is there a professional way to call BS?

A reader writes:

I’m working on a project which is being done in a non-standard way. The process we are using is not the norm, but it’s something we end up doing somewhat frequently. While talking about it, a coworker asked me to walk him through something because he “didn’t have any experience with this process.” This was flat-out untrue, as I have done this process with him about five times in the last two months.

It wasn’t a big deal to talk him through it so I did, but it got me thinking about the number of times a day I know someone is making a statement that isn’t true or isn’t the whole truth. Sometimes it’s a white lie that isn’t going to cause a big deal, like the above, but other times it seems more sinister. Like the person who claims at a 9 am meeting on Monday morning that they sent over info “last week” and yeah they did … at 5:05 on Friday … after I’d left for the weekend. The second one drives me absolutely insane and fills me with rage, but I have yet to come up with a way to push back on this kind of statement without coming across like I’m throwing someone under the bus.

So is there a way to call someone out on their BS in a professional and polite manner?

Well, first, in general at work if you can let someone save face, it’s often wise to do it, because you benefit from having good relationships with people. So when something is pretty inconsequential, sometimes it makes sense to let it go rather than calling it out just on principle.

But there are times not calling something out would be consequential. In those cases, the best way to do it is to use a tone that is either very matter-of-fact or slightly confused/concerned. You’re not being accusatory; you are just matter-of-factly making sure everyone is on the same page / has the same information, or concerned that you might have misunderstood something and are trying to clear it up.

For example:
Coworker: Yeah, I sent that over to you last week.
You (matter-of-factly): It looks like it came through after 5 on Friday. When you want me to get something during the work week, will you aim for earlier than that? Otherwise I probably won’t see it until Monday.

Or here’s the concerned version:
Coworker: Yeah, I sent that over to you last week.
You (slightly concerned): Hmmm, on my end it looks like it came through after the work day ended on Friday. Did you send it before that?

Here’s a another example:
Coworker: Can you walk me through this? I’ve never used this new process before.
You: Sure. But (concerned sounding) we’ve walked through this a few times before, so I wonder if there’s something we should do differently that would help you remember it down the road? Do you want to write up notes as we go?

Another one:
Coworker: No one told me about this change! This is the first I’m hearing of it.
You: I sent out an email to everyone about it last week. Did you not see it?
Coworker: I never got an email about this!
You (concerned): Huh —it was sent on my side. Would you mind double-checking right now in case there’s an issue with my email that I need to talk to IT about?

You’re not doing a “gotcha” and you’re not lording over them that you’re right and they’re wrong. You’re just calmly, collaboratively trying to solve a work problem.

Some people still won’t like it! But most will learn over time that they can’t BS around you without being called on it, which will be good for your quality of life.

{ 233 comments… read them below }

  1. Littorally*

    If there’s a theme in Alison’s answers, OP, it’s treating your coworker’s suspiciously BS-y statements as though they were genuine statements of fact as they experienced it. Which is a really valuable tactic to keep in your arsenal of office politics.

    1. anonymouse*

      This is in tandem with Alison’s theme of treating your coworker’s as if they are reasonable, rational people: “of course you do not mean that racist/sexist/insulting statement that way, can you explain?”

      1. Joan Rivers*

        A common thread is that someone didn’t want to do some work. and what this approach does is ask them to do some work, so it doesn’t REWARD them for their BS.

        It teaches them that if they try to get out of work they’ll just face more work so they might as well cooperate instead.

    2. Smithy*

      Absolutely. A lot of times these statements/irritations come the most from people/teams we don’t have concrete authority over. This is a great way to flag these issues that can provide saving face, but also aren’t as confrontational in case more senior staff with authority are present.

    3. Magenta Sky*

      And sometimes, you’ll actually find a real problem nobody knew about. Emails *do* fail to arrive sometimes, and spam filters can be . . . overenthusiastic.

      1. OrigCassandra*

        Yes, this happened to me just yesterday. I thought that for my personal domain I’d disabled spam filtering on my new mail provider (I prefer to handle spam on my email client), but I hadn’t… and stuff was definitely getting lost.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          We got in hot water with a vendor about not paying invoices, but then it turned out they had some issue on their side and it was causing their emails to look like spam. Once it was fixed, and we received our *past due* invoices, all was corrected. But man, they sure thought we were jerks for a minute…

      2. Aggretsuko*

        Yeah, Clutter just sometimes filters things that you’re all “why did you decide this was clutter? I look at those EVERY DAY.” Why doesn’t Clutter let ME decide what is clutter?

        1. Clutter Must Go*

          Clutter will hide emails from my boss. Not all of them. Just the time sensitive ones, I swear. And every time my computer updates, it goes back to Clutter on its own, which, if I forget to fix it, results in some serious panic.

      3. Bernice Clifton*

        Yes, or the sender sent the email using predictor and it went to Sara instead Sarah or it went to Mary Johnson in the wrong branch of a huge company.

        1. Zephy*

          I missed an important email from my grandboss on my actual first day at CurrentJob because she sent it to my personal email, which of course I wasn’t checking on my FIRST DAY at a new job. She just typed my name and let Autocomplete do its thing, didn’t even register that it wasn’t an internal email address.

          1. introverted af*

            Frankly, I get how that can happen when you’re first starting, but it irritates the everloving heck out of me

          2. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

            This has happened to me in every job I’ve ever had. SO ANNOYING

          3. Ama*

            I had a boss at an old job (I was moved into her department after my previous department was dissolved) who I found out MONTHS into my work under her had just assumed my email was It wasn’t — because someone else at this very large employer already had that email. So to her it looked like I was ignoring her and I didn’t know she was even trying to send stuff to me. It wasn’t until the second in command in the department (who had ASKED me what my email was and knew it was a variation) was cc’d on an email to me and noticed it wasn’t my address that it was sorted out. And I really never overcame that bad first impression even though it wasn’t my fault (thankfully I transferred out to another department only about a year later).

            I’ve never really forgiven the person who had that other email address and just …never bothered to respond and say “hey I don’t think these are for me,” though.

            1. J!*

              That’s so incomprehensible and I totally understand being angry. There’s someone who has a slightly more common variant spelling on my last name, and we both have “first initial last name at gmail” as our email addresses. I get stuff intended for him at least once every couple of months and I either reply or forward it to him. And he’s a TOTAL STRANGER, not someone else who works at the same company as me.

              1. Magenta Sky*

                I share a name with a well known comic book artist. I used to get emails asking if I was him all the time, but I think he finally got online himself.

                1. Mercurial*

                  A comedian and actor in the UK, Tony Hawks, has a name very similar to skateboarding pro Tony Hawks. He gets a lot of queries regarding this latter area and has turned it into quite the comedic side line.

                  Perhaps OP’s coworker was enjoying the insight into another area of the business…! (Not an excuse not to flag it though.)

              2. desdemona*

                My gmail has 2 middle initials in it, because someone else has my name with same middle initial. I KNOW she has gotten emails for me.
                I’ve contacted her a few times over the years being like “hey! when you get emails about [my job], they’re for me! sorry people do this! would you be willing to forward?” and she has just…never responded. I suspect the person abandoned the account long ago -.-

            2. Jj2*

              I get emails, IMs, calendar invites for someone else all the time and I always reply to let people know. I have had friendly interactions with almost the whole team of the other ‘me’ at this point! I have a common name and have never had a job where this does not happen. In my current job it is because my large organisation includes middle initials in emails. But I do not have a middle name. So if someone is in a rush or guesses and types in just first name, surname they get me – not the person who has worked here much much longer who has an extra initial in the middle.

            3. Stephanie*

              That is just nuts to me! My work is first initial last name and I’ve gotten emails for other people with the same first name and last name starting with same letter and when something doesn’t make sense, I send it back to the person and ask if I’m the right name. I can’t imagine not responding!

          4. Autistic AF*

            Many years ago I took a middle management position under a toxic boss. She neglected to add me to the distribution list she’d created for the other team leads… 2-3 weeks later an email I hadn’t received came up, and when she realized her (easily made) mistake she said I should have told her sooner. Ugh.

            1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

              So you were somehow supposed to know you weren’t getting emails that you … weren’t getting? Ouch. I got a brain cramp just from typing that out.

              I hope you didn’t have to work under that person for too long. She sounds like the Wicked Witch of the West, but with evil bees instead of flying monkeys!

          5. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

            When I returned to an old position a few years ago, there was a snafu with getting my email reactivated and I didn’t have email access for 2 weeks. (Which was essentially untenable. I had to use the computer of someone on vacation and our training log on just to be able to do my job.) I foolishly used my personal email as a stopgap and FOUR YEARS LATER I am STILL getting emails to my personal from people who didn’t even WORK here then! (But maybe got on a thread with someone who had my personal email and then hit reply-all.) I have so many filters set up to auto-forward and it seems to grow by the day. So frustrating.

        2. Nethwen*

          Once, I intended to send directions to my graphic designer. It ended up going to the Big Boss at another organization. Fortunately, the Big Boss had a sense of humor and we had a cordial relationship, so we just laughed at me directing him to do X and return it by Y.

          I ‘ve also sent an outside vendor a press release because their email address and the newspaper’s start with “contact.” Autofill and trying to do too many things in short succession is a recipe for funny stories (or embarrassment).

        3. Just Here for the Free Lunch*

          I had this issue when my company acquired another company. The acquired company used the same firstinitiallastname@domain as my company did, and there was a person with the same combo as me. Since I already had that address they gave her firstname.lastname@domain, but no one knew that. I got emails meant for her for months! And I always forwarded them to her or replied to the sender with her actual email address. Because I’m not a jerk.

      4. Cat Tree*

        Or sometimes I accidentally leave someone off the list, or select the wrong name. If someone says I sent it, I go back and make sure I didn’t make a mistake on my end. Usually I sent it correctly and they just didn’t notice or forgot, but my act of checking and implying that I could have made a mistake makes the other person more willing to acknowledge their mistake. Of course, this works best in a work culture that is already cooperative.

        I’ve worked at some adversarial places, and I can admit that I’m not above that old tactic of forwarding it from my sent folder where it clearly shows they were on the original recipient list. It’s better to just not work at a place like that though, if possible.

        1. Esmeralda*

          LOL, I do that with students, but always with a statement that lets them save face: “I’m forwarding the previous message in case it got caught in your spam filter — keep an eye out for it.” When we all know that they just didn’t open the original email.

        2. Mr. Shark*

          I have NO problem with re-forwarding from my sent folder to coworker. It’s not a condemnation of their missing reading their e-mail, it’s just that I did, in fact, send this to coworker already, and here it is, see the date?
          I don’t think that’s adversarial.

        3. CC*

          Oh I totally did it for adversarial reasons once. To my boss. To stop a blame game.

          What had happened was, I did a design, boss said too expensive, make it smaller, I said this is how big it has to be in order to work, he repeated that it was too expensive and to make it smaller. Wasn’t getting anywhere, so I flagged that message for later, did the smaller (inadequate) design as instructed.

          When it was built and turned on, surprise! it was inadequate. Boss starts trying to find out who to blame for the design. I forwarded the email I had flagged with no other comment. Silence, and the original design was implemented (with extra cost and delay, of course) and it worked as it should.

          I absolutely did not say “I told you so” but oh how I wanted to.

      5. MarsJenkar*

        It could also be the message was ignored because the recipient genuinely didn’t realize the message applied to them. I had such a thing happen to me recently; I was invited to an online meeting that involved workers who did work for a specific prominent client (say, Chocolate Teapots, Inc.). I had done work for Chocolate Teapots in the past, and might again at some point in the future, but I hadn’t done work for them in months, instead being assigned work from a number of other clients (Sugar Glazed Knickknacks, Peppermint Flowers, etc.), so I ignored the meeting invite because it looked at first glance like one of a number of other meetings I actually *wasn’t* expected to attend.

        Turned out that this time, I *was* expected to attend (and it turned out to be a genuinely important meeting), and was rather mortified when I found out I’d missed the first part of it. I explained what had happened, apologized for missing the first part of the meeting, and thanked the person who let me know I really was supposed to attend.

      6. GrumpyGnome*

        This! I discovered an issue last week where no one told our auditors that a particular mailbox was going to be decommissioned …. last November. No bouncebacks, no notification of the new mailbox, nothing at all; the emails just went into a blackhole and now we have to try to figure out which items have been missed over the last 4 months. It genuinely does happen sometimes and if I’d gone into this swinging it would have just made it all worse.

      7. Lacey*

        Yes, a couple of times I’ve thought coworkers were being lazy, but I treated it like something must be wrong with the software, which was good… since it was a problem with the software.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          A few years ago, we had some strangely quiet days. Turns out no external emails were getting through to our inboxes. We found out at a large meeting with external partners.

      8. NotAnotherManager!*

        Yep – ask me about the time that the newly-installed spam filter at the LAW FIRM I worked for decided all mail from was spam. (FYI, this is how lawyers are notified of new filings and judicial opinions for their cases.)

      9. Littorally*

        Yep. And it’s way easier to sort that out if you act like everyone is being reasonable, versus blowing your stack immediately and then having to walk it back.

      10. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        That’s absolutely true! I once saw a sign that said: “To err is human – to really #@%&! things up requires a computer”! I’ve certainly had workplace emails (both to and from my computer) get lost in cyberspace. And it never hurts to know ASAP if there IS a problem with emails so it can resolved ASAP as well.

      11. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        That’s absolutely true! I once saw a sign that said: “To err is human – to really #@%&! things up requires a computer”! I’ve certainly had workplace emails (both to and from my computer) get lost in cyberspace. And it never hurts to know ASAP if there IS a problem with emails so it can resolved ASAP as well.

        1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

          And the above is a good example of this! I posted the above note ONCE and it’s now posted twice. Sigh…

      12. Koalafied*

        Yeah, I’ve always found it useful to “assume I’m the idiot before I assume someone else is” (or at least, before I communicate to someone else that I think they are).

        “I’m having trouble doing X with what you gave me, can you show me where I can find Z in this?” is a much safer route to go than, “I can’t use what you gave me because you didn’t include Z.” If indeed they gave you something useless it gives them an opportunity to say, “oh, my mistake, I sent you the wrong/incomplete version, here’s the right one,” and you can go on about your day, and if it turns out that Z was on another tab of the spreadsheet, they can slow you and you’re not left being the asshole who tried to take someone else to task over your own mistake.

        1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

          I do that with students who I think have turned in a “stalling document” — we have a paper due, they turn in something written for another class, or a corrupted file (we are now a Gdocs campus, there’s not really a reason for that) or they “didn’t know how to convert it from pages” (and can’t google apparently?).

          Sometimes, it genuinely is a mistake. It always allows the students to ‘save face’ and it is less adversarial (and more beneficial to their education, which is my goal) of accusing them of not doing their assignment.

      13. caroline*

        Thing that happened to me this week: I had an email thread going with a client, just the two of us. I had sent the last email, and then I had to send another one, so I pressed “reply” in outlook, typed my (important and fairly urgent!) comments, and sent it. Two hours later, the client emails me and asks about my comments, as they haven’t heard anything. Turns out, I emailed myself that last reply. Thanks, outlook.

        1. Usually a Lurker*

          Tip: Use reply-all for this. I do it frequently when I give my coworkers “friendly reminders” they haven’t responded to my important question, to keep said question in the email chain.

      14. JustaTech*

        I once had my work email system decide to not receive any emails from outside the country. They didn’t go to spam, they just didn’t come through at all. Which was very awkward because I was trying to work with one of our vendors in France, who suddenly ghosted me, while they thought I was a flake who never responded to their emails.
        And then, because getting it fixed was a mess I had to have them send all these technical drawings to my personal email.

      15. Caroline Bowman*

        This completely. Of course most of the time, it’s a gentle, non-insulting, non-humiliating way to stand one’s ground and not tolerate nonsense, BUT very occasionally it will reveal a legit issue and this can then be solved with no finger-pointing or escalation.

    4. Jack Be Nimble*

      In general, this is a good strategy for resolving apparent miscommunications. I can’t count the number of times I’ve assumed someone was BS-ing me, took the “hmm, what went wrong here?” tactic, and then learned that there were extenuating circumstances or another complicating factor I wasn’t aware of!

      1. BusyBee*

        Absolutely agree! And occasionally that’s even lead to me helping that person solve the issue/problem, which strengthened the relationship. If you go into it assuming positive intent, it tends to lead to that very outcome.

        1. AnonRonRon*

          Yes to all this! Also, it accounts for the possibility that the error was yours, so you won’t look like a total jerk when it turns out your coworker is telling the truth.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            And if you use Outlook, it might randomly decide to save all your emails then send them to you in masse a couple hours after you were supposed to get them. (Ask me how I know.)

            1. KaciHall*

              The email program on a computer I took over had it set to send and recieve messages once a day. The previous person at the main desk just assumed that was how email worked because it had always been like that since they switched from faxed orders to email orders.

              The department managers didn’t know what to do once I started sending back orders as they were actually received. I still don’t know how no one managed to notice this in the FIVE YEARS before I took over.

      2. Rainbow Brite*

        Yes! I do this with kids as a teacher. If a kid looks like they’re goofing off, a curious, “Hey, what are you working on?” works way better than a curt, “Back to work, please.” Not just for relationship-building, but also because sometimes the kid who looks like they’re just playing around is actually working, just in an unconventional way.

        1. ceiswyn*

          Yup. I’ve had that from the other side – a trainer told me to put my phone away an hour into the session, because she was assumed I was goofing off.

          I asked her, with my best innocent confusion face, if she wanted me to stop taking notes on the training. Because that’s what I was doing. In a note taking app so that I could edit my notes and search for keywords.

          She had to walk back an hour of simmering resentment AND initially outright disbelieving me and insisting on looking at my phone screen. And then very obviously aimed a number of tricky questions at me, all of which I was able to answer BECAUSE I had been taking notes to cement my learning.

          She resented me for the rest of my short time at the company, but she did it all to herself.

          1. Laure001*

            Yep yep yep! When I’m doing this, I now learned to say it aloud “wait, I’m taking notes” or wave at my phone if people look suspicious “I am actually taking notes”… Because I had what you said happen to me.

      3. Not A Girl Boss*

        Yes exactly! It’s a win-win. I always take the calm, interested-in-helping tone and it always pays off.
        1) I actually solve a problem and look like a hero, instead of 3 more months of low key grumpiness at each other every Monday morning because of a misunderstanding.
        2) I come across as the calm, competent person in a room full of drama queens. The more heated and blame-y people get, the calmer and more genuinely helpful I get. Its the number one thing I attribute to my early promotions, because often a boss is in the room watching and is thoroughly annoyed their time is being wasted on such antics. Coming across as the antic-less one is a superpower.

    5. In my shell*

      This post and your reply here – Littorally – is why I wish this website had a favorites button! I want to revisit and reference this in the future!

      SO MUCH YES.

    6. JSPA*

      That’s pretty well true of most people, most aspects of life, and most awkward situations. Define the miscommunication / missed communication, regardless of cause, as the problem, and work collaboratively to fix it.

      It’s not even a dodge.

      “Something’s not working” is guaranteed true.

      “I know you are lying and I know it’s intentional” is one of many possible explanations.

      1. Batty Twerp*

        You could even apply a revised version of Hanlon’s razor; the original stating “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”. But the stupidity could also be on the part of the technology, not a person.
        Don’t assume everyone is automatically BS-ing or being deceitful. It’s likely also not personal.

  2. Forrest*

    Back & Back’s Assertiveness At Work calls this “discrepancy assertiveness”: you’re not contradicting, you’re just drawing attention to an apparent discrepancy and asking for clarification.

  3. KayEss*

    A literal part of my job on the communications team for a big company-wide project was to maintain a public archive of email announcements that had been sent about it, specifically so that anyone saying “you never communicated about this!” could be confronted with the specific list of times we had, in fact, communicated about it. I don’t THINK management ever had to haul it out but it was a precaution born of long experience.

    1. Magenta Sky*

      The whole point of having such an archive is to never need it. And that often works.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        I have to admit I save all my important emails.
        Someone recently accused me of “never having seen” a campaign I was running. I mentioned in the moment that it was some months ago, but they swore they couldn’t find the email. Sure enough, I found the email, which they had responded to with changes, which I had made and sent back to them. I forwarded them the email, to which they replied “Oh, that one.” LOL! People!

        1. Anonym*

          “LOL! People!” perfectly captures an attitude I’m trying to cultivate in dealing with work frustrations. Thank you for that!

    2. Kimmybear*

      This is my life. I say weekly “it goes in the newsletter so you can say ‘we told them’”.

  4. meyer lemon*

    I tend to go with a similar approach. It’s also good practice because sometimes there is a genuine misunderstanding or technical issue, and it’s embarrassing to go in with guns blazing and then have it turn out that your email never went through.

    1. Jack Be Nimble*

      I had a (thankfully now former) boss who, at least once a week, forgot to CC me on something or didn’t hit ‘send’ on a critical message. She’d then call me out in larger team meetings for failing to complete a task, only to find the message in her drafts or realize I hadn’t been included on it.

      I’m a big fan of taking a more measured approach instead of assuming incompetence or malfeasance on the other person’s part!

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        I had one of those bosses too. “Are you coming?” to meetings he forgot to invite me too. “???” to emails I had responded to hours before. He would laugh it off, but after the fourth or fifth time, it was annoying as hell.

        My favorite was, “but I showed you how to do that” when, the first time I did something on my own, I made a small mistake. Because he never gave anyone the benefit of the doubt, even though he himself made these types of mistakes.

        That’s key. My boss never gave me the benefit of the doubt, but I give it to everyone, even him. It’s made me a much better colleague who gets better results. I’m not allowing bs to slide, but I ask for an explanation rather than assuming malice or stupidity. Example: “Hey, I think you forgot the attachment” rather than, “I’m confused, what spreadsheet are you talking about?”

    2. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Yes. In addition to helping the other person, it’s a good habit for your reputation.

      a) You don’t want people to feel a little victorious when you’re caught in a mistake

      b) If you extend goodwill to others, they’re more likely to extend it back to you

      c) Treating people in this way signals to everyone that you’re not going to chew them out if they make a mistake, which will make people more likely to work with you and to own up to their mistakes.

      You don’t want to operate in a way that will make people feel on the defensive around you if you can help it.

      1. Forrest*

        Yes, about 90% of the time when I know for sure it’s the other person’s error I am just very happy that it wasn’t me, and happy to extend the same generosity i would like them to extend to me!

        The other ten percent, its people who are notably disrespectful for me or my time, where I enjoy the Schadenfreude so much that it’s also easy to smile sweetly and take the moral high road.

    3. ThatGirl*

      Agree, I take a similar tactic – “oh, I was pretty sure I sent it last week, let me find that and forward it to you!” or “hmm, that doesn’t sound right to me, but let me check!” with a cheery attitude on the very slight chance that there was a technical glitch or I’m completely wrong but no, probably not.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        “Let me send that again so it’s right at the top of your inbox.”

        1. CCSF*

          This is one I use regularly, and one I often appreciate when others will do for me. Even when I know I received the email, it may take me awhile to track it down and resending genuinely does help out!

    4. Beatrice*

      Yes! I had this crop up with a former coworker who simply did not receive any of the emails I sent her, ever. We spent weeks trying to figure out why it was happening, and finally resorted to IM/phone contact, and I very occasionally asking someone to forward emails on to her. I eventually made a life change that resulted in a change to my email address, and that fixed it. No idea what the problem was…we ruled out all the obvious reasons.

      1. a small houseplant*

        I had to send contracts at a temp position. I think because my email address was new, gmail would mark everything as spam, so I had to remember to tell people that. I noticed people with a certain domain never got my emails and eventually messaged IT and they were like, oh, yeah, that’s a thing. Oh, uh, ok?

  5. SamKD*

    Yes. So very much this. Assuming they are speaking entirely in good faith then doing the “concerned” routine is one of my favorite ways to fix this problem. The secret is to never let any anger show at all, which is tough, but so worth it when you see the “wait…why isn’t this working right?” look.

    1. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

      Seriously, I should have an Emmy award by now for my wide-eyed portrayal of deep concern over how this terrible, unexplainable mixup in communication could have POSSIBLY occurred.

      “Oh my goodness Dave, I am so sorry you weren’t aware of this – we must do everything in our power to get to the bottom of how you were not in the loop!!!”

      Confuses the hell out of them when I don’t get defensive or angry. It’s hilarious.

      1. ceiswyn*

        Yup! I use this tactic not because it’s the most effective one (although it is) but because I am a horrible person and enjoy fortifying the moral high ground and then watching people squirm.

        Everyone needs a hobby, right?

  6. anonymouse*

    I get that from people (yes, it’s the same ones) who want me to walk them through things. Instead of saying, “walk me through this, I don’t want to go through the instructions,” they put the onus on me to do it because I want to be a team player.
    So I make us a team:
    “First off, this is X process. We used it for A and B projects this year. (discrepancy assertiveness) You may not have connected it, because today’s project seems different, but it’s the same thing really. So I know you were able to get through most of it without me, so start here and hit me up if you aren’t able to figure something out.”
    and then use liberal amounts of
    “what have you tried so far?”
    “well, try this. It should work. I have to work on 123 now, but I can check back.”
    and walk away.

    1. PlainJane*

      I think that going with the “It’s the same thing as…” would be helpful, because it’s very possible that the person in question just hasn’t processed that it’s a standard process, maybe not realizing that it was the same in A and B, and is now the same in C… he may have thought A and B were different processes because they were different projects, and now here’s another one. Also, was he in a different part of the process during A&B, and didn’t get the same birdseye view of how everything fit together? I think a fault some managers have is that they see the whole picture, but don’t necessarily communicate how each piece people are doing fits into it… but think either that they *have* communicated it or that it’s so blindingly obvious that they can’t understand how Sally wouldn’t realize that sorting the llama combs by size at the beginning of the project will make the alpaca sweaters ship two weeks earlier at the end. (Or in this case, how Harry didn’t realize that the combs were already sorted, and the shampoo team needs to get to work on water temperature instead of the shearers sharpening their blades. Or whatever. My metaphors are off today.)

      1. anonymouse*

        I’ve had luck with people who were genuinely not connecting the dots. That’s an additional benefit of assuming ignorance over malice/laziness.
        Yes, you feed the alpaca the same way you feed a llama.
        Oh, I because I tried that with a goat and had a problem with.
        Always reference the meal matrix before you start and use the instructions it lists…

  7. A Genuine Scientician*

    I had to do something like this in a previous job. For the first six weeks of one particular project, at our weekly meeting on the project updates, we’d have a form of this conversation:

    Boss 1: Where do we stand on project X?
    Boss 2: I sent an email to [me] asking about Thing Y on Tuesday, but haven’t heard back.
    Me: Huh, that’s odd. I replied on Tuesday at 4:12pm. The subject line is “Options For Thing Y”. Can you check that you don’t have that?
    Boss 2: Oh, here it is in my inbox, and it’s marked read, but I’ve never seen this before.
    Me: Strange! Well, as I laid out in my responses, our options are….

    The 6th time this happened, Boss 1 finally said “It seems like every week, you say A Genuine Scientician hasn’t responded to something. And every time, he has, it’s in your inbox, and it’s marked as read, but you say you’ve never seen it before. Maybe you should start assuming he has responded to everything, as so far he always has, and stop saying that he hasn’t”

    Boss 2 had other issues as well, but it was nice to see that others recognized this was a him problem, not a me problem.

    1. mcfizzle*

      Well done by both you and Boss 1. Geez Boss 2; I’m surprised he didn’t announce someone fed the gremlins after midnight and they clearly went through his email and marked stuff as read!

      1. A Genuine Scientician*

        I love electronic records for these sorts of things. It’s come in handy so many times for me. Even for just things around the house:

        Me: Hi, I’ve been trying to reach you about needing repairs on my A/C unit that you worked on last summer.
        Repair tech: Yeah, you called me once and then when I called back, you were out of town. And now it’s a year later
        Me: Actually, I’ve left 9 voicemails for you. 4 of them were before that one time you called me back; 5 of them were after that, but still last summer. I further sent 4 messages through [site I hired him from]. I can give you date and time of each of those voicemails and email messages if you like?
        Repair tech: …..that won’t be necessary. So, what was your issue again?

        I honestly don’t mind that people don’t remember things as clearly as I do; I’m used to it by this point in my life. But I do dislike being told I never responded to something when I actually did and have the messages to prove it.

    2. Ama*

      We have a high profile volunteer and donor at my non-profit whose assistant was like this. We have a large expert volunteer group and most of them have assistants so on all of our emails we bcc the volunteers and their assistants to prevent the dreaded “reply all” chains. I still don’t really know WHY this assistant kept ignoring our emails, my prevailing theory is he did not realize that his boss really valued his volunteer work with us so he thought we weren’t as important as his actual business clients. But we’d frequently get into this cycle where I’d send an email reminding people of something that should have been on their calendar for months, Boss would respond saying “are you copying Assistant? This isn’t on my calendar,” we’d explain that he had in fact been bcc’d and could Assistant check his email in case there was a spam filter issue, and Assistant would have to grudgingly admit that he had in fact received the original email.

      He tried to throw my admin under the bus so blatantly once (she’d actually talked to Assistant on the phone about said event he said he’d never received) that our CEO talked privately to Boss and basically told him Assistant needed to knock it off. Unfortunately not long after that conversation the Boss retired from our volunteer group so we never got to see if Assistant shaped up or not.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      We had someone who would navigate down the list of emails by using the arrow keys — click down past thirteen emails *with preview* turned on and all 13 get marked read.
      And it took forever to get it through WHY they were “not getting told about new emails”.
      Turning off preview was a mind blower apparently.

    4. Laure001*

      Wow, congrats to Boss 1… And also sounds like he was pretty exasperated at Boss 2 for certainly many other reasons :D

  8. Kassie*

    For the example about email… someone tried to call me out on my BS. They did the, “I sent this on Tuesday, can you check that you didn’t get it, maybe we need to follow up with IT” approach. Turns out we did need to follow up with IT! I wasn’t getting emails from certain people and we uncovered a mess. If they would have just let it slide I wouldn’t have figured it out and if they would have went an accusatory route I also might not have figured it out.

    1. PlainJane*

      I had one, too. I’d sent off an email, but when I came back, it was in my drafts box. I thought OMG, I didn’t send it! But then I sent it again, and it was still in my drafts box. Never did show up in my sent folder, but the person I was sending it to got it twice. No one has the slightest idea what happened there. But sometimes, it is legitimately a tech problem.

    2. Hydrangea McDuff*

      I have a common last name IRL and there is another person with my same first and last name in my org, although our email addresses are different. I always assume best intentions even though I’m pretty on top of my email!

  9. Snarkus Aurelius*

    This is timely.

    I have a coworker who is looking to my budget for funding for her efforts, and I’ve told her many times how to get her own money. She says she understands and then the next day she’ll complain about the “inequities.” As if I magically get departmental funding instead of doing a budget, writing a proposal, filling in the forms, and giving a presentation.

    Today, I will write this out in an email because I’m tired of explaining it to her over the phone and in meetings.

    I’m trying to take the tone of problem solving instead of her laziness. Make no mistake: she is lazy!

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Yeah. I was going to be charitable and say maybe she just doesn’t know what to do (or doesn’t feel she has agency to do anything).

      Write it out and send it. Be sure to put the topic in the subject line: BUDGET REQUEST PROCESS or something that resonates.

      To be fair though, I have an issue with another department where they really don’t document what they want the process to be. For example: getting approvals for copy, or say who does what to publish something. The process, people and software seem to change frequently, but I’m often not informed of what the new process IS because I don’t do this as frequently.

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      You know this, I’ll bet, but: write that email! Send that email! Ask for her feedback on that email! You’ll learn even better ways to explain things AND you’ll have it on hand to share with other people for years to come.

  10. In my shell*

    OP wrote, “…as I have done this process with him about five times in the last two months.”

    Is it possible that the co-worker didn’t recognize the process as being the same or similar to the prior 5 demonstrations of said process? It could be as simple as making that connection – ? I do acknowledge that they could just be a lazy jerk though.

    1. Nanani*

      It’s possible, sure, but I think that possibility was covered.
      Treat it as a missed connection and genuine bafflement, keep the subtext of “I am not here to do you work for you” clear, and document that you went over it on (today’s date) for next time.

    2. Doctor What*

      As Dory would say in “Finding Dory”…’I have short-term remembery loss.’…

      But seriously, I actually do, I had a stroke, due to an illness in my 30s and my short term memory is garbage now. I’m not saying this employee has the same thing, but it might be better to approach in terms of a concern, rather than accusation.

      I’d be horrified if one of my coworkers thought I was faking not understanding something, just to be a jerk.

    3. TWW*

      Doesn’t seem outrageous that someone might have to be walked through a process several times before it sticks, especially if it’s a process that’s only done once every couple of weeks. And more especially if the previous demonstrations had been too fast or if the process isn’t documented well.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        Yeah but to me the key difference is “can you go over this again? I’m still a little fuzzy on the process.” vs “I have never done this before. Walk me through it?”
        Unless you have a memory loss issue, something you’ve been over 5 times in 2 months should not be framed as the latter. I’m not saying the person is BSing, but if they genuinely think they’ve never done it, they either have a memory issue or a comprehension issue. There’s a certain point at which “yo, it’s your job to retain how to do this without help every time. Can you commit to doing that?”

      2. ceiswyn*

        If the demonstration goes too fast, you ask for the demonstrator to slow down. If the documentation is poor, you scribble your own copious notes all over it.

        Maybe not the first time – but after the second, it’s a you problem.

  11. Smithy*

    While the attitude of concern is helpful in callout of snideness/potential BS – it can also be helpful in catching areas where training really isn’t sticking.

    There was one organization specific platform we had, that some people used very frequently and others (like myself) were expected to be familiar to step in on occasion but rarely used it. I really really struggled to pick up the structure, and made sure I volunteered to sit in on a number of new staff trainings over the years because it never stuck.

    While if it was just a “me” issue, that would have been one thing – but I know a LOT of peers at my level with my level of interaction had the same struggles. Someone approaching why we were forever requiring someone to “walk us through one more time” likely could have saved a lot of heartache by stepping back and asking why so many people were struggling so frequently after having been at the organization for years.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, it’s like our former expensing software. It was kludgy and while it had a GUI, the original code was something from the DOS days. It didn’t have a prefill lookup of account codes, you couldn’t pick favorites, and it was the opposite of user friendly. People who travel often could use it well enough, although I don’t think anyone liked it. Before the pandemic I traveled once or twice a year, and every time I used the software it was like using it for the first time. I was by no means the only person with that problem. It got so bad that they had to start a travel support team to help people get it done, because it just wasted so much time. It could take me 90 minutes to expense a hotel room and train or airplane tickets and add all the attachments and to get the per diem right, because I had to read the manual as I went. When we upgraded to a new version with all the GUI bells and whistles and shortcuts, it was like a new world. Even when I continued to travel only once or twice a year, our current software’s so intuitive to use that it’s pretty hard to go wrong.

      1. Smithy*

        At my old workplace, it was a case where Team A should have had complete responsibility for the platform that was designed with Team B in mind, but also needed by Team C despite the clunky fit. But hey, we’re all a team – and folks get busy! Team C, desperately needed Team A to complete the work on the platform, and so a lot of guilt and fretting would come from our own team’s leadership on the status.

        As a result, those who started in the most junior roles on Team C often learned the system pretty well, but those hired in more mid-level positions didn’t. It ended up factoring into a world of internal office politics that didn’t benefit anyone.

        At a new organization, similar split between Team A, Team C, and an organization specific platform that appears to be no better or worse in design. The major difference is that Team C’s access includes no editing permission. So the training, tasks and expertise all fall to Team A.

  12. AndersonDarling*

    I’ve been in situations when I’ve ignored the BS statements when it’s one-on-one or in small groups, but when the behavior comes out in larger meetings, I sure as heck call them out in the ways Alison suggests. But now I’m thinking that it would be better to nip the behavior up front so it doesn’t have to be a reputation damaging smack-down in front of the CEO.
    Each time I let BS go without any kind of acknowledgement, I let the speaker think that it was an acceptable way to work. It’s not fair to call them out openly when I’ve been letting them get away with it every other time.

    1. Raida*

      This I completely agree with – we set the parameters in how we respond to people, letting things build up and exploding or deciding without them knowing they get treated differently with an Executive in the room is unfair.
      Especially things like little lies where people make themselves look good – they’ll really want to look good with a bigwig in the room and it will hurt them more for it to be called out.

  13. should i apply?*

    I know I have been guilty of saying “I didn’t receive that” when I actually had received it, unusually it was because I genuinely didn’t remember seeing it and was thinking that what I was saying was correct. I would react much better to the response of ” I sent it out on Friday, can you double check to see if there was an issue” rather than the assumption that I was intentionally lying about something.

    1. Loredena Frisealach*

      I’ve been on both sides so I’ll often say “I don’t remember seeing that can you tell me when you sent it and I’ll take a look.” Sometimes I really didn’t get it, sometimes I did but was busy and failed to read it, and sometimes I really had forgotten about it immediately after!

      1. TiffIf*

        I have a coworker who has some rather complex rules on her inbox for where something gets filed, so MOST emails from me go to her inbox, but sometimes one gets prematurely moved into her “TiffIf” folder before she reads it.

    2. TPS reporter*

      I agree it’s not always a BS response. People are stressed and busy and they do genuinely forget. I think Alison’s approach is best because it does leave room for instances where there really is confusion or forgetfulness.

    3. Firecat*

      Your reversing the situation. In this case, you sent it out on Friday after hours and then proclaimed you provided it last week when asked about it Monday morning. Which makes it sound like the person asking sat on it all week.

    4. Salsa Verde*

      I think framing is everything – the person who sent the email that you didn’t remember getting would probably react much better if you said, “I don’t remember receiving that” rather than “I didn’t receive that”, so this is a great example of how the benefit of the doubt can work for both parties.

    5. M. Albertine*

      My favorite response in that situation is “That doesn’t ring a bell. Can you [give me more information]?” Sometimes I do remember with more context!

  14. Been There*

    I work in email marketing and it cracks me up the number of times that people are like “I never saw that email” because I can tell them to the SECOND when they opened it and which links they clicked on in the email. Once people learned I had that power, they stopped saying things like “I didn’t get it” or “I never saw that”. It’s amazing how often that becomes the default for people when they don’t remember something.

    1. hayling*

      Yeah…except with incoming mail servers’ malicious link scanners, you can’t always tell what’s a real click and what’s a bot…

      1. Been There*

        most of the time you can – if the email is opened within a second of it arriving, it’s probably a bot. Anything else is human. Bots don’t generally wait to open emails.

  15. Gone Girl*

    Can someone send this to my old boss? They literally couldn’t wait to have their “gotcha” moments, and it made working for them a nightmare (I literally had to go to therapy in order to get to a place where I felt like I could still make a mistake and ask for help). Like Alison mentioned, a lot of times it was a simple miscommunication where some benefit-of-the-doubt would have done a lot good and gone a long way. Your coworkers may be unaware that you stop checking emails on the dot at 5pm, or unable to make the connection that these processes are the same – in which case, a similar response to Alison’s like: “Oh! I can see how you might have thought that, but actually this is very similar to X project’s process from before”

    (As an aside, I’m pretty sure it was the only way my boss felt like they had power/control in our company :/ )

    1. Oranges*

      Also, “last week” very much still includes Friday at 5:05. It’s shady if it’s being said to imply you should have done something with it, but if they’re giving you a timeframe of when it was sent, “last week” is accurate.

      1. lasslisa*

        Yeah, if I finish something before I leave on Friday I got it done “last week”. Remember the coworker isn’t necessarily thinking about you and how you look, but more about themselves (and how they look). If they are trying to hassle and pressure you, then it’s a great time for ‘Oh, I didn’t see it. Can you let me know when it was sent so I can check again?”

  16. Saffie_girl*

    As always, Allison’s solutions are fantastic! I often struggle with the opposite in that I get blamed for things unjustly. For example I recently had someone call me out in a largish meeting with several c-suite people of “saffie_girls, I have requested this multiple times and you have not provided”. In fact I had sent it 3 separate times (I know they were received as I got replies from this same person). Sounds like a similar approach will also work in those cases!

    1. animaniactoo*

      “Perhaps you missed it, it was in the e-mail that you replied to me on this morning. Did the attachment not come through, or do you need it presented in a different way?”

  17. animaniactoo*

    “You may not remember/realize, but this is the same process that we used for the X, Y, & Z jobs. We went over it then, do you need a refresher?”

    “Yes, unfortunately it was late enough in the week – EOD on Friday – that I was not able to proceed with the rest of the project. Now that I have it I will be able to move forward, although I’m not sure I can still meet the Wednesday deadline.”

  18. Aggretsuko*

    I hear “I never got an email about this!” soooooooo much in my job. To which I am all “we literally sent three comms about that. Yes, I checked that they sent.”

  19. Firecat*

    Ohhh I hate the “I sent that last week” technicality! It’s always to make it seem like YOU messed up.

    The worst case I saw of this was when someone lambasted my team that they sent this data last month! And they sent it on the 31st at 8pm and yelled at our questions about timeliness at 8:30am on Monday the 3rd….

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Yeah, but technically, they did send it last week! You will always have last minute people. Make the deadline earlier for your own sanity. Then if they blow it, you actually can point to the deadline of the 25th or something.

      1. Firecat*

        Technically sent it last month is very different then I sent it a month ago which – in the situation I’m describing – is very much what the person is trying to imply. This only happens when there is outside management who doesn’t know the whole story involved or CCd. Otherwise they conveniently use a more accurate term like – I sent it on Friday.

    2. Ama*

      My “favorite” one was the coworker (a postdoc when I worked at a grad school) who stomped up to my desk one Monday morning at 9:15 am complaining that she’d sent me multiple emails I hadn’t responded to. She had sent them at 7 pm Friday, 2 pm Sunday, and 8:45 am that morning. I was actually responding to her original email when she stomped down. I reminded her that admin staff, unlike academics, did not work weekends or after 5 pm and I literally was responding as early as I possible could.

    3. Cj*

      But does it “fill you with rage?” That seems a little extreme. Plus the OP’s letter is about the BS. Is that the part that is filling her with rage, or the fact that it was late? There is a difference.

  20. MissDisplaced*

    I think that rather than trying to “call BS” it might be more helpful to ask if there is a particular part of the process they have a question about.
    In example #1, the OP says themselves that “the process we are using is not the norm, but it’s something we end up doing somewhat frequently.” Well, it’s pretty normal for people to feel ambiguity about things that aren’t the norm, even if you do it frequently! You could instead say something like: “We’re running this the same way as Y and Z you worked on previously. Is there some part in particular you have a question about?”

    As for the end of the week deadlines, especially if you deal with multiple time zones, I’ve just found it best to be very precise. If you have a due date of “end of the week,” for a Monday morning meeting, but you really need it before Friday night, make your due date EOB Thursday instead. I regularly pad my deadlines and no one is the wiser.

    It doesn’t always work with everyone, but it can cut down some of the annoyance. Unfortunately, this is just Dealing With People. Sometimes things really do slip people’s minds and they forget they looked at something.

    1. OP*

      The time zone thing speaks to me on a major level. I work with a group of people who are an hour behind us, and come in on a different schedule, so our week ends one day before theirs.

      I’ve reminded them multiple times of our hours, and I have daily check in calls with them, but without fail I come in on Monday to communication about 3-4 issues that they emailed about after I was gone for the day, and several claims that my team is “not supporting” and it’s my fault something didn’t ship.

      Depending on the day I get mixed levels of support.

      1. LCH*

        can you set up an out of office with your department’s hours so they’ll get an immediate response when they email you at off times? then they can’t say you were ignoring them or not doing work.

        1. LCH*

          “Hi, You’ve contacted [dept] after hours. We’ll see this issue once we come back into the office on Monday. Have a great weekend!”

          1. Ama*

            I think this is a great idea — I run an application for grant funding that’s open to everyone in the U.S. but our office is on the East Coast. When we get close to a deadline I will put up my out of office for the last few weeks noting when I’ll be back in the office and where they can look for answers to some of the simpler questions. If we have a common question pop up (last year we allowed people to electronically sign the official submission page for the first time, due to the pandemic) I’ll put that answer right in the email. It seems to have really helped with the few anxious West Coast applicants who call multiple times on Friday afternoon not realizing they’ve already missed me.

            1. Ama*

              I realize that last bit is confusing — what was happening was people would send an email at 3:30 pm West Coast time, then when I didn’t immediately respond, start leaving voicemails.

          2. Jack Russell Terrier*

            Yes – that’s what I was thinking.

            Also – add it to your signature, so there’s a reminder Every Single Time you email them:
            Jane Doe (she/her)
            M-F 9-5 US Eastern
            X time Tuesday – X time Saturday Wellington
            X time -X time London

        2. OP*

          Sadly that is frowned upon in my office. Not 100% sure why as it seems reasonable. Probably another not great culture thing.

          1. MissDisplaced*

            OP, I’m not sure why noting your time zone and hours would be frowned upon? This is pretty normal if you regularly deal with people in multiple time zones. How else are they to know when you’re there?

            I have my hours noted in my signature (8am-5pm EST) and have an auto responder on after 5pm that says: “My office hours are 8am-5pm EST. I will respond to emails as soon as possible next business day.” It helps set expectations that you’re not ignoring them but you’re also not responding immediately.

            1. lasslisa*

              It’s probably frowned upon because it implies you aren’t replying to email outside usual hours. But maybe that’s my own work environment rearing its ugly head.

          2. They Don’t Make Sunday*

            Could you set up an autoreply that’s triggered only by the offenders’email addresses so that no one else who emails you will see it?

  21. DG*

    Something I’ve tried to work on in the last few years is to presume everyone I work with has good intentions and is trying their best. That does not come naturally to me, and occasionally I still have to fake it (Alison’s scripts are spot on!), but it’s been good for relationship building and my own career advancement. In the vast majority of cases where I would have presumed ill will, people *are* just genuinely confused/overwhelmed/trying to do the right thing and aren’t trying to BS or deceive me in any way. This is especially true during global pandemic times where many of us are stretched thinner than usual and are more likely to let something fall through the cracks.

    On a related note, a mentor of mine always says that feeling this kind of frustration/resentment in daily interactions with coworkers is an early sign of burnout. Obviously I have no idea what LW’s broader job situation is like, but it’s worth thinking about.

    1. Ray Gillette*

      Yeah. In all times, but especially now, there are ample legitimate reasons for these things to happen. Just this week I missed an important email because for whatever reason my email provider decided it was spam and it didn’t occur to me to check my spam folder.

    2. hbc*

      “In the vast majority of cases where I would have presumed ill will, people *are* just genuinely confused/overwhelmed/trying to do the right thing and aren’t trying to BS or deceive me in any way.”

      I really think this needs to be highlighted for the OP. The person who thinks/calls BS on every random act of failing to tell The Truth The Whole Truth and Nothing but The Truth is usually the person who ends up being the most wrong.

  22. Ryn*

    Oh man these scripts are great but they sent a chill down my spine because I had a boss gaslight me using really language. He had gone on vacation and told no one, left no instruction, and it was a mess. When he came back he took me out of the office, sat me down in private, and told me how “concerned [he] was that [I] didn’t remember our conversations” and then tried to blame the mess on me. Luckily my fellow co-workers could ground me in reality, and the dude ended up getting fired for cause ~6 months later, but it was deeply upsetting.

    I guess my more related point is just be mindful that people experience things differently, and what seems like BS to you might be forgetfulness/misunderstanding/miscommunication to someone else.

  23. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    With someone who has a history of doing this, I make it a habit to preempt them. When I request something be sent to me for me to do the next step, I make sure to say “before 4:00 pm on Friday” especially if receiving it at 4:50 pm may be technically within the week but useless in practice, and then follow up at 4:00 that it wasn’t received; or “I need 3 standard business days after I have received XYZ” or some such that indicates weekend and after hours are not going to count, nor is partial completion, and then follow up when it’s received that the 3-business-day window is now beginning. For things that you’ve told them in person/phone, follow up with an email or make a note in a shared calendar — “Hi Fergus, I’m glad we got a chance to train on XYZ today. If you have any follow up questions, please let me know.”

    1. Llellayena*

      ohhhh yes. I learned this one after the first project I ran with an end-of-day Friday deadline that required getting drawings sets from several different people (at other companies), compiling them together and sending them back out. When 7:30pm on a Friday evening rolled around and I STILL didn’t have the sets I needed, I changed my policy so that all drawings sets are required by 3pm the day they’re due. I still need to chase people down, but I usually have everything by 4pm which means I can get them out the door by the end of MY day.

    2. Raida*

      Yes, having clear guidelines like this is very useful.
      We’re currently going into an attempt to overhaul in my workplace where we have agreed-upon times when sending an email should not expect a response earlier than the next work day.

  24. BPT*

    Honestly, OP sounds a bit adversarial, and very legalistic in their thinking. From calling things “white lies” or “sinister” to saying it “fills [them] with rage,” this seems like someone employing the least generous interpretation to everything their coworkers do. For something to be a lie, to me indicates intent to deceive. If the case could also be that a coworker forgot, or was mistaken, then I’d lean into those options first, before even accusing someone of a “white lie.”

    For the second example, the email sent at 5:05 on a Friday, were they just literally saying when they sent the email so you could reference it? Or were they saying they sent it last week, and implying that you should have read it? First of all, calling that a lie isn’t even the case, because it is technically true – they sent it last week (and who knows, maybe they have a later work schedule or something, so it was still part of their work week). If they’re asking you to do something in an unreasonable time frame, that is what you should focus on, rather than trying to call it a “lie.”

    That’s not to say never push back on anything, but having your first reaction being one of trying to understand the problem will get you a lot farther.

    1. hbc*

      Yeah, I did wonder about that. There are definitely people who read between the lines of “I sent it last week,” see “…and so you should have taken care of it by now” and then judge the other person for the thoughts they projected onto them.

      “Yep, but that doesn’t give me enough time to prep for a meeting that starts 1 business hour later” is about the rudest you can go in response to their statement without looking like a hot-head. If they’re really being a jerk, make them say the quiet part out loud, don’t look like you’re starting the hostilities.

      1. OP*

        Yeah there’s some missing context here, so that’s on me. It typically goes something like this

        Coworker: So I need you to get this done for next Mondays meeting.
        Me: sure, I have x,y, and z ahead of it, but please send over the info as soon as possible so that I can work it in, it’s probably going to take me a couple of days
        Coworker: ok I’ll have it to you by Wednesday.

        Me: Hey coworker, just following up. I have time in my schedule this afternoon to knock that out for you, when do you think you’ll be ready to give it to me
        Coworker: Hopefully after lunch

        Me: Hey you never sent that over yesterday, do you have it ready?
        Coworker: no sorry, I got caught up in another higher priority project.
        Me: ok, keep in mind this is going to take me some time, so I really need it ASAP for you to hit your Monday date
        Coworker: no problem

        Me: hey, still don’t have that info, at this point it’s going to be almost impossible for me to get that work done. If you get it to me this morning I’ll do the best that I can
        Coworker:~radio silence~
        Coworker: *sends email after the day is done*

        Monday at meeting
        Boss type: ok let’s review project x, what’s the status
        Me: *starts to speak*
        Coworker: *cutting me off* I have the necessary info to OP last week, so now I’m waiting on their department to move forward
        Boss type: OP, why haven’t you gotten this done?

        And then I give a very different answer depending on my level of doneness

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’d actually handle that differently earlier on. Tell them on Monday when they first give you the assignment, “To have that ready for you by next Monday, I’ll need X from you by Wednesday. If it’s later than that, I won’t be able to make your deadline.”

          You’re not giving a precise deadline, I’m guessing because it doesn’t feel like it should have to be that rigid to you. But what you’re seeing from this person is that in fact it does.

          1. Jess*

            yes, this is a totally different question from what was originally asked. this makes more sense now.

            1. Willis*

              Totally. I think this is important to address, especially if it’s resulting in clients/customers getting stuff late. If the OP is covering up for co-workers lateness to avoid “throwing them under the bus” the problem is never going to be solved and OP is going to continually bear the brunt of this.

              It makes sense to use Alison’s wording in the a meeting on Monday and follow-up with him or your manager if you still have nothing by Thurs morning or whenever. And if it’s a pattern that keeps happening definitely bring that to your manager’s attention, as in, “it takes me X days to turn this around after getting it from Other Team Members, so I need it by Thursday. We’ve been missing that cutoff so what can we do to work this out and meet our clients needs?” Maybe there’s some legitimate hold-up on the other guy’s end that needs to be addressed, or maybe he’s just a crap worker, but either way, this isn’t really about white lies.

        2. Jack Russell Terrier*

          I think you need to stop giving co-worker the extra time.
          You Monday: I can do that by Deadline if you get it to me by Wednesday.
          You Wednesday: I can get it done by COB today. Afterwards I won’t be able to dit before Deadline

          Then Do Not Follow Up
          What does co-worker do then at the meeting?? They know they blew the deadline getting it to you – and you even followed up and gave them the whole of Wednesday extra as grace. You can point this out if necessary. ‘Last Monday, I gave Coworker a deadline of Wednesday. I followed up Wednesday first thing, even saying he could get it to me by COP Wednesday to meet Deadline. That’s where things stand.’

          At this point you are being far too kind.

        3. hbc*

          I still wouldn’t assume they were BSing you the entire time, though obviously they’re putting it out there in a lousy way. “Well, I didn’t have it by 5:00 Friday and it’s usually a two day job, as I told you, so I haven’t had time to deal with it yet.”

          If this is a repeat performance from a couple of people, you definitely have to be clearer and cover your bases, but I don’t think most people will need this kind of documentation.

          1. tangerineRose*

            Yeah, this “Well, I didn’t have it by 5:00 Friday and it’s usually a two day job, as I told you, so I haven’t had time to deal with it yet.”

        4. RAM*

          Just be matter of fact but kind. It’s not about blaming.

          Coworker: I gave the necessary info to OP last week, so now I’m waiting on their department to move forward
          Boss type: OP, why haven’t you gotten this done?
          You: Yep, I just received it Friday evening , so I haven’t had a chance to incorporate but will move on it as quickly as possible. Would tomorrow [or whatever timeframe you want] be good?

        5. Clorinda*

          You’re working lot harder on managing your co-worker’s deadline than the co-worker is. Tell them, “this will take me three business days from the hour I receive it,” and let them send it when they send it.

        6. tangerineRose*

          “I have the necessary info to OP last week, so now I’m waiting on their department to move forward” Yeah, I’d be angry about that too, but I’d probably just say something like “Since you sent it to me on Friday after work hours, so it will probably take about 2 days from today.” Also, if the deadline is crucial, it might be worthwhile sending an e-mail reminding the co-worker and cc’ing the boss, maybe on Wednesday.

        7. allathian*

          It looks like you really need to set clear boundaries and to throw your coworker under a bus if nothing else works. Judging by the dialog you wrote, it looks like they’re intentionally trying to get you in trouble with your manager, so you’re going to have to start limiting the damage in some way.

          From here, it looks like you’re going to have to start following up on your conversations with this person by email and CC:ing your manager to it so they’re aware of the process. And when the manager calls you out in the Monday meeting, you can refer to the email you CC:d to them.

        8. Happy*

          Yeah, that is definitely frustrating!

          When I read the letter, I thought, why wouldn’t you just say in a friendly tone, “Oh, yes, you did send that last week! But I need it several days in advance and it didn’t come in until after COB on Friday.”

          But they’re putting you on the defensive in the conversation, and that would make me angry, too. I think you should have a conversation with boss-type about the pattern.

    2. AstralDebris*

      For the second example, the BS is in the coworker’s word choice.
      – Coworker says: I emailed it to OP last week. People hear the words ‘last week’ and their minds subconsciously calculate that last week could mean anytime within those 5 business days, so on average OP probably had around 2 days to work on it.
      – Coworker says: I emailed it to OP on Friday. People hear this and subconsciously calculate that Friday was an 8-hour workday, so the OP probably had – at best – less than 4 hours to work on it.
      – Coworker says: I emailed it to OP Friday evening. People either do a confused double-take (“Oh! Does…does OP work on the weekends?”) or correctly assess that OP has not had time to work on it yet.

      Now, the coworker might not necessarily intend to implant the idea that OP has been sitting on this project; sometimes people just word things poorly. But intentional or not, “I emailed it to OP last week” will give most people the impression that OP received the email at a reasonable point in time during the previous week, and leaves the onus on OP to explain why they haven’t moved forward on it since then.

  25. MechE*

    This is when I’m glad I work in an environment where no one wears kid gloves. If someone is BSing, we just tell them they are full of s**t and no one gets upset.

      1. MechE*

        I’m an engineer who works for the DoD. Engineers aren’t exactly the most sentimental of folks sometimes, and the DoD can be fairly cold when it comes to hurt feelings. Combining the two makes for an environment that isn’t for the faint of heart. Don’t get me wrong, it is fun and we have a great time, but fools aren’t suffered. If you try to BS, you will get shut down, hard.

          1. MechE*

            That informs my answer. I am a softie in my personal life, but hard in my professional one. Shut them down. If he is doing it in private, sure, go soft. If he is doing it in front of others, shut it down. Call them out.

            1. lasslisa*

              Oh, yeah, where I work (engineer, hardware) the appropriate response to “I sent it last week” / “oh, why are you the hold up now?” is “I told Joe I’d need it by Wednesday, but he didn’t send it to me until after hours on Friday. I have it in my inbox now and can get started, so I can have it in a few hours” (or days depending on what’s realistic and the urgency). YOU are still helpful and cooperative, but also helpfully are clearing up this timeline confusion. Or, “Oh, I just found it in my inbox this morning, looks like Joe got it to me Friday night. I can start on it now.”

              Returning awkward to sender is a good concept here.

    1. 2 Cents*

      There’s a danger in the efforts to help coworkers “save face.”
      They seldom step up and do better. If no one is holding them accountable, they won’t. They’ll just keep spewing BS when you are trying to get them to do their jobs.
      I’m all for maintaining good work relationships but I’m not sure these responses are effective.

      1. SnappinTerrapin*

        Depends on several factors.

        Some people are going to respond badly, no matter how you deal with them. I’ve worked with a few like that.

        But a lot of people do make honest mistakes, and being generous and courteous with them is usually the most effective approach.

        And some people do read between the lines and take the hint when you gently steer them in the direction you want them to go.

        But you know your own coworkers and work environment.

      2. Rebecca1*

        It’s a good place to start because sometimes the face saving comments are accurate about an honest mistake.

  26. OP*

    Hi all thanks for the comments and thanks to Alison for the advice :)

    I do always try to be very aware that someone may just not remember or not seem the same connections I do, so I try to always err on the side of caution, but there are some people for whom this is a massive recurring issue. Like on a weekly basis (especially the late info/email one).

    I have tried to remind those people of deadlines and hours but I don’t seem to get anywhere. I’ve also tried to speak to their supervisors (as a manager to manager conversation) about the impact this has on my team, both for optics and for our workload.

    I think what makes this issue worse is that I’m almost a 1 man band. I’m overworked and overwhelmed (as is almost everyone else in my company), and my office has a bit of a “blame game” culture, so I get defensive very quickly when someone implies I fell down on the job.

    1. TPS reporter*

      I sympathize! It can be very upsetting when you are stressed and someone comes in and expects you to drop everything for them or read and analyze something complicated in two seconds. For me some days are better than others emotionally, some where I can give these measured careful responses like Alison suggests and others where I just want to scream at the other person. For the bad days, I just try to let the email sit while I breathe a bit and think of the best response. Or just do something else for awhile to take my mind off of it. Usually I’ll be able to calm down and be my best self when I respond.

      I also have an auto-response set up for some common questions that are incredibly annoying, so it’s much less frustrating to just hit a button. I also write up processes for other common things. I try to say- the document that goes through this issue is posted here: _____. Let me know if you have any specific questions once you have gone through it.

      1. tangerineRose*

        Yeah, giving it a few minutes before responding is good. I also like to channel my inner Spock and go through the facts.

    2. Exhausted Trope*

      OP, I feel for you. I get tired of the same behavior over and over from people who should know better. And management does nothing about it. *sigh*
      Makes the job harder than it needs to be.

    3. Sasha*

      “my office has a bit of a “blame game” culture”

      There’s your problem. If people knew they could own up to having skimmed an email and missed something, or sent a file over a bit late, they wouldn’t feel the need to tell white lies. It’s face-saving.

      All the more reason to be non-adversarial – if they know you aren’t going to blow your top if they admit something passed them by, they are more likely to just own up to it rather than making up some excuse.

    4. Suzanne*

      Personally I don’t think I (you) should have to remind people of deadlines. You were told once. You have tools to remember these deadlines. Task reminders, calendar reminders and both of those also in a smart phone! I get so many blown deadlines because people “forgot” and I’m why do I have to nag you? This is part of your job to manage this and submit them.

    5. drpuma*

      Thank you for wading into the comments and for the additional info.

      What would happen if you assumed the late folks will be late and operated accordingly? Maybe set your email to auto-send a reminder at 7am, “Don’t forget I need your TPS reports by 3 on Friday so I can start compiling them!” I also wonder if your boss would support you in refusing to accept late info for a couple of weeks? Give folks advance notice, but you could even set an out-of-office to go up at 3, “I won’t see or respond to your email until [next business day], I’m knee-deep in compiling TPS reports!” It’s interesting to think about this relative to the earlier letter from the chronically late OP. Maybe once your habitually late folks get burned a couple of times they’ll do better. And if your boss won’t back you up in trying ANY new strategies, I think you have more of a boss problem than a BS problem.

      1. OP*

        Oh my boss absolutely will, but the issue is more with management a few levels above him only seeing the end goal. Instead of “OP was not supported to do their job” it would be “OP did not adequately support the end customer”

    6. AKchic*

      Knowing that this is a culture issue, this is going to be trickier.

      My advice down the line of read and received receipts still stand. You’re going to need them. When giving deadlines, push them up by half a day earlier than you usually would. Then, set a reminder the DAY BEFORE the earlier deadline (or half a day, depending on how long the BSer in question has had) to remind them of the deadline). Then, when the deadline passes (15 minutes, maximum), send a reminder email that the needed item is late and you need it to complete X for Client A and cc the appropriate manager(s) and you need it by xx:xx (still a few hours before the time you actually need it).
      Is this manipulative? Absolutely. Will it get you what you need? Possibly. Is it more work on your end? Yes. Also start documenting your time religiously. In 5-15 minute increments if possible, and be detailed. Show what your Daily To-Do List is, and what you end up not getting done daily. Show how much time you spend chasing after reports that are *late* consistently, and what you have to do in order to get them to you. Why? To justify an assistant (who can, theoretically, do the chasing for you; and to possibly create a serious paper trail for disciplinary action).

      Give yourself 6 months with this new system. If your bosses don’t make changes with all of your documentation that something needs to change, the change that needs to happen is you moving on. I’ve been in this position. I babied people. I created How To Guides on how to attach documents to emails. I made daily reminders of when our WEEKLY meeting was (and hourly reminders on the day of), and called the one friggin’ straggler every single week… Yeah. My idiot boss made me harass 50 people because one dummy couldn’t get his act together and there was nobody else worth hiring (and nobody else would even APPLY) in one tiny town for the job. So I had to deal with the brunt of keeping him on task and fixing his files when they were shipped to our admin office.
      Sometimes, you can’t fix the culture.

  27. LPUK*

    I’d be interested in knowing whether the person who employed theBS is male and whether the person who noticed it is female, for a somewhat tongue-in- cheek thesis I’m considering writing on ‘ the role of BS in the corporate worl’. My working theory is that it’s a territorial defence by men, a sort of puffed feather display that you are encroaching on their territory and need to Back Off. One that Men readily understand but women are baffled by, which means they often tread unwarily onto disputed territory. The corollary for this is that every woman has a finite BS limit, which they often don’t realise until they hit it and then it’s ‘ I cannot take ONE MORE MEETING full of BS without throwing myself on a sharpened pencil!’ And THAT’S why women don’t make it to the boardroom… it’s just too much bullshit weighing them down like barnacles on an old ship… signed, someone who hit their BS level in 2012 and switched to self-employment instead

    1. retired*

      Yes. I recently had to stop working with someone in a volunteer organization because he seemed to have a switch in his brain that turned on mansplaining and invalid excuses when communicating with women. Nice guy. Tried to talk to him, refer to emails. No go. Result was his passing on inaccurate information , although he had been publically corrected by the women whose work he was misusing . I had to stop making a joint presentation because I couldn’t get him to discuss the input of the professional women he had misquoted . Not deliberate . Just a behavior he didn’t control.

  28. A girl has no name*

    “… which will be good for your quality of life.” Ha ha ha! This brought me joy today.

  29. LavaLamp*

    I remember back at my old company after I first got sick my boss refused to tell anyone I had a leave accommodation despite my requesting it to be common knowledge that I was out a lot for medical reasons. No personal info, just Lava is out for medical reasons, please contact Glitter in their absence. They thought it was a HIPPA violation, and also thought I could apparently violate HIPPA on myself.

    I finally started just preemptively telling people on new projects that I had a medical issue and would be out often so please copy my backups on all projects. People had started forming the opinion that I was a flake until I gave them the real reason I was out, and suddenly everything was fine again.

    I think this thread is a good way to remember that most of your coworkers aren’t asshats out to get you, just often don’t have all the information, or misinformed about something.

    1. Lana Kane*

      I’ve been advised by the staff that handles accomodations at my workplace that I absolutely cannot tell anyone that someone has an accomodation. However, if the employee wants to tell others, they can.

      I understand the concern that I’m violating someone’s privacy by disclosing that there is an accomodation, but damn, it’s really hard to manage that with other staff who are like, “why can’t I do that ?” I’ve figured out a workaround for when the employee being accomodated doesn’t choose to share that info: I tell the other staff who are asking about the perceived “perk” to seek an accomodation with the appropriate office if they also want it. I think that is what makes others go, “ahhh, there’s a reason this is happening”. (And before anyone jumps at me – yes, that workaround was approved by the accomodations staff!)

  30. 2 Cents*

    There’s a danger in the efforts to help coworkers “save face.”
    They seldom step up and do better. If no one is holding them accountable, they won’t. They’ll just keep spewing BS when you are trying to get them to do their jobs.
    I’m all for maintaining good work relationships but I’m not sure these responses are effective.

  31. Lobsterp0t*

    I have to say, the whole saving face thing is fine I guess, but it seems passive aggressive to me precisely because people are often annoyed and self righteous underneath it. I would rather know someone is frustrated or hindered by what I’m doing rather than pretending to be confused about what’s up. It’s too subtle and not very straightforward.

    Also, honestly when people are like “I didn’t see that” it can be frustrating but I also think we get WAY too much information that’s not easy to prioritise in the average work day.

    Do I read bulletins and suchlike? Yes. Usually. But do I skim them and if it isn’t obviously connected to my work, am I likely to miss something? Yup. Sometimes I don’t fully engage with them and sometimes I read it and it just goes into the Mystery File in my brain never to be seen again.

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      Yeah, I think that it’s quite difficult to pull off the whole faux-concern/confusion thing without just looking passive-aggressive or possibly a bit dim. I like the matter-of-fact scripts – if someone is intentionally bullshitting rather than genuinely mistaken it’s best to just be straightforward, I think that’s the most likely way to get the result you want.

      1. Frankie Derwent*

        Same. I found it passive-aggressive, condescending and over the top. Few e-mails that don’t get read is an actual IT issue. If I told my colleague that I didn’t read her e-mail, I’d find it weird that her first response is it’s an IT issue.

        If someone sent me an e-mail past COB on a friday and ask for a response first thing Monday, I’d just say directly, I don’t check my inbox during the weekend. I’ll look into it now.

        I’d rather people be direct than passive aggressive.

      2. Spencer Hastings*

        Yes, I came here to say this as well — there’s a fine line here. You want to obfuscate just enough that you don’t look like you’re saying “BOY, YOU SURE SCREWED UP!”, but if you go too far, then it still comes off as “BOY, YOU SURE SCREWED UP”, but it also feels like you’re rubbing it in.

        (Situation: A handout says “1+1=3”.)

        Normal person, in an alternate universe: “Hey, looks like there’s a typo here — it says “1+1=3”.

        Passive-aggressive person: “Um, I’m confused…I thought 1 plus 1 was 2…can you help me understand what I’m missing here?”

        Everyone else in the room: *CRINGE*

        (It wasn’t actually 1+1=3, but to someone in the field, it’s as though it were that obvious.)

        1. lasslisa*

          I would consider “I think there’s a typo here” as the saving-face assume-the-best option. The thing I see people jump to and need to be discouraged from is “wow, my stupid coworker thinks 1+1 = 3” or “wow, this guy is trying to BS is into thinking 1+1 =3”.

          “I didn’t get your email” / “Can you check again? It was Thursday at…. *checks* 2:26 PM.” Is also fine. But when folks start accusing each other of lying to make others look bad, it’s a dark road.

      3. Frankie Derwent*

        Addendum: i’m talking about the faux concerned ones.

        I agree with using the matter of fact tone. No need to be driven insane and be filled with rage.

        For the coworker who keeps asking for assistance in the process, op should say, in a friendly manner, “Sure. This is the same process we went through last x and y. Maybe you want to take some notes or take a video so you can have a reference on hand next time.”

        I’ve met people like this but I dont think they’re intentionally BSing. In their mind, it’s their first time because the previous time had a different setting, or something like that.

  32. A Poster Has No Name*

    Another way to handle the “I don’t know this process” is something like “Oh, don’t worry, it’s the same one we walked through last week, that involves, a, b & c. Let me know if you want me to walk through it again, otherwise I’m available if you have questions.”

  33. Anon Lawyer*

    I think ‘concerned’ is sometimes too much, especially when you’re actually angry. I generally tend to just take people at face value and give them the information they need. “Oh, yes, I usually leave at 5pm so I didn’t see it until this morning.” Or “it’s the same process we used for the X report; happy to run through it again.” I don’t need to be concerned that someone thinks Friday was last week (it was); just that we’re all on the same page.

    1. Alianora*

      I agree. Anger pretending to be concern is usually pretty transparent, and it’s pretty inflammatory. I’d rather just ask people to do things differently than pretend I’m worried about their email. And on the flip side, I’d rather someone be direct with me than condescending, which is how I would interpret the “concerned” script.

  34. HailRobonia*

    More and more often I am finding that I need to remind my boss (and her boss) of our processes, policies, and even their own decisions. It extremely frustrating. Sometimes it’s because they have forgotten, other times it’s because they have made decisions without informing us and we end up having to redo work.

  35. Tinker*

    It’s my personal policy never to imply ownership in the event of an error. I have to use the indefinite article, “an error” rather than “your error”.

    Well, not quite so absolutely as all that, but I really do make an explicit effort to look at things in terms of what is happening and how that compares to what we want to have happening, and leave the question of what that means about people alone as much as is possible and as much as my moth-like attraction to drama permits me.

    Even when it does get to be about people, I endeavor to care about what their tendencies mean with regard to me rather than what their fate should be overall in the part of their life (hopefully all of it, if I’ve come down on the side of not wanting them around me) that does not overlap with mine. If anything, I hope for them to be happy over there so that they will not come back and bother me here.

    This is very much a work in progress, but the degree to which I have implemented it has served me well enough to recommend it as a position.

  36. AthenaC*

    For your entertainment, sharing a story about when I was subjected to these “call someone on their BS” techniques:

    Once upon a time, I had an appointment to take my son in for an arm x-ray (details changed to preserve anonymity). I called to make the appointment, and the lady said, “Okay, so someone will need to brief you on the appointment, did you want to go ahead and do that now?”


    “Okay, let me pull up the script ….”

    And then she proceeded to talk about how I needed to make sure I was on time and they cannot guarantee that they will see us if we are not on time. (Okay …) And then the next several minutes were talking about how I CANNOT bring other children with me and I CANNOT leave them unattended in the waiting room and I CANNOT expect other personnel to watch my other children, and a whole bunch more rather specific things that I CANNOT do regarding other children that I may or may not have. Honestly, I don’t remember the rest because at that point I was just incensed – to prepare me to bring my son in for an arm x-ray I needed several minutes of … this? Really?

    Once she finished she asked, “Do you have any questions?” Nope – no I don’t. I’m perfectly aware that I have to be on time and that I cannot bring my other children and leave them unattended (I didn’t say that last part though).

    Fast forward 24 hours, we show up for the appointment (on time! and by ourselves! Without other kids in tow!), and the technician curtly says, “Well, you don’t have the special runes drawn on his arm, so I can’t do the x-ray.” Well …. how was I supposed to know that? “Your file says you were briefed – they went over all this when they briefed you.” Uh …. no they didn’t. “Well who briefed you then?” Uh … I don’t remember? “I just want to know so we can follow up with whoever briefed you so that this doesn’t happen again.” All this time she’s being super short and condescending with me.

    Long story short, we got the runes drawn and did the x-ray and everything was fine.

    But to be perfectly honest, it’s possible that the “briefing” had included instructions that the runes MUST be drawn BEFORE arriving for the x-ray …. but I just don’t remember because of all the time they spent telling me about all the things that I CANNOT do with my other children (that I may or may not have) during the appointment. So glad I don’t have to go to that health system anymore!

    1. Not Australian*

      A classic argument for handing out a leaflet if ever I heard one; especially with medical matters, people are often too worried/stressed to absorb information the first time they’re told and need to consider it more carefully in a peaceful atmosphere later.

      1. AthenaC*

        It just seems to me that if there is MEDICALLY RELEVANT information, they should lead with that, rather than the condescending, self evident “be on time!” and several minutes of “don’t bring other children with you!”

    2. Littorally*

      It seems to me like it’s a lot easier for them to tell you not to bring other children BEFORE you show up at the hospital with a gaggle of other children. I get why you’re annoyed, but that sounds like they’ve had an awful lot of people expecting nurses to be free babysitting in the past.

      1. Lana Kane*

        As someone who works in healthcare, I cosign.

        Especially during Covid, we have so many special protocols. We brief people on them but we also send them (email, etc) a document with all the info patients need. Because there is so. much. info. that we need to give partients, we can’t expect them to remember it all. However, if we don’t provide it both verbally and in writing, we will invariably have someone complain that they didn’t “get it in writing, I can’t remember all that stuff the person on the phone told me!” or “yeah I got some email but no one TOLD ME when I called. You should have TOLD ME, I don’t have time to read everything”.


      2. AthenaC*

        I’m annoyed because the entire “briefing” was a bunch of condescending nonsense, with the medically relevant information buried behind all of it.

        Look – I’m no stranger to medical procedures and special appointments and whatnot, but I have NEVER had a “briefing” so full of “don’t bring other children with you!” I mean – it just went on. and on. and on. and on. It REALLY was very out of the norm – THAT is why I’m annoyed.

        And this was a couple years before COVID, by the way.

      3. fhqwhgads*

        It’s not a question of before the appointment or not, it’s a question of when DURING the before-appointment spiel. I get they probably emphasized the On Time and No Other Kids because that’s clearly the pain point if they hammered it that hard, but also it buries the stuff that’s about the actual procedure they’re coming in for.

        1. linger*

          Sounds very much like they were following a general-purpose script (actually, that’s exactly what they explicitly said). Hence that portion of the briefing, at least, was not at all tailored to the specific medical procedure involved.
          Using a script has the advantage that a precise standard wording can be delivered, but also the huge disadvantage that the deliverer does not need to be actively processing the meaning of what they’re saying, and may not check the recipient’s comprehension.
          Done properly, when they did shift back out of the general script to specific medical information, that shift should have been signalled clearly enough to break through the recipient’s irritation at the general script’s irrelevance. (And also, if the process had been followed properly, there should have been a separate comprehension check for each section of information.)
          But conversely, simply the fact that a different script is needed for the procedure-specific portion of the briefing makes it that much easier for that whole section to be accidentally omitted. So the process adopted minimises the chance of a minor misunderstanding, at the cost of increasing the chance of a major communication error.

  37. Ellie*

    As someone who both uses Allison’s scripts and has had people use them on me, I wholeheartedly recommend this approach.

    My email program has an uncanny number of random problems pop up (IT is truly stumped), so it’s always a toss-up whether it was an honest mistake on my end vs. an IT issue vs. an honest mistake on their end vs. someone being full of it.

    As such, saying things like “hm, I thought I updated that meeting invite yesterday; can you double-check on your side?” instead of (a) ignoring it or (b) being certain they are full of BS leaves room for all the possibilities, while still raising the issue at hand.

    I assume both with my words AND mentally that no malicious intent/BSing was intended unless there is a good reason to do so, which helps reduce my stress.

    When I’m pretty sure it IS someone BSing, I use these scripts to do what Allison said: show them I won’t be a doormat while maintaining my own reputation for being a good person to work with.

    Someone who messed up and was doing some panicked CYA will appreciate a graceful out; someone who is trying to throw you under the bus will see that will not work; someone who didn’t KNOW they messed up will be less defensive if the issue is raised this way; and if the mistake WAS on your side, you didn’t put make yourself look like an asshat.

    Providing grace to coworkers who make honest mistakes but react poorly will usually build up goodwill and also reduce their tendency to try to throw it on you. This isn’t to say pretend everything is/could be YOUR fault, but the approach of “perhaps no one is knowingly at fault here” is a good default.

    Then, if it’s a repeat problem, expressing it as a problem you can solve with cooperation rather than implying ill intent makes them more likely to go along with it.

    1. Lana Kane*

      “Someone who messed up and was doing some panicked CYA will appreciate a graceful out” – this is a good observation, and a kind approach. Honestly, I’m sure we’ve all been there.

  38. Jess*

    There must be a lot of context and backstory that the letter writer is not providing, because “i sent that to you last week” meaning late Friday is not inherently a problem and shouldn’t fill you with rage. If they’re implying that you are late in responding to it, that should be clarified and addressed, but on its own there’s nothing wrong with it. They’re just letting you know that if you haven’t checked your email over the weekend (which is perfectly reasonable, since they are saying this first thing on Monday morning) you may not know it is there. I would say it to a coworker or client without giving it a second thought, and I am generally conscientious about not implying other people are at fault.
    I guess my point is that it sounds like the problem is elsewhere in the backstory that is not being described here.

    1. Lana Kane*

      The “I sent it last week”comment can come across as “you should already have it”, because last week sounds like enough time fhas passed. It doesn’t give the full context that the recipient hasn’t been given enough time to see it. I would absolutely be using Alison’s scripting for this one because it can come across as me not being on top of things. Of course it very much depends on the context of the conversartion, etc, but my guess is that if it spurred the LW to ask for advice it’s because they are picking up on that implication.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Dig into the comments for the update OP* posted…. the backstory made me angry on their behalf.

    3. fhqwhgads*

      The context is “I sent it to you last week” (occurred after 5pm on Friday) said during a meeting at 9am on Monday. So they’re not just stating the fact of, yeah, sent last week. They’re implying OP has had time to do anything with it for that meeting, which is not the case if the sending happened after hours Friday and the meeting was first thing Monday morning. The sender is effectively throwing OP under the bus.

      1. Elsie*

        Yes, I think it makes it clear that it’s not an innocent mistake/mischaracterization by the OP’s colleague, he was clearly trying to make himself look totally compliant and innocent when he obviously wasn’t.

  39. Orange You Glad*

    The LW’s scenarios seem like two different issues that can easily be resolved. I agree with Alison’s approach of assuming the best when calling attention to these things.
    For something like the process review when it’s already been reviewed 5 times recently – I would change your approach in how you review the information with your coworker. After the 2nd time, I’d use the review time to turn the tables on them. Have them go through the process step by step and show you where they are having problems, then focus on those areas. If they truly don’t understand, then you have a different issue of an employee who doesn’t know how to do their job and that would be another conversation. Don’t volunteer to do any work for them. There is no benefit in this person asking for a review every time they do that process unless they really don’t understand it or you’ve made it easy for them to not learn it.
    For the late emails on Friday, I would just make it clear that anything sent at EOD will not be seen until the next business day. Most people would agree that is a reasonable expectation.

  40. AKchic*

    I am petty and 100% CYA.
    When showing someone a process, make a training checklist for the person to sign off on. The sheet can go to HR, with a copy emailed to the individual as a “receipt”. When they play the “I don’t know how to do this” or “I’ve never been shown how” you can say “but we did a training on this on X date. Would you like a refresher?” and then offer them a pad of paper and a pen to take notes.

    The whole “I sent that last week” bit? “Hmm, seems I didn’t receive it until after close of business on Friday. When did you originally send it?” Make it appear that the internet may be having issues and you’d like to follow up with IT about it. Act truly concerned. More and more concerned the longer the send gap may be. Any emails you send to them that you suspect they will claim they “didn’t receive”? Delivery and read receipts. Save them all.

    Yes, this person will hopefully catch on to your petty CYA system. That’s okay. Your goal isn’t to be stealth. Your goal isn’t to actually care if they catch on to your lack of subtlety, but to actually CYA while they deflect blame for any and all things.

      1. tangerineRose*

        If you read the OP’s comments on this forum, you’ll notice that the other co-worker was doing a pretty good job of throwing the OP under the bus.

  41. Anonosaurus*

    I think there’s a grace to handling BS in the way Alison describes, and I find it to be effective in the scenario where someone who is basically competent and well intentioned has dropped the ball. There’s nothing to be gained by calling someone like that out in front of others, and you can also bet that one day it’s going to be you who forgot to read that email, and you are more likely to receive grace from others in your time of need if you’re not too quick to drive the bus over them.

    Where it gets sticky is with repeat offenders. I think they need a more overtly assertive approach but that can be difficult to navigate within office politics. There’s a guy in our accounts department who routinely ignores my emails asking for help with a particular work process. I can get my work done without this information, but it would be easier with his input and it is now becoming noticeable that he doesn’t respond. On previous occasions I’ve been very low key (“I guess you’ve been super busy but I need this TPS report query answered for Big Boss”) and he has eventually responded, but I am done with this and the next time I need to deal with him I’m going to have to be more direct. I think he genuinely thinks I’m asking him for a favor when in fact I’m just being polite about telling him to do something. Which is partly on me for not being direct enough.

    The potential problem in my experience is that if you’re lowkey for too long with someone who’s blatantly shining you on, one day you’ll lose it and call the person out in a way that might have been avoided if you’d moved to direct assertiveness sooner and not let resentment and frustration build. That kind of blowout looks bad to third parties who don’t know the history, especially if you’re a woman calling out a man. If you think things are getting to that stage, I think it’s worth finding a way to be still cordial but more direct before you end up making like the anger emotion from Inside Out.

  42. Workerbee*

    My boss seems to have made his career out of non-accountability. He has gone so far as to claim he wasn’t told something not twenty minutes after he was told that thing. Attention or retention issues? Possibly, except he’s also gotten someone fired by convincing leadership that she never kept him updated on a big project he was overseeing, never clued him into the budget being exceeded, he had no insight into milestones, etc. When the project inevitably crashed, he came out of it unscathed.

    His claiming of not knowing things happens over and over.

    These people can be dangerous. I wish I had the political capital to do more. I attempt the breezy, “Oh, sure, you remember from last week, when you said X about Y!” but damn, he’s good at deflecting.

  43. Anon for this*

    This happens to me all the time and can be so frustrating. Today I was looped into a matter that was extremely urgent. They needed information from me for a specific process that was just stood up. They also knew this information was needed approximately a week ago and decided to come to me at 6pm today asking to prepare content for a meeting tomorrow topresent. Thanks, there goes my night!

  44. Lana Kane*

    When I highly suspect I’m being BS’ed, I use the kind of language Alison suggests. I like it because:

    1 – I am giving that person (outwardly, at least) the benefit of the doubt. That covers me from looking like a jerk if I misread the situation – and making them look bad unfairly.
    2 – If I did misread the situation, the person is way more likely to work out the issue with me and not get defensive. Defensiveness is really hard to come back from, and ultimately I just want the job to get done.
    3 – If I didn’t misread the situation, that person can still save some face, while privately knowing that I know it’s BS. Do this enough times and the BS’er will either realize they won’t succeed, or it will start to become clear others that they’re a BS’er. All the while, I look like a reasonable person (which I am, but I also want to model that behavior).

  45. Office Polonium*

    How is it possible to be “filled with rage” on an email sent at 5:05 on Friday? If I do that, I’ll say at the Monday meeting that it was sent late last week, and assume I’d need to walk through it and that’s okay – they have pre-written notes and I’ve organized my thoughts. If I need pre-work done, I’d send it earlier. No accusations. In my experience, that kind of statement is not borne of malice. If it were to happen, it’s just a calm – oh, looks like it came after close of business, why don’t you walk us through it? Shrill people will be shrill. Inner eye roll and move on.

  46. Raida*

    For the first example I agree with AAM – I’d say “Well this is like Project a,b,c,d,e – hey, how about we make a few quick reference notes for anything that you reckon would make it easier to get back into the swing of things when you are getting into a new Project?”
    Essentially, treating it as someone asking for help the solution is not to tell them six times, the solution is to ensure they have the information and can refer to it.

    For the second example, I’d always say “Yep, came through Friday after 5pm, so we hopped into that Monday morning” and smile. It shows a) they can’t get away with that, b) you are across everything, c) your area is happy with what was received, d) you/your team is not at all slow.
    Just push a bit of perky-efficient-checking that off my ToDo list personality into it. What are they gonna do – accuse you of being rude in the face of such efficient friendliness?

    This response doesn’t invite a response, which I quite like. By saying:
    “Did you send it earlier?” and pretending to be concerned – honestly this is immediately getting my back up as talking down to them plus suggesting they turn this into a conversation.
    “will you aim for earlier than that?” – is an invitation to talk about it more, which nobody in the meeting probably cares about and talks down to the liar – they won’t like that.
    “Otherwise I probably won’t see it until Monday.” – so you *might* see it, and if you do see it then you’re working on it? Or is the understanding to be after 5pm on a friday = monday morning? Are you clarifying expectations or trying manage everyone?

    Now if they are accusatory in saying “I sent it last week” then I’d go with “That came through after 5pm on Friday, I won’t argue that was last week but I will say right now that I will not be setting a precedent for my team to scramble to complete work when files are sent outside of work hours.” and then maybe “If you are not happy with that we should set up a meeting with [manager] to clarify timeframes and expectations, just let me know.”

    Basically, if lying sh*ts you, go with enthusiastic, polite, helpful but very very very CLEAR on expectations. That’s what I do and nobody thinks that my team is at fault because they all leave a meeting knowing realistic outcomes.
    This is from years of seeing that people who skew things in their favour aren’t your friend, they are just going to try to make themselves look good. So being clear and helpful means they can work with me really well and cut the lying.

  47. Sled dog mama*

    OP whatever you do please don’t handle this the way a VP at a previous company did. She liked to yell (yes really voice raised yelling) “That’s BS” at the person she was talking to. Demoralizing to have happen an almost as bad to watch.

  48. ellex42*

    About the 5th time I had to tell a new coworker “the software won’t let you complete screen C because you haven’t completed screen B, this is why our *written* instructions are laid out in the order in which you need to do each screen”, as well as “you can’t change this field because it’s filled in via a process which is controlled by these other 2 fields”…I realized that the coworker was not lazy or stupid, something else entirely was going on, and eventually figured out that this was a ploy for attention that she cycles through on a regular basis.

  49. pleaset cheap rolls*

    I gained an epic reputation among a few of my colleagues in an argument with the head of a partner organization, who was telling us all sorts of stuff that was not just possible – I said something along the lines of “That is not possible due to the limitations of our physical existence – two such things cannot occupy the same space at the same time.” I was livid and don’t remember the details, but my coworkers said it sounded like I was calmly explaining the existence of gravity to someone who had never heard about it before.

  50. Dr. Prepper*

    My wife had a couple of bosses with either selective memory, so that when my wife was given explicit verbal instructions and then after carrying them out, at a high level meeting when the grand-bosses questioned it, her boss was always “I never told you that!” The other boss was the never-respond-to-emails, and would always give the “I never got that” excuse, despite clear evidence that it was received.

    I taught my wife the CYA email techniques.

    The first is the “confirmation email” – you write an email immediately after the meeting/conversation with it containing essentially “we discussed XXX, and you directed me to do YYY with a due date of ZZZ. If these facts are incorrect please return email immediately with corrections.” The first boss was absolutely livid the first few times she did this, but had no standing to forbid her to do so. No more getting thrown under the bus – especially when she would whip out a copy of the email confirming the bosses direction.

    The second email is primarily for when you need a decision or affirmation of a deliverable – “Unless you respond differently, I am proceeding with deliverable XXX to be completed by YYY as based on the consensus decision of our progress meeting of ZZZ.” Then, when they give the “I never got it” excuse you can pull up the email, and IT can confirm that they did indeed receive it if it comes to that.

    There are services like that can even document when they opened it, how long and how many times it was opened – this works extremely well for vendors and payors.

  51. Former HR Staffer*

    had an older lady in the office pull this stunt often, and it occured to me she wasn’t asking to be shown how to scan something again, she was literally standing there not paying attention and watching you do it.

    she often boasted about her PhD and how in previous jobs she had assistants, so it became clear pretty quick that feigning stupidity was her way of getting out of tasks she felt was beneath her and getting you to do it for her.

    i created a poster sized job aid with step by step instructions and screenshots and posted it right above the copier. next time she asked me to scan her documents again, i referred her to the step by step job aid and she said “oh i guess you don’t feel like doing these for me anymore.” bingo. she went and asked someone else.

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