exceeds expectations in every category.)

          2. MassMatt*

            Yes, I think Alison’s answer was correct for a functional workplace where lots of feedback is given so employees have a good sense of where they stand before filling out a self evaluation. But all too often managers either don’t give any feedback at all, or consider it a huge waste of their time and put in the minimum effort required; the English teacher equivalent of giving everyone a “B” and telling them to work harder.

            If your workplace is one where the nail that sticks up gets hammered down, then you shouldn’t be surprised when the employees play it safe and try to blend into the sea of mediocrity.

    2. londonedit*

      The way our reviews work is that you first list your job description, and then from that you highlight areas where you’re excelling/demonstrating top performance, areas where you’re developing your skills or performance, and areas where you may be underperforming. And it’s not framed as ‘tell us which parts of your job you suck at’, it’s framed as ‘Are there any areas in which you feel you need further support or coaching’. The ‘underperforming’ areas could also be things you don’t often need to do, so you might feel you lack experience in them or you find yourself needing to review the processes every time they come up.

      1. EPLawyer*

        I like this. To me, doesn’t meet expectations is someone who comes in late, blows deadlines, doesn’t do their part during crunch time. Things like that.

        If you are still learning a new product — well that SHOULD be the expectation. Not that you know everything there is know about it already. Or if you only do something once a year, so you have to check your checklist 3 times to make sure you got it right — sounds like what you should be doing. I guess what I am saying is what are the “expectations” you are meeting or not meeting? So it can be a larger conversation about moving forward.

        1. londonedit*

          Yes; the thing with ours is that there is no ‘grading’ system, it’s meant to function as an organic conversation where you and your manager talk through the things that have gone well and the things that you might need extra support or training on in the coming year. So no one is telling me I ‘didn’t meet expectations’; instead I’m saying ‘Well, one thing I definitely could improve on is my use of the invoicing system. I only use it three or four times a year, and it’s frustrating because I always need to check with Accounts before I input the details. Perhaps we could come up with a checklist for me to use, or perhaps there’s a training session I could attend to boost my confidence with it?’ And my manager puts that down as a goal for improvement.

    3. anonanonanon*

      Here’s the thing about self-evaluations – how you rate yourself will not impact how your boss rates you. In some cases (like at my current company), the boss’s ratings are completed before the self-eval is even due. Sometimes the self-eval is done first, but the boss still knows how they are going to rate everyone. The point of the self-eval is to see where the boss’s view and the employee’s view are off – this would call for more conversations about job performance so the employee is fully aware of any issues. The only way I can see the self-evaluation impacting the final rating is if the boss truly has no idea what the employee does, and just relies on the employee to set the goals/ratings. Which is very unlikely.

      TLDR: it really doesn’t make much difference in the final ratings, but if you rate yourself too high you will spend a lot of time with the boss discussing your performance in the following year.

      1. Mockingjay*

        “The point of the self-eval is to see where the boss’s view and the employee’s view are off”

        I’ve always disliked self-evaluations and never understood their value; thank you for the perspective.

        I do think there could be a better set of metrics than “Meets Expectations;” it always reminds me of a grade school report card. I’d rather provide a narrative which offers context, but that wouldn’t work for everyone.

      2. NYWeasel*

        But if you’re someone who “needs improvement”, you should be having those conversations anyway. And meanwhile very well meaning people (especially women) are too critical on themselves which can also create concern where there shouldn’t be any to begin with. Yes, we still have a top level summary discussion with our employees about whether someone’s meeting expectations or not, but we don’t bother having them assign the label. Instead we review their accomplishments with them, and then put it up against the skyline to show if they are meeting their goals or not. I find this system a lot clearer, both as an employee being reviewed under it, and as a manager needing to help my team develop, bc it defines what the management is looking for and gives the employees the language to push back if they feel they aren’t being judged objectively.

        1. NYWeasel*

          Also, I personally don’t feel evaluations should be submitted until you’ve spoken with an employee. At the very least, they should know at least the gist of what is being entered in the system, and if any of it is negative, you should at least have a dialogue with them before entering it.

        2. Evan Þ.*

          I agree. My company has us answer open-ended discussion questions about what went well and what we could’ve done better, but I don’t need to give myself a numeric ranking. Then my boss answers the same questions, we have a talk about things, and then he gives an overall summary of how I’m doing.

      3. Firecat*

        That has not been my experience at all – with 5 bosses over 10 years and 2 companies.

        I have witnessed great performers hurt themselves with a bad review. There really are people out there who think – oh they said they are bad? Well they must be doing something poor I don’t know about. Better crack down hard on them and fix whatever it is. I’ve seen this 3 times, always with young high performing women. The result was the same at each place – eventually the women left. I’m sure some of them could have authored the “never give yourself a needs improvement rating” articles.

        I’ve also experienced the opposite. Where a clueless boss was going to give me a meets expectations but bumps up the review in response to my self eval (and the evidence to back it up). The phrase “I forgot that you worked on those!” Is so sadly common in my reviews. I have to speak up to insure the hundreds of thousands in revenue I’ve brought in or expenses I’ve saved are counted.

        That said I’ve never worked anywhere where the bosses first evaluation is official before you meet in person. The process everywhere I have worked is:

        Self eval and manager 1st draft competed independently > self eval submitted > one on one meeting > manager then finalizes their review and submits > employee signs off on review.

    4. Artemesia*

      I think this kind of self evaluation is nonsense too. It may make sense to ask employees to come into a meeting prepared to talk about the things they feel they accomplished best this year, areas where they would like to improve or receive training and guidance, and goals for the year. But to present them with the typical Likert style form is useless and puts them into the box of gaming the system. At least when you game the 3 questions above, there is some substance to work with.

      The situation the LW describes is a great reason to dump this system of self evaluation.

    5. You screwed up once, that's it for you*

      I had this happen a few years ago, I marked myself “Meets expectations” and my boss marked me “needs improvement.” Out of 50 projects I did, 1 had an issue due to a bad design by the previous team who implemented it.

      It is impossible to gauge how one project may influence a preson.

  10. Camille*

    LW4, you’ve made yourself quite clear to this guy, now stick with ignoring him (something I wish I’d known when I was dealing with an ex-boyfriend who was stalking me). I don’t agree with everything deBeck wrote in his book, but he’s right in that any response, even to bluntly tell him LMTFA, is likely to provoke him into escalating his behavior, as you’re already seeing (and as I learned the hard way).
    Don’t respond to any of his messages, but save them so that you can see if they’re becoming threatening and/or so you can have something to take to the police if necessary.

  11. AppleStan*

    OP #4 (and honestly, everyone reading Alison’s blog ever in life):

    PLEASE pick up “The Gift of Fear” – it’s an amazing book on trusting your instincts, and dealing with situations that feel uncomfortable. Please do this. It is engaging, thought-provoking, and gives people (especially women) “permission” to trust themselves instead of confining their thoughts and actions to socially acceptable “polite” roles…which people use to back women into a corner until there is no escape.

    Please do not mishear that this book is applicable to women only…that is very far from the truth. It is for EVERYONE.

    Pick up this book today!

    1. Jackalope*

      The one caveat being that his section on domestic violence is victim-blaming, so don’t read it for that. The rest is awesome, though.

  12. Job Carousel*

    #1 – this has happened to me as well, and I’m a cis female and a physician. I remember one instance in my residency where a healthcare team outside my institution had requested a consultation on a mutual patient, so when I called them to discuss the case and introduced myself as Dr. LastName (as standard where I trained), the female medical assistant or nurse answering the phone told me “you sound way too young to be a doctor” (never mind that I was already in my 30s at that point). Not sure if their intent was to be demeaning, but that’s how it came across. I doubt they would have made similar comments to a male colleague, so I think sexism was definitely at play. Since then I’ve consciously lowered my speaking voice (over the telephone at least) by like half an octave (not by Elizabeth Holmes proportions by any means!) and haven’t had that problem since.

    1. Mystery Bookworm*

      (not by Elizabeth Holmes proportions by any means!)

      With the important caveat that I don’t condone anything she did, I was always weirdly fascinated by that aspect and almost a little disarmed? It could have been funny/cute if she was much younger – like a little kid excited to be a grown-up. (And the childishness of it, against the background of her being a terrorizing boss and perpetrator of elaborate fraud, felt like the sort of character trait a good writer would have stuck her with, rather than something that would actually happen in real life – stranger than fiction, I guess.)

      1. Job Carousel*

        I’m not condoning anything she did either, but in a way, that character trait (along with her dressing a la Steve Jobs, vs. a typical 20-something female professional) seemed to make her more relatable since it appeared to be an implicit acknowledgment of the gender biases women can face. Although, it seemed to come from a misguided, childish rationale of “I’m going to dress like Steve Jobs and sound like a dude, so now you’re going to give me male privilege,” as if inspired by a really bad executive coach or career advice book.

    2. Lily*

      I’ve had patients worriedly ask how old I am because they thought I was too young to be a doctor. In person. I just look young, I’ve been the person to be asked “YOU have a driving license?” in my 20s, etc. Calmly answering “I look way younger, I know it” and occasionally revealing my age works.

      1. CupcakeCounter*

        My son and I go to a pediatrician/internist who is about 4’10” and gets that a lot. She doesn’t have an overly youthful face or voice but she still gets a lot of comments about her height and how she picked a great area of concentration since “she is on the same level as half her patients”.

      2. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

        This isn’t work related but I’ve sometimes experienced the same problem regarding my marital status. I got married at 25, and I apparently looked so young that it occasionally shocked people when I happened to mention that I’m married. I’m 30 now and still sometimes thought to be much younger. It annoys me but I probably should just learn to take it as a compliment.

        1. Julia*

          Someone I took a class in grad school with told me I was “too young to be married.” Why she thought that was any of her business, I don’t know. (And this particular school had plenty of older grad students!) I do look young, but what do people think pointing that out all the time accomplishes? Did she think I would repent my foolish youthful idiocy and get my marriage revoked?

    3. Alli525*

      Yes, I came here to suggest that OP could consciously lower her voice! I used to feel that my voice sounded too young (although I never had a problem with clients mistaking me for a child) and this helps me feel more confident.

      If money isn’t a huge concern, it may also be worth looking into speech therapy – not that there’s anything wrong with a young-sounding voice, but if it’s causing OP a lot of angst/taking up a lot of space in their head, buying a couple sessions to learn how best to modulate your voice could be helpful.

      1. Threeve*

        My brother has the opposite problem; his voice is very deep and a bit raspy, to the point that he’s really difficult to understand over the phone. (By the time he was a teenager, when he answered the phone people always thought he was my dad but with a cold, it was really funny).

        He has definitely practiced, to the point that his “phone voice” is so much lighter than his speaking voice that it throws me off every time.

    4. Jay*

      I didn’t sound young, but I didn’t look my age until I was well in my 30s and I got a lot of “you look too young to be a doctor!” That’s why I cut my hair, finally. The long hair in a ponytail or pulled back with a bow did not help. Shorter hair made a difference.

      And then, of course, there’s the never-ending fun of calling the pharmacy, identifying myself as a physician, and at the end of the prescription info being asked who the prescribing doctor is. Or being addressed as “miss” or “FirstName” when my ID clearly says “Dr. Jay.” Ah, sexism. The gift that keeps on giving.

      1. Sleepless*

        Yeah, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve identified myself as “Dr Sleepless” on the phone, and the person replies, “OK, Ms. Sleepless…”

        1. Jay*

          My all time favorite*: the man who attempted to get me to sign for a delivery at the nurse’s station in the hospital.

          Me: I’m sorry, you need one of the nurses.
          Man: And just who do you think you are?

            1. Artemesia*

              I think every female professional of a certain age has had that experience and yeah I remember them vividly 40 and 50 years later too. At once standard for a group of us to be Dr. Johnson, Dr. Mendoza, Dr. Williams and Ms Artemesia — once when that happened, I was the only one in the group with a doctorate.

  13. Tusiash*

    #5: Wow, that’s sure a difference. If you work another job on your vacation here, your employer would be more than pissed off, because the law demands that they give you x number of days off so you can relax. Working a second job would go against the purpose of a vacation.

    1. HA2*

      #5 – to me, what seems to make that question go from “questionable” to “obviously fine” is reframing it from “a second job” to “a hobby that happens to also earn some beer money.” It’s obviously fine to spend your vacation time on your hobby!

      (Examples that I can think of from my own network – there’s a person I know whose DayJob is some mechanical engineering stuff, but their hobby is crafts – and they sell them on Etsy. There’s a person I know whose DayJob is some data analysis thing, but in their spare time does some outdoorsy stuff – think leading tour groups. Those are all obviously clearly fine, not even questionable, nobody would bat an eye if you said “yeah, I spent my vacation time knitting and made a few awesome hats and sold them for [whatever an etsy price for a cool hat is]”.)

      1. Mystery Bookworm*

        Agreed! In my industry, I think the issues would be:

        a) is SideJob cannibalizing MainJob? (Or otherwise has legal implications for MainJob)
        b) is SideJob causing stress that impacts MainJob?

        If the answer to both of those is no, then a lot of jobs wouldn’t. Particularly if it was something wholy unrelated that most people could understand as a hobby, like helping design sets for community theater or teaching people a second language.

        1. OP5*

          Yeah, the answer to both of these is “no.” I spend an hour or two with one person or group, and then that’s it. I’m pretty connected to MainJob and often check email outside my working hours (colleagues in multiple timezones) so it’s nice to do something for a couple of hours and then be done with it!

          1. Mystery Bookworm*

            I think it sounds like you’ve found something that works really well for you! Honestly, I’d imagine that doing a few hours of work separate from your MainJob will probably be more refreshing/revitalizing than just doing the relaxation part of a vacation.

        2. Annony*

          Yep. If the side job was freelancing doing the same thing as main job, it could be an issue. Or if the OP were specifically scheduling time off from main job to meet obligations of side job. It doesn’t seem like any of that is happening here so the optics seem fine to me.

      2. Lily Rowan*

        On a related but different topic, I was a little worried about using a vacation day to be a poll worker, since my job has to be non-political, and I would be getting paid twice for that day. It turned out to be no problem at all.

      3. henrietta*

        I use PTO to work as an election-day poll worker, for which I get paid. Needs doing, I like doing it, the extra cash is good, especially in the fall!

        1. Librarian1*

          I do this too and I’m going to have to work some early voting days as well because they’re short on poll workers. The only issue is that I’m tired from having to get up so early, but it’s not a huge deal and I can get more sleep that night.

      4. Richard Hershberger*

        I research and write about early baseball as a hobby. I occasionally get paid, though not often and not much. Getting paid is lovely, but not why I do it. My idea of a fun vacation day is spent in a research library looking at microfilm. It would be insane for my employer to complain that I wasn’t spending my vacation doing something that most people, though perhaps not me, enjoy.

    2. Myrin*

      I mean, that law exists where I am, too, but I have yet to meet an employer who is so genuinely concerned about its employees’ ability to relax that they would be actually pissed off if you chose to work during your vacation. I have of course met the sentiment of “Oh my, you look really stressed and exhausted. Good thing you have a vacation coming up next week so you’ll be able to relax!” but I’d honestly guess that that is as far as it goes even for empathetic employers.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Especially if it’s vacation time that you could not use during a pandemic year, that they are now making you either lose on 1/1, or burn within the next three months!

    3. OP5*

      The difference is I DO find it relaxing. Like HA2 suggested, it’s definitely a hobby that also earns beer money. It’s also an hour here and there, I’m not thinking of working a 40 hour week while on leave. There’s still plenty of time to binge-watch and read, it’s just not ALL I’m doing.

      1. OP5*

        And not just relaxing – it’s FUN. I realize I left it out originally, but I’m really passionate about SideJob and I find it very energizing (so is MainJob, just in different ways).

      2. 9to4ever*

        FWIW, I have almost the exact same set up. My side gig makes me happy and renergizes me, and just happens to pay.

      1. MayLou*

        I’m wondering that too. I’m in the UK where we have legally mandated paid holiday and I often use a day or two during a week-long break to get ahead with lesson planning for my side job (tutoring). I take one-off days here and there to do things for volunteer roles or work as a wedding nanny, for instance. It has never been an issue. The variety of my work with the side jobs helps me cope with the emotionally heavy work of my main job, and using time off to do side job stuff means I am not trying to cram that work into weekends and evenings, which is a much faster route to burnout than occasionally switching up what I do during the usual workday.

    4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      But who made your employer the authority on what is relaxing to someone? The OP states that their second job IS relaxing to them and that’s all that should matter. As long as there’s no conflict of interest, there should be no issue.

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Unless the job is with a competitor, I don’t see how that’s an employer’s business. Would the employer come down on you if you spend your vacation working on home repairs? You are not relaxing.

    6. Insert Clever Name Here*

      This is fascinating. Do they also get pissed off if you take vacation days to paint your house, clean out closets, or deal with medical issues?

      1. RandomPoster*

        Or I have two young children. I love them dearly, but there is no such thing as “relaxing time off” as long as they are awake.

        It’s absurd that an employer would have any say in what you do with your time off as long as it isn’t impacting your job.

        1. Insert Clever Name Here*

          But it issssssssss impacting your job because you aren’t relaxing and we need you to relax in order to not burn out! (heavy eye roll)

          I have two young kids as well, and you speak so much truth!

      2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        In my experience, yes, it’s not uncommon to get some sort of weird, concern troll-ish response when they find out that you’re using your vacation time for errands. If it seems like that’s all you do on your vacations, you become suspicious because it looks like you’re missing the “fun” chip that everyone else had installed on the factory assembly line.

      3. soon to be former fed really*

        Yeah really. Talk about being paternalistic. Is there a post-vacation report that must be completed so the company can determine that enough relaxing was performed? Ridiculous.

        Note that in the US Federal service, outside employment is heavily regulated and it is usually good idea to run it by your local office of general counsel for a green light before proceeding.

    7. I'm A Little Teapot*

      By your argument, taking time off to work on house projects, care for sick children or elderly parents, move your kid into college, etc are all not allowed because they’re not relaxing.

      Time off is just that: time not spent having to work.

    8. Observer*

      1. In the US, the law doesn’t require anything of the sort.

      2. It’s none of the business’ business how a person uses their time off (with the obvious exceptions of legality, competition). If doing their hobby or supplementing their income is what “relaxes” them, that’s their decision to make, not the employer’s.

    9. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      I hear that argument against “non-relaxing” vacations a lot, especially from employers who are otherwise…judgy about how people spend their free time.

      Ultimately, though, as long as it’s not affecting your job and isn’t in violation of your employer’s rules re: conflict of interest, it’s no one’s business what another adult does with their free time. Not. A. Soul’s. No other adult gets to tell you what ought to count as relaxation for you because it does not affect them beyond their own rather myopic sense of How The World Must Work.

    10. Artemesia*

      I think playing guitar gigs, or painting or crafting or similar hobby transformed to money would feel different than that second job at the mini-mart or selling cars.

    11. Summersun*

      I understand not working for a direct competitor, but beyond that I’d have a serious problem with a job attempting to tell me what to do when I’m off the clock.

    12. Wintergreen*

      I know I’m a little strange, but for me, sitting on a beach stresses me out more than work and I don’t understand why that is considered a “relaxing” vacation. Having nothing to do makes me anxious and (totally contradictory) at the same time bored out of my mind.

      I have taken time off work to volunteer for different charity functions and, though I wasn’t getting paid, I was working. I don’t see any difference between that and doing a side gig for money.

      I don’t agree with the thinking that you’re getting paid twice for that day either as someone else commented. Those vacation days are part of your compensation especially in the case of “use it or lose it” you are lowering your compensation by not taking your days off. How I choose to spend those days should not matter.

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

      Yeah, I’m in the UK and had the “what a difference” thought as well. Here it’s common for employment contracts (which are standard to have here) to specify either that employees can’t take on outside employment/business (including working for themselves), or that they can’t take it on without express permission from the employer.

      Even without that clause, or if the employer had given permission to work the other ‘job’ alongside, I think most employers would take a dim view of the employee using the paid time off – that the employer is legally/contractually obliged to give in order to allow enough opportunity for rest and recuperation – to work another job, essentially cancelling out the benefit from ‘time away from work’.

      I can see that “working a second job would go against the purpose of a vacation” being used, justifiably imo, even in the case of the OP who says they genuinely find this side gig relaxing and rewarding, partly because of the “slippery slope” argument. Where do you draw the line? Who decides if it is relaxing enough or not? Isn’t there an incentive for someone in OPs position to take alternative work during their vacation then swear up and down that they find temp. warehouse work, data entry, extra shifts at the bar they work at “relaxing”? thus double dipping on salary for that period?

      Arguably, the employer’s obligation (legally – IANAL) is to give the ‘opportunity’ to take the legally mandated amount of time off in a year, but I think morally it is a bit of a grey area.

      I would be expecting a Conversation with my bosses at any of the companies I’ve worked at if I were to try this.

      It does however raise the muddy ground of people who have more than one job (a part-time job in a store and another part-time job in a bar, say) who, due to coverage or whatever, can’t get their time off from both jobs to coincide. It’s possible in that case to get no real break.

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        So if I like knitting while I watch TV at night (because it keeps my hands moving), and sell my knitted scarves on Etsy because there are only so many times my friends and family want a scarf for birthdays, it’s justifiable for your employer to say “nah, you better not be selling any scarves knitted while you were on vacation because YOU AREN’T RELAXING”?

        You draw the line when you work at Jane’s Teapots as ateapot designer for your 9-5 and then take vacation so you can work some shifts as a teapot designer at Jim’s Teapots (Jane’s largest competitor). This isn’t really that hard.

      2. Hawk*

        Then you’re going to lose good employees for no reason other than your need to micro-manage their vacation time.

  14. Nelly*

    I used to be told I had a voice like a little girl, “Is your mummy home?” all the time.

    Then I got into body building and took PEDS for a few months. Now I sound like femme Arnold Schwarzenegger.

    I don’t think I can suggest that as a solution, but it works.

  15. Analyst Editor*

    This question is a great example of why the exercise of self-evaluations is flawed at best. Call it maybe “what have you done well and where would you like to grow?”
    There’s something a bit off in having to write your own confession of how terrible you are, if you so are. It’s also bad form to be too congratulatory — and come off as arrogant.
    It’s kind of up to your boss to determine if you’re meeting or exceeding expectations and should be on them to give you feedback, and not make you guess what you’re supposed to be putting on there.
    Which is why my self-evals have generally been neutral descriptions of my projects, related accomplishments if applicable, and innocuous areas of improvement – e.g. “learn a new subject area” or “learn VBA”, with a meets expectations.

    1. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

      I have never in my career had an evaluation (seriously never, I have no idea what the process is like) and trying to evaluate myself would definitely crash into my lifelong struggle with low self esteem and fear of being arrogant. I would have a hard time balancing my persistent tendency to think I am the absolute worst at everything with an objective view that yes, I mostly did my job OK.

      1. londonedit*

        I hate it. I also struggle with the ‘Well I think I suck at everything and am barely holding it together, but I suppose I should look at this objectively and my boss doesn’t seem to have a problem with my work, so…’ thing, and coupled with an experience early on in my career with a terrible manager who used annual appraisals as an opportunity to blindside you with all the things you never realised you were doing wrong…yeah. Appraisals are not my favourite thing. Even though I do manage to talk myself up and highlight the things I know I do well, and even though my boss now is lovely, I still have a nagging fear that we’ll be sitting there and my boss will be reading my assessment in disbelief, going ‘What? You think you’re doing a good job of THAT??’

        1. MayLou*

          I found a number of really useful resources when preparing for my annual review which asked questions like “what have I done that I was proud of?” and “what do people come to me for help and advice with?”. It got me thinking about what I enjoyed about my job (often the same as the things I’m good at, though not always) and what I’d like to do more of.

          I also try to keep emails that give positive feedback or document an achievement, so that I can look through them and have evidence of what I have achieved. I call it my Yay! folder.

      2. MassMatt*

        You’ve NEVER had an evaluation? That seems strange if you’ve been working for any significant length of time, unless you’re self-employed. I mean, even if some of the places I’ve worked did them poorly, they usually did SOME sort of evaluation annually. Mind my asking your field and how long you’ve been in it?

        1. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

          I’m an archaeologist, specifically what they call a commercial or contract archaeologist. I spent way too long in graduate school intending to pursue an academic career but that didn’t work out, and I finished in the middle of the last recession, and ever since I have worked on an endless string of temporary contracts (which is very common in this field). The longest I have worked for a single company is about a year and a half, but they only did reviews for permanent staff, which is again pretty common in this field. One company started the process for everyone but laid off half the temporary staff a few weeks later.

          The lack of any kind of formal review or feedback is actually kind of a problem for me and my professional development. I’m sure that I have glaring flaws keeping me from ever making the leap to permanent staff, but nobody ever has the time or inclination to tell me about them, so I just continue to bumble along.

  16. Yvette*

    #3 I don’t know what your emails look like, but I have found that emails requiring action are better when they look like outlines with white space and bullet points rather than a page from a text book.
    So:
    Kate,
    Teapot specs are due on Monday, 9/28/2020. Please provide the following information:
    1) Material: aluminum or ceramic
    2) Color: Red, blue, yellow, green
    3) Size: 4 cup, 6 cup, 8 cup

    Thanks

    As opposed to

    Kate,
    We meed to have your teapot specifications by Monday, September 29, 2020. Please let me know what material. Your choices are aluminum or ceramic. I also need to know what color you would like. Your color choices are red, blue, yellow or green. Additionally, you need to specify the size you would like, 4 cups, 6 cups or 8 cups.
    Thanks

    1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      Yup.

      You’d I’d do bullets instead of numbers – there is no hierarchy of information, so numbers are distracting. What Tufte calls info clutter.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        The benefit of numbers is that they may use them in their reply, and it’s easier to spot that you’ve replied to everything if the numbers match. So in this case Kate replies:

        1 ceramic
        2 green
        3 6cup size

        1. No Tribble At All*

          With numbers you can also refer to them later: “Kate, I need #3 from my previous email: size of teapot”

      2. Kes*

        To me the benefit of numbers is it’s not some number of points that need answers, it’s clear that there are 3 questions which need answers. Plus being able to reference questions by number in the response, which also makes it harder to accidentally skip one of them

    2. Picard*

      This. My ADD brain processes the first one SOOO much better than the second. That said, I have been told before that I’m a bit blunt in my communication style – dont know if thats being on the spectrum or the ADD but yeah… there’s that.

      1. Mockingjay*

        It’s a preference. I am also very blunt in my communications and I’m not on the spectrum. I (and my industry) view emails as a formal record, so I don’t clog them up with extraneous courtesies. I have so much info to manage and pass on to the team. The only way I can do that part of my job is to be concise, clear, and consistent.

        (As opposed to the senior engineer on the team, who sends multiple, voluminous emails DAILY. I don’t know how he gets anything else done. I had to create a special folder in Outlook just to dump his stuff. ugh)

    3. Khatul Madame*

      This, plus the subject line could say:
      Teapot Specs – INPUT REQUESTED by 9/28.
      All caps help distinguish the line in the overcrowded mailbox, and tell the addressee up front what they need to do. This has worked for me very well, despite the stigma of all-caps perceived as “shouting”.
      Additionally, I vote for bold font for the punchline, but no highlighting… unless OP’s manager likes colors.

      If you require action by a certain date and use Outlook, consider the reminder feature in some cases, like someone who never responds on time.

    4. I wouldn't but...*

      I almost always use bullet points but one of my pet peeves is sending an email like that and getting a “Thanks”. What does that mean? Are you going to get me the info or not? Because from my experience it’s 50/50. Spend the extra 2 seconds to add “I’ll let you know” if you actually read the email and are just acknowledging the receipt of the email . grrrr

      OP, it’s frustrating, but it sounds like one of those people you just have to walk through the process each and every time. If you really want to be passive aggressive you could always reply with “Great! Thanks! Let me know when you have answers to the highlighted sections below” (And highlight the unanswered questions in the body of your original email down thread). Seriously though, when faced with a skimmer, I would just try to send one question per email. It may be a little more frustrating for you in the short term, but you won’t feel like you’re repeating yourself over and over again.

      1. Miri*

        Yes, and to me the other side of this is – are you making it clear in emails that you’re asking for information or a decision, rather than passing it along for information?

  17. Batgirl*

    OP4, I really like Alison’s script “Got your messages, so busy that I’m not able to stay in contact, good luck with everything”, because it’s not confrontational and nor is it ghosting. If you ignore messages after that, you’re just keeping your word and it also allows the guy to retreat and save face; important if this person has a fragile self image.
    It’s not that your boyfriend is wrong; the approach he describes would absolutely work on many reasonable or only slightly clueless men! It’s just that you’ve already tried it! You tried being direct and confronting it head on (hanging up and refusing to answer his probing was kind of baddass) and you know that it only caused him to escalate because he doesn’t have the self reflection to say “You know what, that was nosey; that was my bad”.
    The Gift of Fear is full of examples of people being reasonably confrontational with a pest and it not working because it becomes a battle of wills and a mission to Prove Them Wrong on the part of the pest.

  18. It’sJustMyVoice*

    Op #1 – I sympathize with this! I also sound young. People often call me sweetie or honey when I call businesses or answer the phone. Recently I was giving a presentation to clients and made a concerted effort to deepen and project my voice— I ended up straining my vocal cords and could barely speak. On doctor’s orders I had to rest my voice for about 10 days. So definitely work with a specialist if you are going to try to change your voice! I’ve decided to just accept it, it was too scary to lose my voice for that long.

    1. Vancouver*

      As someone who had to do a lot of puppet voices at OldJob, I would say that you don’t need to start with a vocal coach or other specialist, depending on what you’re trying to do. There are lots of exercises that you can find online for free, or community speaking groups when there isn’t a global pandemic. But as It’sJustMyVoice says, if you feel discomfort you should definitely stop and consult with an expert. (I’m also going to say that those people who don’t believe you’re an adult are jerks – everyone’s voice is different, and it really isn’t something that you deserve to be judged for).

      But if you’re looking for some easy tricks to try to develop a different ‘phone voice’ to minimize how often you have to deal with this, I have a few suggestions.

      Find a talk show host, a podcast, a radio program, or someone else you can listen to and copy – try repeating after them and trying to match their tone (if it’s uncomfortable, stop and find a different person to emulate). This should help you find a voice that is comfortable for you to use.

      And develop a couple of ‘touchstones’. These are phrases or words that you can use to go back to your voice if you lose it. If you know exactly how you say “thank you for calling Company, this is Your Name”, and if you practice that line in your new phone voice until it feels comfortable, then it will be easier to start each call. And if there’s another phrase you can use at any time during a call – “that’s a good question” or “let me check that for you” or something like that – then you can practice those lines until they come out in your phone voice every time. Using touchstones like these is a way to slip back into your phone voice if you every get flustered or otherwise slip back into your normal voice.

      But don’t just listen to me – check out some of the online voice, character, and puppetry tutorials on YouTube. There are people with far more practice and skill than I have out there, sharing info for free. And if it doesn’t work and you really do want to pursue this, then definitely consider a voice coach or something similar (or just comfortable telling people ‘yes, I know I sound young, now how can I help you’).

        1. Vancouver*

          Yep. I was in charge of kid’s programming (among a thousand other things) so I had to develop puppet characters and fun stuff like that. My favourite was a wolf eel who was always hungry, so he asked “are you food?” to everyone and everything he ever met. Which was good, because his voice was hard to do, so having “are you food?” as a touchstone was really helpful.

            1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

              Right? I’m totally now imagining someone in a super-professional business suit answering the phone at a snooty firm’s reception desk with a shark hand puppet or something, and LOVING it.

          1. Artemesia*

            And if you got really annoyed with a subordinate you could go straight to ‘Are you food’. That would put the fear of puppet master into them.

            1. Wired Wolf*

              Love it. At a minimum, it would reset their brain. I taught my teams to do something similar with our idiot supervisor; whenever he got too wound up with something stupid we’d reply with a total non sequitur (phrased as a question so he would have to stop and think).

          2. KoiFeeder*

            Are there videos of the puppet shows? I want to show the hungry wolf eel to my koi, I think they would appreciate the kindred spirit.

            1. Vancouver*

              There are many videos, but I have buried them deep beneath a desert island in a lead-lined box. I’m moving on to a ‘professional’ job where asking visitors if they are food would be frowned upon.

              One of my colleagues also dressed as our humanoid puppet for Halloween, complete with felt eyebrows and a wig. She carried him around all day. Three years later, I’m still debating if that was disturbing or awesome.

              And I did ask some of my subordinates if they were food… but they were mostly students and it was a little too intense for them. After that they mostly met the more benign characters, and the wolf eel just met colleagues and managers. He once asked my Great-Grand-Boss if he was food.

        2. pamela voorhees*

          Adding in another resource — Dungeon Masters (DMs) for Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) often need a wide repertoire of voices, and there’s a fair amount of resources online for helping them. Just another keyword to add into your search.

    2. Kimmybear*

      Came here to say this. If you decide to change the tone of your voice, definitely work with a professional so you don’t temporarily or permanently damage your vocal chords. However, I haven’t had my coffee yet and I’m cranky so I’m voting for be yourself. Ignore the rude people.

  19. Vancouver*

    OP3: I had a boss who was very similar – she was just too busy with mission-critical things to deal with the details of my work. After a few weeks of frustration, I talked to her about it and we came up with a system where I’d send her one big email every few days, with all my questions and action items listed as bullet points. She said it was easier for her to set aside half an hour to answer all my questions in one go. It was a bit frustrating to have to wait a day or two if I only had a little question, but in the long run it save us both so much hassle.

    I had another boss who preferred most action items and questions as separate emails, because he used email flags as a to-do list. I think Alison’s suggestion of just asking what works for your client is probably going to be easiest for both of you. Also consider asking if she actually wants all the technical documentation needed to make the decisions, or if there are some cases where she’d rather have you say “I recommend X, let me know if you want more info/other options”. Whether or not that will work probably depends on your work and relationship with the client, but it might be worth taking a hard look at the information you’re sending and seeing if it’s as crucial to your client as it is to you.

    1. LPUK*

      Separate emails is what I do for some of my clients ( checking with them first). It not only means its easier to flag as a ‘to do’, it also makes email threads much clearer – you can see what exactly has been answered and what happened. Bullet points definitely help- especially if they can do what an earlier response says and then just type responses to questions on the original email in a different colour. One final thing I do, which I don’t think has been mentioned by others, is to be very clear in the subject line of each email what is required ie FOR INFORMATION, DECISION NEEDED, QUESTIONS, PROGRESS UPDATE, URGENT RESPONSE REQUIRED or even RESPONSE REQUIRED BY DATE etc- that way they can easily prioritise their inbox ( as long as you don’t overdo the ‘urgent’)

  20. Gamer Girl*

    OP5: I’m with you that tutoring can be very relaxing, even energizing (I’m an extrovert). If you have great clients, go for it.

    It’s a good feeling to know that you’re helping someone learn and build on what they know, especially in this year that feels like the polar opposite!

  21. Amaranth*

    LW#1, I recommend taping yourself talking on the phone – through the phone if you can recruit a friend – and listen to the playback. Is your voice sounding high? Soft? Tentative? If you have a very high or squeaky voice, there may be a limit to how much you can lower it without some coaching without sounding off. However, if you’re following common advice to smile or sound upbeat and energetic on the phone, it may simply be a case of dialing that back. Also, it might help to sloooooow down. ‘Upbeat’ sometimes tips over to ‘manic’ and anything rushed or ‘perky’ can also convey a perceived lack of maturity. It might help to think ‘pleasant and professional’ rather than ‘friendly and cheerful’ or maybe just taking a deep breath before a phone call so your responses sound more measured. Good luck!

  22. Antisocialite*

    Oh, my god. I get #1 ALL THE FREAKING TIME AT WORK except they insist I’m a robot or a recording. No amount of tweaking my verbiage, adding humanistic touches like clearing my throat or an “um” have helped.

    My name is not very common (not unique, but not something you usually find on say, a name mug), and I start each inbound call with the required “Hello, my name is X. Thank you for calling ABC. How may I help you today?”

    Sometimes they just shout something into the phone like “SPEAK WITH A HUMAN” or whatever. We can even have a pretty in-depth conversation with me answering really specific questions and then they will start asking “ARE YOU A REAL PERSON OR A ROBOT” all over again. It’s almost always Boomers or older. They say it’s because I sound so professional, I can’t be real, I must be a recording.

    I’ve never had this problem in any of my other jobs. I’m 45. This is an entry level job at a really crappy company where the customers are just as bad as the management so I’m hoping it’s unique to this demographic. Because of the aforementioned, I can’t be as sarcastic or snarky as my personality is.

    I can’t tell you how soul-sucking it is, when other things are crappy too. It’s anywhere from 25% to 50% of my daily calls.

    1. WS*

      I used to get this too in my previous job! Even once I convinced people I was a human, they’d say, “Oh, you’re just reading off a script,” which I wasn’t!

      Now I work in a small town where everyone knows me so I very rarely have this problem, but wow it was a terrible way to waste everyone’s time.

      1. Antisocialite*

        The script thing is annoying, especially when your conversation is about really specific things that couldn’t be scripted. And you nailed it: total time waster, when your performance is based on metrics like talk time.

      2. Gumby*

        Not that you could do so in real life, but I would be so tempted to lean into the not-a-human delusions. Either by channeling ELIZA or by claiming to be an alien/werewolf/elf/whatever and going on a “that’s incredibly speciesist of you” rant.

        I might also respond to the script thing with, “Oh, I wasn’t, but I can if you want me to” and pulling out a well-known play or script from a movie and reading.

        Or maybe just daydream about it…

    2. Insert Clever Name Here*

      If someone yelled “speak with human” while on the phone with me, I’d be very, very tempted to punch a button on my phone and say “this is (MiddleName), how can I help you?”

    3. Sylvan*

      I had this at an old job despite a recognizable local accent and “professionalism” that left a lot to be desired. (I tried! I wasn’t very good.) I eventually decided it was about the callers, not me, and they would think literally any voice was a robot. And like your job, mine was at a company that wasn’t great and didn’t have great customers (aggressive, etc.).

      1. Antisocialite*

        Yeah I’m at the “it’s the callers” stage. I’ve had this voice all my life. It’s crazy that all of a sudden a majority of my customers assume I’m a robot. I definitely think it’s them and not me, haha.

    4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Or the folks who immediately start pressing “0” on the phone to get to the operator – even though I’m the one that called them…….

    5. Batgirl*

      It’s definitely the same type of “it’s them” problem for the OP too. How hard is it to ascertain that you’re talking to another human grown up? Ah, never underestimate the rudeness and lack of social skills you’ll encounter from the general public.

    6. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

      I’m sorry for laughing at you, but this made my morning! “SPEAK WITH HUMAN!” made me crack up. I would make me want to do all sorts of sarcastic things like respond with ‘I’m sorry that does not compute, please try again’ or something less pleasant. I’m sorry, hopefully it gets better?

      1. Antisocialite*

        Glad it gave you a chuckle! I’ve heard it three times already today and I’m not even halfway through my shift, haha.

    7. Lurker*

      Re: are you a real person or a robot

      I’ve heard advice that people ask this to figure out if they’re talking to a bot or a person. You know, someone gets a call from their “nephew” that they’ve been arrested in Manila and need bail money. The caller might even know the nephew’s biographical details. So the person sends money, but it’s a scam.

      So asking if you’re a human might not be so weird after all.

      1. Antisocialite*

        They’re calling me though and it’s a company related to and required for their profession/job. I can understand if it was an incoming call from a big call center and they would want to verify before giving out personal info. But really, it’s just a lot of rudeness and ignorance in general so this aspect is just one frustrating and seemingly generational piece of it.

    8. KoiFeeder*

      Yeah, this happens to me all the time. At least the reason people think I’m a robot is that I don’t have an affect when talking on the phone, not because they think my scripts are too professional.

    9. Wired Wolf*

      I blame the plethora of articles that assume one is speaking to a recording all the time, and to say “representative” or similar. People think that shouting will make it “work”…I’m trying (and so far failing) to break my mom of this very habit now.

    10. A*

      Absolutely this. I answer the phone at my job and ended up develop a script. “Hello, thank you for calling [Shop Name], this is [My Name], how can I help you?”

      If I leave out my name, people won’t respond and they’ll do stuff like press ‘1’ or ask if this is a machine.

  23. J. Paper*

    LW1, my colleague has a similar voice. Once, she was making a fanboy announcement, and the customer I was talking to sort of screwed up his face and said, “why do you have a kid doing the announcements?”, and I made my voice very quiet and serious and said, “Sir, that is my colleague. She has a *condition*”. His eyes went wide and he mumbled an apology.

    I mean, it wasn’t a lie- she has the condition of having a very high voice.

        1. Phony Genius*

          Being in the U.S., fanboy made more sense than tannoy. I had to google to find out that it is a British brand of public address system.

    1. LW#1*

      That’s brilliant! I’ll make sure I add “I have a condition” to the end of all my tannoy (or fanboy) announcements lol.

  24. Sunshine*

    I also have a young sounding voice! I get round it by saying good morning/good afternoon (not hello), this is X (which sounds a little more formal) and if they do comment, say only ‘oh yes I get that a lot, how can I help?’ I find acknowledging it and immediately moving on makes them get down to business rather than get involved in a back and forth on the topic. I definitely adopt a more formal tone generally on the phone (friendly! But v professional). The upshot is other co-workers ask if I can make important calls though…!

  25. Idril Celebrindal*

    OP#1: I don’t know what your voice sounds like, but if it’s higher-pitched I think that may be part of what people are responding to. Obviously you shouldn’t have to change to make people take you seriously, but we live in a messed up world, so trying to lower the pitch of your voice on the phone might help.

    Please don’t strain to do that, ItsJustMyVoice upthread talked about why that won’t work, but there are strategies that would be worth a try. My Dad is a choral director and he talks a lot about visualization to make your voice so what you want. So, if you want your voice to be lower, imagine the sound coming from your chest or your toes, or send the sound down through the floor before anyone hears it. I know it sounds kind of cheesy, but your body responds to your thoughts in really unexpected ways sometimes.

    1. LW#1*

      Thanks. Voice coaching is a great suggestion but unfortunately out of my budget. I already smile and sit nice and upright when I answer the phone, but visualising in this way already sounds more mature/professional to me while I’m trying it here are home.

      1. Some Lady*

        I work in the professional world of vocal performance, and have had close friends in radio. It can be really easy to damage your voice through frequently lowering it artificially and not worth the long-term consequences. I would really recommend finding a single session with a well-recommended coach to get some tips on what you can practice safely and what you can avoid rather than paying for it later. Try to find someone who focuses on speech (many people with the title vocal coach are doing work specific to singing and that’s not what you want here).

        Even more so, I would recommend everyone else stop associating deeper voices with professionalism, as this shouldn’t be your problem to deal with!

  26. Not Australian*

    LW#3, I also had a difference in communication styles with a new co-worker. I was used to giving the full story with reasons for my decisions, whereas she just wanted the edited highlights. What it boiled down to was that she completely trusted my decision-making and just wanted to know the end result, whereas if other people *had* trusted me in the past they had never actually said so. It might be worth having a conversation along these lines and then just giving your colleague the bare facts in future; anything she doesn’t agree with or understand, she can query by return.

    Oh, and yes, annoying as it is, one e-mail-one-topic certainly works for her – that and keeping it down to about fifty words or less. This came late in my working life and I found it a very difficult adjustment, but in the end quite liberating!

    1. Artemesia*

      And for those who just have to explain everything in depth — at least learn to put the action items or recommendations first and if there are several, numbered. Then build the rationales at the end where they can read them or not.

      This is the way you do informational or policy memos as well — students often try to make such things an O’Henry story with the big reveal at the end — but when communicating in a professional context you want the recommendation clear and up front and the supporting minutia following at the end. And forcing a structure like this also forces people to get clear on what they are communicating before writing.

  27. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    L1- also seconding the professional voice therapy. Otherwise you could end up like Elizabeth Holmes, with a voice very, very clearly faked.

  28. Forrest*

    LW4, I strongly recommend that you let the union know what this guy is doing. He is a UNION REP: his job is to support you in the workplace and advocate for you as a union member. He absolutely shouldn’t be contacting you, either to try and create a personal friendship or for any professional reasons. So unacceptable! Even if he wasn’t overstepping your boundaries, he should not be using contact details or knowledge of people he met through his work for the union for any reason other than for union work.

    1. Forrest*

      (and apart from the general ickiness and the fact that YOU NEED IT TO STOP, it’s bad for the union! People will actively avoid taking their problems to this rep if he can’t behave professionally, and that fundamentally undermines the union’s goals and effectiveness.)

        1. Essess*

          If not, they should have issue with him using confidential information that he received in the course of his job (OPs phone number) for personal use.

    2. cmcinnyc*

      Great suggestion. One time, one very specific heads up, and let them know you’ll be blocking him so if they have UNION BUSINESS they must conduct with you, to please contact you directly and not via that rep. You may be the first to bring this to their attention, but you may be the 5th or the 10th or the umpteenth.

    3. Batgirl*

      I’ve been waiting for someone to say this, it’s super creepy of him to abuse his role helping people who need it.

  29. Elle by the sea*

    OP1, this is rather astounding, especially the fact that customers don’t seem to believe you. What on Earth!? I really have no ideas on how to resolve this issue, apart from Alison’s very good advice. I guess that wouldn’t be an issue if you had to work from an office.

    I actually had the opposite experience. I have always looked youthful, but my accent is associated with posh, conservative, and, well, old people. So oftentimes when I would order a taxi on the phone, the driver was incredulous when she saw me. My voice conjured up an image of a prim and proper old lady and what they saw was Drew Barrymore from Poison Ivy (I mean, style-wise). I really used to have a hard time explaining myself.

    Apart from the taxi problem (and these days you rarely order on the phone), my voice has never been an issue. Here in the UK people seem to be obsessed with voices and accents and how these factors affect you in your daily life. I did get suggestions on taking lessons from a voice coach to make my voice sound more casual and contemporary, but since it has never been a hindrance professionally or in my personal life. Well, apart from the so called tough kids picking on my when I was a child/teenager, but I could handle them quite efficiently. :)

    1. Elle by the sea*

      I failed to complete this sentence, what I meant is: “…but since it has never been a hindrance to me professionally or in my personal life, I couldn’t care less.”

    2. Stained Glass Cannon*

      Elle, I have the exact same problem as you! At one point, a business associate who had only spoken to me over the phone found my LinkedIn profile, and said on the next phone call: “You should update your LinkedIn picture, it must have been taken a very long time ago” – said picture had been taken less than five years ago and still looks exactly like me.

      I asked a friend to list out the vocal quirks that make my voice sound “like senior personnel”. OP1, you may find these useful in particular:
      – Speaking in a descending tone so that sentences do not sound like questions. If sentences are ascending, start on a lower note and limit how much they ascend.
      – Speaking “from the stomach”, which makes the voice more “full” and forceful. This is a voice projection technique that can be trained.
      – Measured pace of speech (think newscasters on the business channels), pause at the end of sentences and don’t run on.
      – Minimal use of filler words.

      1. Elle by the sea*

        Someone explicitly suggesting that you should change your profile pic because it’s too old? That’s unbelievably hilarious!

        That’s great advice on voice. OP1, it’s also useful to record yourself and/or get feedback from friends and family so that you don’t end up sounding like Elizabeth Holmes (as mentioned by someone somewhere in the comment section).

      2. JSPA*

        Said in a higher-pitched voice, a nasal tone (maybe because kids so often have colds / swollen adenoids?), or extra diphthongs can also read as cute / young. I knew someone from Baltimore who was often perceived as younger (and less serious). Apparently this can also be a Philly thing (but to me, Philly has multiple accents, and the raised diphthong one does not predominate). I have the sense that some people with Queens accents also are read as young (and others as elderly); not sure what the basis for the split is.

        If it’s entirely a question of pitch, though, OP could ask if their company would be OK with them using a (subtle!) level of voice processing software. There are auto-tune like devices that just drop one’s pitch. People use them as a disguise, when dialed up to change the voice by an octave or more; but a much smaller tweak might put the OP in a range that registers as “adult” to strangers, and as “OP is sounding a bit husky today” to friends and family.

      1. Elle by the sea*

        Well, I guess the confusion is because OP1 is working from home and the customers must be thinking that their child picked up the phone while they were away for a while for whatever reason. Like I said, it seems like a situation specific to working from home. However, it’s likely that the job designation of OP1 has always required working from home.

        As for customers not believing you…Once a customer service representative somehow wanted to convince me that I was a second generation Chinese immigrant in the UK, so she kept offering me support in Mandarin or Cantonese (whatever would suit me). She claimed that it was obvious that, growing up in the UK, I learnt English well, but from the tone of my voice she could guess that I spoke to my family in my native language. Therefore, she thought that customer service in my native language would put me at ease. I didn’t manage to convince her that I am not of Chinese heritage and I don’t speak any of those languages. It was a conversation on the phone, so there was no way I could send her a picture of myself.

        1. JSPA*

          That’s strange and invasive enough I’d report it to a manager.

          Even if you were of Chinese descent–heck, especially if you were–it would be “othering” and invasive to insist that you use a service after you express that you neither want nor need it.

          If it’s individual initiative, it’s deeply bizarre; if it’s company policy, implemented in a particularly tone-deaf way, the company should get an earful about it being unwelcome.

          It’s one thing to say, “I’m smiling because your gestures remind me so much of my sister in law, whose family is from Mindanao.” Or to think, “Hm, he reads gay enough that if he’s not gay, he’s probably at least used to guys occasionally flirting with him, should be safe enough.” Or to tell yourself, inside your own head, “she looks like she frowns a lot, I’m going to watch my step, in case she’s easily offended” or “they might have [genetic condition], prepare to be chill about it, if it comes up.”

          It’s quite another thing to insist to a protesting stranger that THEY are [X], that they must be [X] (where X is practically any noun or adjective) and furthermore, that they must therefore conform to your expectation of the characteristics / desires / needs of people who are [X].

        2. LW#1*

          I actually work in an animal shelter here in the UK. I think callers don’t necessarily realise that we have quite a professional setup, but they think it’s feasible that a charity might have a child occasionally covering the phone. You couldn’t really do that as we do sometimes get some complex animal behaviour queries, or sensitive situations why people need to relinquish their pet.

          I really like those suggestions from Stained Glass Cannon. Being British I don’t think I ascend my sentences as our accent doesn’t usually do that – although I’m going to record myself to check this. The other 3 definitely sound like good things to work on.

          Most times it happens the situation is resolved with good humour and the conversation progresses happily. Occasionally though they just disbelieve me and start getting quite insulting about how a young person couldn’t possibly answer their question. I’m grateful for what Alison has said about it being OK to sound a bit annoyed with these people. I probably over-worry about it, but as long as I’ve been clear and polite, it’s not going to be a problem to be a bit blunt.

  30. Miri*

    LW3, I also am in a role where I have to send a lot of detailed information to a very busy person for decisions, and I use bolding and bullet points a lot. Instead of looking at it as rude or patronising, consider reframing it as respecting their time. Part of your job is to help them make good decisions, and that means putting the important information, including anything they need to do or decide, in a way that they can easily and quickly understand it.

    1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      ” Instead of looking at it as rude or patronising, consider reframing it as respecting their time. ”

      THIS.

  31. MistOrMister*

    I am personally not a fan of highlighting unless used very sparingly. But I used ro work with someone who did not trust anyone in my position to be able to do our jobs correctly. So they would bold, highlight and/or use colored font even for the simplest instructions. It was incredibly frustrating as the way they chose to color,code everything broke up the flow of the emails and it always took extra time to suss,out what they wanted. (When I pointed out that this was disruptive, I was told to put up with it b/c they did it that way for THEIR notes so basically when I effed up they could pull the email and say, look I told them to do X and bolded and,highlighted it, see???? Never mind that I never DID eff up!) So just a thought to be mindful of that kind of thing. Done well bolding,highlighting, etc can be very helpful. But some people cannot do it will and it turns into a disaster.

    1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      Relying on color in communication with other people is bad practice for many reasons including differences in vision and also the use of black/white printers.

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

        I had a vendor who I had to send architectural plans to often. I would color code different areas to let them know the scope of work, which areas needed particular products, etc. He called me one day to tell me he was colorblind and couldn’t see any of what I had sent him! In the past he had an employee who would look the plans over and let him know what to bid, but that person no longer worked for him. He felt bad having to ask me to redo it in a different format, but luckily it wasn’t something that took long and I didn’t mind reformatting. It definitely made me aware that sometimes you have good intentions, but the receiver can’t receive the information the way you intended.

        1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

          Color can be a bonus – to make something even more clear to typical uses.

          But it must not be the only way a distinction is communicated.

  32. Urbanchic*

    OP # 3 – I agree with your approach. In every job I’ve had managing up or laterally with extremely busy people, I’ve taken the approach of putting decision points up top, or if further analysis is needed, bolding/highlighting in the text. If you want to make sure the person knows that you are doing it to respect their time, you can say something like – “salutation, hope this message finds you well. The purpose of this message is to get your decision on three points related to x. For ease of review, decision points are highlighted (or bolded) below. Kindly respond by x date.” (I would bold the message purpose and deadline). I also suggest using the subject line to inform what exactly you need from them – “Approval needed – widget process flow – kindly advise by date” or “Review needed – proposed teapot colors – kindly advise by date”.

    Some people get hundreds or even thousands of messages a day. I run an organization now and honestly, if someone writes a long-winded or even a multi paragraph email without it being clear what action is needed from me and by what date (or it’s buried) I have a hard time focusing on it. If it worked with your client before, I’d keep doing it.

  33. Dust Bunny*

    I apparently sound like a kindergartner on the phone so I intentionally put on a bit of a Lauren Bacall when I answer. I also clean up the casual grammar and the worst of my regional accent. Think of it as your “newscaster voice”.

    1. LPUK*

      Yeah but that can have unintended consequences too!! I still remember when I lowered my voice for a customer (to appear more grown-up) and he responded ‘a voice like that could get you pregnant’

      1. anonymous 5*

        I hope you were able to reply with something like, “And a comment like that could get you disciplined for sexual harassment. How may I help you today?”

        1. LPUK*

          Too flabbergasted to say anything!! also I was just 18 at the time and hadn’t really learned to advocate for myself.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        So far I have not gotten that response, and I have zero hesitation about hanging up if anyone ever tries it.

  34. Anon for This*

    OP2 – where I work we call the self evaluation the “suicide box.” In my view employees should have the opportunity to not enter anything. If you’ve been coached on poor performance, what are you supposed to say? Unless you offer them an option like “improving” of course they are going to say they meet expectations. Checking anything else seems to be asking to be fired.

    OP3 – not knowing how complex the decisions you need are, and how much material is needed to support them, it’s hard to offer advice, but I had a boss like your client. How I handled it – limit each e-mail to one decision. Keep the e-mail itself as brief as possible, with the question up front and standing alone. Brief explanation in the text of the message itself, and everything else included as attachments. Make it as easy as possible for them to give you an answer.
    (Client might not even look at the attachments, so if detail x is really important, note it in the message.) You might need to send a series of messages to get what you need, but it looks like you end up doing that anyway.

    OP4 +++ on The Gift of Fear. Very eye-opening.

    1. KateM*

      Exactly what I was thining about OP3 – send one e-mail per decision. So the person on other end can send back one answer at a time – maybe they have answer right now for only one of them, send that (or would you prefer to have all three answers only when they have them all?), and then forget there were two others as well.

  35. I'm just here for the cats!*

    LW #1 I feel for you! I don’t have any advice but I too have a young sounding voice and have often been mistaken as a child. And working over the phone Customer service was bad. Boy you wouldn’t believe how many times people get angry at you, or think they can push you around because your just a “dumb kid”.
    Depending on your job you would want to be careful with trying to sound authorative as it can backfire. At a previous job I would get in trouble because I was trying to shift my voice so people believed me and I was told I was yelling at them. I was told I should take speach lessons. I like Alison’s advice about owning it.

  36. The Other Dawn*

    #3
    As someone with a team member who does NOT use highlights and bold text sparingly, please use them sparingly. Perhaps using a small amount of bullets points for the action items.

    My team member will write an important email in HUGE font, highlight in several different colors, use bullet points, insert screen shots, and use bold text all in one email and it’s incredibly distracting. It completely dilutes whatever messages she’s trying to get across. I find myself basically tuning out after a few words, because I can’t figure what’s truly important and what’s not. Her response in the past has been, “Well, it’s ALL important.” I’ve told her boss to have a talk with her about it and it has improved a bit, but not enough yet. (And this also ties into the performance review question today–she’s someone who will rate herself the highest rating every single time, even when there have been issues. Eventually she’ll accept the rating we give her, but she has to argue it every time and it’s exhausting.)

      1. Artemesia*

        I used to work with grad students in a seminar where I had them analyzing research articles and we used a structured process that moved from identifying key points through rather complex analysis i.e. one of the goals in addition to the subject matter was to learn to be analytic in evaluating research. They worked in teams on the simple elements of identifying key points then we discussed as a group the more complex ideas and comparisons.

        I had one student who was just terrible at all this, so I worked with him individually and asked him to take the next article and highlight the one sentence that seemed to convey the key idea of the research. He came back with every single sentence highlighted in pink for several pages, saying ‘it all seemed equally important to me’. And there we had it, why he couldn’t do it; he literally didn’t have the intellectual ability to discern meaning in complex material. We continued to work on it but he eventually failed out of the program and would have done so earlier but for a colleague who gave every student As regardless of their performance and kept his average above flunk out for awhile.

  37. Asenath*

    I used to be mistaken for a child on the phone. Speaking more slowly and lowering my voice slightly helped. I also needed to avoid speaking breathily, I guess you’d call it, which I sometimes did if I hurried to reach my desk and wa slightly out of breath.

  38. Hamburke*

    I will 2nd, 3rd, 20th The Gift of Fear! I read it years ago and found it enlightening and empowering. There’s a teen version that I have given to my daughters and niece that’s a little toned down from the original but still has the same message: clearly define and enforce boundaries!

  39. Keymaster of Gozer*

    OP1: I taught myself to remove my stammer and drop my voice an octave at work because ye gods was I getting tired of the jokes (a size 22 6 foot tall woman apparently shouldn’t have a high pitched ‘little girl’ voice). I learnt how to do ventriloquism.

    Bizarre, but speaking as someone else while trying not to move the lips enabled me to work out how to change my voice when I concentrated. The speech gets slower, my stammer vanished, and now I’ve got something else along with card tricks I can do in interviews if they want me to show them something funny.

    Important note: I really, really hate that I got taken more seriously at work when I dropped my voice down and slowed it down. Despise it. I had to sound less feminine to get the guys in IT to take me seriously.

  40. Delta Delta*

    #3 – I used to work with a paragraph emailer. She’d get mad when people ignored her emails. But really, they were SO LONG and could have been condensed to a few targeted bullet points. I don’t know if she still does it because I don’t work with her anymore and I don’t care what she does.

    #5 – It’s not clear to me what the side gig is, and if it’s something OP could do for a few hours and then do something else with the rest of the day, or if OP plans to take off a week and put in a full week’s worth of work at the side gig. I think if OP is concerned about the optics with the company (and if questioned) it’s easier to be breezy and say, “eh, I picked up an hour or two here and there giving music lessons so the kids could be ready for the COVID Clarinet Jamboree” than to have to say you put in a full paid week.

      1. Artemesia*

        5 hours at the munchi mart cash register will read differently than 5 hours coaching tennis or building sun dials or playing saxophone in the band.

  41. Ross*

    I’m in the same position as OP5. Normally, I treasure every moment of my vacation time because I love to travel. Additional time off is probably the most valuable compensation I can get. However, due to COVID, I canceled a multi-week trip this spring to some pretty obscure countries which put me close to my maximum vacation accrual. I’m employed by a large organization which has repeatedly taken the stance that they will not raise the cap on vacation time accruals as they feel it is in the best interest of everyone’s mental health to take some time off. It seems every month another employee asks about extensions on our business-wide update calls, but management has stood firm. My solution has just been to use that time to do some freelance work. Sure, I’d rather exploring the world, but that just is not an option right now. I’m very good about not taking stress from my job into my personal life and sort of enjoy the side work. Weekends and evenings have provided plenty of time to relax at home, I certainly don’t need additional time off within the confines of my apartment. Is it ideal? No. But at least if I am earning some money that can pay for a trip when I actually able to travel. And on the whole, I applaud my organization’s response to COVID, particularly given that we’re in an industry that’s been seriously impacted, so I don’t have much to complain about in the larger scheme of things.

    1. OP5*

      Yes, same boat! I love to travel and had a number of trips canceled this year. That also plays into this whole thing – sitting at home doing nothing isn’t relaxing because THAT’S ALL I DO THESE DAYS.

      1. Artemesia*

        We had to cancel an 8 week trip to Paris – the first two weeks with our young granddaughter. It was long planned. Missing travel is surely among the least horrible consequences of COVID compared to those losing work (we have many friends in music who have NO work at all now) or lives but it is still a hard thing to live with especially since there is no end in sight.

  42. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    #4 continue to ignore him. Any contact – whether positive or negative – will encourage to keep trying to contact you. It’s similar to people who push boundaries and try to get into your business. People on here often think it’s rude to be direct and shut it down, but when you give people reasons or make up excuses, it leaves the door open to ask more questions and keep butting their nose into your business when the best thing to do is just shut it down and make it clear that they’re out of line.

    1. Sleepless*

      I say just go ahead and block him. I used to have a coworker who was…not quite creepy, he just pushed personal boundaries the tiniest little bit every chance he got. We were relatively friendly at work-he was pleasant enough and quite good at his job-but being the person he is, he interpreted that as being Super Close Work Buds. He left the company on not-great terms, and for the next few months he would text me every few weeks about his feelings on the matter. I should have shut it down then.

      Meanwhile, I heard a few stories from colleagues at a couple of different places about him being a moocher. He had managed to leave behind coworkers whom he owed money everywhere he went (and he moved around a LOT-I had occasion to see his resume a couple of years later and he had worked in dozens of places over a 10-15 year period), from various sob stories he had given them.

      Then, he started bugging me on Facebook Messenger. As my name suggests, I’m up in the middle of the night a lot, and he could see that I was active on FB. So he’d send me messages…”Can’t sleep again, huh?” I found this a little uncomfortable. I may be looking at social media, but interacting in real time at 2 AM just seems a little…intimate. Finally one night he followed the above with “stuck at work, I’m out of gas.” Me: Sorry, that sucks. Yep, here it came…a Venmo request for $70 for gas money. $70. For gas money. From a coworker from years ago. From a guy with a wife and nearby family and a decent paying job. With a reputation as a mooch. Me: I’m sorry, I can’t help you.

      In the cold light of day, I blocked him on FB and blocked his number. That was the end of that. It shouldn’t be too hard for him to figure out why he suddenly couldn’t find me on FB and his calls/texts weren’t going through.

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        She said she already blocked him. I was suggesting she continue to ignore him because her BF thinks she should contact him one last time. But yes, if he continues to find her on other platforms, she should keep blocking him without engaging him at all.

  43. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    For the first 5-10 years of my US career, self-evaluations weren’t a thing. FME, they suddenly appeared in the corporate world sometime in the 00s. Now that we are talking about them, I realized that I was never able to figure out the purpose that they serve. Assuming that we are in a functional environment and not in some toxic corporate dog-eat-dog workplace, how does a self-eval help the team and the business overall? I’ll be honest, I always thought they were another corporate hurdle designed to trick an employee into showing themselves in a bad light, giving the employer ammunition against them that can be used in the future if needed. But obviously whoever came up with this idea, probably had something more productive and constructive in mind. What is it? Knowing the original purpose of a self-eval would help me fill them out more effectively. Currently, I’m stumped.

    1. LPUK*

      From my days in management, self evaluations can alert you if there’s a significant difference between how you perceive your direct report and how they perceive themselves, which might cause you to do a little more preparation for the review ( ie get together some very specific examples of their behaviour and impact, think about how you would clarify what great looks like for them, take more care in the words you use to be extra-clear etc) It can also affect how receptive they might be to coaching and what their level of self-awareness is. But I wouldn’t expect an employee to spend very long on it.

    2. WantonSeedStitch*

      In my workplace, self-evaluations aren’t just a rating–they also involve writing comments about what you’ve done during the course of the year to fulfill your work goals. I think that’s helpful because as a manager, it can jog my memory about some of the things my reports have accomplished. As an employee, it’s a way I can showcase my own accomplishments. Frankly, to me, that’s an important part of the self-evaluation that gets lost in the anxiety over ratings.

      Our rating system only has three categories (similar to “needs improvement,” “meets expectations,” “exceeds expectations”). We make it clear that “meets expectations” is not “mediocre,” but “you’re doing your job in this area just fine and we’re happy with your performance.” The other two ratings are much more rarely used. If my rating differs from my reports’ self-ratings, I know there’s a discrepancy in how we see the goal and what constitutes fulfilling it, and we need to have a conversation so they understand it better. It’s clearer when it’s just these three levels than when we’re splitting hairs over what’s “exceeds expectations” and what’s “outstanding,” or whatever.

      But I would also say that if someone underrates themselves on a certain goal, it might also be an indicator to me that they don’t feel confident in their work in that area, and might benefit from some professional development. (Example: goal is to complete certain kinds of reports with a one-week turnaround. Employee has done that consistently, so I rate them “meets expectations.” They rate themselves “needs improvement.” Why, I ask them, in our review discussion? Because although they manage to do it, they struggle with it, and only get stuff in just under the wire. OK, maybe they need some extra training on doing those reports, or whatever aspects of them they find particularly difficult. That way they can feel like it’s less of a stretch to meet that goal, and can be more confident in their work.

    3. Corporate Goth*

      Ours are used to make sure employees have a chance to highlight work their manager could have forgotten about or wasn’t tracking (we have a high level of autonomy, plus a system of rotations that can impact). Mostly, people who are driven by typical career motivators – up for promotion, bonus potential, high scores – spend lots of time on them. Managers mostly sort out what’s real from what’s exaggerated. However, well-written reports that use specific language (e.g., “excellent” = 4) can help with some of the managers who aren’t as discerning.

  44. TGOTAL*

    LW4: Others have already weighed in on the pros and cons of contacting your former union rep one last time to tell him not to contact you. If you do choose to do so, I disagree that you should tell him it’s because you’re busy – because that is essentially leaving the possibility that you might be receptive to his attentions again when you aren’t busy.

    If you contact him, choose your words carefully, and make sure they’re definitive – if you leave him any opening whatsoever, he’s going to take it.

  45. Maj. Pothead, reporting for doobie*

    #2 Performance Evals
    OP, I completely agree with AAM’s advice, but another angle to consider that might help prevent this in the future with this and other employees is how the performance eval scale actually lines up the expectations. As an example, my own manager (who is absolutely fantastic and I’m very lucky to have her), believes and says outright that “nobody is getting a 5” on our 1-5 scale. First of all, that raises the question of why we even have a 5 on the scale if it is just unachievable as a matter of principle. We really have a 1-4 scale and the expectations and guidance for the employees should be adjusted accordingly. When it comes time for self-evals, it really doesn’t matter how much above and beyond I’ve done over the year, how many ridiculously complex projects I’ve dragged across the finish line, how many junior employees I’ve helped and trained. The best I will get is a 4 and it makes rating myself rather difficult when the organization/HR is operating on one scale and my manager is operating on another.

    Obviously, you do need to have a discussion with your direct report about all of this, but I’d suggest that you include some level setting about what the expectations really are and exactly where those fall on the scale as it is actually implemented (which may be different than the guidance HR has provided). Make sure the “instrument of measurement is clean” so to speak, before going further into this discussion. In your particular case, your employee is probably thinking “well, I haven’t been fired or put on a PIP so I must be meeting expectations”.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      As an example, my own manager (who is absolutely fantastic and I’m very lucky to have her), believes and says outright that “nobody is getting a 5” on our 1-5 scale.
      We had this happen a few years ago, except it was companywide and our managers received directions from the top not to give out anymore 5s. Then a year or two ago, the policy changed again, this time to “no more 4s except in extraordinary circumstances”, again coming from the top! I don’t get this. Why do companies to that?

      1. Maj. Pothead, reporting for doobie*

        Well, in the case of my company, I’m pretty sure it’s a sneaky way to avoid paying out raises and bonuses as much as possible. It’s a real morale builder, I assure you.

        1. Wired Wolf*

          Under my awesome manager–first 18 months of my stint–I got glowing reviews (he actually told me to not be so modest on my self-evals!) and one or two stealth raises. When he left, reviews were not done unless we directly hassled the manager…and then we were not allowed self-evals nor to really discuss/challenge whatever insanity management came up with (that’s how I was labeled “needs to focus” because the supervisor was/is an arrogant little git). Raises were nonexistent…I think the only reason I got a raise last year is that they had to by law.

    2. Hawk*

      Sometimes a manager will say this to manage expectations “to get a 5 needs a real save-the-world performance and I haven’t seen that from anyone this year”. Or yeah, sometimes they’re being sneaky about raises.

  46. Fabulous*

    #3 – 100% on the bulleted lists that’s already been suggested.

    I use bulleted lists, underlined headers (where appropriate) and highlights (sparingly) whenever something needs attention in the middle or end of a block of text. I usually will go a step further too. At the beginning of each bullet (if it’s longer than a sentence) I also try to add a bolded summary so they know the gist without having to read everything:

    – Be succinct: Instead of writing descriptive paragraphs for each bullet, try to shorten your sentences as much as possible and use simpler sentence structures so they’re easier to skim.
    – Bold for emphasis; italicize for distinction: Bolding stands out more in text than italicization, so use it accordingly. Though, be consistent throughout your communication so the message doesn’t get muddied by constantly changing formatting.
    – Highlight action items: Use highlights sparingly; I recommend specifically for action items only rather than for emphasis, and only if the action item is within a block of text where it might otherwise be missed.

  47. Bood Reader*

    Wow, I feel like the last 18 years of my life as been validated with this statement, ” One of the points he makes is that when you’re dealing with this kind of behavior, you should tell the person once, clearly, that you’re not interested in further contact and then ignore all future attempts to reach you … because if you give in and respond after 50 calls, you teach the person that calling 50 times is what it takes to get your response.”

    I had a ex bf in HS I learned this lesson with the hard way. I’ve tried so many times to explain this to women in similar situations as me. I need this book and I think it will be Christmas presents for every woman this year.

  48. I'm A Little Teapot*

    #1 – You can adapt what I say for when people don’t believe I look old enough to be an adult. I say something like, “I know, isn’t it great?”. Since its your voice not your face something like “I know, it makes it really fun to prank telemarketers.” If that doesn’t get through to them, they’re being jerks and perhaps someone else higher up in your company needs to ask them to treat the employees with respect, regardless of how old or young they sound.

    1. VanLH*

      I like this advice. I have a young sounding voice even in my dotage. When I answer the phone at home and the call is for my wife she is accused of robbing the cradle.

  49. VanLH*

    AAM’s advice here is confusing to me. She says that the LW should ignore her boyfriend’s advice about a direct confrontation and then cites the Gift of Fear, which advises telling the stalker, firml, to stop and then block all further attempts at contact. These strike me as very similar plans. I read the first edition of the book and incorporated it into my teaching.

    1. Batgirl*

      Yes but the book talks quite a lot about that notification being bland, but clear and simple whereas the boyfriend’s advice was to chastise him and tell him to change. The travel agency story in the book cautions against doing that tactic, known as engage and enrage. People “rarely see that doing nothing provocative is an option” and “there is an irresistible urge to do something dramatic”. Just because the boyfriend wants this guy told off doesn’t make it effective.

  50. Sir Nose d'Voidoffunk*

    Not to be unhelpful, but all I can think of with OP1 is Vincent Adultman from BoJack Horseman. “I went to the stock market and did a business!”

  51. Soon 2be former fed*

    #2: Self-evaluations, in my experience, are a complete waste of time. If a manager is doing their job they should be aware of what their reports are doing and how they are doing it. Self-evaluations just give managers something to argue against and disregard. If forced to do one, no, do not low-rate yourself! If you are a documented low performer, why are you being asked for your input anyway?

    Performance evaluations are ways for managers to reward their favorites. If an employee is not well-liked no matter the performance level, the review will be mediocre at best. It’s a lot of nonsense. I had a manager say none of his reports would get a rating higher than what his manager gave him. The whole system is stupid for professional work.

    US Federal government context here.

  52. Lindsay Gee*

    OP#1 when I worked in customer service, all my coworkers and I developed what we called our ‘phone voices’, which were significantly different than our speaking voices. Cheerier, stepford-ish because it was sort of needed in that environment. I would recommend playing around with your vocal range and come up with your own ‘phone voice’ and see whether it lands differently with the people you have to deal with on the phone at work :) I’ve never had anything like your experience but I look and sound young and in the new world of zoom work calls I’ve had concerns about being taken for a much junior staff member before, so I can empathize.

  53. Heat's Kitchen*

    #3 – I do this a lot, especially if I’m trying to provide a lot of detail in an email but need to highlight action items or important parts. I also utilize “TL;DR” at the beginning of the email to get the main point across and leave details for later in case someone on the email doesn’t have time to read everything. I’ve gotten a lot of praise for the TL;DR and highlighting in the past.

    That said, I am trying to be less verbose in my email communications when I can. But also, I’ve always worked for traditionally meeting heavy companies, so I try to do as much via email as I can.

  54. agnes*

    I wonder if a guy has ever been told he sounds too young on the phone, especially when the guy has corrected the caller? I don’t know why people feel emboldened to question a woman on a business line answering a phone. It’s just another example of the different standards put on women in the workplace.

    1. Sir Nose d'Voidoffunk*

      @agnes – Not the same thing, but when I first accepted my first job out of school, despite interviewing with this newsroom higher-up, I couldn’t quite place his voice (he was sort of a Seinfeld high-talker). When I finally called to accept the job, he answered and I ASKED FOR HIS FATHER to accept the job. I was lucky he was such a great guy.

    2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      I’m male, and I’ve certainly been told that during my 20s. I also had boyish looks, and so I gave up wearing contacts and went back to glasses.

    3. AKchic*

      Yes.

      My husband frequently gets mistaken for one of my teenagers (he’s older than I am). He can’t shave because a smooth face makes him too “baby faced”. He’s also shorter than the teenagers (he’s 5’9, same as the 16 year old, the 18 year old is 6’2″). All of them are blonde and wear band t-shirts and flannels. On the phone, if he isn’t using his “customer service” voice, he is mistaken for our 11 year old.

      It took me years, but I cultivated a “phone” voice specifically so I wouldn’t be mistaken for a child.

  55. HailRobonia*

    The self evaluation thing reminds me of the time in high school when my English teacher gave us a weekly quiz. One week the quiz was “give yourself a the grade you feel you deserve in this class.” Then he seem surprised when only 3 of the 20 kids gave themselves something other than an A.

  56. Rambler*

    OP5, I just wanted to say that I love your writing style and attitude; you sound just like me and I wish we were friends.

    I don’t do a Side Job to relax, I climb mountains. Because hiking 15 miles with 4000’ of elevation gain in one day is relaxing compared to the dumpster fire of my day job. Even when I’m hiking solo. And I screw up my knee with 8 miles to go. Still better.

  57. Spicy Tuna*

    LW 1, when I was an actual kid, people would routine think I was a boy over the phone! This sorted itself out as a function of age, but I remember being very put off by this as I was a tomboy to begin with. In addition, there was a boy in my class with whom I carpooled and HIS father would not let it go! He would remark on it every time we were in the car and say how I should have a career in radio (??). No advice for you, just writing in solidarity!

  58. D3*

    My problem with the self evaluation questions about whether or not you meet expectations is that it does not account for whether or not those expectations are *reasonable*
    Once upon a time, I was part of a department of 4. Profits were down, so two of them were let go. The amount of work stayed the same, but now the work of 4 fell on 2.
    And then the other one quit. I was doing all the work previously done by 4. Or trying to. I was definitely not meeting expectations, because what was expected of me was no humanly possible. My immediate boss was understanding. No one else in the company was. I was working 10-12 hour days 6 days a week and still getting called out in meetings for being behind.
    And at employee evaluation time, I had to rate myself about how well I was meeting expectations, and explain why I was not.
    “Meets Expectations” is a flawed measure, with a built in assumption that this is a one way thing.
    It sucked. Big time.

  59. Retail Not Retail*

    LW5 – I used a personal day as a recovery from my second job! And I plan on working election day as a poll watcher and I’ve already put in a vacation day for that (and the day after to decompress!). It’s your time, use it as you see fit.

    1. Retail Not Retail*

      Actually I never worked the second job that day but the personal day was already approved so…. i took the day off anyway!

  60. pamela voorhees*

    Hello OP1! As someone who is in her late 20s who has a high soprano voice and regularly gets asked if she’s a. a high school temp or b. if someone bought her in for bring your daughter to work day, here’s what I’ve found works.

    – Pitching your voice lower takes some practice, but not as much as you’d think. Alison’s suggestion of a vocal coach is the best way to go, but you can also do it on your own. Try mimicking some low pitched celebrity, and then slowly striping out the “mimicking” part to just the low pitch. Obviously you don’t want phone voice to be wildly different than normal voice, but if you can reach for “you but with a cold” that might help.
    – Speaking slower also really helps. I don’t mean a noticeable slowness, but most people automatically associate “high pitched and talking fast” with “child”. If you can get a combination of lower and slower both, that will help break the association. If you identify as feminine, you want something in the range of Morticia Addams — that’s the sweet spot for me, at least.
    – If it’s possible, can you change the way you speak to be more formal? More long words? Something like “[Company Name], how can I help” sounds like something a kid might parrot, but “You’ve reached [Company name] and you’re speaking with Pamela, how may I assist you?” is overly formal, for sure, but also language people might not associate with children.

    Good luck! Some people will still not believe you, no matter what. For that, I’ve got nothing but solidarity.

    1. TootsNYC*

      ooh, slowing down, yes…

      (interestingly, I read that comedians say, if you’re bombing, slow down and speak more quietly. People pay more attention. Parents are often told, if your kid isn’t listening, don’t yell–whisper, or speak very softly. It makes people pay attention to what you’re actually saying)

  61. Erin*

    For the person with the former co-worker who will not go away:

    His obsession is unhealthy and it is impacting your life. Please document these emails/calls from him. Also, tell him to not contact you and block him. He’s giving me all kinds of unhinged stalker vibes. You might need to escalate this to a no contact order/restraining order if he escalates after you tell him to stop.

    I am sorry for the stress he has caused you. I have been in this situation, and the stress was just ridiculous. Protect yourself and stay safe. Allison’s suggestion of The Gift of Fear is excellent.

  62. Geralt of HRivia*

    LW #1

    A quick solution may be to answer the phone with “Mr/Mrs LastName”? So it would read like “Thank you for calling Kaer Morhen , I’m Mr Rivia, how can I help you?”

    Not sure if that would help for exceptionally rude callers, but it may help?

  63. Bopper*

    If I have multiple questions in an email I number them. Makes it clear that there are multiple questions.

    Everyone should read “The Gift of Fear”…for personal or professional reasons.

  64. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    OP1, you might want to record yourself answering the phone (NOT actual work phone calls – get friends or coworkers to call you off-hours) and then listen to the recordings. There may be some word choices, pronunciation variations, etc. that peg you as “young”. Valley-speak, vocal fry, ums and you-knows, turning double-ts into glottal stops (“ki’en” and “bu’on” instead of kitten and button), etc. It could be easier to be mindful of those and suppress them on the job than it would be to deepen your tone of voice altogether.

    1. StudentA*

      I love this advice. I’d also choose a really capable friend to do this exercise with and see what we glean from it.

  65. Corporate Goth*

    I have the opposite voice problem…the polite version of commentary is that I should be on the radio or am whispering. The less polite version devolves into 1-900-style commentary.

    I have a specific phone voice that’s modulated by volume and now-long habit. It sucks – I sound like my mother, can’t necessarily maintain it over a long conversation, and never succeed in adjusting voicemail (name-only system) to anything that doesn’t make people either laugh or raise an eyebrow. But small adjustments can be helpful.

    But my dad and my brother sound so much alike that when he visited the workplace unexpectedly, my dad’s coworker came to find out why my dad was having a full-blown conversation with himself.

  66. HeyPony*

    OP #3, I work in an industry where we often correspond with fluentish but non-native English speakers. I also hire a lot of very bright, US educated young professionals who have been taught all their lives that good writing is expressive, fluid and even soaring. It’s hard to shift gears to what we need here, which is writing that is clear, concise and unambiguous.

    My advice is always bullet points. Say hello, follow local politeness conventions, and start bulleting. It’s so much easier on the recipient to not have to dig through elegant prose that they can’t appreciate to find the actual information. But it takes awhile before you stop feeling like you’re writing like some kind of Tarzan. Me need document. You send document. Twyla notarize document.

  67. Sciencer*

    LW 3: If your email software allows it, try a different color for highlighting. I use pale blue or pale yellow rather than the super bright highlighter yellow. They’re still immediately eye-catching without looking as aggressive.

    LW 2: Just offering sympathy. I apparently look about 10 years younger than I am, because I frequently get mistaken for a college student in the program I direct (I’m in my 30’s). It’s obnoxious but I smile politely and correct them cheerfully and they accept it with some sort of awkward comment that’s clearly meant to save face (and does not) or a quick apology (much better). I truly can’t imagine how I would react if someone doubled down to insist that I’m not who I say I am (or not an adult at all?!?!). Since you’re on the phone, the best I can think of is a confused silence followed by, “I’m sorry, do you think I’m lying to you?” but I don’t think that would work well with customer service… maybe just “Hm, that’s a strange thing to say. As I said earlier, I’m the such-and-such, how can I help you today?”

  68. Sick of Workplace Bullshit*

    Regarding The Gift of Fear:I’m sorry if this has already been addressed above, but, the domestic violence chapter is VERY problematic and victim-blamey. His advice is good in other chapters, but given his own experiences and biases, he’s way off base in that chapter. Good luck, OP!!

  69. What the What*

    I use bolding all the time. I’m in a deadline driven business, so I frequently bold important dates so that the reader’s eye is drawn to the deadline, even if they ignore or skim the rest of the email. I also tend to bold a phrase like, “Action is required” or “The following items require your attention:” especially in emails where there’s a lot of information. I think it’s human nature to not fully engage with long, boring emails, but sometimes long, boring emails are necessary. A bolded line helps the person refocus their attention.

  70. JSPA*

    oP #4;

    I have used, to good effect, some version of the following:

    “As you may have gathered, my time at Job X became distressing to the point of persistent emotional damage, panic and flashbacks [or whatever]. I was glad for your help in getting out. You were instrumental. But when I hear about the situation there, it makes a huge setback to my healing. In fact, while I obviously don’t wish you ill in the abstract, every time I hear from you, I have an overwhelming physical reaction of distress and nausea.

    I appreciate that it’s not fair or rational that my brain and body have forged some weird link between “you contacting me” and “everything that was miserable about Job X.” But something doesn’t have to be rational to be real.

    As a result, not only can’t I be your sounding board about Job X, I actually can’t comfortably continue communicating. I do hope you get the support you need in dealing with the ongoing insanity at Job X. I nevertheless need you to not contact me, via any platform or technology, for the foreseeable future, nor will I be contacting you.”

    1. AKchic*

      I wish this would work. If this person is anything like we’re thinking, he will take it as a “wait a few months and reach out to see if she’s ‘gotten better'” or “suggest therapies” or “immersion therapy will make it all better!” and push himself on her more.

      Her comfort, wants, needs and desires don’t matter. Whatever his unstated end goal is all that matters.

  71. Bookslinger In My Free Time*

    #1, I feel this so hard. I am 34 and have a very light voice. I care less now, because I am a logistics coordinator at a company where it is very clear there are no children around, but a Previous Job I had involved LOADS of phone time. I ended up just pitching my voice lower while at work, because customers took me more seriously and were less likely to argue with me when I used my Low Voice vs Normal Voice. It did strain my voice a lot, and it was a lot of conscious work, so I don’t do it anymore- my coworkers don’t have an issue with my natural voice, and it ensures they listen to me very closely when I am speaking.

  72. TootsNYC*

    #1: the young-sounding voice.

    In person, you can use grooming and dress and even body movement to communicate your age.

    Over the phone, try using vocabulary and cadence and intonation or (absence of) lilt.

    “Good afternoon, this is Erin, the lama groomer; how may I assist you?”
    Keep the tonation low, and formal/distant/serious.

    Recording yourself might help you figure out some tactics that sound more formal or grownup.

  73. Moocowcat*

    OP4: Totally ignore this person and do not make contact. I was once in a similar type work situation where a client was verbally harassing me. The client would spam my email and phone with dozens of messages a day with all sorts of vile threats. Any contact, even to tell him to stop, just resulted in more harassment. When IT blocked him, the client would call or email from random places and issue threats. The last burst of activity was a few months ago when the client tried to call me and apologize. Eventually though, the client lost interest in this fruitless activity of attempting to get my attention. It’s my opinion that responding to your co-worker would just result in him calling you more.

    1. Cool and the Gang*

      I’ve had to do this with my ex-husband. I still have to be in contact with him due to sharing a child, but most things are just stream of conscious nasty-ness. I don’t respond and it hasn’t made him change his behavior one bit, but it’s easy for me to just walk away. I REALLY want to respond sometimes, but I like it better that I keep the upper hand and just…don’t.

  74. StudentA*

    I’m sorry I don’t know where else to post this. Why do we combine questions on this blog? If I’m only interested in reading about and commenting on a specific question, why can’t there be a page dedicated to it like with other questions? I get that some answers are super short, but it seems most of the time, that’s honestly not the case. I even think you’d get even more commentary on each question if each had a dedicated page. All I’m saying is it’d be easier to follow.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hi, thanks for the feedback! I do it this way because the vast majority of readers aren’t commenters, so what format is optimal for commenting isn’t the driving factor in play. Dividing them into their own posts means I’d be publishing eight posts a day instead of four, which is A Lot.

  75. Lifeandlimb*

    OP1: A lot of people aren’t aware that they can shift their voice with some practice. If the reactions to your voice are becoming burdensome, you might find it effective to work 1-2 sessions with a vocal coach or singing coach to find a phone voice for you. Sometimes it’s just a matter of pitch, other times it’s timbre, and sometimes it’s more about intonation. I have a young looking face, so I’m often mistaken for being 10 years younger but can usually shatter that expectation when I speak. It helps that I have a “serious” work voice, a phone voice, and (apparently) a different voice for each language I speak (although that wasn’t deliberate). It can be helpful!

  76. Paperwhite*

    LW#1 — I haven’t tried out any of these, but I did a quick Youtube search and found quite a few videos under the search terms “speaking voice training”. Caveat emptor, of course, but I wonder if a couple of these might be useful in helping you develop a firmer ‘phone voice’?

  77. Cool and the Gang*

    My boss is very busy and often does not pay attention to a lot of what she reads, so I always make sure everything is very to the point, not confusing and use a lot of spaces between lines of different thoughts. Also, a good opening and conclusion – I’m sending this becuase….and answering wtih, and so I want to do x,y,z

  78. k*

    Outlier opinion here, but our manager almost always highlights info in emails, and I really appreciate it, especially since the key information is often buried in forward chains where it may have changed from email to email, or involves long file paths, etc. I assume the unspoken reason is because people haven’t paid attention to things in the past, but I do appreciate things being as clear and easy to find as possible, and I don’t find it patronizing.

  79. TheCylon*

    Dear OP1,
    I feel your pain! In fact, I overdid the vocal training and now everyone thinks I’m the office voicemail robot. An average of once a week, I get cut off by someone shouting “Speak to a representative!” I usually have to go through the steps Allison described (1: Hi, I’m a human, what can I help you with? followed by 2: being firmer if they don’t believe me), but they do usually work. Hopefully they work for you too!

  80. Finland*

    I blocked his number. The attempts at contact are never a barrage and haven’t been threatening … I’ve been hesitant to [confront him] because I think he would see it as a challenge and it would inflame him . But then the ghosting hasn’t seemed to work. Again, this guy seems mentally unhinged to some degree so I’m trying to tread lightly .

    LW4, reading your story, I see countless clues that that this man is, indeed, threatening and unhinged. As for him pretending to give you a job reference, that is a manipulation attempt (no matter how pathetic), and read to me as off-the-charts threatening. Also, the ghosting didn’t actually start until you blocked his number, which was the right thing to do. I would strongly advise against contacting him “one more time”. I would agree very strongly with Alison on trusting your instincts and educating yourself on stalking.

    1. nonegiven*

      > As for him pretending to give you a job reference, that is a manipulation attempt (no matter how pathetic), and read to me as off-the-charts threatening.

      That’s what jumped out to me. He is threatening to somehow poison the well when you need a job.

  81. Always Learning*

    OP #4: This person sounds like they’re exhibiting an escalating pattern of unstable and unwanted behavior. I think that all of the suggestions Alison gave are spot on. Hopefully this person doesn’t have your physical address. If you essentially block and ghost this person and you see *any* sign of him escalating further, i.e., showing up to your place of work, or to your home, etc. – file a police report. Start the restraining order process. Arm yourself. Do not wait. The *moment* you see something escalate to that level it is only a matter of time before a person like that takes it any further. I’m sorry that you have to deal with this.

  82. kalli*

    No 4 – are you still in that union? Because some union policies include having representatives check on people after they’ve used union assistance/resources, and he might have started that way and then escalated. The escalation is wrong, yes, but if the union has that policy they also need to know it’s being misused and to retrain this person, perhaps all their delegates, on how to follow-up without intruding and overreaching. Usually the policy is there as a failsafe to make sure the matter is fully resolved and that the member has access to any other resources they may need (for example, someone who relies on the union when leaving a job may be able to access food vouchers or mental health support through a union referral, or be receiving bad references in contradiction to a union-assisted exit settlement, but this might not be evident the day they leave with two weeks’ pay in their pocket).

    The union management can also speak to him on your behalf, and if you need union assistance in future, they’ll need to know to allocate you to another delegate or rep, and at the very least, to not promote him to being the only area rep.

  83. A Series of Letters & Numbers*

    OP3: Agreed that using highlighting sparingly is fine, and can actually be very helpful. I work with a number of field sales people who are constantly working from their phones and/or are super distracted, so over the year what I’ve started doing is highlighting based on specific asks. If it’s an email that has a number of people involved, I’ll highlight the name of the person a question is directed to, for example. Or “Please Approve,” “Thoughts?” or an estimated total if we’re talking about pricing. Rarely is it more than a word or two, and I only use it on messages of high importance (or a lot of text). I’ve actually received feedback that it’s helpful because it draws people’s eyes to what is outstanding.

  84. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    OP3: The best thing is to always keep emails short and simple.
    I had a boss who would only read until he knew what his answer would be. So if you asked “should I order blue wool this time or will the grey look OK?”, and he wanted blue, he’d answer “yes”.
    I also often have to ask clients about problematic wording in the text they want me to translate, and the more questions there are the less chance I have of them answering me. I can’t break it up to separate emails for each question because it can get very hairy, a lot of times there are questions pertaining to the same issue that are all interdependent.
    So I make it simple by phrasing the question in such a way that the answer I’m expecting will be “yes”.
    And since they sometimes don’t respond in time for me to honour their deadline (and get on with the rest of my life) I also put “if I don’t get an answer by noon Monday I shall assume the answer to all questions is “yes”. Funnily enough, they react much more quickly when I put that! I will admit to sometimes making it so “yes” will be absurd, which I think precipitates their answer even more!

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