coworker made a rude comment about a family death, a reference stole my job offer, and more

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

1. My coworker made a rude comment about my grandmother’s death

I lost my grandmother on May 16th. Her wishes have always been to get everything sorted as soon as possible; when my grandfather passed years ago, she was the same. Get the “life admin” sorted quickly to allow the grief to flow easier. And that is how my family are.

As I work in property, my parents (the executors of the estate) asked me (one of the three beneficiaries) to arrange to get the property valued, the day after she passed. This was done on the 19th, and the decision was made that night to put it on the market. I told the sales manager on the 20th that we wanted it on the market starting on May 24th. As I told him that, someone I work next to turned round and said, “You’re very quick getting it on the market considering she only died a few days ago.” I stammered out some sort of joke and a comment about getting it done quickly, then slipped off to the loo to cry without anyone noticing. I barely managed to get through the rest of the day with her and told our boss, who said she will speak to her.

So far, that doesn’t appear to have happened, or if it has, she hasn’t told me. I don’t know how to deal with this. I am trying to remain professional and speak to her about work topics, but I don’t want anything to do with her. My parents and my husband are furious. The people I have spoken to about this have said it is incredibly rude and disrespectful, she does not know my nan’s wishes or my family’s circumstances. And I know there are people who think this is too fast, it is faster than I anticipating it being, but you still don’t say it! Any advice on how to deal with this?

I’m sorry about your grandmother!

Your coworker made a thoughtless and insensitive comment, and those can be especially hard to deal with when you’re grieving. But allowing it to become a significant issue at work is likely to make this time even harder and I don’t think will serve you well when you already have so much stress and grief on your plate.

To be clear, your coworker was wrong! She shouldn’t have said what she said … but unless she has a track record of being a jerk, I would try to write this off as one of the many blundering things people say in these circumstances, perhaps label her as particularly cloddish in your head, and try not to let it affect your work life.

Read an update to this letter here

2. Dressing androgynously when we return to the office

I’m relatively new to the professional workforce (only been working for about a year), and while I did an internship at my current company about two years ago before I got this job, my actual professional career has been entirely remote. We’re talking about a return to the office, which has me thinking about dress code concerns. My office tends towards fairly business casual — a lot of the men wear dress shirts and khakis, unless there’s something very specific that requires a tie. I think I even remember occasionally seeing jeans, though only on Friday.

Here’s where the complication comes in: I present as female, typically. I’m nonbinary (they/them), but I’m not out at work, and probably won’t be for some time because I don’t want to be until I am sufficiently integrated for it to be Not A Big Deal. That being said, I don’t really want to wear blouses and dress pants that are overtly feminine, so I have been considering just wearing what the men are wearing when I go in. However, I’m also aware that would be A Statement to a lot of people—business casual for women isn’t the same clothes as business casual for men, typically! Can I wear a men’s dress shirt and khaki’s into work or not? Technically, it’s not against dress code, considering all the men are wearing it, but it’d be somewhat atypical looking on me, wouldn’t it?

I have never been in the office as anything but an intern in-person, and we rarely use video calls at my work, making it very hard to judge what other people are wearing. Also, I’m in an extremely male-dominated field, and could quite possibly be one of only one or two femininely-presenting people on the team when we go back into the office.

So as someone who is new to my office, would this be worth it? It would make me feel more comfortable, but would also probably make me stand out, and if it became A Thing I don’t know how I’d feel. I have also been considering doing it when we first go back, and if I’m called out on it, saying, “Oh I didn’t know, I haven’t been in the office for so long” but maybe it’s better to go back to the office and judge the dress code first before I do something like this? Or maybe, because I haven’t been in the office and during my internship I didn’t really have any examples around me of people in similar situations, I’m making a big deal out of something no one would notice—I’m genuinely unsure!

In an office where khakis are okay for men (i.e., not an office that expects suits), you can definitely wear khakis and a button-down. Lots of cis women wear variations of that, so it shouldn’t send out that much! And there’s no reason it couldn’t be a men’s button-down as long as it fits well (that doesn’t mean tight, just that it isn’t super billowy or something).

The degree to which it does or doesn’t read as A Statement to some people will probably depend on the details — like whether it’s full-on menswear or whether it’s mens-cut womenswear (which is a whole category of womenswear!), whether you wear accessories and what they are, and how you style your general look.

Also, there’s lots of great advice on menswear for female-presenting people in the comments here.

3. Using the heart emoji in work messages

I’m an early-30s woman working in higher education. I collaborate with a wide range of people, and a lot of our day-to-day communication is done via MS Teams — mostly the kind of messages that would be quick in-person chats if we were in the office, but we’re currently still working remotely due to COVID.

Sometimes, there are messages which don’t need a response but where an acknowledgement is useful — i.e., “I’ve just emailed you the latest version” or “Just spoke to John — he’s going to follow up with you directly about that document” — and the fact that it’s easy in Teams to put an emoji-reaction on a message is really helpful. But rather than using the “thumbs up,” which would always be my default, a fair number of people have started using the “heart” emoji.

I don’t mind it on more friendly, non-work related messages with colleagues I get along with personally, but there are a couple of male colleagues in particular who use the “heart” reaction almost every time on work-related messages and it makes me feel … weird. Is it weird? Am I being overly sensitive about this?

I get why it feels strange, but I think you can assume that when it’s used in a work context, it’s really more of a “like” (it’s not like signing your work emails with “love”).

Try to convert it in your head to another version of the thumbs-up (assuming it’s not paired with behavior that challenges that interpretation) and you’ll hopefully be less weirded-out by it.

4. Returning to an old job as a volunteer

I am resigning from my job (managing volunteers) on good terms for a career change. Our small nonprofit hosts several programs/events that serve youth in our state, and these programs rely on the support of volunteers from specific fields. I am unique in my org in that I have the type of education/experience required to be a volunteer. A common sentiment shared by my coworkers and board members as we say goodbyes is that they hope to see me back as a volunteer. I care greatly for the org and its mission and would love to support them in this way!

However, I am wondering if it would cause any issues if I return to the org in several months as a volunteer. Would there be any uncomfortable dynamics if I “report” as a volunteer to whoever takes on my role, while having detailed knowledge of the management side of things? Would this situation look strange on a resume or with a reference during future job applications? Any other potential weirdness you can think of with volunteering after resigning, or am I overthinking this?

It won’t look at all weird on your resume or with a reference, but ideally you’d wait longer than a few months so your replacement has time to settle in and make the job their own. Some people would be perfectly fine with you coming back sooner (and might even welcome having you there to pick your brain), but a lot of people would find it nerve-wracking to have their experienced predecessor hanging around watching while they get the hang of their job. I’d say give them something closer to a year to settle in (and of course, if/when you do start to volunteer, defer to their decisions even if they’re doing things differently than you would have).

5. My reference stole my job offer

I just recently had a job offer that evaporated because the reference I supplied, upon talking with ownership and management, placed his hat in the ring and applied for the job the reference was for. Is that even legal? Or just morally wrong?

Legal but seriously crappy.

{ 518 comments… read them below }

  1. MJ*


    People say stupid stuff around those grieving all the time. It’s as if they don’t know what to say but they want to say something – and crap just gets blurted out. Mouth engaged before brain.

    1. Princess Deviant*

      Yes I agree, and grief can make us super sensitive. Stuff we might have ordinarily been ‘merely’ annoyed at, can grow into major things and interrupt our peace – but it’s really about the grief, not the person making the insensitive comment. OP I’m sorry for your loss.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        In truth, it is unusual for the executor to put the house up for sale that quickly, and when we hear about it (which, I suspect, isn’t very often when it *does* happen), it’s often in a news story about how it turned into a fight among the heirs about who is trying to rip off whom.

        None of which makes it any of the coworker’s business, of course.

        Were I the letter writer, I’d be wishing I’d replied with something along the lines of “Yes, it is quick, but it’s specifically what she wanted, and none of us beneficiaries see any reason to not honor her wishes.”

        1. Not Australian*

          And when a person is very elderly/has been ill for a long time, it’s far easier to be prepared for such a thing – especially when the elderly individual has been far-sighted enough to (e.g.) distribute keepsakes and heirlooms to family members specifically to make the process easier when the time comes. A lot of people don’t like to contemplate their own death, but those who can do so almost always make life much easier for their heirs and executors in the end.

          1. Metadata minion*

            Yeah, I guess I’m a bit naiive or like to think well of people or something, but my first assumption would have been that the person’s death had been after a long illness and that they and/or their heirs had gotten all their ducks in a row so they didn’t have to do the “oh god how do you even sell a house??” dance while grieving.

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              My dad legally separated from mom a year before he died, so they could get two separate studio apartments in their senior-living building instead of the shared one-bedroom; specifically so that mom and I wouldn’t have to deal with having to clear their shared stuff out of the one-bedroom (which she wouldn’t have been able to afford on her own) and moving mom to the studio while grieving. He had the bare minimum of belongings at his studio apartment and we were able to empty it and turn it back to the apartment management in one weekend. I confess that dad is now my role model when it comes to those things, and I hope to make things as smooth for my loved ones as he did for us, when my time comes.

              1. Shirley Keeldar*

                Wow, that’s an amazing story—what a way for your dad to care for his family! He’s now my role model too.

              2. Magenta Sky*

                My father put his house into his children’s names several years before he died specifically to avoid us having to deal with the probate system in his state. IIRC, my sister had the entire estate settled in a matter of a week or two, in a state where the lawyers normally get most of the money.

              3. Not Australian*

                My dad, too, managed to get most of his estate wound up before he died; a diagnosis of terminal illness combined with a very organised business brain meant he was able to take charge of everything personally and leave nothing to chance. In my mother’s case, we managed to persuade her to sign a Power of Attorney (the process is slightly different now) which meant that by the time she was in residential care with dementia I was managing her business affairs and was able to do the same for her – albeit over a period of about ten years.

                1. CupcakeCounter*

                  My grandfather did something similar but he had 2 trusts and everything was in the name of one of the trusts (one for his daughters and one for his wife). The wife still attempted to gain control over both trusts but he was very smart and everything was buttoned up.
                  Needless to say we don’t have any contact with her…

              4. SimonTheGreyWarden*

                My grandmother had preplanned her funeral, picked out and paid for her coffin, arranged with the priest, etc. in the 6 months before she died. She wasn’t terminally ill, she was actually still in good health, but she was in her late 90s. She went downhill very quickly, from living alone to in hospice in 2 weeks and died 2 weeks later, and since it was such a shock, it was nice for my dad and his siblings to not have to worry about setting all of that up.

            2. 36Cupcakes*

              My step great-grandmother died in Jan of 2019. Probate is still happening and her house is still sitting unlisted to be sold. She was 96 and it’s taking longer because of covid and a contested estate but long processes are not unusual.

        2. JustMePatrick*

          I agree with Magenta. Without the context of her Grandma’s wishes, it makes it seems as though the family was more interested in greed rather than grief. However, even with that thought I would have been sensitive enough to not bring it up as it wouldn’t be any of my business.

          With that context, I can see its value for sure. OP I am sad for your loss and prayers for comfort.

          1. CaVanaMana*

            I thought it was more literal and factual than that. It is fast. Period. All the letter writer put was that the coworker said it was fast given her death was only a few days ago. He didn’t say anything else so we shouldn’t assume his motivations. Both could be factual and unassuming observations or thoughts accidentally said out loud. Coworker wasn’t being sensitive but that doesn’t necessarily mean he was implying or even thinking anything about the family either.

            1. Calliope*

              Yeah this would have been my assumption. More a “wow you worked hard” than anything else. A lot of people have had the experience of spending weeks or months trying to get elderly relatives’ physical possessions in order.

              1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

                It took us nearly two months to get our house on the market so my surprise would be along the lines of “wow, she must have been super organised and house proud”. I hope I’d have the tact to say either all of it or none.

            2. fhqwhgads*

              Yeah I wouldn’t have said this out loud, but the “fast” thing might occur to me too, not in a “you callous non-grieving people” way, but in a “doesn’t it have to go through probate?” way.

              1. Joan Rivers*

                They put their foot in their mouth but may not have meant it the way it came out, so best to let it go and focus on what matters.
                They blindsided you, who expects a comment like that? Grieving is important, take the time you need even if you take a day off.

                1. Batty Twerp*

                  We also don’t have the context of tone, which LW1 does and (with all well-meaning in the world) could still misinterpret due to grief. It could just as easily have been intentioned as “Are you sure you’re okay processing this so quickly after her passing – do you need more time?”, as in a condescending one.

                  As of commenting, it’s been two weeks. Everyone in the family is still feeling raw, even if it had been expected. The grieving process has barely started. And as said – if there’s no other pattern of jerka$$ behaviour – chalk it up to your coworker being a twerp. You get past this with time.

            3. HoHumDrum*

              Yeah, like my mom has a tendency to just say things out loud with no deeper meaning beyond “Hey this is an observation I have!” because she has no filter and there have been so many times when people (including myself) have taken it as her being passive aggressive or trying to be snarky and she’s always mystified because what they’re assuming she means would never occur to her to say.

              You don’t need to know someone’s deeper intentions to be upset or hurt by the things they say, and assuming their intentions is probably not actually that helpful. Coworker may have meant any number of things, ranging from malicious to benign, but that doesn’t really matter to how LW feels.

              1. Joan Rivers*

                People also say what’s on their mind because they don’t care, sometimes, after a lifetime of being confronted about their lack of tact. It’s hostility.
                At work, though, we can let it go, but think, “That’s ONE.” If it gets to TWO then pay attention.

              2. Cymru*

                The nice thing about those types of people is they are apologetic when the implications of their unfiltered comment are pointed out to them, the unfortunate part is that unless you know the person well it’s hard to know how they’ll react to you pointing out how hurtful their comment was.

          2. sunny-dee*

            Or even aside from grieving, being able to clear out all of her personal possessions, clean up, and do any repairs to make it sellable just takes some time. Being able to do that in a couple of days would be astonishingly fast.

            1. PT*

              It is really fast. One of my relatives was widowed fairly young, right after the youngest kid moved out, and decided to downsize. She was still working and the family home was paid off, so she bought herself a little house in the fall with a plan to clean out the big house over the winter and list it in the spring.

              It took *two years* to get the big house on the market. There was just so much stuff to go through.

            2. MK*

              I don’t know that it is absolutely necessary to do all this to sell a property. In my country at least many people sell real estate as is; of course they fetch a lower price.

              1. Sleepless*

                “As is” meaning that some repairs should have been done but haven’t been, or as in furnished? In the US, houses are often sold in all states of repair, though as you say, the more work a house needs, the less you will get for it. What people are referring to is the stuff inside it. They aren’t usually sold with the furniture, and they’re definitely not sold with all of the deceased person’s clutter. Getting rid of their clothes/kitchen stuff/mementoes/stuff they never got around to getting rid of still has to be done.

          3. LW#1*

            I am aware that it is fast, and it was faster than I anticipated as well, but I think mum wants it done and dusted, especially as she is having to pay the bills, insurance and council tax on it u til it is sold. I know I am aware that my brother could use the money from the sale as soon as possible, so I assume my mu is as well and that my have something to do with it, as nan would expect us to do what was needed to help each other.

        3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Really? I only had one loss in my close family (my dad after many years of struggling with cancer), and not only did we begin putting his affairs in order several hours after he died, he himself had started putting his own affairs in order, transferring things to mom etc in the last few months before he got too sick to do anything. Granted, dad did not own a house.

          As someone who sold a house a month ago, prepping it for sale is a lot of work and took me a lot of time with mine, so I may have been surprised from that angle, but like with my dad, would be assuming that grandma had been terminally ill for a long time and she and the family all had time to prepare.

          The evil me would’ve deadpan told the coworker “It’s a seller’s market, ya know, got to move fast!” The real me would’ve followed your suggestion of saying this was what she wanted.

        4. Broadway Duchess*

          It’s only “unusual” because most people haven’t done any pre-planning. When my grandmother died last year, I got some similar comments about how quickly things moved, but people didn’t know that arrangements for death, funeral, and property had been made seven years prior. My grandmother wanted to know what would happen and due to some bad blood between some of her children, she wanted to avoid fighting by being able to explain her wishes while she could.

        5. Coyote Tango*

          That was my first thought as well. Having now buried two parents and a brother, I’m impressed with how quickly they managed to get it on the market. It took me over a week to even get stuff sorted, and nearly two weeks to even get an appraisal scheduled. Of course that’s a thought you should have inside your head, but as mentioned people say the dumbest things to the grieving through sheer awkwardness.

    2. Jopestus*

      Yes. That happens. Another chance is that he was trying to ease the pain with laughter. At least I loved having friends with extremely dark sense of humour when my grandfather died, although the fact that the old man would have laughed heartily at those jokes helps a bit in this case. I use dark humour as a mean to handle life a lot and nothing helps me as much as a deeply insulting and simply revolting statement at a correct time.

      I also realize that I am in a minority in this and people act different. All kinds of jokes are allowed, but knowing the audience is the responsibility of those saying the joke. Joke is good only if the recipient is laughing. Do not risk with harsher stuff if you are not entirely sure that the recipient can enjoy it in their current state.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah. Knowing your audience is really important, but using dark humor also implies a closer relationship than simply coworkers or even work friends.

        1. it's-a-me*

          Dark humour is appropriate for the grieving, in my opinion. Not someone talking to the grieving. (Unless as you said they knew them very well)

        2. pretzelgirl*

          I agree with the knowing your audience thing. I can have a little bit of dark humor (not at work) usually saved for those I know really well. I have said a few times in front of my in laws and they do not appreciate it at all. So I don’t say it in front of them any more. I almost always use dark humor in the presence of people I know extremely well and no they won’t be offended.

    3. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yeah, I agree. I think you have to let this one go. I know with my grandfather it took three months to get the house on the market, because of everything we had to clear up and clean out. I’d be shocked if someone could do it so quickly and might say something stupid. Grief makes us all weird- the person suffering and the people around them. When you’re grieving, it is hard to not feel like everyone should “know” how much you are hurting, but people don’t and they often say stupid things.

      1. Blue Eagle*

        I agree with this comment. It took even longer than AnotherLibrarian’s timeframe to get our relatives house cleaned and ready for sale. I can see myself blurting out the same comment about putting the house on the market so soon being incredulous that it was even possible to do that.

        I have to disagree with Alison on this one. One comment by your co-worker that is something along the lines of surprise rather than disrespectful does not warrant a talking to by a manager. Just try to understand where your co-worker was coming from and “let it go”.

        1. Smithy*

          Another thing That AnotherLibrarian’s and Blue Eagle’s remind me of is that often some of our most awkward comments around death can be anchored in our own issues and experiences around grief.

          My father was incredibly opposed to doing any estate planning despite have some fairly serious health issues in his later years. It took my mother over a year to really get her arms around all the administrative components after his passing. So while I could see myself possibly thoughtlessly saying something like that – it would be entirely anchored in my own older grief around my father’s passing. Still would make it impolite and uncaring, and something I hope wouldn’t come out of my mouth – but would have absolutely nothing to do with the OP.

      2. traffic_spiral*

        Yeah, my first thought on hearing that the house was on the market so soon would be simple surprise that they had handled the logistics so quickly. I mean, if the house has to be sold then doing it sooner rather than later implies nothing about the fondness/sentimentality of the people involved, so it wouldn’t even occur to me that’s what the speaker was getting at. You can be greedy kids and wanting to squat in the house, or blocking the sale in order to gain an advantage, after all, and some people deal with grief by getting a stiff upper lip and burying themselves in work.

        Selling the house usually means at the minimum 1.) plan funeral, 2.) figure out who legally has the authority to sell the house, 3.) family decides if they want anything from the house, 4.) estate sale over what’s left, 5.) dispose of what didn’t get taken from the estate sale, 6.) fix up whatever needs fixing, 7.) make sure there’s no paperwork problems, 8.) put house on market. It’s a lot of work to get done quickly.

        1. New Job So Much Better*

          Good summary. By the time both of my grandmothers passed, they had been in assisted living for a while so my family had a huge head start of cleaning out their houses. So that must have seemed quick to others when in reality it took close to a year for each.

      3. LadyByTheLake*

        I agree with this — in my experience it takes forever to deal with all of the stuff, get the house cleaned up and ready to put on the market. I could definitely see myself making a comment like this with the intention of showing amazement that moving so quickly is possible and nothing more than that. It probably wouldn’t occur to me that anyone would be hurt or offended by the comment, since it is simply an observation of truth, as OP themselves said — it was really fast.

        1. Butterfly Counter*

          I think a lot of this probably has to do with tone.

          “Wow, that’s really fast!” in a joking tone might have implications that the OP is uncaring. Which I could see as very inappropriate with a coworker one is not close to or someone you don’t normally joke around with.

          “Wow, that’s fast,” in a surprised or shocked tone would more indicate just shock and surprise that it could be done so quickly. Because it IS fast.

          I think I would try to not look for negativity, judgment, or bad faith in the coworker. It was a true statement after all! And something the grandmother wanted.

      4. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I recently revised my will, and am still a little unnerved by the amount of work my simple ‘estate’ would cause my executor. I’m single and own a well-maintained townhouse, no need for major work. It’s a seller’s market right now but with all the estate-settling paperwork, filings, inspections, etc., getting the house listed would take a lot of time and effort.

        In no way does this excuse the person who asked such a personal question, but I can kind of understand why she thought that way. If only she’d kept her thoughts to herself.

        OP, I’m sorry about your grandmother.

      5. ThatGirl*

        You know, it’s interesting to me now to think about it – my grandma died several years back. And my mom and her siblings knew she was dying; she had lymphoma and decided not to treat it. They all spent a lot of time with her at the hospital and nursing home. But I guess it never occurred to anyone to start cleaning out or prepping the house to eventually get sold, or they couldn’t deal with it emotionally maybe. Even though my grandparents had downsized a decade or so prior, there was still a lot crammed into that little place and it took my mom and aunts months of work to get everything organized.

        Just interesting to learn about how different families approach this stuff.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          My father was very well-organised, and after he died I found a box under his bed with everything I needed to sort stuff out: his will, the deeds to the house, details of all his bank accounts and credit cards, the numbers to call to shut off the gas, water, electricity, telephones, even the milkman and the laundry lady. Basically he’d made our task as easy as possible. I am so grateful for that, I wish I believed in heaven so I could thank him once I got there.

          1. Artemesia*

            My mother died 12 years after my father and I was stunned at how efficiently she had everything organized. The only challenge was the ‘stuff’ — nothing that ever entered that house left it — but all her affairs were in perfect order so my brother and I had nothing to fuss with except the ‘stuff’. We hired a guy who cleaned up and auctioned all the ‘stuff’ we didn’t want and then prepared the house for sale.

          2. ThatGirl*

            That is a real gift for you/his family. My husband’s grandfather was similar, at that point there was no longer a house to deal with but he had all of his paperwork and banking info and nearly everything was already in my FIL’s name too (no siblings).

            To be fair my grandma was no longer really herself after her initial hospital stay that discovered the lymphoma, or she might have done more to get things ready.

      6. calonkat*

        I think AnotherLibarian and Blue Eagle have good views here. The timelines given in the comments are (in my experience) very accurate, and just being able to get a house on the market within days of a death is somewhat comment worthy (though clearly not a comment you were ready for). I’d prepare a simple reply of “she and the family had prepared for this” and not worry about it further. Unless the tone of voice or past behavior of this co-worker indicates they have specific issues with you, I’d try to reframe it internally as a complimentary sort of astounded utterance.

      7. Rayray*

        I agree. As much as I hate what I call the “Grief Police” it really does sound like they were just more surprised than anything. Sure, maybe they should have just kept their mouth shut but I really don’t think they meant it in any offensive way.

    4. Allonge*

      Yes. And when someone is grieving, even little things hurt more than in normal circumstances.

      LW1, obviously you were there and know what the tone was like, but, does it help that just reading it, I am not sure if this was meant to be a compliment or not? As in, the sentence itself can be read as a positive. Again, you were the one there, but try not to lean into the ‘how terrible this person is’ angle, if you can. Long term, as Alison says, there is not a lot of benefit from that.

      1. Daisy*

        Yes, the sentence itself seems completely neutral and not at all offensive to me, so I suppose maybe she said it very rudely for OP to have such a big reaction to it? Factually it IS very quick to get the house on the market – you could easily say that in an approving way.

        1. Julia*

          The implication, as someone said upthread, is that the heirs are more interested in money than in grieving. That’s often the implication when people take any sort of legal or financial action quickly in the days following a death. Of course it is an unfair characterization, since post-death is when people usually need to take legal and financial steps.

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            ‘Of course it is an unfair characterization, since post-death is when people usually need to take legal and financial steps.’

            What an astute comment, Julia. When my 25 yo niece died after a car accident, my sister and BIL were already dealing with all kinds of paperwork and filings because she was an organ donor. The day after the funeral service meant the paperwork began in earnest. Hospital bills and police reports were just the start. It was all time-sensitive and legally necessary, and they had no choice but to handle it immediately.

            If someone had made an offhand comment about how fast this was happening in front of me, I can’t be sure I’d have been civil. Sometimes, people are doing their best to honor the departed’s wishes ASAP. More often than not, they don’t have a choice.

          2. Simply the best*

            Presumably you’ve read more than just that one comment and can see how many other people have made it clear that’s only one possible implication, and not the most common one at that.

          3. Wisteria*

            The implication, as someone said upthread, is that the heirs are more interested in money than in grieving.

            Is it, though? There might not have been any implication at all. Clinging to a possible negative implication of what could have been an offhand comment isn’t going to help LW.

          4. Daisy*

            I disagree that’s the obvious implication. That seems a massive stretch based on what’s quoted.

      2. Pocket Mouse*

        Or even with a tone that had a tinge less than positivity, it could be ‘Wow, that’s a whole lot to deal with in such a short period of time’ paired with ‘I’m so sorry you’re going through this’ or ‘I don’t think I’d have the emotional strength to be doing what you’re doing.’

        Honestly, I can totally see myself having a train of thought along those lines but the tone and words coming out of my mouth not accurately expressing what was going on internally, and thus stepping in it. I bet the coworker is kicking herself for saying what she said and/or how she said it.

        OP, I’m sorry you’re going through this.

      3. learnedthehardway*

        Another agreement with Allonge – unless this person has a nasty personality, I would not assume they meant anything negative or offensive by that comment. I’d be more likely to assume they said the first thing that came into their head, because people struggle to respond appropriately when death is the subject of conversation.

      4. cubone*

        I agree – it’s definitely a bit thoughtless and depending on the tone, could be downright rude/nasty. But I’ll admit, when I saw the letter title and then got to the comment, I was thinking “what rude thing did they say next??”. Not that the LW has to feel differently (or feel shamed for their reaction), but I can absolutely see someone meaning this as a compliment. Like a “wow, you were able to do that fast considering it’s only been a few days, you’re so strong and capable” (with the latter part implied I guess).

        It’s still a foot in mouth comment! This person still might be a jerk. But it sounds kind of like LW1 vented to their friends and family, who are ‘furious’, and now it seems like something that needs to be “dealt with” and unfortunately I think the only dealing with it is on the LW’s end – by accepting that people are rude and awkward (and maybe being judicious around this person with personal info).

    5. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Didn’t speak to my sister for several months after my friend died to Covid and my sister’s response was to attempt to make a joke about my friend’s weight as a ‘you knew that was gonna happen so there’s no need for shock’ kind of thing.

      I didn’t tell her why I was no longer speaking to her, just blocked her entirely. Reckoned she could figure out she owed me an apology!

      But I didn’t get one, and she just figured I was too in grief to communicate further. Sis has a bit of a history with not being great with other people’s feelings and I’ve got a well stubborn ‘I’m no explaining that to you’ streak. Clash of Titans basically sums up our relationship growing up.

      It took a long time for me to remember her long history of putting her foot in her gob and not realising it and my even longer history (I’m older) of holding serious grudges. The silence, stewing in my own grief and adding that grudge onto it really really hurt. What solved it? I finally told her that what she’d said had been inappropriate, that ‘sorry for your loss’ is really all she needed to do. She really hadn’t meant to hurt me, she’d just not known what else to say.

      I’m not saying forgiving insensitive comments is a good thing, there ARE people I’m never dealing with again because of what they said/did whom I’m never forgiving, it’s just be careful you don’t allow them to damage your life further than it already has been.

      And my heart goes out to anyone enduring loss. May all the pain fade into fond memories.

      1. Juniper*

        This is a really insightful comment and how you responded shows a lot of self-awareness. I think these kinds of stories are also great examples of how the cultural shift where impact matters more than intent is sometimes to our own detriment. We should be allowed to feel hurt and angry at careless comments, and sometimes there’s more to the story that warrants more drastic action. But often the cure is worse than the disease, and learning to live with the uncomfortable knowledge that someone isn’t exactly who you thought they were, or may not ever live up to the expectations you had of them, is more powerful.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I’ll never be friends with my sister, or understand her. If she ever says anything like that again I doubt I’ll…forgive is the wrong word, let’s try ‘move past it’..because now she knows it hurts. But, we can be civil and polite to each other again and not want to punt her into jupiter’s upper atmosphere and that…has actually reduced my stress levels.

          40+ years old and I’m still learning.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Really insightful comments here KoG and Juniper.

          A loved one’s passing is well known for pushing people apart and pushing other people together. Grief is really strange that way. Anger is a component of grief and is part of the process. It’s an easy pit to fall into where one person can really tick us off and all our anger (grief) goes toward that one person. Confusingly, some of that anger can actually be justified. The trick is not to use anger at that person as a crutch to avoid processing our own sadness/grief. Anger can give us a false sense of strength when we are feeling pretty mushy on the inside.

          Hey, BTDT, where I have gotten so angry with someone after a loss that I just. can’t. deal. with them.
          I figured out- okay, I should not force myself to deal with this person because it probably won’t go well. BUT at the same time, I need to recognize that this is not a real solution because there’s more to the story. I need to work on processing my own sadness and grief in order to not become this constantly angry person.

          For you, OP: The person who made this comment is a bit naïve. Everyone processes grief differently. While the responsibility is NOT on you to explain that everyone processes different, pointing that out to someone like this can be a handy tool to help ourselves along. Having a response to these comment- where and IF possible- can help us to take back our power. In your setting here, the actual inroad you have here is knowing for a FACT that this is a person who has not learned much about grief and all it’s ins and outs.
          I put my father’s house on the market immediately. I knew I could not afford it, I could not do the work of maintaining it and it was all just too much for me. JUST BECAUSE I responded quickly like that, DOES NOT mean I had no emotions about selling the property. OP, I was absolutely GUTTED, selling that property was like having a second funeral. My health fell apart- I was that upset. Casual observers probably believed I was a Cold Hearted B who just wanted money. That is a reflection on THEY live and think, not a reflection on me.

          I see you starting to get upset with your boss for perhaps not speaking to this cohort. I understand that you feel unsupported on this matter. And that makes sense. In times of grief, OP, some people WILL totally fail us. Count on it. It’s fine to distance yourself from this person and just keep things super-professional. But running at the same time figure out ways to bring the support you need into your life- this could be books, counseling, taking walks, it could be absolutely anything. Get some supportive-to-you activities going on for yourself. Perhaps one consideration is to think about selling the house as another source of grief. Maybe letting go of the house is a bit tougher than you thought it would be. I dunno, I am not you, so this is just something to mull over. However, the big picture is to think about your anger spreading first cohort, now boss and ask yourself what you need to buoy you up right now. Being angry with people is a temporary “fix” and it’s not really a “fix”. What do you really need here? What can you add in to your life right now that would be of comfort and of help?

          1. Minerva*

            Not So New, thank you for this incredible comment. It’s just what I needed to hear today.

          2. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Very, very wise comment. During times of grief everything can get magnified; that insensitive comment from a coworker, the friend who didn’t text you back when you told them of your loss, the git on the street who told you to ‘smile!’ et cetera – it all hurts way, way more than it ever would normally.

            I took a lot of my anger out on video games eventually, the anger at others not behaving how they should and the anger at the world being so unfair and how pissed off I was at still crying at random moments.

          3. SJJ*

            I had a coworker leave a snide passive aggressive voicemail on why I didn’t respond sooner to him (I was out a week for my father’s funeral). Let’s just say my grief-fueled response burned a professional bridge in a blaze of fiery glory and led to follow up meetings.

            So, I do not recommend that approach.

            Do yourself a favor, and let that @#% go, it’s not worth it – even though it might feel that way right now.

            1. Sal*

              But…but… you were teaching your coworker an important lesson about the inadvisability of being snide and passive aggressive when you make lack essential context!! Obviously this should have been a “mistakes were made; let’s all jointly move on” situation.

          4. LW#1*

            Thank you. I hadn’t thought about it quite like that.

            Having read a lot of the comments, it is possible that I took what she said as condemnation because I felt it was moving quickly, and because in the back of my mind I was aware that my small percentage of the sale of the property would solve a lot of issues, and I felt guilty for focusing on the practical side of things, rather than falling to pieces, which is what people seemed to expect.

            I’m planning to put this behind me now, and move on xx

      2. Will's Mom*

        I’m with you Keymaster. When I called my niece to tell her my son had committed suicide, the first thing out of her mouth was “Wow, it must be something in the water because” and then she listed out famous people who had taken their lives shortly before my son’s death. She and I were pregnant at the same time, and she gave birth 7 days after I did. It really cut me to the core. If she had said she was sorry for my loss before her comment, I would have still been hurt but would have understood. As it stands, I still have issues about her response. Thankfully, we were never very close, so I don’t have all the guilt I would probably have if we had been closer, it that makes any sense?

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          It does make sense – the sense of betrayal gets a bit lessened when the person saying the stuff isn’t as close to you. To me, it’s a hard calculus of ‘exactly how much would I personally suffer if I just never trusted this person again’.

    6. wee beastie*

      Agreed. And since you didn’t do anything wrong, OP#1, you can hold your head high and go about your business. If anyone has cause to be embarrassed, it isn’t you.
      If you are anxious being around this person because you fear what they might be thinking or what else they might say, it is possibly because you were so caught off guard the first time and not prepared for how to deal with them. Perhaps if you have a phrase you’ve practiced in mind, you will feel better/more confident because you will know what to say. Possible phrases are: (the aforementioned) “I can understand why you would say that, but you haven’t met my Nan. We are just following her wishes.” And “yes, your opinion has been noted. Thank you.” And “In honor of my 10 year old niece ‘please mind your own beeswax’” (finish with a big smile)

    7. Well...*

      Maybe it’s just me, but I would be on guard around this person. I agree it could just be awkward grief-adjacent babble, but there’s something that strikes me as slimy and opportunistic about painting you as a money-grabber when you’re in a moment where you can’t really respond with a level head. I’ve known people who do like to kick people while they’re down, and sometimes you don’t notice the pattern until you’re the one who’s down.

      Anyways, for me it would be easier to heal the wound by putting my guard up for a while, adding distance, and really checking in on my boundaries. It will be easier (imo) if you don’t get emotionally invested in some apology or restitution. If you’re right and this person sucks, there won’t be a satisfying outcome other than you being able to be safer around them bc you know they suck and can protect yourself. This cut deep and it’s fair for you to be wary for a while if that feels right for you in your grief.

      1. Gina*

        I find this so strange. The colleague didn’t paint OP as a “money-grabber”, they made a factual (if awkward and unfortunate) comment. OP did, in fact, put the property on the market unusually quickly as they acknowledge. Any further implication beyond the fact of that is in the mind of the reader, and is being assumed. Why so quick to assume the worst? It’s understandable that OP took it badly, whether it was meant that way or not, given that they were grieving.

        But for you, an internet stranger, to do the same is simply bizarre to me! You have no knowledge of this person’s character, motivations, attitude, previous behavior or tone. And based on one remark you have decided they are “slimy” and “opportunistic”! Based on your one comment, I find you alarmingly negative, accusatory, defensive and vindictive. I can only hope I am misjudging you!

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I have seen it too much in life that people boil things down to a money grab. I don’t think it is far-fetched to think that OP might feel like this is a sly comment regarding grabbing some money. Growing up this was a frequent comment in my family- “oh Sue is selling the house/jewelry/other thing because she wants the money from it!” wth. really.

          But if a person is used to hearing people comment this way, it’s could be easy to assume that the cohort is thinking along a similar vein. OP does not indicate she thinks her cohort has labeled her a money-grabber- so we don’t know what OP thinks. But plenty of people are really funny/odd about estates and they assume that those involved are looking for their hand-out.

          To me, I tend to wonder if the cohort wants the house to sit vacant for years in “honor” of the loved one. what the heck.
          In some settings it is possible for people to know exactly what they want to do and jump right in to do it. When my husband passed, I sold off everything of his that involved a gasoline engine. I knew from him that engines can take a set if they are left unused and that makes the machine useless. I knew I would not use this stuff so I jumped and sold the stuff while the machine could still be operable.
          If you saw what I got for these items you’d instantly know I was not making big bucks. I actually wanted to be able to think of these items “out there somewhere” and being used by someone who cared about them. Can’t put a dollar value on knowing these items are not being wasted.

        2. Well...*

          Uhm wow, okay, you are extrapolating a lot about my personality (as you say just from one comment) but I’ll move past it.

          I agree we don’t have all the information, but if OP is really hurt by the comment, I’m leaving space for the possibility OP’s instincts are correct. It doesn’t hurt that person at all for OP to guard their own boundaries around this person. It’s possible this person DID mean to insult OP, and if that is the case, OP should take care of themselves if that feels right. It’s not OP’s job (or ours) to give this person the benefit of the doubt when OP is grieving.

        3. Nettie*

          Exactly! Understandable for OP to take it badly, but we (readers with no personal stake) should NOT be encouraging them to read even more into it than they already have. I honestly don’t know what the point of this comment is (not yours, the “I would be on guard) one.

          1. Well...*

            To be clear, I’m not encouraging that, I’m just saying what I would do if someone said something I found very, very hurtful. It’s possible this person did mean to hurt OP, and in that case there are professional ways for OP to handle that and take care of themselves. I was trying to add guidance for that situation, which we can’t rule out (and which OP certainly shouldn’t be responsible for sorting out, when the comment was in fact OUT of line, regardless of intention).

      2. Allonge*

        I think this is a totally legit reaction – in your personal life, and if you have other indications that this is not a good person to be around / open with (it really is taking the worst possible reading of the comment).

        I don’t see it working out well at work, unless you manage to stay strictly professional at the same time, which is tough at this level of emotions.

        I completely agree on not getting invested in an apology!

        1. Well...*

          I guess I think guarding boundaries and adding distance when someone hurts you (after trying to address it and getting nowhere) is a good way to heal from a comment of ambiguous motives where you feel very, very hurt. I see that as working out well. Eventually, if the comment really is out of character, you’ll start to feel comfortable around the coworker as time passes and you have more positive interactions, and things will go back to normal. But OP shouldn’t have to force themselves to feel good and open around someone who hurt their feelings while also grieving.

          I think it’s kind of interesting how “guard your boundaries around someone who hurt you” is getting a ton of pushback upthread. It’s a completely neutral and honest reaction. It’s not aggressive to have boundaries, people.

          1. Allonge*

            If by guarding boundaries you mean sharing less personal information and being cautious about socialising, then I fully agree. I also don’t see any issue with saying ‘hey, what you said about grandma’s estate hurt me, can we not talk about this subject any more?’ if coworker would bring it up.

            But they do have to work together, this cannot spill over into not being able to talk to coworker at all or not sharing info / projects if that is needed. Do the have to be friends? No. Friendly-ish, on the surface? Yes.

            1. Well...*

              I mean, I’m surprised people are reading “guard your boundaries” as interfering with work. The most straightforward meaning to me is, “avoid personal details and focus on work” but I also think OP can figure out what they feel comfortable talking about with this person.

              By analogy: if someone stomps hard on your foot, you might not stand near them for a while no matter how accidental. That’s totally cool, and the caveat “but remember to still do your job!” seems unnecessary to me. Probably if OP feels safe from having their foot stomped on it will be easier, not more difficult, to move on from the incident and focus on work.

              1. Allonge*

                I think the issue here is that guarding your boundaries 1. does not have a single definition and 2. involves a lot of things that are tricky to do in a professional manner, especially when emotions are high. That does not mean people should not set boundaries! They do have to be work-appropriate boundaries though, so:
                – I will hold back on personal chitchat and especially discussions about grandma’s estate when X is around = fine.
                – As soon as I see them coming I will stop talking and stomp back to my desk = not fine.

                Using your analogy: work might well require them to stand closer to each other than OP would prefer.

          2. traffic_spiral*

            I think you’re missing the context added by work vs. personal. With your cousin who has a vested interest in part of the estate and a history of making nasty little digs? Sure. This could reasonably seen as some sort of veiled statement about the OP being money-grubbing.

            But from a coworker who has zero interest in the estate and no reason to care about your family drama? Chances are incredibly likely that there’s no hidden message here and the coworker is just surprised you got the paperwork together that quickly, cause it usually takes longer.

            It’s like if I once had an embarrassing slip-and-fall and afterwards someone who saw it keeps going “be careful, it looks slippery out today” they might be making a reference to that embarrassing thing. However, if a random coworker says it once, they’re probably just genuinely noticing that it’s icy and rainy today and I shouldn’t go projecting all my feelings on this comment.

            Also, all your talk about boundaries… what boundaries? Re-read the They’re work colleagues – boundaries are there and doing just fine. OP is the one who wants to cross the standard coworker boundaries by having a big talk about hurt feelings.

          3. Smithy*

            Certainly the OP might consider being more guarded with sharing personal details at work that still feel raw or emotional. However, I think why you’re getting this pushback is that in a work setting – that kind of boundary setting with just one person can end up being a lot of work and get you tagged as being unprofessional.

            From what we know, the OP was sharing this news to a small group of coworkers, so by setting stronger boundaries – does that mean the OP ends up waiting for this one coworker to be in the bathroom or away before engaging in any social chat? Depending on how the office is composed, that risks appearing cliquish and less professional. Not to mention the general dynamics of being seen as a team player and collegial with a colleague.

            If the boundary you’re thinking of is simply “don’t share estate updates at work” – then that makes a ton of sense. But putting up a lot of boundaries around just one coworker risks backfiring on the OP. That comment wasn’t great and was entirely insensitive. But I can also see it not rising to the level of something a boss or HR wanting to have to deal with.

            1. Well...*

              I’m pretty surprised that having boundaries is seen as unprofessional at work, when in fact the opposite is true? I was vaguely thinking not sharing personal details and treading carefully, but OP’s boundaries are OP’s to decide what they are comfortable with. I wouldn’t assume they are unprofessional, and to be clear I’m not recommending setting unprofessional boundaries at work (why would I?)

              1. Calliope*

                People can set boundaries at work. I suspect people are reacting to the combo of that with you saying you think the person is slimy and opportunistic which is a lot to think about someone you’ve never met from one awkward comment that could have been totally innocuous.

              2. Smithy*

                I think the pushback has perhaps around your language around boundaries as putting up a guard and distance towards one colleague. Had your advice focused more on putting up boundaries around the OP’s personal life/estate talk, that would have resonated differently.

                There are inevitably people we like/trust at work more than others. If you’re on a team of 20, and have just a few buddies who you socialize, that’s one thing. However, if you’re on a team of 5 and are looking to put social boundaries around one person – then for a misstep as relatively minor as this – that’s not professional.

              3. traffic_spiral*

                It’s not about “having boundaries at work,” it’s about the fact that said boundaries already exist in this workplace and so what you’re saying doesn’t make a lot of sense.

                It’s like that scene in “Catch me if you can” where Leo’s character keeps saying “Do You Concur?” You gotta specify exactly what you mean in context. What “boundary” is she supposed to have? Specifically what is she supposed to do or say in support of said boundary?

      3. anonymath*

        I’m just going to spell out some cost-benefit analysis:

        * Coworker has experience with putting house on the market slowly after a death. You decide based on coworker’s comment that coworker thinks you’re a money-grabber. You distance yourself from coworker, carry around burden of being hurt and misjudged, react poorly to coworker’s later overtures. Who loses? You — you get all these negative emotions on top of grief. Coworker just figures you’re sad, has no idea. Your value: -5

        * Coworker has experience with putting house on the market slowly after a death. You figure this coworker could be referring to that. You don’t talk of it further, or you ask when you feel ready over a coffee, “Do you have experience with this?” Coworker shares story of brother’s passing, you bond a bit, you move on. You both feel a bit better. Your value: +5

        * Coworker thinks you’re a money-grabber. You accurately detect that. You both dislike each other and continue disliking each other, on top of your grief, and continue to clash in the workplace. Your value: -4

        * Coworker thinks you’re a money-grabber. You let the comment go and concentrate on your support systems. Turns out you’re not a money-grabber, you carry out your family member’s wishes, you don’t have to carry the burden of even caring about your coworker’s feelings. Your value: +0.5

        Ok, time for an expected value calculation. Figure it’s 50/50 if the coworker thinks you’re a money-grabber or just has her own perspective and doesn’t. If you let the comment go/assume ok intent, you come out with 0.5 x 5 + 0.5 x 0.5 = 2.75 for your expected value outcome. If you assume the coworker thinks you’re a money-grabber and allow it to affect you, you come out with 0.5 x -5 + 0.5 x -4 = -4.5.

        So, make your choice!

    8. Richard Hershberger*

      This. We as a culture value originality while devaluing the conventional set expression. This often is appropriate, but grieving is not such an occasion. My life became much easier once I figured this out, and I am less likely to say something inappropriate and stupid. “I am sorry for your loss.” Repeat as necessary.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Amen. Less is more.
        People probably think you are a kind and wise person.

      2. Shirley Keeldar*

        So true—especially at work! Cliches and small talk get such a bad rap, but they exist for a reason. They may be bland but they’re unlikely to scald tender feelings or reopen barely-healed wounds.

        “I’m sorry for your loss,” “It must be a tough time,” “Let me know if there’s anything I can take off your plate” are all really good.

    9. twocents*

      The other thing that I’d add is it’s totally possible that the boss did talk to the co-worker, and I understand we all want to see evidence that the wrongdoing was addressed, but unless Co-worker tells you about being reprimanded, you’re not going to have that confirmation. You just have to trust that your boss did what she said she would do.

      1. Malarkey01*

        And I say this very kindly for OPs loss, but if I was presented this as a manager I would probably say something along the lines of “you may not realize this but what you said to Jane about selling so fast hurt her feelings. Please keep that in mind that everyone grieves differently and she’s not up for comments on the subject”…that would be about it. If I heard OP was furious and could barely interact over this (as she stated) I’d be pretty worried she wasn’t up to the job right now because these reactions seem a little outsized for the situation and could stick with her after the griefs tempers a little although incredibly sympathetic to the poster.

        1. LW#1*

          And that it basically what my boss said to her. Fortunately we were not in the office together for a few days, and by that time I had calmed down enough to be able to be civil to her. I did however make it clear to my boss that all of the (extra and on top of my job) effort I had been putting in to finding my co-worker somewhere to live (including considering putting her in my nan’s house!) was going to come to a screeching halt.

        2. LW#1*

          And it turns out that this is pretty much what my boss said to her. We have been civil and professional in the office since this happened, although I did inform my boss that the extra effort I had been going to to try and find my co-worker temporary accommodation was going to come to a screeching halt. It had even crossed my mind to offer Nan’s house, but I decided it was too soon, ironically…

    10. Trout 'Waver*

      Agreed. Seeing people grieving can remind people of their own grief, and sometimes they say stupid things because of that. I’ve certainly done that.

    11. Sunny_Side_Up*

      OP it was fast. Your co-worker literally just stated a fact. I’m surprised you were even legally and logistically able to do it that quickly- and your co-worker probably is too. I’m sorry if the comment hurt your feelings, but it seems like you’re projecting some kind of meaning into his/her/their words that wasn’t necessarily even meant. They didn’t say you were a bad person. They said it’s remarkably fast, which it is. It was a mindless comment, but certainly nothing worth ruining a relationship and work atmosphere over.

    12. Anonymous Hippo*

      Indeed, people can tend to babble a bit when they don’t know how to respond to grief, and the mourner may be more sensetive due to grief.

      For example, when ever I have a loss I’ve been “complimented” because I’m stoic and I “handle” it so well. Truth of the matter, I just don’t get emotional over things like that, and being reminded of it makes me feel like a terrible person.

      1. allathian*

        Yup, same. I’ve never cried at a funeral, for example, although I can cry when I read a book and sometimes when I watch a movie or TV show. All the people in my extended family who’ve died were sick and most of them were old when they passed after a prolonged illness. I mostly felt relief that their suffering was finally over. I expect I’d grieve an unexpected death more visibly, and probably also the deaths of my parents in the future, because then I’ll be involved in the practical details of the estate.

        I wouldn’t have appreciated any comments about how I wasn’t grieving “properly”, but thankfully my family is supportive enough and we give each other space to grieve in our own way.

      2. CountryLass*

        At least it isn’t just me! I always feel like the worst person in the world as I’m not having a complete breakdown.

    13. Katherine*

      I was honestly surprised by the calmness of Alison’s reaction, and I think it’s because what stood out to me is that the coworker wasn’t even the one being addressed- she entered a conversation that did not include her, in order to say something that could very easily be construed as unkind. For me, that’s where the coworker loses the benefit of the doubt. I know we all say the wrong thing sometimes, but this person didn’t have to say *anything*- OP wasn’t talking to her!

      Also, I keep reading in the comments “she just stated a fact”- and, come on. The guy who kept talking about his coworker’s prosthetic arm was just stating facts, but it was still inappropriate. When judging intent/impact, there are more considerations besides whether something’s a provable fact. After reading the comments, I do see plausible alternative interpretations, and I agree we can’t know what the coworker intended, but boiling it down to “stating a fact” isn’t really fair.

  2. Princess Deviant*

    #5. Wow! You wouldn’t want to work for a place like that anyways and your reference sucks also. Sorry that happened.

    1. Cthulhu’s Librarian*

      This. What your reference did crossed a huge ethical line, and this place still thought they were a good hire? That should be a giant red flag about working there.

      Bullet dodged, OP5.

      1. Just Another Manic Millie*

        Where does it say that the reference was given the job? All I saw was that the offer was withdrawn because the reference applied for the job. IMHO the unethical part of this situation is that the offer was withdrawn because someone else (the reference) decided to apply for the job, not because someone else (the reference) was given the job.

        1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          Usually offers are withdrawn because one has decided to go with a different candidate – if the offer was withdrawn because the reference applied, it stands to reason that the reference was (or is going to be) offered the position instead.

          1. Just Another Manic Millie*

            “the reference was (or is going to be) offered the position”

            If the reference was merely offered the position, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the reference was going to accept. What I find really strange about this situation is that it appears that the reference was called after the job was offered to the LW. And while the LW was originally offered the position, nowhere does it say that the LW accepted it. Maybe the LW asked for a little time to think it over, and the company interpreted that as meaning that the LW wasn’t too enthusiastic about the job. But that does not take away from the crappyness of making a firm offer to the LW and then withdrawing it.

      2. Van Wilder*

        100% agree CL. The reference was the most wrong but the company was also acting in bad faith. Bullet dodged indeed.

    2. twocents*

      Yeah, I feel like the reference knew someone, because it’s so unlikely otherwise to just bypass all the steps and get the job they didn’t even apply or interview for.

      1. Roscoe*

        Or, possibly the company decided reference might be a good fit and asked them if they were interested.

      2. pancakes*

        I agree it was a really lousy and boundary-crossing thing to do, but there’s no reason to believe the reference didn’t apply or interview for the job – the letter says he “placed his hat in the ring and applied for the job.”

        1. twocents*

          My experience has been that you don’t get to apply when the company is down to the final candidates that they’re checking references on. Did he send on his resume? Possibly but I don’t know that anyone would consider that a normal application.

          1. pancakes*

            It definitely doesn’t seem like a normal application, no, but it also doesn’t seem likely that they hired the guy without seeing his resume. Who knows, though.

          2. Mockingjay*

            Oh, I can see it ‘casually’ brought up during the reference call.

            Ref: Could you tell me a little about the position so I can discuss LW5’s experience and performance in relation to it?
            Interviewer: Blah blah blah
            Ref: Wow, this is a really interesting project and LW5 would probably do well in it. You know, I also have background in similar projects.
            Interviewer: Really? Tell me more…hey, why don’t you send me your resume, if you think you’d be interested.

            The interviewer is trying to get the best person for the job. Should the reference have applied too? In a perfect world, no. Unfortunately, our employment system can sometimes resemble the Hunger Games in which people will do anything to ‘win’ a stable or better job. Fortunately, most employers follow reasonable practices when hiring. LW5, I am sorry this happened to you, but as others have mentioned, take it as a preview of how this company would behave. Best of luck in applying with other, better companies.

            1. Allypopx*

              “Unfortunately, our employment system can sometimes resemble the Hunger Games in which people will do anything to ‘win’ a stable or better job.”

              Especially right now. I’m finally starting to see good jobs pop up again but it has been a dry, competitive, and frustrating year. I don’t ethically condone what the reference did but I can see how circumstances might drive an otherwise conscientious person to seize an opportunity that’s presented – especially if it went down something like this, which I expect it did.

              1. Roscoe*

                Exactly. I mean, we don’t really know the reference’s job status. Were they gainfully employed? Recently laid off?

                It sucks, but unfortunately everyone is looking out for their own best interests

                1. fhqwhgads*

                  Yes, although generally speaking, if someone is applying to a job you yourself have applied to or intend to or want to apply for, you should decline to be a reference for that and tell the person you’re declining to be a reference due to conflict of interest. If it got to the point that the referencee were a finalist, reference hadn’t applied, got the call for reference purposes and then and only then they literally got to talking during the reference call and it turned into “hey actually, I want in” that’s an incredibly shitty thing to do.

    3. BenAdminGeek*

      Man, that sucks. I once had an interviewer for an internal promotion decide to throw her hat in the ring after interviewing me, and she got the role. That was bad enough, but this is way worse!

      1. Van Wilder*

        That’s really shitty too because she basically had the dirt on the other candidates and knew how to position herself. I think that’s shady and question the logic of hiring that person.

        1. planetmort*

          I had a colleague do this early in my career and I did not fully appreciate how underhanded it is. *Another* colleague flipped out on my behalf, and I thought he was being overly dramatic. After many more years in the working world, as well as some time in management, I realize how unbelievably shitty it is. Thankfully, I no longer work with this person.

    4. LifeBeforeCorona*

      I was contacted by an ex co-worker who wanted to visit me at my new workplace. She came and I showed her around and we had lunch with my manager. She asked a lot of questions about our workplace and then she left. Later that afternoon my manager came to see me and was laughing. She told me that my old co-worker had sent a copy of her resume and suggested that my manager fire me and hire her instead. My manager said we worked hard to get a friendly toxic-free workplace so thanks, but no thanks.

  3. Anon for this*

    My department has been slowly working, off and on, on a project that will be a major quality of life improvement for everyone involved, if we can ever get the stars to align and get it fully completed. My coworkers and I have taken to heart emoji ing updates on this project, because it is a truly wonderful dream. There doesn’t seem to be a use for it outside of highly beloved dream projects though.

    1. LilyP*

      Same! I see thumbs-up as a “cool” or “acknowledged” or “gotcha” whereas heart is more like “yay!!” or “amazing”

      1. Super Admin*

        This is how we use them at work too.

        Thumbs up = received and understood, good to know, etc.
        Heart = like, awesome, brilliant, love it, etc.

        I will concede we are quite a casual team, but it sounds like quite a few people use the emojis similarly.

        1. UKDancer*

          Us too. I don’t think of the heart as meaning anything other than a really enthusiastic like.

          1. LDN Layabout*

            I was interested to see what other Brits would say, we’re very much a thumbs up in Teams organisation and I would also be weirded out to use/see a heart reaction unless it was team members sharing baby or kitten photos…

            OK, puppies too.

            I’m sure I’d get used to it if it was an organisation/team-wide thing though.

            1. Audrey Puffins*

              I’m in the UK, we have twice daily updates from leadership on Teams which all staff are expected to acknowledge, and though the Thumbs Up is the norm, it’s not unusual to see a handful of Hearts on a post. It doesn’t seem to be the same people every time, or a particular sort of update that receives them, so I assume it’s just when people want to express a little more enthusiasm than a simple “I have read this”.

            2. Sasha*

              Another Brit. We use the party popper emoji for “yay”, and the heart emoji for “aaah” (kittens etc). Thumbs up for “thanks” or “got it”.

              1. Green great dragon*

                Yeh – heart is for small animals or humans for us. But I could see a heart being used as thank you (eg for sending me a thing) and thumbs up for OK (eg I have recieved your request).

            3. Caragh*

              I’m in the UK too and we use the heart emoji frequently on Teams to indicate approval, satisfaction or liking of something. No one has ever expressed any concern about using it.

            4. londonedit*

              Also British and in my Teams chat with my (all male) immediate colleagues, we use the ‘thumbs up’ response to show approval for a comment (or the ‘laughing’ or ‘anger’ response if appropriate). In my Teams chat with my (all female) wider colleagues whom I don’t work with on a daily basis but still keep in contact with, we use the heart emoji much more often, but that’s because that chat is more about things that are happening in our everyday lives, so someone’s more likely to say something that merits a heart response (like ‘Went to see my sister’s new kitten!’ or ‘I’m feeling so proud of myself, I finally ran 5k without stopping this weekend’). Whereas the chat with my immediate colleagues is more likely to be along the lines of ‘The author of Llama Grooming Techniques for Life has submitted the final text – I’ve dropped it into the shared folder for you’.

              1. Heart Emojis*

                OP3 here! It’s probably worth noting actually that I’m also British so this is probably where a fair chunk of my raised eyebrows came from- but the colleagues who predominantly use the heart emoji are based overseas, so there’s probably some basic cultural stuff at play here too. Agreed that using heart emojis for more everyday chat as you outline is definitely cool, it’s more the use of it for things like the chat you describe with your immediate colleagues that makes me feel a bit funny. All of the comments here though have really made me realise though that this isn’t a big deal and I just need to move past it really!

            5. Chas*

              I’m in the UK, but don’t use those sorts of chats very often. Personally I would have viewed the heart emoji in the same way as putting kisses at the end of a text or email, it’s absolutely not something I’d do with coworkers and at best I’d be raising my eyebrows if someone at work sent it to me in reply to a work message.

              1. Anthony J Crowley*

                Oh that’s interesting, I’m in the UK and our team uses hearts quite a lot but I have never seen kisses at the end of our messages!

            6. Hare under the moon with a silver spoon*

              Brit here too – I’m an occasional user of heart emoji but with people I work with closely who are wear their hearts on sleeves types. With others head back laughing emoji denotes enthusiasm when thumbs up doesn’t seem quite right.

            7. Keymaster of Gozer*

              Granted, this is an IT department in the UK so we kinda stand outside cultural norms (apart from the tea consumption and weather complaints- it’s too darn hot today) but we do use some emojis in slack etc.

              Very very rarely hearts, and that’s generally on pet pictures on the off topic bits.

              Much more often on the intra-team communications are the traditional thumbs up, sarcastic tongue out expression or, when discussing that one Exchange cluster that keeps blowing itself up, a poo.

            8. Anthony J Crowley*

              Also UK person, and we use hearts when we’re really enthusiastic about something.

              For what it’s worth, when we had the ‘introduction to teams and office 365’ training in work the trainer (a Scottish guy not known for grand displays of emotion) said the heart reaction was a ‘like’, so I wonder if that’s some kind of label that Microsoft puts on it. I dunno if other people in my team had that training fwiw.

          2. Heart Emojis*

            OP3 here! I think you (and Alison) are all right- it probably is just showing extra enthusiasm and I need to start just seeing it that way, particularly as we are a pretty casual team overall. Clearly I’m just being a bit miserable about this!

          3. Kristinyc*

            Same here! I’ve used it for things like:
            “The recruitment event went really well! [numbers indicating that!]”

            Anything congratulating anyone on something

            Whenever I’m thanking someone (but sometimes use the thumbs up for this -depends on what/who it is)

        2. LQ*

          Yeah, this is how we use it. Thumbs up is an acknowledged message. Heart is great/you rock! But also just basically any of the first 3, thumbs up, heart, grinning face are kind of interchangeable as, a seen and all is good message.

          We are fairly casual as well.
          I did just scan through a couple channels and group chats and I’d say it’s about 40/40/15/misc for which emoji is used.

        3. CaVanaMana*

          At my work, here’s how it happens.

          Thumbs up = elder millennial or gen x-er who uses Facebook reacting “got it”
          Heart = younger millennial, gen z-er who uses Instagram reacting “got it”
          Laughing emoji = I decided to participate.

      2. On Fire*

        This. Thumbs up = message received/okay. Heart = that’s great! Wonderful! Awesome! My team has a group text, and since we’re all iPhone users, we use those reaction emojis if a message needs acknowledgment but not a specific reply.

        1. Smithy*

          This is our team as well, to such a point where it’s almost seen as perfunctory to give the thumbs up vs something else. We’re also still on Skype – the reaction emoji options are more extensive.

      3. JelloStapler*

        Same here, actually. Especially if someone says something kind to some one else.

    2. Well...*

      I don’t mind receiving them but so feel awkward giving heart love. I really like Slack’s two-handed high five. On Skype I’m forces to chose between a heart and a star, both of which I dislike. The thumbs up just reads to me as “ok” or “got it” rather than “yay!”

      1. Eliza*

        I work with companies that use Discord for work communications, which has a nice range of emoji available, and I tend to use the party hat or confetti emoji when I want to express excitement rather than just acknowledgement.

    3. Mockingjay*

      I use only the thumbs up emojis to acknowledge something on Teams, usually that I’ve read something or received a download. The heart is reserved for rare things, like a picture of a coworker’s newborn.

    4. To heart or not to heart*

      The teams emojis cause me great distress cause there is no smiley face. Just a laughing face. I find that the thumbs up means ok, I got it. I find the heart is a bit much, but there is no way to say I’m happy for you, or I really appreciate this. So that leaves me torn about using the heart or not.

    5. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      I use the heart emoji when I’m not just acknowledging the other person’s update, but also praising and admiring it.

    6. IL JimP*

      I think since a lot of social media use the heart as a “like” that a lot of people see it that way now too

      1. Bee*

        Yes, I was going to say this as well – people who are used to dropping hearts left & right on Twitter/Instagram aren’t going to attach any more meaning to it than “I like this post.”

    7. BethDH*

      In my org thumbs up seems to mean “roger” or “works for me” — it comes in response to questions like “everyone okay with saving this for the next meeting?” It’s essentially a voting tool.
      Because of that, people use the heart pretty regularly for things they actually like.

  4. Night Owl*

    #4 – Definitely nothing wrong with volunteering there, but I agree that it makes sense to wait a little while. If you start volunteering quickly, you run the risk of getting pulled into things that wouldn’t normally concern you as a volunteer, such as your replacement asking for advice, etc.

    1. Cthulhu’s Librarian*

      Or the employer never actually replacing them. I’ve seen that happen more than a time or two.

      1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        My mom used to be employed by her church. She did a lot of work for their Easter preparations as part of her job. After she retired, my parents started spending Easter with my brother (who lives several states away) to ensure that she wouldn’t be pulled back into doing her old job, only now for free.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        This is my thought as well. Honestly in this case I’d wait at least six months (and probably check with a volunteer friend to make sure that the old role had been filled for a bit before even thinking of helping with the first post career change volunteer shift.

    2. Spero*

      I agree. I am a former volunteer coordinator and have always waited at least a year to go to any big events or volunteer. I do donate privately and have done some small, one off things at the specific request of my former boss, but nothing where other volunteers might see me and identify me as still being their VSC.
      I would also privately approach the replacement and say hi, I’m considering volunteering again, what do you think about this? I would not go to your former boss or through a more public application process. Give them a heads up and show that you are recognizing them as your VSC and respecting their role in leading you as a volunteer. Do not be surprised if you’re asked to repeat training or orientation. Do not comment negatively on things that may have changed since your time as the VSC.

    3. Over It*

      I think the amount of time to wait depends greatly on the nature of the volunteer position. I started volunteering once per week at my old workplace a couple months after leaving–they would have loved to have me right away, but I needed the break. I worked at a soup kitchen where volunteers hand out the food and during meal time, and staff provide social service case management. Sometimes patrons will ask volunteers questions, and volunteers are supposed to direct patrons to the case management staff. My former coworkers are thrilled to have me volunteer on shift and find it funny that I sometimes answer case management questions, but I have solid boundaries on only handling simple informational questions when all staff are busy (i.e. “this is the number for the shelter van”) vs directing patrons back to staff when they have a more complex issue involving follow up. I think the key is to never offer unsolicited advice to your predecessor, and if people come to you for input, always redirect to whoever actually is in charge.

    4. Garrett*

      I think part of it too is what exactly does the volunteering entail? I volunteer at the front desk of a community center in the evenings and have never even met the volunteer coordinator except through a few emails. If it is something independent I think you are okay. But, if it is more volunteering for an event with others, then I agree holding back might be a good idea.

  5. Yennefer of Vengerberg*

    #3 I’m not much younger than you, but I wouldn’t think twice about someone using a heart emoji at work. In my mind, the heart emoji shows more warmth than the thumbs up. I think your coworkers are trying to emulate human connection in this modern digital world.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, same, except that I’m nearly 50. I wouldn’t think twice about using the hearts emoji with my teammates.

      1. pleaset cheap rolls*

        I’m in my 50s and really love the thumbs up emoji. The heart emoji too, but that should not be overused, just the way I write and say “sounds good” and “great” pretty often (covered by thumbs up) but don’t write “I love it” that much.

        I love the thumbs up emoji, and at the right time the heart too.

        1. LQ*

          I think this is where the disconnect is. Sounds good or great are not really covered by thumbs up if you’re using for a simple acknowledged in general. The heart needs to be watered down to be used at work but because it’s at work it’s definitionally watered down.

          1. LQ*

            (For me at least, but I think this is the disconnect, some see it as covered and some don’t.)

          2. fhqwhgads*

            I think the difference in both comfort level and what the emoji is presumed to mean is largely based on what software someone does or doesn’t use outside of work. If they use forums/apps in which heart = “like”, then they’re more likely to use heart in slack/teams/whatever IM to mean that. If they more frequently use forums/apps that use thumbs up for that, they’re probably a thumbs up user. Ditto plus sign or check emojis, etc. And is someone uses many forums/apps that all use different emojis for “like”, that may not directly correlate to which one they use in IM, but likely does mean when on the receiving end, they interpret them interchangeably.

        2. allathian*

          Yup, me too. I use thumbs up for “got it” and heart for anything from “aww how sweet” to a normal “like”.

    2. Np*

      I know this isn’t what you were going for at all, but I loathe the thumbs up with the passion of a thousand suns. I find it so dismissive and always make the effort to at least type “Thanks!” It takes all of three more seconds and emulates f2f interactions better.

      (I don’t use the heart, but I totally wouldn’t find it weird if I got one from colleagues. As you say, it shows more warmth!)

      1. allathian*

        For a fast typist, less than that. It’s certainly faster to type “thanks” on Skype than it is to dig out the icon from the list on Skype, the app we’re stuck with for now.

          1. Clare*

            Huh, that’s definitely not my experience with Teams. The emojis are right there, it only takes a second to click/tap and they’re done. Typing is way slower!

            1. londonedit*

              Yeah, with Teams you can instantly ‘respond’ to a comment by giving it a thumbs up/heart/angry/laughing reaction, like on Facebook. And the emojis are right there at the bottom of the chat screen if you want to use one as/in a separate comment.

        1. Anthony J Crowley*

          Haha I know all the text shortcuts for the emoji in teams so it takes me literally the same time :)

      2. river*

        I’m the same, the thumbs up seems almost condescending. I get that people mean it in a positive way, so I just accept it even though it makes me cringe. I’m ok with thumbs up gesture in real life! Somehow it’s different as an emoji.

      3. Baseball Fan*

        To me the benefit of the emoji vs “thanks” is that the emoji doesn’t send a notification. This is especially true if the original message is in a thread with lots of people — it can be really frustrating to send out a message to a group and get back a flood of “thanks” from each person when the emoji is an option. It’s one of my favorite things about Slack/discord/Teams vs email.

        And returning to the original question, not British, but we use them similarly:
        Thumbs up = “got it/ok” (Alternate = check mark)
        Heart or popping confetti = “awesome/yay/great/thanks”

        I’m wondering if the heavy heart users use iOS? There you only have thumbs up or heart, so they might be used to using the heart for a second level of appreciation or acknowledgement.

      4. traffic_spiral*

        There’s a lot of situations where “thanks” isn’t appropriate though. If I’m planning something, for instance, and we decide on 10:00 instead of 10:30 it’d be weird to say ‘thanks’ because there’s nothing to say thank you about. We just came to a decision, I didn’t do you a favor.

        1. Np*

          “Thanks” was an example. You can say “Noted, thanks”, etc. Anyway, I appreciate that I’m in the minority here but as long as my fingers permit it I’ll make an effort to convey actual words over a screen rather than a thumbs up :)

      5. aubrey*

        I personally think the thumbs up is great for when you don’t want to send a notification and interrupt someone, but want to acknowledge that you saw the message and don’t need anything more at this time. It’s also great for when you’re acknowledging a message farther back in an active group chat without derailing the current conversation.

      6. WebEx Teams User*

        An exception is if it’s not 1:1 communications. Twenty people typing “Thanks!” eats up a lot of vertical space; a 20 next to an emoji takes only as much vertical space as the emoji itself.

        And unnecessarily eating vertical space in a large group chat — pushing things someone else might want to read off the screen — is definitely rude.

        1. [insert witty username here]*

          Agree so hard here. Everyone replying “thanks” on a chat is the equivalent of people sending “thanks” as a reply-all email.

      7. [insert witty username here]*

        I think this is definitely where it just comes down to preference. I do kind of a mixture of just typing “thanks” and using the thumbs-up reaction in teams. I also still occasionally use the penguin emoji (I started using this before they had the reactions as a “shorthand” with my teammates as a thumbs up or thanks – we each kind of picked our unique emoji we thought was funnier/cuter/whatever than a thumbs up but we knew it signified “noted/thanks/got it/end of conversation”). To me (and my team), saying “thanks” a dozen times a day starts to grate and it kind of loses its meaning. We’re all very polite people and do still use “thanks” often, but sometimes we just need something different. Personally, I don’t take a thumbs up as dismissive; it’s just a different way to acknowledge that something has been heard/noted/understood. But I do only use it with people I work with frequently. If it’s someone I only work with occasionally, I definitely go the more formal/polite route of typing “thanks.”

      8. pleaset cheap rolls*

        Loathe as in don’t use it yourself? Or loathe as in annoyed another people do? If the latter, get over it.

      9. Orange You Glad*

        The “thanks” response to everything is my pet peeve! I hate receiving them, they add nothing to the converstion

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          As a single-word email it can be mildly annoying, but you do at least have proof your previous message was received, and it is actually supposed to be polite, so they do add something that may prove useful.

    3. Gamer Girl*

      Yes, although I never, ever use it at work, quite a few coworkers will use a heart but in a not-red color (like an orange or yellow heart) to say a big thank you to someone for going above and beyond or react to a sick message (with a “take care of yourself” meaning implied).

      Also, for those annoyed with thumbs up or other reactions, there are keyboard shortcuts for them–it can be just as quick, if not quicker, to quickly “react” with a thumbs up. And, imo, it’s easier to track responses in a shared chat: if there are four thumbs up to a specific request from the manager, she can see that everyone on the team has seen and understood the message. Plus, it keeps from clogging up the board with a string of “Ok, will do” or similar.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        There are also some shortcut or suggested replies on some platforms – eg mine will prompt me to reply to thanks with “you’re welcome” and can recognise some other questions like “is the 14th ok” and suggest “yes” or thumbs up. I can write quite a long reply email in Outlook with just the Tab key.

        All of which is to say, although I wouldn’t personally use a red heart on work messages (maybe in the office pets Slack) I wouldn’t find it inappropriate for someone else to do so, non-red hearts are definitely A Thing, and they may be a one-click option to optimise workflow.

      2. Np*

        So I’m ok owith thumbs up on a message on a group chat for example, because this reduces “clutter”. It’s in one-to-one chats that I don’t like it. But I appreciate that I might be the weirdo!

      3. Heart Emojis*

        OP3 here! I think you’ve hit the crux of it here- part of this is that this is on MS Teams, where the default is a red heart and it’s not so straightforward to “like” a message with a different colour. When I used Slack in my old team, I didn’t think anything of a yellow/ green/ blue heart on things, so I think it’s the colour and the inherent “red heart means love” that’s been harder to wrap my head around. Trying to get away from that association now though!

        1. Brooklyn*

          But it also wouldn’t be inappropriate to use the word “love” at work, would it? Of course, you wouldn’t say “I love you” to your boss, but you might say “I’ve loved working on this team,” and I at least would definitely say “I love this idea for our fall llama fashion show.” I think of the heart in the same way – it means love, it just doesn’t always mean romantic love.

        2. Don't like emojis in Teams*

          You are so correct. The problem is with Teams. When you want to ack with an emoji and not respond, It does not give other options than thumbs up/heart/laugh/sad and angry. This frustrates me to no end, as I don’t like the red heart, but sometimes none of the other emojis are what I’m looking to express.

    4. Xenia*

      I like thumbs as a shorthand for “acknowledged, carry on”, like answering to “I’m going to go ahead and send this file to the client”. I don’t like to overuse “thanks” in those scenarios because to me it seems a shorthand for “thanks for letting me know” and more often than not I’m using that as my go-to for “I have read your message and agree with you and have nothing to add but I’m answering to close the communications loop”, and the thumb emoji fits that criteria much more efficiently. In a situation where “thank you for doing x” is what I mean, I’ll actually use “thanks”.

    5. Laure*

      I think maybe heart emojis have evolved. They were linked to romantic feelings at first, and they still can be used that way, but recently (two, three years?) they’ve evolved to anything from showing friendship to meaning “warm, sincere thanks” or even “thanks, you’re great”!

      1. HeartEmoji*

        Yup, am in my early 20s and for me the heart emoji isn’t romantic at all! I can definitely imagine using it to mean “thanks!”/”woohoo!” (especially if someone has gone above and beyond to help me out) – and in fact I probably have used it in the past :)

    6. Heart Emojis*

      OP3 here! I think that’s probably what it is. Overall, the people who use the heart are the people I speak with most, so I’m sure it’s just an extra element of friendliness!

    7. Beth Jacobs*

      I used to work for a firm that used Lync. It would turn the :] emoji into a smiley with hearts for eyes. I was mildly embarrassed the first time it happened to me, but it wasn’t a big deal since it would happen to everyone.

    8. not neurotypical*

      Yes, on our team thumbs up means “noted” and heart means “I like it!” or “good job!”

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

      Yes. I’ve started to think of the thumbs up as “acknowledged” and the heart is “like” or “thanks”

    10. Allura Vysoren*

      ^^ This. My department uses both the thumbs-up and heart emojis in the same fashion, but over Skype. Thumbs up is more of “I have seen this and I’m acknowledging it to let you know that I’m not ignoring you” and the heart is more of a “Thank you for this.”

  6. Anonny*

    #1 I would have a hard time ever working with that person again too, in absence of a sincere apology. Truly out of order. I don’t think you’re overreacting. She made many gross implications.

    #5 Oh wow. That’s a turn of events I couldn’t ever have predicted. Sorry that happened. I know this is little comfort but it might mean that position wouldn’t have suited you as well as it could in the long run if they made such a change. Good luck on the next position.

    1. Kalongdia*

      Honestly, for #1, it may really depend on what she knows of the coworker. For example, I’ve never put a house on the market before, but I was under the impression that it took a long time. I could see myself saying something similar, trying to be supportive and like ‘Wow, that’s super impressive!” and having it come across the wrong way. However if this coworker is normally a jerk/impolite, then I would definitely agree that I would have a very hard time working with them.

      1. JSPA*


        Admittedly, tone doesn’t transmit in email, so perhaps the coworker used a dramatically snarky or judgmental tone, and the OP didn’t think to say so, because they felt the words themselves could only be said in that way.

        But if the tone happened to be neutral, it is NOT the coworker’s fault that OP was ready to hear it as a judgment. I thought I was good at fast turnaround of property, but, dang–this is (impressively) blazingly fast. It would be impressive even if there were only a single heir; with multiple, it’s nearly unheard of, for everyone to be ready and willing to move that quickly.

        I can equally see someone telegraphing surprise or shock or confusion (or some other “registers as negative” emotion) without meaning it to be judgmental.

        When someone dies, there are a lot of emotions in play, and really nowhere to dump them. That makes every random interaction a bit of a minefield. Frankly, even if the coworker is putting their oar in where it doesn’t belong, that level of agonized response has everything to do with, “someone close to me died”–not, “my coworker was monstrous.” Especially if you’re the sort of person who deals with discomfort by joking (!) and then hides the tears, you’re asking the coworker to be something of a mind-reader, and also to take a more respectful and circumspect tone than the one you’re displaying. Great if it happens, but not something one can automatically expect.

        1. Amy*

          JSPA, thank you for saying exactly what I was thinking. Tone is everything, and since we don’t have that information, we can’t really know what the coworker meant by her statement. Honestly, I could see myself expressing surprise in a similar manner if a coworker of mine managed such a feat. I might even use the same words, but I’d be expressing admiration for their ability to get things done so quickly! I don’t read her comment as malicious at all. But of course, I wasn’t there and don’t have context about your relationship with the coworker.

          I’m sorry for your loss, LW. If I were you, I would let this one go and move on. It sounds like you are good at keeping the estate stuff separate from your grieving process! Maybe don’t let your grief cloud your ability to work with this woman in the future.

        2. londonedit*

          Yes, I think you’re exactly right. People generally have NO idea what to say to relatives when someone dies, which is why you end up with all the meaningless platitudes and odd statements that people come out with in the name of ‘trying to be sympathetic’. I listen to a podcast called Griefcast and in the latest episode the host is talking to someone who found out she was pregnant just before her grandmother died. Apparently several people took it upon themselves to tell her ‘Well, you know, they say that often when a new baby comes, someone else has to go’. Which…I’m sure they thought they meant well, but what a thing to say! This person (quite understandably) took it as ‘Yeah, sorry, but you’re pregnant so that means your granny had to die’. It’s entirely possible that this coworker was simply commenting on the speed of the sale because they couldn’t think of anything else to say, or just as a filler comment – ‘Oh wow, that’s moving fast!’ – without intending any judgement.

        3. LW#1*

          When I am taken by surprise, thats my go-to to hide emotion. I am never great at dealing with emotion, especially in public. I have a tendency to stomp emotion down and pour concrete over it, and people have commented on how hard it is to rattle me. They just don’t see me fall apart afterwards, and in my role I need to have a bit of a hard-nosed poker-face.

          And it IS fast to get it on the market, the sales manager is a friend and we work together on occasion, he deals with sales and I deal with lettings. Nan was extremely household, we found newspapers under ornaments on top of her kitchen units that was dated end of March this year, so it appears that my 82yr old nan was climbing ladders to take them off, remove the papers, dust and replace it all every couple of months… and she wondered why we worried about her so much…

    2. MK*

      I don’t know, a lot depends on how it’s said; the same comment could just be registering surprise at how fast you are doing things, or, yes, it could imply you are a vulture, depending on tone and facial expressions.

      Also, OP, most people take cues about how to treat a bereaved person from them. I wouldn’t make a comment like that, but if a grieving coworker was dealing with a family death in such a pragmatic manner, my own attitude wouldn’t be emotional either, because I would assume that’s what they want.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, absolutely. And just because someone’s organized and gets things done quickly shouldn’t mean that people assume they aren’t grieving. In this case, the LW was respecting the deceased person’s wishes as well, so that might be one reason why the comment hit them so hard.

        LW, I’m so, so sorry for your loss.

        1. MK*

          I wouldn’t assume they aren’t grieving, but I probably would think they don’t want expressions of sympathy and match their pragmatic manner.

          1. allathian*

            Fair point. And while we generally tend to forgive grieving people for a lot of social faux pas, a bereaved person really has no right to expect others to show more emotion than they have shown themselves. Some people keep a stiff upper lip in public when they’re grieving because they’re afraid of breaking down if they don’t, but even they can’t expect others to somehow read their minds and go by the emotions they’re actually feeling rather than those they’re showing.

      2. Amaranth*

        It would probably be good for OP’s mental health to just assume it was surprise and not condemnation. Sometimes the brain-to-mouth filter doesn’t work, and I could understand being surprised that OP was capable of even dealing with it, organized, or that you wouldn’t have to clean the heck out of the place. It doesn’t have to be negative. Just maybe a bit foot-in-mouth.

        1. UKDancer*

          Definitely. In my experience people can often say stupid things when they’re faced with someone suffering a bereavement because they’re not sure what to say.

          I’d try and chalk this up to foot in mouth rather than malice myself unless you have evidence that the co-worker is an unpleasantly malicious person.

        2. Super Duper*

          Yes. The comment was awkward and insensitive, and OP’s hurt is valid. However, odds are the coworker just blurted it out without thinking, and I don’t think it’s going to help OP to keep pursuing a management talking-to or a formal apology. Plus, passing the comment along to family members just stirs up more injury for OP to carry into work. In the interests of a peaceful work life, OP might want to consider whether they are fixating on this comment as a way of focusing and externalizing the pain of the loss? Speaking as someone who suffered a traumatic personal loss this year — therapy is also incredibly helpful to process all these complicated feelings (and people’s often shitty reactions to loss).

      3. LW#1*

        I get that, a few minutes before another coworker had said that I seemed to be dealing with everything very well, as I was back in work on the Monday. I had obviously left work on the Friday when we found out where she was, as the alarm went through the family when we couldn’t find her, which triggered a call to the police who told us she has been rushed in to a specialist hospital.

        I had just told that coworker that being at work was what was keeping me sane, I had things to focus on, distractions and conversations that did not revolve around death, probate, covid-legal funerals, coroners inquiries etc, when Rudy McBig-Mouth jumped into the conversation. The tone was definitely one of disapproval.

  7. Gabbi*

    #3 I also work in higher education and the heart emoji is the default reaction everyone uses in teams instead of the thumbs up!

    It seems to me in our faculty that
    Heart emoji = no action was required. More of a thank you/acknowledgement
    Thumbs up = actions were taken/action will be taken. Thank you for flagging.

    It’s funny to me this is happening in tertiary education in teams elsewhere in the world!

    It also may be related to other social media. I only use twitter but when you like a tweet, it is a heart. It’s just the default emoji now and doesn’t mean “love”.

    1. Jack Straw*

      This is exactly how our team uses them.

      Thumbs up = got it, on it, taking care of it or thanks for the info
      Heart = I like this idea, thank you for taking that task/burden off my plate, I appreciate you

    2. Amey*

      Yes I agree, also in HE using Teams. I find most people are using the heart emoji as a thank you / to show they really appreciate something. I usually get it when I’m confirming I’ve done something for someone or written a particularly thorough/useful reply to a question. I tend to get thumbs up when I’ve asked someone to do something or given them an instruction – basically ‘message received’.

    3. Heart Emojis*

      OP3 here! Ooooh I hadn’t thought of the fact that the “like” on social media is always a heart- that actually is a really helpful way to reframe it in my mind!

    4. Lisa B*

      If you reframe it as the person saying “great, I love this update!” that can help too!

  8. Message in a Bottle*

    Whoa, #5!

    Did he get the job? I wish I was a fly on the wall for that conversation. Wow.

    1. Heidi*

      I’m guessing that the reference did get the job, otherwise the company wouldn’t have pulled the OP’s offer. Sorry this happened to you, OP. It’s really crappy, but I’m wondering if this kind of thing doesn’t happen more often than we think. The references are likely to be doing similar work in the same field, after all. I guess it’s just another thing to be aware of when asking people to be references for a job search.

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yeah that really sucks. OP5 now has one fewer references.

      … I’m pretty sure that were I hiring, I wouldn’t be interested in someone’s reference throwing their hat in the ring. I would consider that disloyal, and I don’t want to hire a back-stabber! So the company OP was applying to doesn’t care about that…. that’s not the kind of place I’d want to work at.

      And it does slightly stain OP in that she obviously didn’t have good judgment asking this guy to be her reference. Out of OP and her reference though, I’d go for OP every time.

      1. MHA*

        I think it’s very unfair to imply that the LW has poor judgment for being backstabbed by a reference. There’s no reason to think she should have somehow known they would do this– some people are very good at coming across as decent until you have something they want.

      2. Workerbee*

        “ And it does slightly stain OP in that she obviously didn’t have good judgment asking this guy to be her reference. ”

        Yikes. Hopefully OP won’t come across hiring managers like those either.

      3. JelloStapler*

        How does this reflect badly on her? I certainly hope that’s not the case, but this company seems beyond the pale in lack of ethics so I wouldn’t be surprised if they had the mental gymnastics to blame it on her.

  9. alienor*

    I have a ton of both male and female colleagues who use the heart emoji on Teams messages. I think it might be a transfer from Instagram where the heart is the default “like.” It seems a little effusive to me when there are other options, and I don’t do it myself except with the small handful of people I consider friends outside of work (with everyone else I’m a thumbs-up gal), but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have any particular meaning.

    1. Marion Ravenwood*

      This was my first thought too, as the heart = generic like is a fairly common thing on social networks (Twitter uses it as well). I personally don’t use it myself on Teams either, but if the colleagues are of that generation or prolific social media users then I can see why it might have been adopted as the default.

    2. Heart Emojis*

      OP3 here- just said this above, but I absolutely hadn’t thought of the default on social media being a heart. I think you’re probably right that it’s a carry over from there. I agree that it’s probably a little over effusive for me to use personally, but it is helpful to mentally reframe it as a social media style like. Thanks!

  10. Bluestreak*

    I have a question for Alison, if as a manager, you had a person that was clearly more qualified and a better fit and someone you really thought would do a much better job tell you they wanted the job, would you feel an obligation to pursue that if there hadn’t been a formal offer made? Would there be some obligation to do what is best for the company?
    It’s clearly crappy for the reference to do. And crappy for a company to pull an offer, but should they do it anyway?
    I’m not supporting this at all, and it’s crappy all around. But I’m curious.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think when you’re hiring, you do have an obligation to do what’s best for your team/organization — but that includes considering everything you’re learning about a person, as well as the likely ramifications if people hear about something going down in a particularly icky way. In this case, I suppose it would depend on exactly how this came to happen, but it’s hard to imagine it playing out in a way that didn’t reflect badly on the reference’s ethics and character.

      (If I had to come up with a situation where this wasn’t as bad as it sounds on its face, I suppose it would be something like: employer has looked for months and is having a terribly hard time finding candidate with qualifications X and Y and really needs both if at all possible, the letter writer has qualification X but not Y, in talking to the reference, it becomes clear in a non-nefarious way that the reference has both X and Y, and the reference-checker says something like, “I realize how awkward this is, but you sound like the unicorn we’ve been searching for and we should talk about the role if you might be interested,” and the reference happens to have been dreaming of a role exactly like this but hasn’t known it existed, and they talk and things align …. and even then they’d need to accept that it’s going to come across as really awful to people who hear about it, and the reference would need to grapple with how that will impact their relationship with the LW too. That situation sounds fairly improbable.)

      1. Nona*

        What I’m curious about is if the manager had been the one asking you – they’d been asked to be a reference for someone, but through doing that had found that the company in question was the absolute perfect choice for them, exactly what they’d been looking for for ages, the reference talk took a huge positive turn and the company ended up suggesting they apply and (insert further justifications). Would this be one of those ‘you’re burning a bridge but put yourself first’ answers or ‘noooooo’?

        I’m not endorsing it or trying to justify it, it’s just such a darn weird situation that I’ve never really thought about it before.

        1. Amaranth*

          The only way I could picture this turning into an impromptu phone interview that supersedes an *existing* job offer is if the reference is a known unicorn they didn’t know was available.

          1. Cthulhu’s Librarian*

            Is unethical behavior something you usually want in a new employee? Even if they are a unicorn of certs and licenses and education, their actions would be showing them to be underhanded and clear violators of the Kantian imperative.

            For me, this would be the sort of thing that invalidates the reference as a candidate, gets shared with OP so they never use that reference again, and gets told to my professional network as a “watch your back if you ever have to collaborate with this one” story.

            1. Amaranth*

              Oh, I definitely wouldn’t want to hire someone who used a reference check as a way to pitch themselves, for just that reason. However, I also can’t picture a company getting to that point during the phone call. I was trying to pretzel my brain around a scenario where this could progress from ‘how is Jane at x,y,z, we really want to offer her this job’ to ‘oh, you’re exactly what we are looking for, complete stranger who hasn’t been through the application process!’ It would be a lot less convoluted if the reference request just alerted the person to the opening and the company was still taking in applications.

              Allypox, below, has a good point, too, that maybe OP is just assuming that the reference check meant a job offer was imminent.

          2. Allypopx*

            Assuming there was a job offer. Some places do references earlier in the hiring process than that (not something I advocate or agree with but definitely something that happens)

            1. CupcakeCounter*

              In my experiences, my references were checked after a final interview but before I got a written job offer. There was usually a “pending a reference check, we are prepared to extend an offer” comment but not usually a formal, written offer.
              And I was sort of that “unicorn” candidate once. While I wasn’t a reference for anyone, my resume was presented by a recruiter the day the company was writing the offer for another candidate. No one was especially thrilled with the candidate but the situation was getting dire and they needed a butt in a chair. The offer was halted (never officially presented to the candidate) while they interviewed me and I got the job. For the record, I didn’t know this until a couple months after I started.

      2. Anthony J Crowley*

        I think in this situation though I would also want both the job-offer-withdrawers and the referee to sincerely apologise to the OP. I suspect they would feel much better if that had happened.

        1. Aziraphale*

          I know that an apology would not make me feel better, not sure about the OP. Apologies do not reverse the ethics violation or put food on my table. Cutting ties with both of them would be immediate. Once the trust is lost, it is lost.

          I think that there is an over estimation in our culture for apologies. Talk is cheap, actions tell you who the person is. In this case, the reference is a weasel who hopefully is joining a weasel parade. And that is an insult to weasels!

      3. Awkward Interviewee*

        I think another thing that could make this more ok is if it happened slightly earlier in the process. LW says they already had an offer, which is pretty terrible. But (at least in my field) sometimes references get checked when there are 2-3 finalists. Candidates usually know they’re on a shortlist of finalists, but don’t know if they’re #1. In that case, I think adding a unicorn to the search who you came across during reference checks would be less bad. Maybe not 100% good, but much more understandable.

      4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yeah it’s on a par with two people, each married to someone else, who fall in love and have to each divorce. That need to be together that supercedes the happiness of all others. A crappy situation but there’s no point fighting it.

        1. A Person*

          …and they need to acknowledge that their choices have affected others, and if those others were their children, this becomes part of their story. It is a crappy situation, but it’s not inevitable, just like in OP’s case.

      5. JSPA*

        If it had reached the offer stage with OP, is there no possibility of tortious interference? Or is that intrinsically off the table because an offer is only one step in a contract, rather than a contract?

        Clearly, IANAL (!) and more generally, I am always surprised that an offer can, in general, just be “pulled.” In context of US Employment / Labor Law, i suppose it makes sense (in that it is logically consistent and legally consistent with how firing is also at will in almost every state and for almost every non-union position.)

        But I still get the frisson version of “head ready to explode” when thinking about or dealing with any of that. (Along with frustration over, “how exactly did we get to this?”.)

        More generally, I suppose tortious interference would also have to involve talking down OP…and doing so with the intent to seize the slot…rather than the reference merely talking up their own bona fides. (OP gives no indication this was the case.)

        I suppose if the reference themselves had applied, but been screened out by a bad algorithm or passed over on pay grade assumptions, there’s a scenario where the reference talked up the OP, but then also (for curiosity’s sake) asked why they themselves had received a rejection, and the corporate equivalent of a rom-com denouement scene followed. But I imagine that in such a circumstance, the reference ought to have disclosed to OP that they, too, had thrown their hat in.

      6. In my shell*

        Let’s say it was THE unicorn of all unicorns. Couldn’t the company have rejected the OP and kept the position posted / re-post the position and then let a little time pass and then formally consider the unicorn?

    2. Anon Today*

      I know we have to accept letters at face value, but it could be there wasn’t really a formal job offer and the LW just thought one was coming.
      DH was contacted as a back-door reference for a former coworker. That coworker was not qualified, and DH threw his hat in the ring. In keeping with Alison’s comment, DH was called a unicorn, and it was only due to a series of unfortunate events that he was actually willing to consider a new job. I’m curious what former coworker says about the situation.

      1. Amaranth*

        Is this substantially different from mentioning a job opening to a friend and them wanting to also apply? I mean, you can’t ‘call dibs’ on the right to put in an application. I’d think a friend should tell me they are going to throw their hat in the ring, and I’d probably feel kind of annoyed for a bit, but does a professional reference have that kind of obligation?

  11. PNW PM*

    RE: #3 – I think you have to take some context about your workplace into consideration before getting too concerned. Most of my coworkers did not grow up with the internet, so I’m used to strange breaches of internet protocol on the regular.

    It’s extremely common in my office to use the heart emoji reaction for “thank you”, even for relatively minor things, but there are a couple of folks who default to the heart emoji for everything because it makes them happy.

    I also have coworkers who have recently discovered you can send gifs and completely overuse them in unintentionally hilarious ways.

    1. allathian*

      Given that the heart emoji is the default “like” on so many social media platforms, I’m not surprised it’s become so common even in a more professional context.

    2. Jack Straw*

      There are days that the ability to use GIFs to communicate at work makes my day monumentally better.

    3. Heart Emojis*

      OP3 here- yeah, the team I work with is fairly casual (and almost all grew up with the internet, so this isn’t so much a breach of internet protocol), so I don’t think this is massively out of line with normal communications. I think reframing it as an extra enthusiastic thumbs up will help stop me feeling weird about it!

      (I also massively enjoy when people send slightly rogue gifs!)

    4. pleaset cheap rolls*

      I’ve been on the internet since before the web existed BUT never used a heart or thumbs up emoji in any context till last year, when we went all-in on MS Teams.

      And it’s great. Learn. We can learn. I can.

    5. pleaset cheap rolls*

      In 2018 I was CC’d on an email from the former president of a country (OF A COUNTRY) to my boss. It was a thumbs-up emoticon. That was the whole message.

    1. Speaks to Dragonflies*

      Yes. It was an insensitive thing to say. CW put the foot in mouth. It doesn’t seem to have been said with bad intent.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Agreed. I think this is probably a case of “mouth speaking before brain thinking.”

      Unless this is the office mate who has a habit of being rude/short/upsetting to all – they said the wrong thing at a very hard time. It’s okay to be upset, but forgiving them (even if only in your mind) will probably help the office feel like it’s returning to normal.

      1. LW#1*

        She does have a history of not really thinking before she speaks. I think this was one of those times, it was in her head so came out of her mouth.

  12. June*

    Your reference stealing your job prospect from under you is unethical, but how would it be illegal? Good luck. Another job will come up.

    1. rudster*

      You would have a cause of action under the doctrine of promissory estoppel. Making promises (like a job offer) that people rely on to their financial detriment (quit their current job, pass on other jobs, possibly moving costs, etc.) and then reneging on them without good cause (e.g., for failing to meet a contingency), *is* illegal. Like any other civil action, however, the problem lies in proving the promise (hopefully the offer was in writing), and then proving damages that outweigh the costs of litigation.
      “Another job” might be months or years away, or never, and/or leave you substantially worse off than had the promise been met.

      1. Xenia*

        Depends on where the reference checking stage was. If it was “this job is yours contingent on a good reference” that’s one thing. If it’s “you’ve passed the first round of interviews and now we’re calling references” that’s quite another—from a legal perspective anyways.

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

          The trouble with that is “contingent on a good reference” is subjective…. The hiring manager didn’t get a good reference, they got (some variant of) “OP is a good worker but I’d be more suited for the job and here’s why”…

          1. EPLawyer*

            Did they really have an offer or just think they had an offer? Usually, they say, we are going to check references and if everything works out, we will make an offer. As Alison says “it’s not an offer until you have it in your hand.” How many times have people said they came out of a job interview convinced the job was theirs only to be ghosted or rejected? If they are calling references they haven’t made a formal offer yet.

            1. Mental Lentil*

              If they are calling references they haven’t made a formal offer yet.

              The reference applied for the job. We have no idea when or what the actual timeline was.

              Alison asks that we accept letter writers’ statements as they are, so the entire discussion about whether this was an actual offer or an imagined one is moot. LW says they had a job offer, therefore they had a job offer.

            2. JSPA*

              Some places do it differently (“places” as in, UK, apparently…but also as in, “some companies in the US just do this backwards for whatever reason”).

              If OP feels skunked out of an offer without having an offer, that’s something different, of course. Iincluding if a recruiter says, “they’re making an offer once they talk to your references.”

      2. Observer*

        You would have a cause of action under the doctrine of promissory estoppel.

        Unlikely. The problem here is that unless there was an actual contract or the promise of a binding contract, this would wind up running straight into the issues of standard employment law which allows an employer to fire someone for any reason or no reason whatsoever (as long as there is not an illegally discriminatory reason.)

  13. nnn*

    #3: I wonder if maybe they’re used to a social media like Twitter or Instagram where the only “like” option is a heart?

    I know that some of the corners of Twitter I hang out in have a strong “like as acknowledgement” culture – i.e. you click on the heart to express “I see and acknowledge your reply” even if you don’t have anything to add – so I’m clicking on a heart dozens of times a day. I could imagine that mindlessly carrying over to Teams.

    1. Heart Emojis*

      OP3 here- I think this might be it!! It’s not something I’d thought of at all, so thanks for suggesting it.

    2. Mental Lentil*

      It’s possible. I remember when Twitter had a star instead of a heart and there was quite the kerfuffle, because people used the star to acknowledge things (or even bookmark them!) without wanting to say that they liked it.

      The internet has made a strange world even stranger.

      1. pancakes*

        What’s so strange about that? Whether it’s a heart or a star, it’s just a little image, not meant to capture the essence of anyone’s deepest feelings. Pre-internet, phrases like “that’s interesting” or “how are you today?” could mean a range of things. They still do.

        1. Andy*

          Symbols have meanings and people read those meaninga and react to them. That is normal. Hearth means something romantic.

          Saying it is just image is like saying all words are same, they are just letters.

          1. pancakes*

            This is quite the misunderstanding of my comment! I didn’t say the symbols used on social media don’t have meanings, or are interchangeable, or that people don’t react to them in any way.

            There are several other commenters here who’ve said that hearts in social media apps and in Teams don’t signify romance to them. Insisting that they do is pretty out of step with how they’re used.

        2. BethDH*

          I have found myself giving back to back stars/hearts to someone sharing a picture of their baby and within two minutes to someone in the same circle of relationship sharing an article about an atrocity. It is jarring because in one case the heart is for the content of the post and in the other it is basically for the person who took the time to share the content while the content itself is horrific.
          Outside this situation we typically have more context clues, like tone of voice or additional sentences. You generally at least know who the subject is!

          1. pancakes*

            I think it’s generally understood – and should be generally understood – that liking someone’s link to an article about an atrocity doesn’t signify approval of the atrocity. When I see people making a point of saying “I can’t like this” or “it feels wrong to like this,” I generally think they’re missing the point, and/or changing the subject from the atrocity itself to their own self-consciousness about using social media.

  14. Kp*

    I’m not sure why the LW 1 is upset. (I mean the grief, yes. Not the coworker)

    It is quick to turn around property like that. It’s not a judgment. It just sounds like the coworker was surprised and said something slightly insensitive. When my grandparents died everything took months and it sucked.

    So good on your grandmother for knowing what she wanted. But, unless your coworker said something else…I don’t know what she would apologize for.

    1. Beth*

      LW1 is upset because the implication of the comment is that she and her family are more interested in gaining financially from her grandmother’s death than in grieving. I don’t know if the coworker meant to imply that—it’s very possible that it was just a foot-in-mouth thoughtless comment—but that’s absolutely the implication I hear in it.

      Even if that implication was accidental, commenting on how other people respond to death and grief is generally rude and insensitive. There’s definitely room for upset here, and an apology is warranted.

      1. Sasha*

        I think reading that implication into it says far more about you than the person making the remark, though. It’s an accurate factual remark. They didn’t say “wow, you heartless beast, how dare you sell that house so soon? Didn’t you love your grandmother at all? Are you really so desperate for the money?” They made a neutral statement of fact that many people seem determined to read the worst into. As far as I’m concerned, that shows more of their character than hers.

        And she didn’t comment on how the OP was responding to ‘death and grief’, she commented on purely factual information about a practical matter that the OP had shared.

        I can understand the OP being upset and assuming the worst possible interpretation in their grief, but I cannot understand others who were not even there doing likewise.

        1. ceemploye*

          It’s perfectly possible to imply that someone is a vulture without actually saying it in so many words, and office bullies are usually very good at playing the I’m-not-touching-you game. I don’t know why so many commenters are rushing to assume that the coworker was being purely factual. OP was there, she felt that the comment was snide. We should take her at her word instead of trying to convince her she was overly sensitive.

          1. CaVanaMana*

            Probably because more people have been misinterpreted themselves than have been bullies and assuming the worst intentions from other people is a horrible way to live. OP1 never wrote about how it was said so they’re sticking to the facts presented.

          2. Shut It Down*

            But OP didn’t say the comment was snide, she just said she was hurt by it, and that other people she had told (who weren’t there to hear it) said it was rude and disrespectful. I think speaking without thinking is a much more likely explanation than malice, and OP is naturally feeling very sensitive right now, which is understandable. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to push for a formal rebuke over what was likely a careless comment.

        2. Rayray*

          I agree.

          While the comment wasn’t necessary, I do believe nothing was meant by it.

        3. Beth*

          I didn’t say anything negative about the coworker’s intent. In fact, I said it might well have been a thoughtless foot-in-mouth moment. Plenty of perfectly lovely people have said things that come off horribly, without meaning to at all! I’ve been there myself. If it was accidental, I would think the coworker would apologize once they’d been told that it had been interpreted badly, and everyone could move on from the negative interaction from there.

          But I really don’t think it’s an unusual or stretch-y way to interpret the statement. In fact, I think it’s a pretty obvious one. I’m really surprised that so many people are suggesting OP has no right to be hurt or upset by this.

      2. rachel in nyc*

        That was exactly how I took the person’s comment. Whether the person said it to be mean or merely reads reddit’s legal advice section too much, it definitely came across as the coworker felt OP and her family were doing something money seeking/nefarious.

      3. fhqwhgads*

        I think it’s clear the LW took what you’ve described as the implication of the remark. What the person you’re responding to, and dozens of other comments above, are saying is “this is not the one and only implication of that statement”. Many many people would hear the same remark and not at all come to the conclusion there was an implication of greed/lack of grief. I know here we often say “intent doesn’t matter” but in this context it is entirely possible, even probable, this is a genuine miscommunication and misunderstanding, not a situation where it is so plainly obvious that 90% of people in the same situation would draw the same conclusion. It ain’t that.

    2. Magenta Sky*

      The devil is always in the details, of course. The coworker may simply been a little surprised and curious. Or they may have a history of being an insensitive prick. It could also have been said in an accusatory way, either reasonably or not (I know two people who were handling a parent’s affairs – one as executor after a death, the other for a parent not longer able to handle their own affairs – who got into legal fights with siblings who wanted more than their fair share (by *any* standard – yes, the sister was trying to get hold of money used for her still living mother’s care), and we’ve all seen news stories about such things)).

      Or it could just be that the coworker is nosy, which is annoying enough.

    3. WS*

      When people are grieving, though, everything is weird. It’s entirely possible that it was an innocent or even approving comment that’s landed wrong. It’s also possible that it was said with high levels of sarcasm and eyebrow raising which hasn’t come across in text here. Either way, if they want to resolve this with co-worker, they could bring it up and say, “What you said was really upsetting,” and see whether the co-worker apologises or doubles down, and then make a judgement. Otherwise, they could let it go. I doubt it stands out in the mind of the co-worker either way.

    4. Jackalope*

      I can see this being a surprising thing for someone else. I’m so sorry about your grandmother, and I’m so sorry this comment hit wrong. It’s possible your co-worker was being a jerk, but like KP said, it’s possible that the co-worker was just surprised. My past experiences (limited though they are) with buying and selling houses (mostly vicariously) are that things tend to drag on much longer than you think they will. Since it’s not a field I work in, I would have had no idea that it was possible to get a house on the market with such a short turn-around, even under happy circumstances. Obviously your co-worker was hurtful, but it’s possible she wasn’t trying to say anything unkind about selling it so quickly, and just didn’t think about this as a process that could move so fast.

    5. cleopatra*

      Yes, you seem to be aware that you’re doing things faster than average and may even be proud of making it all happen in the midst of your grief. Everyone grieves in different ways, and your coworker noticed that your family’s way may be different than average.

      I can totally understand wanting to tell her to get lost, because who are they to judge your process at a time like this?, but – it doesn’t sound like they said anything you are even disagreeing with.

      1. KP*

        I’ve read it a few times and it really feels like a normal conversation flow. Maybe because I’ve had similar conversations like the one below:

        Coworker: my relative died but I’ve got their estate in order
        Me: oh, that’s quick!
        Coworker: yes, my relative knew what that wanted
        Me: that must help a lot with the stress. I’m glad they were able to do that.


        And now I’m wondering if my colleagues think I think they’re heartless vultures.

        1. WS*

          No, not at all – it may be completely normal to you and to your co-workers who know you, but that doesn’t apply to all situations and all people. I work with elderly people so I get to see this fairly frequently, and it’s a high chance that the grieving person will remember literally nothing about the encounter. But sometimes things just stick the wrong way, and that’s how it is in that particular situation. Just like with parents of a new baby, who have an outsize memory of one tiny comment that wasn’t even negative for years because that’s what their bewildered, emotional brain locked onto. (My mother told me she thought for years she was obsessed with my hair growing because when I was a baby someone mentioned how cute I was totally bald!)

        2. PeteyKat*

          The OP wasn’t having a conversation with the CW. The CW jumped into a conversation the OP was having, and said the following “You’re very quick getting it on the market considering she only died a few days ago.” Jumping into a conversation that doesn’t pertain to you is rude, and bringing up the death of the loved one is very rude.

          1. MCMonkeybean*

            I agree that jumping in that way makes it fairly rude, but unless there was a particularly vicious tone I think it’s still a good idea to write it off as “somewhat rude and thoughtless” rather than “so rude I don’t think I can ever work with this person again.” Obviously that’s easier said than done, but from an outsider’s point of view I think that unless they had a previously contentious relationship it’s likely that it was not intended in a way that was as rude as how it was received.

        3. Nettie*

          I was thinking the same thing, and doesn’t OP (and therefore her coworker) work in real estate? If that’s the case, I can 110% see why that was the first thought and why they blurted it out.

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

      I thought that too at first, that it was just a case of engaging the mouth before the brain (something I’m a bit too familiar with!) — but the fact that she added “considering she only died a few days ago” does make me wonder if something a bit more deliberate was intended.

    7. Not So NewReader*

      Grief can do this, it can magnify things. OP may have additional context that was not included here. However, it can stand on its own that the remark just hit her hard and hit her in a super negative way. This is one of the many strange things grief does. Just because the comment does not bother someone here, does not automatically mean it should not bother OP. Something that bothers the crap out of me might not cause OP to even break stride. The differences in people.

      On the positive side, OP realizes that she needs help getting out of this trap and she took a step by writing Alison.

      1. LuckySophia*

        Seconding “Grief can magnify things.” After my father passed unexpectedly, I was emotionally gutted…while trying to help mom with admin paperwork, and keep a small business running. What felt “better” to me than the despair of grief? Expressing granite-hard, ruthless anger at all manner of things, from insurance people who were being decidedly un-helpful in settling policies…to the petty neighbors engaging in attempts to sabotage my contractor’s work. In the moments I was not curled up in the fetal position grieving, I became a warrior whose mantra was “DON’T F**K WITH THE BEREAVED!”

        My outsize anger was a temporary (but at the time, extremely helpful) coping mechanism. It would not be surprising if OP’s reaction to a coworkers’ thoughtless comment was rooted in something similar.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Yeah, this. I was like that after my mother died. If someone brushed me as they passed in the street, I’d want to sock them in the jaw. Nowadays when friends lose a parent or someone they were very close to, I tell them they have a free pass to be grumpy with me for the next six months. I even told a guy I used to send work to, that I’d overlook minor problems in his work and only give him very generous deadlines for the next few months after his 2yo daughter had been crushed by a lorry.

    8. Nom*

      I totally agree. I had to re-read the letter a few times to try to locate the rude remark. I definitely see that it was insensitive and upsetting, but I don’t think it was really all that rude. OP is (understandably) reading something into it that wasn’t there. OP is upset and grieving and their reaction is valid. But, I bet if coworker knew how upset the OP was they’d be horrified because the comment itself wasn’t really rude.

      1. Red Swedish Fish*

        Same here I can see where it could be taken as insensitive, but I am not getting rude from it. Honestly I see myself saying something along the lines of “Wow that was quick” if I overhead the conversation, but I don’t know OP’s co-worker or the tone she used. When my sisters husband died she overanalyzed everything anyone said to her for months after, it was her own grief coming out. Hopefully OP can give it some time and let it go.

      2. BRR*

        Yeah I kept reading thinking I was going to arrive at an awful comment then realized that one line was it. It shouldn’t have been said but this reaction seems a bit disproportionate.

      3. LunaLena*

        What I’m reading as rude is that the co-worker jumped into a conversation they were not even part of to interject a totally unnecessary comment. And the topic of conversation was an extremely sensitive and personal one, i.e. the death of a loved one. And on top of that, they had to turn around to join in the conversation, which makes it seem even more that they were making a conscious choice to make an insensitive comment. It’s not like OP was talking *to* them and they just blurted it out.

        I always thought the general convention when you’re unintentionally eavesdropping on a conversation is to pretend you’re not listening. If the OP believes the same, then the co-worker commenting at all was rude, even if it was 100% complimentary and could not be interpreted in any other way.

        1. Red Swedish Fish*

          I read it as if she was talking to the sales manager about putting the house on the market not about having a private conversation about the death of a loved one. I wouldn’t think it was odd for someone close enough to hear to comment.
          “I told the sales manager on the 20th that we wanted it on the market starting on May 24th. As I told him that, someone I work next to turned round and said, “You’re very quick getting it on the market considering she only died a few days ago.”

          1. LunaLena*

            But it still wasn’t a conversation *with* the co-worker and there was no reason to deliberately turn around to interject. And the co-worker clearly knew the context (and therefore, that it was a personal matter) since they actually commented on it. So I still think butting into someone else’s conversation that does not include you is and can easily be construed as rude, even minus the sensitive and personal subject matter.

    9. Leda*

      Saying “Wow that was quick” seems like something I’d say. I would say it because I’m genuinely impressed; I hate that kind of administrative work, plus I have experience with settling estates and I know how long it can take a family to make even the most basic decisions. AND THEN, at 3 am, when I can’t sleep, it would hit me that my comment could have been interpreted as disparaging, and I’d feel sick in the pit of my stomach. So yeah, let’s cut each other some slack and not assume the worst.

    10. Koala dreams*

      I agree, I see that comment as polite small talk. I’ve read the explanations in the comments, but I find them both far-fetched and mean-spirited. It’s like a different world. It’s interesting how deep divide there is.

      To the LW: I’m sorry for your loss. I hope you feel better soon.

    1. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yeah, I would be really wary about this. If it’s like a week long “camp” I think it would be okay, but you have to give the person who has the job a chance to establish themselves.

    2. Jack Straw*

      I was a volunteer who was hired to take over for the volunteer coordinator at my last job. She stuck around in another admin role and my relationship with her ranged from miserable to tense to helpful.

      The gains from her sharing info with me were not worth the stress of her questioning, either directly or indirectly/with others, decisions I made or the (self inflicted) pressure of knowing there was someone watching me who knew the ins and outs of my job. Give the new person some space. At minimum six months, a year if you can.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        I agree. Mine wasn’t a volunteer situation, but equally awkward. I was hired to replace a department manager who wanted to move to another department. She’s been with the company for something like 20 years and was department manager for about four years. While she was helpful with the transition, it was also awkward. Especially when I made decisions she never would have made in a million years–she’s fairly risk adverse, whereas I’m much more of a risk taker. She would sometimes make comments or be “concerned” that my decision was going to cause policy violations. I kept wanting to say, “You’re not the manager anymore. Why do you care? Go manage your own department!” But I didn’t. I just tried to keep in mind that she was just looking out for the company overall and was probably having a harder time that she anticipated in letting go of her former role. After about four months she stopped and it’s been fine ever since.

        1. Jack Straw*

          Yes, so much YES. My situation was so similar I think it cannot be a unique situation to the two of us (or the other handful of folks who have commented with similar experiences). The previous coordinator was fairly rigid with things like dress code but was lenient with things like showing up on time. I was the opposite–I edited the dress code info to allow dark wash jeans without rips and she questioned me about it (“Did you mean to put jeans in the dress code? I don’t think it’s a good idea. We’ve never EVER done that.” in front of our CEO.

          I truly don’t think she was trying to undermine me; we’ve known each other for 10+ years throughout our time at the org and have never been anything other than trusting of each other and friendly. And three years later, our relationship is mostly repaired. And I don’t think the LW would intentionally try to undermine the new coordinator, but allowing them some space to settle in and find their own groove is best.

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

      Yes! Here’s the potential other side of the letter, from the new person’s perspective:
      “Dear AAM, a few months ago I took on a (paid) job managing volunteers for an organisation involved in x. It’s been going well and I’ve had great feedback from my own boss but I’m writing in to ask how to deal with a ‘new’ volunteer who apparently used to have my job. I get the sense she tries to rein in the suggestions and ‘when I managed this team…’ speak but sometimes it slips out. I’m having a hard time knowing if she’s ‘checking up’ on me or if she is genuinely just interested in volunteering. Her skills and background in x are legitimately valuable to us as a volunteers though so I don’t want to have to push her out of the project over egos.”

      1. infopubs*

        Was there a letter a few weeks ago from a person in a similar situation? The company was pushing out a problem employee but they also wanted him to come back as a volunteer for his skill set? This LW could be that guy (but I hope they aren’t!)

  15. Beatrice*

    #3 – I had a specific manager who used the heart emoji a ton in texts. That was a little weird because it was part of a pattern of pouring an unusual amount of emotion into her work, and it bothered me because her emotional connection to work caused me a lot of stress. Other people in my organization use the heart response in Teams a lot, and it usually indicates what others have mentioned here – thanks or just a warmer acknowledgement of something that doesn’t require any action or other response. That doesn’t bother me.

    1. LilyP*

      It’s interesting because there is a big difference for me between using a heart emoji in the text of a message vs using the heart react to someone else’s message. I use the heart react all the time, but very rarely put a heart emoji (or heart eyes/hearts around the head/etc) into a message body. For some reason that feels way more, I dunno, intimate? Emotionally loaded?

      1. JelloStapler*

        Agreed, a standard option for a quick reaction or choosing to put a heart in the text itself?

      2. MCMonkeybean*

        Yes I agree, there is a huge difference between typing out a heart as part of the message and using the heart react.

        In Teams I usually go with the thumbs up for “I acknowledge that I have seen this message” (like if my boss messages us that we all need to go put our PTO in the system), but I would use a heart to mean “I really like this message” (like if someone on my team messaged that the last of our projects for the quarter was officially wrapped up).

    2. Heart Emojis*

      OP3 here- yeah, I think I’d find that WAY too much. In this context, with the individuals who do this, I think it’s just an extra warm acknowledgement.

  16. Beth*

    LW1, I’m so sorry for your loss.

    I don’t know if this will help at all, but the odds are you won’t be told when your manager talks to your coworker. It’s not usual to tell people’s coworkers about critical feedback or disciplinary conversations they’ve received, after all. I do hope your coworker apologizes to you at some point, but I wouldn’t expect to hear anything more about it from your manager.

    I do think it will be in your best interest to try and let go of some of your anger at this comment. If you never receive an apology, it’s fair to remember that and adjust your impression of your coworker accordingly; you don’t have to be friends, by any means! But as long as you’re coworkers, you do need to find a way to be professionally civil towards her, and you don’t deserve the exhaustion that comes with trying to hold a professional mask through a lot of negative emotion. Thinking of it as a release you’re giving yourself, rather than giving her forgiveness (which can be hard if you feel like she hasn’t earned it), might make letting go easier.

    1. Allonge*

      I think it’s also the kind of complaint that a manager has to treat very carefully, to be fair to both players. I can see a manager warning coworker to keep comments about the personal situation to themselves, but they may well leave it at that unless there is an indication that there was anything beyond thoughtlessness or a neutral comment that landed wrong.

      1. UKDancer*

        Definitely. That’s what I’d do as a manager. I’d say to the co-worker that the comment wasn’t well received and might have been thoughtless and suggest an apology and go from there depending on how the co-worker responds. I wouldn’t tell the OP about it because as Beth says, it’s not usual to tell others about correction given to one member of staff.

        I think if the OP can chalk this up to a stupid comment that landed badly rather than something more malign, they’ll find working with this person easier.

  17. Observer*

    #2- You are not describing anything that should cause anyone to look twice. Assuming that what you wear fits reasonably well (not bursting in sports or a potato sack), I would hope that people have better things to do with themselves than inspect the cut of your clothes.

    I do think that if you want to do this, you are best off doing this off the bat. If you this is how you show up, then this is what you look like. No big deal. If you start off dressing very overtly feminine then make a significant change then people might actually take notice. Not because you what you are doing is a big deal but because people do often notice when someone changes the way they dress.

      1. Glitter In Beige*

        I agree with just starting wearing what you feel comfortable in.
        I’m a cis femme and work in construction. At one job I wore khaki pants every day because of my role and no one batted an eye. There were plenty of other battles to overcome sexism for me there and I felt that the pants helped me get respect from my colleagues.
        I don’t wear makeup and wear practical orthopedic shoes so I didn’t really femme up these outfits at all with accessories.
        My partner is NB and they like the pants in the “men’s” section at Target (a lot of shorter inseams so you don’t need to hem as often). I like Old Navy for reasonably high ratio of cotton to other materials and they have some masc cuts in the “women’s” section.
        I know button downs that fit nice can be challenging if you don’t already have a brand you like. I love thrift shopping w my partner bc we can find shirts based on fit and explore brands from there. (I also just love thrift shopping!)
        Good luck! You’ve got this!

        1. Lyra*

          Adding my experience here – I’m a cis woman whose office wear switches between men’s dress pants/button downs/oxfords and fairly femme outfits. I’ve never had comments or noticed reactions, and I’m not in a particularly progressive office or industry, even if I am in a liberal city.

          I think you can probably just go for it!

          1. J.B.*

            For a long time my go to office wear was a colorful Oxford style shirt and trousers. Something like that could transition pretty subtly if you started off with a more feminine cut and later changed to more masculine. Especially if you kept the same color palette.

        2. EPLawyer*

          Yeah, khakis and button downs are pretty neutral. I’m gonna notice you are wearing them, not the cut. I MIGHT notice if you are wearing a man’s button down because of the side the buttons are on, but only because I know WHY men and women’s shirts have buttons on different sides. I’m certainly not going to CARE that you are wearing one.

          Sometimes because of how people are actually built, stuff fits better from the “other” one. No big deal. It just does.

        3. Ace in the Hole*

          I’m also a cis woman in a manual labor type job, I think the standards are a bit different for us vs an office job. But I don’t think anything LW described would be an issue in an office either!

          For what it’s worth, I wear men’s canvas pants and t-shirts to work every day – with short hair and no makeup. In winter I wear a boxy men’s jacket too. It’s never caused an issue with my coworkers. I will say that sometimes customers and strangers misgender me (call me “sir,” or in one case mistook me for her teenage son). I don’t mind and it sounds like that might be a positive for you!

          In a more formal work setting like an office I’d just make sure the clothes fit well. Generally I think you’ll have better results by getting inexpensive menswear and having it tailored vs getting masculine styles from the womens department. For example getting a shirt and pants taken in a bit at the waist will make them look more professional but you’ll still have the details of style, fabric and construction that read more masculine.

          1. Aerin*

            Yes and no. Waistbands can be… challenging, especially if it’s the kind of pants that have some elastic built in so you can’t just nip in the side seams. You might have to take the waistband off completely and then reattach it depending on the specific design. Shirts might be easier depending on the body shape, but if there’s a significant difference between the chest and waist measurement you’re gonna lose structural integrity.

            If you want to try that route, keep your receipts and keep the tags on until you’ve consulted your tailor. I’ve seen alterations of a cheap piece end up costing more than higher quality off-the-rack stuff.

            1. Ace in the Hole*

              Ah, fair. I do my own alterations so I tend to forget about the prices of having it done professionally. Although I admit I’ve never seen men’s work pants with elastic in the sides… is that common?

    1. Generic Name*

      I’m a (femme presenting) cis-woman, and I wore kakhis and polos to a job in a very conservative part of the county 15 years ago. Nobody batted an eyelash. The preppie look is very gender neutral in that men and women wear essentially the same thing. My parents actually showed up to their second date wearing the exact same outfit in the mid-70s.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Yeah, khakis and polos seem pretty acceptable for all genders – I’m also a cis woman, and I just don’t love skirts and dresses, so when I had to wear “business casual” I wore a lot of khakis and polos because it fit the bill. There are different cuts of course, but I doubt anyone would really notice if it were from the men’s section vs the women’s.

    2. Aerin*

      Cis woman here, would classify my standard gender presentation as butchy femme. Many of my work pants are actually men’s slacks, because they have real pockets and some of them have that clever elastic waistband that makes them more comfortable to sit in. I also wear a lot of button-downs, some fitted through the waist and/or in “feminine” colors but not all.
      The only time I’ve really gotten comments on what I wear are the days when I dress nicer, which in my case usually (though not exclusively) means more femme: eyeliner, jewelry, nice blazer, etc. If people are passing judgment on my baseline “no makeup/same flats every day/comfort first” style, no one has ever said it to my face.
      So basically, when people get used to seeing you a certain way, they might comment on it when you deviate, but otherwise it won’t register.
      (Pretty much the only thing I don’t feel comfortable wearing to the office are polos, but that’s because I associate them with working retail rather than anything to do with gender presentation or formality.)

    3. Sandi*

      I wear men’s pants and polos in a very male-dominated office workplace, and have never had any comments. I switched a couple years ago and no one said anything, and I only wish that I had done it sooner. If I did get a comment then I would likely not explain the gender-neutral stuff and how being viewed more neutrally results in my opinions being taken more seriously, but would make a comment about a better fit and having real pockets.

    4. fish*

      As others have said, what you’re describing isn’t likely to be seen as A Statement.

      If it is, though, consider that some statements are statements worth making. You’re making a statement about who you are, that seems worth it!

      Also, I think it’s very unlikely anyone’s going to “call you out” on it. I’m a woman who wears nothing but men’s clothing, including in the office. No one has ever, ever said anything to me. If they did, I imagine the conversation would go something like this:
      Them: “Are you wearing MEN’S PANTS?!”
      Me: “Yes.”
      Them: “WHYYYY”
      Me: “I prefer them.”
      It’s just a simple statement of fact about something that I’m comfortable in my own skin with, you know?

  18. queerscience*

    Re #2: I am a non-binary woman-ish person and regularly wore “men’s” clothes to my first post-grad office job (in the federal government, if that helps!). It was never a big deal – even when I accidentally matched shirts with my male boss (which happened on more than one occasion). Wear what makes you comfortable and look good and I would be absolutely shocked if anyone commented on it! Also I highly recommend Old Navy for men’s shirts and cardigans that can “pass” as more feminine if you’d like and Tomboy Toes which makes excellent “menswear-style” shoes for smaller feet. Good luck back in the office!

    1. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

      As a female presenting, female identifying woman, I have also matched shirts with my male boss on more than one occasion when wearing a blue plaid button-down. On one memorable day, one of my male direct reports ALSO was wearing a similar shirt. I have since given away my version of the shirt!

    2. fish*

      Haha, I (a woman) have also matched men’s shirts with my male boss. It was clearly the same men’s shirt. We just laughed and moved on.

      Another recommendation for button-ups: Uniqlo. They are definitely a men’s style, not feminine-cut, but if you want to go that route they come in smaller sizes than many American retailers.

    3. The New Wanderer*

      I have trouble with a lot of button down shirts due to fitting at the bust, even with darts or other curvy cuts. I still wear them but as someone upthread suggested, not buttoned in front but layered over a tanktop or t-shirt.

      I have had good luck on occasion at Target and on Amazon finding women’s button downs that are not slim fit or overly feminine styled. The body of the shirt is roomy and doesn’t strain at the buttons, but the sleeves and shoulders fit properly and it doesn’t look oversized. I’m currently wearing a flannel shirt from Goodthreads (via Amazon) and it’s the roomiest size S button down I’ve ever had that came from the women’s section.

    4. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

      You just reminded me of my senior project presentation in college. I showed up wearing a cranberry button down shirt with a black A-line skirt, black tights and shoes. My project partner? A cranberry button down shirt with black pants and shoes. The only difference was mine was a woman’s shirt that had 3/4 sleeves.

      The first question we got at the Q&A portion at the end was if we had planned our matching. Nope!


    LW1- Your coworker was, at least for a moment, an awful specimen of a human being. Intrusive, insensitive and inappropriate. What to do now depends on who she has been to date. If she’s generally a good and decent colleague, maybe it’s recoverable, with time. If, on the other hand, she’s frequently inconsiderate, abrasive or rude, then your best recourse is to be professional, but with distance and formality. If you can manage “cool”, but not “cold”, you’ve nailed it. This gives you time and space to recover, and keeps her far enough from your personal concerns to avoid any additional inappropriately personal rudeness. In any event, keeping her out of the loop on your personal life seems prudent.

    1. Bluestreak*

      “Awful specimen of a human being,” is a very harsh assessment, absent other context, which we do not have.

    2. Nom*

      Honestly, the co-worker’s comment really wasn’t all that rude, although OP’s reaction is valid. I think you’re being very harsh.

    3. Heather*

      Did we read the same letter? You are reading a lot of malice into an innocent comment / attempt at small talk, imo.

    4. JelloStapler*

      Yikes, foot in mouth syndrome maybe but not an awful human being. Hard to say until we know how it was said.

  20. Anax*

    #2 – Since we’re talking business casual and not suits…

    Khakis and buttondowns are really pretty androgynous, maybe especially in male-dominated fields. They’re so common that they become window dressing in my experience (IT), no matter who they’re on.

    As an AFAB person, if you want to wear men’s buttondowns, you’ll want to find something that fits in the shoulders. The shoulder seams should sit approximately on the point of your shoulders.

    Depending on your body shape, this will either fit you well (congrats!), fit like a potato sack, or be too tight (likely in either the bust or hips).

    If it fits like a potato sack, you might be able to adjust the fit by tucking it in, adding a belt, or adding a vest; otherwise, it’s a good idea to get things tailored, which should be pretty affordable. Shoulders are the most expensive/difficult part to have tailored, since the whole shirt needs to be taken apart, so a good fit in the shoulders is a good place to start. Remember that excessively long sleeves can often be rolled up to the forearms or elbows in semi-casual workplaces, which can help with fit there.

    If it’s too tight, consider whether it would be comfortable and appropriate to wear open, with a “neutral” top beneath (like a plain, high-quality t-shirt – not a $2 one from Wal-Mart!); sometimes AFABs can get away with this even when it’s a bit “casual” for men. If it’s just too tight in the hips, consider whether you can adjust the fit by tucking it in, or through alterations which won’t be visible while it’s tucked in (like opening up the side seams). Otherwise, you’ll either need to go for a size which fits you in the bust and hips and get the shoulders and any other loose areas tailored – still doable, but more expensive – or you’ll need to check out other brands (whether menswear or womenswear) for shirts which fit your body better.

    For khakis, as long as they fit reasonably well – not “hammer pants” or so tight they wrinkle at the hips – no one will notice. Focus on pants which fit through the waist and hips; a little bagginess through the legs will look a bit unpolished but is unlikely to be remarked upon. You can get these tailored if you want to, but it’s much less important.

    If pants are too long, hemming them up is very easy; this is something even a beginner at sewing can do with a ruler and a basic sewing kit from the grocery store, though a tailor will of course do it too. Men’s pants (at least in the US) are normally sold by waist circumference and inseam length. If you don’t know your inseam and don’t want to learn by trial and error, it’ll be easiest to have someone else help you measure the distance from your crotch to your ankle. This will help you find the pants closest to an appropriate length, but if you’re under about 5’4″, you will probably need to hem them up; men’s pants are often not sold with an inseam less than 30″.

    And of course, the trick of NB AFABs everywhere: Vests and waistcoats will hide MANY sins, look great on almost anyone, and add polish to your look which makes it look more deliberate. In cold weather, an appropriate sweater can also work well over your buttondown.

    If it’s safe to do so in your area, I would suggest starting with a thrift store and getting a few menswear items to wear around the house; that will help you see what’s actually comfortable to wear all day, and what seemed like an okay fit in the store but becomes uncomfortable after a few hours. Plus, it’s cheap and a good way to try out a bunch of possible styles and brands.

    Good luck, people will probably care a lot less about this than you think they might!

    1. WS*

      All clothes, of any designated gender, tend to be too big for my narrow shoulder/big bust/big hip combo, even worn open, so I just fit the bust and hips and don’t worry about the shoulders. It’s less “put together” but unless huge shoulder pads come back, that’s just how I look in shirts!

      1. Beth*

        Same issue here! I sew in shoulder pads for garments that I wear when I really care about looking put together (not huge ones, but enough to give a little structure and keep the shoulders from looking completely droopy). It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot cheaper than tailoring and only takes a few minutes, and it does make a visual impact.

      1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

        Agree, waistcoat seems both particularly masculine and also out of date (except in a queer or steampunk context). I wouldn’t recommend it unless LW *really* wants to stand out or make a statement.

      2. Observer*

        Yeah. I’d skip the waistcoat. Nothing really to do with gender, but just unusual enough that it’s likely to be noticed. Unless the OP WANTS people to notice them, I would skip that. As @Nettie notes less than impeccable fit is not something that needs to be covered up that much. It’s far less eye catching than a waistcoat.

    2. ExceptionToTheRule*

      I’m cis-female and my torso is a rectangle. Bust, waist, hips are all within .5″ of each other regardless of what I weigh. I wear men’s tops all the time because they fit better. Polos, button-downs, t-shirts, etc… Land’s End’s women’s long-sleeve shirts are also pretty androgynous if you’re looking for a softer color palette.

      In a business casual environment, I 100% would not sweat this. It’ll be fine.

    3. Nettie*

      This is a really helpful and detailed comment, but I also want to say that OP sounds pretty young and new to the workplace and it’s probably okay if all their clothes don’t fit impeccably. Yes, there’s definitely a subjective point where “not perfectly tailored” crosses over to “sloppy and unprofessional” that can be hard to evaluate. But also…the vast majority of people do not have their clothes professionally tailored/are wearing clothes that don’t fit perfectly one way or another and look, if not great, the acceptable.

      I hope this doesn’t come across as nitpicking. I just don’t want OP to think that unless they have the money to have their wardrobe tailored, they can’t wear the kinds of clothes they want to.

    4. fish*

      Another recommendation for men’s pants for hip-havers: Go for a men’s style that advertises itself as having extremely, extremely tapered legs. This way, you can size up something that fits your hips, but the legs are narrow enough that you don’t look like a clown. The Levi’s 512 is a good example.

    5. Momma Bear*

      Good tips. I think that in a lot of offices simple slacks/pants and a polo or button up without frills will not be looked at twice. I’m in slacks and a plain button up shirt today myself.

  21. Four lights*

    LW 1 I’m sorry about your grandmother. I’ve been an estate paralegal for many years and it’s not too soon to put the house on the market if that works out for your family. Houses are wasting assets, meaning you have to spend money on them every month, so it’s fiscally responsible to try to sell as soon as possible. It sounds like your grandma would have wanted this.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      I agree. I’m really impressed they got it on the market so soon. Every month the house sits is another mortgage payment (assuming it’s not paid off), upkeep for the house and property, insurance, etc.

      As to the co-worker’s comment, I can see why it came across as insensitive, but I really don’t think they meant it that way. Several days IS very fast and I’m impressed by anyone who can make decisions and get things going that quickly given how long things like this took in my own family after my dad died.

      1. Clisby*

        Agreed. Of course I know the procedures for settling an estate vary from state to state. In my state (SC), probate is not onerous, but when my mother died I’d have been *really* surprised if my brother, the executor, could have put the house up for sale in less than a month. In my family’s case, my youngest brother had been living with my mother to look after her, so of course all of the siblings agreed he could stay in the house for several months to arrange a different living situation. I read the comment as a clumsy remark that came off as insensitive, but I didn’t hear it, so have no idea of the tone.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Yep, yep, yep. I put my father’s house on the market right away. I refused to accept the property from the estate and let it be sold under the name of the estate. I had no money to support the property. My only hope was to get it sold as part of the estate as quickly as possible.
      This rolled all the bills from the property on to the estate. Once the house was sold, the bills got paid off. I received what was left after the dust settled.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this. I’m in Finland, and there’s no limit to how long properties can be held in an estate without probate. I’m talking generations, although decades are more common. My maternal grandfather died in the late 1970s and his widow died 20 years later, and his estate was kept entire until she died. After that, there were double death duties to pay, and the estate sold the farm my grandparents had lived on to basically pay the death duties and other bills.

        Even if there’s a prenup stating that the spouses don’t have the right to each other’s property, the surviving spouse has the right to remain in the dwelling that the couple used as their primary residence, or in another equivalent property owned by the couple or the deceased, even if the ownership is passed on to the heirs, usually the children. Excluding marital rights to property is extremely common here, at least when people with already adult children marry. This means that there’s little risk of the property of the spouse who died first going to the children of the surviving spouse. We also have the concept of legal share, in that with a will, you can determine who inherits half of your property. Your legal heirs are always entitled to the other half of your property and it’s very difficult to prevent someone getting their legal share. It’s possible to disinherit an heir, but only if the excluded heir has done something truly egregious or criminal. Usually not because their life doesn’t match the standards of the person who wants to disinherit someone, so a homophobic parent can’t disinherit their LGBTQ+ child, for example. They can try, but wills to that effect are unlikely to pass probate and will probably be overturned in court if the heirs sue the beneficiary of the will.

    3. Generic Name*

      Agreed. It’s so common for family to sit on a house from a deceased relative even for years. Your coworker may have been surprised more than anything else. If you get more comments in the future, saying, “it was my late grandmother’s wishes that her house be sold quickly”. That should shut most people up.

  22. KB*

    #4 As a volunteer manager myself, please don’t do this, or not right away. I understand your passion for the place you work and how much it means to you, as well as how much you know about it, but not only are you placing a lot of pressure on your successor, but you are putting similar pressure on your colleagues. It would be very hard for people not to ask you to take on certain roles that could create issues with privacy or interference. In Australia, at least, it is illegal for volunteers to do the same work as paid staff, so if similar laws apply there, you could get the organisation into trouble were it reported. People may be hesitant to move forward with change or new ideas because you are still there (and that is definitely more of a reflection on them than on you, but you could end up being blamed for it). Give yourself and the organisation some space and time, and consider coming back in a year or two.

  23. M / P*


    Your coworker’s comment comes across as judgemental to me. It implies it’s strange to put the house on the market soon after the death and we’ll, it’s possible to read it as “you care more about the money than about your late relative”.

    I’m not sure it’s possible to make your coworker apologize. If you have had a good relationship otherwise I might maybe say something to them to the tune of, you might not have realized but the comment was hurtful. But if you sense they’d act defensive I would just get my space and grieve through the hurt. I’m so sorry.

    1. Sleeping after sunrise*

      I honestly didn’t think you could get all the legal stuff sorted to be allowed to sell somebody else’s house that quickly. I thought you needed the death certificate, and “permission” to start disposing of assets, and assumed this takes a week or more. I wouldn’t be surprised if others were as uninformed about such things as I am.

      While the co-worker could have been judgemental, it’s incredibly likely they were just surprised.

      OP you really do need to let this go. I can understand why you were upset, but as a manager having a report that couldn’t get past something like this would concern me. It’s major grudge holding territory, and I don’t think it’s justified. For now, I’d understand that you are grieving. But if you still couldn’t work properly with a coworker in a month’s time that would be problematic.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        You can actually do it pretty fast if you are already working with an attorney for this person’s other matters. I had my father’s house sold four months after he died. All I needed was a realtor. Given that it takes a sale a bit to process that means I got a realtor on it right away. The for sale sign was out front while I emptied the house.

        1. Observer*

          I’m sure it can be done quickly if every piece of paper is in place. But most people would not know that. And in practice, even with people who have their affairs reasonably in order, getting to the point where you can get a house on the market is going to take more that 3-4 days from the date of death.

          CW should still have kept their mouth shut, but the surprise REALLY could have been legitimately have been about “I didn’t even realize you could do that.”

    2. Wisteria*

      it’s possible to read it as “you care more about the money than about your late relative”.

      It is possible to read it that way, but it is also possible to choose to read it differently. Choosing to read it as surprised but non-judgmental is more likely to decrease the LW’s hurt over the statement.

  24. LDN Layabout*

    #1 – When you’re grieving it’s incredibly easy to latch onto little things that fundamentally don’t matter instead of focusing on your grief. Because being mad is easier than being sad.

    It was one insensitive comment, you’ve informed your manager who said they’d deal with it, now you need to let it go (as in, be professional and civil, no need to be super friendly to them).

    I’m sorry for you loss.

  25. His Grace*

    Letter writer 1:
    People can be needlessly cruel. I would call her out on it quietly, and demand she not speak to you unless it’s work related.

    Letter writer 5:
    Congratulate the reference on the job, and if he asks for a reference in the future, politely but coldly tell him to kick rocks.

    1. Sleeping after sunrise*

      Um – demanding a colleague not speak to you unless work related is something I’d be dealing with as a manager. I wouldn’t accept that in a team. That’s unprofessional, and limits your ability to work with your colleagues. It could also make the environment hostile for the coworker, and I have legal (not to mention ethical) obligations to stop that.

      There’s definitely a line beyond which such actions make sense, but to be honest that’sa line that would usually come with people being moved to new teams, or formal disciplinary action occurring. A remark that a house is on the market quickly falls just doesn’t get you there.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes, I’d consider demanding she didn’t speak to you to be an over-reaction for the level of offence. That’s the sort of thing that should be reserved for a massive insult / open bigotry. This is a slightly tactless remark which the c0-worker may not have meant as such.

      2. Asenath*

        I think you could ask a co-worker to not speak to you about your personal life. I don’t think this incident requires that, because it sounds like something that could be a case of foot-in-mouth exacerbated by the tendency of people who are grieving to be easily hurt – very natural, and understandable, of course. Like the time someone asked me how my own grandmother was doing, and it just hit me wrong – I knew, and they knew (or I assumed they did) that she was dying, and all I could do was mumble something, barely holding in tears, and get out of there, wondering if they thought I was out frivolously shopping instead of volunteering to pick up something the rest of the family needed. But, back to my point, I can think of situations in which I would very firmly insist on not talking to a co-worker about anything but work, mainly by refusing to answer any nosy questions. But I don’t think this is such a case.

        1. Sleeping after sunrise*

          I think you can refuse conversations about specific things. But not everything. So – I don’t want to talk about my grandmother as it’s upsetting is fine. Refusing to respond to someone saying good morning, or making general polite conversation is an entirely other thing.

          I really think people who don’t want to talk about their personal life at work need to find a way to do so that they are comfortable with. Discussing life is just part of normal human interaction. You need a way to respond to how was the weekend type conversations. You control how much you speak about, and what. But nothing really doesn’t work. So choose something superficial to be deep about. Work relationships go so much smoother if you do.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I think it’s fair to say, “I don’t want to talk about it” to this cohort. They have no common ground, no shared perspective that could offer any benefit to OP.

      OP, it’s okay to move away from people who are not helpful and move toward the people who are helpful.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this. One unfortunate thing in this incident was that the CW inserted herself in the conversation with the comment and turned around to do so. This is rude and unnecessary, nobody asked the CW’s opinion and she should have known better than to give it without being asked. When you overhear a conversation without being a part of it, it’s best to pretend you didn’t hear anything, and whatever you do, don’t blurt out whatever comes into your head.

        I’m assuming that the LW isn’t interested in anything except a completely professional relationship with this CW but that they have closer relationships with other coworkers. In my book, it’s perfectly professional to refuse to engage in anything but professional conversation with a particular person if they’ve offended you. Don’t badmouth them, but I think it’s perfectly fine to “punish” boors by refusing to engage with them in anything except a work context (in my book that includes greetings) while still continuing to talk about non-work things with coworkers you actually like.

    3. Observer*

      People can be needlessly cruel. I would call her out on it quietly, and demand she not speak to you unless it’s work related.

      That’s not a good idea for the OP. I’m not saying that the OP needs to be best buds or anything like that. But this is just adding a lot of drama to the situation that no one needs. It will make the OP look bad, and it’s not really going to do anything for them.

  26. Beth*

    LW2, this really depends on whether you’re comfortable with mens-cut womenswear, or whether you want to go for menswear. The former won’t raise any eyebrows! The latter probably isn’t against any rules and isn’t likely to be something you’ll get called out for…but it might still come off as A Statement, depending on the company culture. It probably won’t be clear what exactly that statement is, but it is outside the norm of ‘cis- and hetero-normative professional appearance for women.’

    I personally don’t think that means you shouldn’t do it. I think the comfort and well-being that comes from having a workplace-appropriate style that allows you to feel comfortable in yourself is a major benefit, and unless you work at a seriously patriarchal/sexist/homophobic place—which, I think you’d have an inkling by now, if you did—that benefit is likely to outweigh any cost of Making A Statement with your clothes. (For afab folks, at least; society is somewhat more accepting of ‘women’ being masculine than ‘men’ being feminine, so this can be more fraught for amab people.) So if menswear is what you really want to be wearing, I would put in a strong vote for going for it. But if you really don’t want to make any waves at all, mens-cut womenswear will be a safe bet for sure.

    1. Clorinda*

      It depends on their body type. If they have a fairly up-and-down body, men’s clothes should fit just fine. If they’re curvier, they may actually need to go the men’s-look-women’s-wear route in order to get the look they want. Curves in garments that are made for straight lines are much more obvious then curves in garments that have the appropriate seams (and are not skin-tight, obviously).

    2. MistOrMister*

      I’ve known two women at my current job who wear what looks like menswear. I never really thought much of it, honestly. One I did find out has a wife, but only because we’re friends so eventually her spouse came up. The other, I never did know her circumstances. I guess it really depends on workplace and to an extent how one carries themselves. It doesn’t really seem like this kind of clothing choice is hugely out of the norm any more so as long as the clothes fit well I would think there is more a chance of it not being a big deal.

  27. IrishEm*

    LW1 in Ireland it’s usual for the funeral to be fast and getting the estate to take for-effing-ever, but one thing we got done super quickly when Dad passed away was go to the bank and get all joint accounts into sole name and credit card closed. We rocked up the same day we got Dad’s death cert, 1 week after burying him. The poor teller’s face when we said why we were there, though, she went white as a sheet! And the guy said that people usually post the documents in and don’t come in person. We were able to take that in the spirit intended (surprise and genuinely impressed – we were in that numb stage of grief, which helped us get a lot of admin done quickly) but it could have come across as “You’re doing it wrong!” depending on tone and body language.

    LW1 you know your coworker better than we internet strangers do. It is entirely possible that your cowrker was like a friend of mine who can’t handle death at all and make inappropriate and weird comments or ignores the death when possible, which is her boundary and I respect it, she’s protecting herself (it can suck if I need someone to vent to about grief and she’s the only one around but that’s a me problem) or if your coworker is generally a nasty person who likes kicking people when they’re down. Keep a distance but stay civil, especially while your grief is raw.

    Be kind to yourself, LW1, and remember your Nana loves you.

    1. IrishEm*

      For LW2 I *just* came out as NB at work but our dress code, such as it is allows me to wear hoodies and joggers so I don’t have to worry about the cuts of clothing (so far). Thankfully everyone has been really accepting – it helps that they already knew I was queer because I outed myself in a workplace-wide interview for International Women’s Day 2019 where I was spotlighted (oh, the irony).

      I think you need to figure out what you’re most comfortable wearing and work from there. See what you like and see what will work between what you like and the office dress code.

    2. cncx*

      yeah i have a coworker who is pretty blunt and if he said something similar in a normal time i would normally brush it off as him being him, and he already said something stupid when my cat died so i wouldn’t put it past him in a family death situation to say something utterly boneheaded. i could see myself in OP’s situation with it hitting differently because grief. so i agree with you- sometimes people can’t handle death at all, or sometimes like you said, it can be tone and body language. i think it’s different if it is a one time thing, or if this person is also someone who doesn’t speak well in these situations.

    3. Asenath*

      Yeah, I’ve always wanted to get the painful tasks out of the way while still numb, although all too often the legal stuff takes a long time. It’s not that unusual to be asked to pick up personal belongings from a hospital or clear out a rented room, especially one in a personal care home or nursing home, almost immediately, though.

  28. Janet's Planet*

    In some software, double-clicking a comment defaults to a heart, which may be why you’re seeing them so often.

  29. Agender afab*

    #2 I recently changed job and made a deliberate decision when starting my new job to dress more androgynously. In my opinion it’s much better to do straight off as people will just see it as the norm for you rather than registering it as a change and asking you about it. I’m mainly wfh at the moment, going into the office occasionally, and no one’s commented yet.

    I bought my shirts from a place that sells gender-free shirts for a variety of body types. Their shirts come in a range of different fits and they market to LGBT+ people. Depending on colour/pattern chosen they range from shirts that would look normal on a man to those a bit more standout-ish. After that it mainly depends on accessories and make-up. Eg. if I’m going for a more masculine look I don’t really accessorise at all, if I want to be read slightly more fem I’ll put some dangly earrings on or a necklace. I dislike makeup for myself so I don’t bother often, but wearing masc clothing with heavy make-up is likely to be read more fem.

    1. Genderqueer Jedi*

      Yes, please tell us the name of the fabulous gender-free shirt place! I’m also NB and trying to ‘transition’ my wardrobe, and Target just isn’t doing the trick.

  30. Sleeping after sunrise*

    LW2 one perspective you should think of is whether you are comfortable with people trying to be supportive of your gender identity when you aren’t wanting to announce it at work.

    I really think you should wear what makes you comfortable. However, if you wear men’s clothing this is likely to be noticed. Given that your gender identity is part of why you find these clothes preferable, you need to be comfortable responding to well-meaning questions about your identity. Eg a colleague might note your dress and that prompts them to ask you what pronouns you’d like used. Would you be comfortable answering that question? Or you might find people announcing pronouns in interactions with you, when previously they don’t. Some people are encouraged by that question/action, others find mis-gendering themselves to be unpleasant and yet the only option if they don’t want to be out at work.

  31. Jo*

    LW1 -This was definitely an insensitive comment from your co-worker especially given how recently your grandmother had passed away! Like Alison says I’d judge it in the overall context of what you know about her – whether it’s the kind of comment she’s known for or whether it was a thoughtless comment stemming from a case of foot in mouth-itis. I can see myself in the past saying this kind of thing without thinking and then being mortified afterwards.

    LW5 – I’m quite sure this isn’t illegal and I get that you can’t call dibs on a job, but this feels different to the normal competition that you have for a job. I’d be pretty upset and angry if the same thing happened to me.

  32. Confused*

    Not sure how it is appropriate for OP 1 to try to get a colleague in trouble with management (!) for an awkward comment. I sympathize that grief comes with a lot of overwhelming emotions, but just because you have a feeling doesn’t mean it necessarily matches reality or is appropriate to act upon.

    1. Lobsterp0t*

      I mean, it’s the sort of thing you’d want to expect someone to be able to handle themselves in any office I’d want to work in, but it’s not tattling or telling someone on them, it’s just asking a manager to have a word. Which… idk, I wouldn’t ever, I’d just say something, but some people are so conflict averse they don’t realise that going via management makes the conflict bigger and not smaller.

      1. Allonge*

        Eh, yes, ideally people handle these matters on their own, but in a good team with a good manager, there is space for discussing things that one does not know how to handle. In something this emotionally charged, it might be better even to go to a ‘neutral’ third party, if only to get a reality check.

        1. Allypopx*

          Yes, this. When you’re dealing with something like this you may not have the presence or judgement to handle it on your own even if you normally would.

    2. LW#1*

      This particular coworker is prickly, and she has the ability to make the atmosphere extremely bad. I didnt trust myself to speak to her directly over this, so I asked my boss to do it. She basically told her that she had upset me and it was out of line and reminded her how she felt when she lost her step-dad recently and to think about how I must be feeling. I have never gotten on fantastically with her, and I did not want her in trouble, but I am not the only one she has annoyed/upset recently so something needed to be done.

  33. Bookworm*

    #5: Crappy yes, but without knowing the details it’s also reasonable to say that you dodged a bullet. It seems really weird and like a total shot on the dark that a reference could somehow end up being the best fit after (presumably) not even applying. Maybe the job really wasn’t for you after all.

  34. Cheesesteak in Paradise*


    I think you have to make a distinction between what was actually said “you got the house on the market quickly” and what you heard “therefore you don’t care/are greedy.” Remember the last part only occurred in your head. It was a thoughtless remark but I don’t think you can react to it in a nuclear way as if the part in your head actually happened, because it didn’t.

    1. Lobsterp0t*

      This is a good point, I definitely tend to hear the unspoken part (which is… definitely not always great.)

  35. Mourning reader*

    Re letter 1: While I understand that LW was hurt by the remark, I also read it very neutral and I’m surprised that LW didn’t see it as her own grieving reaction rather than blame the coworker. If I were the coworker, I’d be irritated at being talked to by the manager about it. Coworker did nothing wrong. If I were the manager, I’d be confused as to what exactly to say to the coworker… don’t talk to your grieving coworker because she is very sensitive right now and may take casual remarks the wrong way? For LW, I think this is why we have bereavement leave. You may think you can deal with everything quickly but you are still raw, and little, unintentional slights, can cut deeply. I highly recommend dealing with this stuff at home where nosy coworkers can not overhear.
    For me, I sometimes have trouble saying the words, “my ——- died.” The first few days after, I can say it but then I have to go off somewhere to weep for a bit. Give yourself time, LW. My condolences.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      I agree it’s a neutral comment, but when people are grieving I find they tend to read more into things than they normally would. If this happened on my team and the person wanted me to speak to the co-worker, I’d probably just tell them Mary came to me about a comment they made and she felt hurt by it. And maybe, “Please be aware of what you say and how you say it.” I’d probably tell them to try and smooth it over a little. Nothing more than that. I don’t know–it hasn’t happened yet, but this is likely what I’d say.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I think I’d just steer the cohort away from any further estate discussions. “I don’t think you meant anything by it- but it did not land well. Just avoid any estate discussions from here forward. Less said, the better.”

      2. UKDancer*

        Yes that’s the approach I’d probably take.

        One of my staff lost a friend in the 7/7 bombings in London and mentioned it to me and said she didn’t want to talk about the bombings as it upset her. So I asked the rest of the team not to discuss the incident when that staff member was around. I think it’s part of the job of the manager to find solutions for these situations.

        And personally if I were the co-worker who had said something that upset someone I’d want to know so I could avoid doing it again and apologise.

    2. PeteyKat*

      I’d actually be annoyed that as a co-worker, they thought it was appropriate to jump in on a conversation that they weren’t a part of to impart the following, quote, “You’re very quick getting it on the market considering she only died a few days ago.” First of all, stating that she died only a few days ago was very insensitive. Secondly, co-worker wasn’t part of the conversation. Their opinion wasn’t needed or requested. It’s like they were waiting to chime in…

      1. LDN Layabout*

        If someone wants to take such a strident stance on a fairly innocuous comment, my respond would be not to conduct private business in a public space such as a shared office. That’s what stepping outside and conference rooms are there for.

        1. Czhorat*

          Eh. Even in public places, it’s neither polite nor necessary to chime in uninvited – especially when the topic is an obviously sensitive one.

          The co-worker should have known that grieving is a sensitive time, and understood that implied criticism of the OP’s pace at handing aspects of the estate could land very, very badly.

          If I’d made what I thought was an innocuous comment and ended up causing this much offense to someone who is clearly suffering I’d be mortified and choose to be very much more careful in the future. I can’t imagine reacting with annoyance to someone who had just lost their family member and felt that I was insensitive.

          1. LDN Layabout*

            Sure, like I said, this is if you take the stance that coworker was trying to be deliberately nasty and somehow it needs to go beyond what the LW has already done (which is ask the manager to have a word with them).

        2. PeteyKat*

          Or maybe don’t comment on conversations that don’t pertain to you. How about that? You don’t have to comment on everything you hear.

          1. LDN Layabout*

            Sure, but my point was that grace gets extended both ways. If you start going after someone after it’s already been dealt with, people are let likely to want to extend it in your direction.

          2. Czhorat*

            This is getting into Twitter logic – that any public post at any time is an invitation for random strangers to give unsolicited advice or even insults.

            Even if the comment was meant innocently, it is VERY easily read as critical. There’s no call to be critical with someone in times of mourning, especially given that you don’t know the circumstance. It could be that the sale had been discussed for months prior while the older relative slowly succumbed to a long illness. There could be some legal or practical reason. There could be any NUMBER of causes which are, to be frank, none of anyone’s business.

            I agree that this is ultimately not a battle worth having further, but I completely understand it changing how OP sees the meddling co-worker – at least for a time.

            If the manager talks to them, they could give a quick and sincere “I’m sorry about that comment I made about selling the house. I wasn’t thinking, and it was insensitive of me” and leave it there.

          3. traffic_spiral*

            Okaaaay…. but there’s a huge grey area when it comes to conversations you hold in open spaces around other people. Also I think you’re projecting a lot into this – OP said nothing about this being a “private” conversation that was intruded on, and isn’t making any comment about how that’s the issue at play here. It looks far more like this *was* intended as a public conversation meant to inform the office (so that OP doesn’t need to privately tell every single person “I’m busy selling Granny’s house at the moment”) and it’s the content of the comment that’s getting to her.

      2. Shan*

        Yes! OP wasn’t even talking to this co-worker when she made that comment. There’s an unspoken etiquette, at least in all the offices that I’ve worked in, that you usually pretend you’re not hearing when people are discussing near you. Particularly so if it’s a personal matter. And I can definitely understand how a grieving person would interpret what she said as an uncharitable observation.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, this. I didn’t read it as an all hands announcement to the office at large.

    3. LionessHutz*

      Totally agree, the reaction is not commesurate with the comment and might indicate its too early for LW to return to work.

      1. tra la la*

        I was thinking this too. Also thinking that the coworker likely thought they were commenting positively about the LW’s efficiency rather than implying anything negative.

  36. LifeBeforeCorona*

    My condolences on your loss. A close relative passed away suddenly just before Covid struck and shut everything down. They lived on the other side of the country and because of travel restrictions, nothing has been settled. The latest update is that maybe in the late summer we can travel to the region. It’s been almost a year and a half with no closure in sight.

  37. W. Rogers*

    Ordinarily the thoughtless comment would not rise to the level of needing to bring in a manager to mediate would it? Wouldn’t it be enough to say directly to the person “that comment was very hurtful to me”?

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Grieving people can feel stripped of their autonomy/power. Loss can leave us pretty mushy on the inside.
      We have a finite amount of energy, if we are expending energy on x, y and z, then there may not be any energy or brain space left to talk to the cohort. Hence the need to bring in a 3rd party.
      It probably took OP a lot of effort just to talk to the boss. From OP’s perspective she could be saying, “it took everything I had just to walk into the boss’ office and say something. And then the boss seems to have done nothing about it. But for me, I feel like I moved Mt. Everest, it took that much energy out of me. Why doesn’t the boss understand how much effort this was?”

  38. Sleepless*

    LW1, is it possible to reframe what your coworker said? I would have been very surprised that someone was able to sell their deceased loved one’s house that fast, without thinking any malicious thoughts about them. Where I live, it’s tough to sell a house before the will is probated, and that can take a few months at the very minimum. Getting their stuff out can take weeks (I’ve been through that three times in the last four years). Getting the listing in place can take a few days. Granted, houses are selling incredibly fast right now, but I don’t know any way to speed up the other steps. So, yes, I’d have been surprised, but if I’d said anything it would have been “wow! That was fast!” Giant props to your family for being so organized, but your situation is really unusual.

  39. Sled dog mama*

    #2 wear clothing that fits your body, if it fits it will look nice and people will notice that rather than which section of the store you found it in.

    1. Sled Dog Mama*

      This letter reminds me of a great quote I once heard from a comedian, exactly who escapes me. The comedian is a cis-male but occasionally wears “women’s clothes” as part of his shows. He was being interviewed and the interviewer asked something about wearing women’s clothes, and the comedian very indignantly replied “They’re not women’s clothes, they’re MY clothes. I bought them!” I have always thought this was such a great way to look at it.

      1. Kit*

        I believe you’re thinking of Eddie Izzard, who’s made this quip quite a few times over the years – but who has come out as identifying as genderfluid, under the trans umbrella, rather than being cis.

        For context: when Eddie was making this sort of comment, the point was to push back primarily against the perception of drag (versus being a self-identified transvestite, as Eddie was at the time). AFAIK, Eddie currently prefers that people match pronouns to presentation; Eddie in a suit and tie would be he/him, Eddie in a dress or skirt is she/her.

  40. met_ocean*

    Just a thought on #2 (cis-gendered female here, but in a male dominated industry). I’ve seen several women, dressing completely professional and feminine get labeled ‘the skirt’. We’re all balancing on a tight rope of being too ‘something’. But in my experience androgynous dress would actually fit in better.

    Since you have a concern about being seen as making A STATEMENT, I’d suggest that starting with your preferred dress would make less of a statement than switching down the road. Begin as you mean to go on (pre-pandemic internship dress is not likely to be remembered clearly).

    Sorry that this issue has to take up so much of your brain space. Hoping for future generations that can just focus on the job!

  41. FD*

    #2- I doubt anyone’s going to really catch on. People who might notice are probably people who are at least aware nonbinary people are a thing, but most people–especially the sort of people who are likely to be jerks about it–are likely to miss it as it’s not that unusual for a cis woman to wear the clothes you’re talking about.

    1. Generic Name*

      Agreed. I think most people are too wrapped up in themselves to notice subtle details in what other people are wearing. I get that it feels like a big deal to you, because going against the norm to be true to yourself IS a big deal. Congrats! But most people go through their day focusing on themselves.

  42. Jack Straw*

    If you begin your in-person time dressing one way and then change, that’s when it becomes A Thing. If you show up your first day wearing menswear, then that’s what you do and who you are. If you show up wearing fem blouses and fitted trousers then switch, people notice and it becomes A Thing.

    I’ve worked in conservative, religious small towns and liberally-minded big cities. In 25 years–I’ve had jobes in K-12 and higher education, call centers, nonprofits, insurance, healthcare, service/hospitality industries… what you describe wasn’t an issue in any of those places. :)

  43. Spicy Tuna*

    LW#2 – I wouldn’t overthink it. I am a cis female and for years, I wore khakis and polo shirts to the office. I don’t have a typical “female” body (ie: I am flat chested and have very narrow hips) so men’s clothing tends to fit me better, plus I have no interest in “fashion” and I like the simplicity of plain clothing, which male-oriented styles tend to be.

    1. Czhorat*

      As a cis-male in a male-dominated industry I can honestly say that I’d barely notice what my female colleagues (or male colleagues, for that matter) are wearing unless there’s something that dramatically mismatches the level of formality in the office.

      I agree with you that it’s almost certainly FAR more invisible than you fear that it is.

      1. twocents*

        I agree. “Woman wears button-downs and khakis” would not register as noteworthy.

        1. Clisby*

          +1. And I would have no idea of whether it was actual menswear, or some women’s line fashioned like menswear. Back in the ’90s, I used to buy a lot of my pants from the men’s section of The Gap – since menswear tends to be more rationally sized than women’s wear, it made getting a new pair of jeans or khakis quicker. Just look for 29/32, try it on, and 95/100 it’d fit just right. (An unexpected plus was that apparently this was not a real common size for men, because at that time the Gap close to me occasionally had great sales, and I could almost count on getting something really cheap a couple of times a year.)

          1. Spicy Tuna*

            Exactly!!! I love that men’s sizes are standard across styles and brands! Makes shopping SO MUCH EASIER!

    2. Jack Straw*

      I’m also a cis woman and in multiple jobs I’ve opted to wear mens pants vs. womens. They’re honestly more practical if you need bigger-than-a-matchbox-pockets or beltloops, and if you aren’t overly curvy, they fit better, too.

    3. Mental Lentil*

      Unless you are in an industry like law or banking where dress is a huge part of the job, I agree. I tend not to notice what people are wearing anyway. My main priorities are 1) Is is safe for the job they are doing? and 2) Is it comfortable for them?

  44. Bluestreak*

    For LW 1: We don’t have the benefit of knowing the tone of the comment, but I genuinely didn’t see judgment at all. It could almost be that coworker was impressed, because, in truth, it *is* unusual and impressive to get a house on the market less than two weeks after someone’s death.
    The fact that OP began her letter with a long explanation justifying it, makes me think that she knows it’s unusual and is sensitive about what other people think about it.

    In any case, even if this was meant to be malicious, I think a one time comment like this rises to the level of *reporting it to the person’s boss*! I think that was serious overkill.

    1. Sc@rlettNZ*

      I agree. I understand that the OP is clearly upset about her grandmother passing but I personally think it’s an overreaction.

  45. Czhorat*

    For LW#5 – maybe this is a chance to re-evaluate how you’re handling networking and who you’re using as references. A reference needn’t be a best friend, but it should be someone with whom you have mutual respect and genuinely care – at least a bit – about each other’s wellbeing. In that case they really shouldn’t – and wouldn’t likely – sabotage you or try to swipe the opportunity from you.

    I entirely could be reading WAY too much into this, but you could take this as a sign that you need to work a bit more at cultivating relationships, and being seen as a person and not just an industry contact.

    In any event, it was very poor behavior from the reference. At the end of the day, this reflects on them, not on you.

    1. Kes*

      Eh, I don’t know that I would read into it that much, although it probably would cause me to reevaluate my relationships within my network. And I would definitely reevaluate who you want to use as references, ie not the person who took your job.

      1. Czhorat*

        To be perfectly clear, the person who took the job was one hundred percent in the wrong, and OP wasn’t.

        If this only happened once, then it happened once and perhaps they just didn’t know a professional colleague as well as they thought they did. It is, as all setbacks, a chance to re-evaluate.

        And I always read too much into things. That’s my superpower.

    2. anon ymous*

      I know someone who did this to a supposed friend. The reference giver came across as a charming, jovial person eager to help others, but in reality was just an egotistical, manipulative asshole who saw people as objects to be used for his own benefit. It had nothing to do with the person requesting the reference and everything to do with the character of the job stealer.

  46. Dwight Schrute*

    OP 1, I’m so sorry for your loss! I’d assume your coworker was expressing surprise at the pace you were able to move things along. I am also someone who would likely want to quickly get through those things so I could process the death and grieve but I had no idea you could actually have such a quick turn around. When my grandparents passed it took my dad and his siblings months to get through it all and I know it was a painful process for my dad. Do your best to let it go! It’s not healthy to hold onto small comments like this, especially in the work place.

    For menswear, seeing a woman wearing men’s clothing wouldn’t even make me think or look twice! I’d say start off wearing what you’re comfortable in, and then it will just be how you dress. It’s more likely to be A Thing if you drastically change how you dress IMO since humans tend to notice those changes

    #5- wow I’m sorry your reference did that to you! It’s pretty crappy of them but sounds like you dodged a bullet working there if they were willing to hire someone who doesn’t respect professional ethics

  47. Notinstafamous*

    #2 – I’m in a conservative, male-dominated professional services industry so my advice may be biased by that. I also prefer androgynous clothing, although I vary depending on the day and as I’ve gotten more senior I’ve become more comfortable with things being A Statement or just very confusing for other people!

    All that said: my advice from my experience and from my non-binary mentees is to (a) wear what you want from day 1, and (b) spend the time to make sure what you’re wearing looks intentional.

    If you are just the person who wears masculine-style clothing and it fits well, is clean, and most importantly you’re comfortable because you feel good and look fab, you will be just fine. It’s often a question of confidence, posture, and tailoring. (It isn’t fair because this burden isn’t equal on everyone, I know).

    Where people get into trouble is when you go halfway – if you want to be wearing an outfit but you’re worried it’s too much so instead you go for ill-fitting or something that doesn’t make you feel confident. If you don’t feel it, you’ll spend all of your time compensating and fretting and doubting, whereas if you do the work up front and own the decision, you’ll be just fine.

  48. Me*

    I don’t personally use the heart emoji in teams, however people who do are saying they “love” or really appreciate what you did. Not that they love you. I get it might feel weird but it’s really a non issue.

    Even at work in person, someone might present an idea and will garner a response of “I love it!”.

    1. Czhorat*

      I see – and use – the thumbs-up constantly. The heart is more rare, but it’s built into Teams. I don’t think twice about seeing it.

  49. twocents*

    >if I “report” as a volunteer to whoever takes on my role, while having detailed knowledge of the management side of things?

    Once you are a volunteer, you are a volunteer. You know nothing about the management side of things, because for all you know, the day after you left, they changed everything. I think it really helps if you go into a volunteer commitment as “I am just here to help in whichever way you need me to” and not think “but I know best, I know how this is done.”

  50. agnes*

    I got a great piece of advice when I first started working—-the office is not the same as a classroom. You are not required nor expected to have an opinion on every topic people discuss at work, most especially any of their personal life discussions. Unsolicited opinions are often also unwelcomed.

  51. Scorbunny*

    LW1, I feel your pain. It took forever to get my grandma’s estate sorted just because there was so much STUFF to go through, but I did have a coworker essentially tell me I was too young to know the full depth of grief because I hadn’t lost a parent, just a grandparent. I was in my early 30s at the time. This was a coworker I was constantly stuck picking up the slack for, too, and another coworker who witnessed the exchange wasn’t sure how I managed to resist committing a murder then and there. Nothing really got done about it, because, frankly, the coworker who said that had all the social awareness of a brick and I figured she was working through her own issues anyway. It wasn’t worth kicking up a fuss in the long run. (Still makes me mad when I think about it, though.)

    1. LW#1*

      Wow that was rude! Someone I know asked how my kids were handling it, and said that it is probably better for them to have their first family death be a great-grandparent rather than parents or grandparents. Which was, y’know, odd but said and meant in a comforting manner.

  52. Kat Maps*

    I really thought the heart-emoji writer could have been one of my coworkers! I’ve been in my role about 3 months and the zealous use of the heart emoji really threw me for a loop when I first started. It feels really informal, but it’s become normalized for me now (for better or worse).

  53. Orange You Glad*

    #3 I disagree that the heart emoji stands in for thumbs up. I’ve only seen it used at work in sense of “I really love this”. If someone makes a really good point or words something well we might use a heart emoji. For something basic like “I followed up with the client” a heart would be inappropriate. That is not something to like, just something to acknowledge.
    Based on other comments though, I may be out of touch. I just know if I saw a coworker begin to respond to everything with hearts, I would question their professionalism. I also can’t think of any other programs where a heart would default. I’ve only used it sparingly on facebook messenger to indicate loving something someone else said.

  54. Red 5*

    LW #1 – First, foremost, and most important, I’m so sorry about your grandmother and I know all too well that this is a really difficult and emotional time for you right now, I hope you’re able to get all the time and space that you need and want to grieve and recover.

    As for the work thing…*sigh* People are stupid about death and grief. So, so, so stupid. Because it’s a taboo topic in our society it’s nearly impossible to be going through any type of grief without somebody saying something incredibly stupid, insensitive, or both. But the thing I found the most useful when dealing with it myself was to try to attribute the missteps to incompetence and inexperience rather than intentional rudeness or anything like that. I told myself they wanted to say something and they just mucked it up. And if I’m being honest I’ve done that with grieving friends before and I – still- have a stupid one off comment in my 3 am I can’t sleep so I’m gonna replay every dumb thing I’ve ever said from pre-k to now line up of shame. It’s possible that nothing more is being said to you about it because your coworker is just too ashamed and doesn’t want to say something stupid while trying to deal with having said something stupid.

    That said, there’s also a lot of nosy people who may or may not want to tell you that you’re doing grief “wrong” because again, with it being taboo, we as a society don’t really tend to understand that every grief is individual and unique. Even in the same family, with the same people, it’s a different and difficult road every time. Facing that thought means facing how hard it is and possibly facing their own hang ups or fears. When I lost a family member suddenly while they were young, everyone had so many of the same questions and I was entirely exhausted by it. I likely said some rough things back to them. But there was also a lot of vaguely judgmental comments about me being back at work, if I was – really- okay so quickly, etc. No, I wasn’t okay but sitting around at home burning up my sick leave wasn’t getting me anywhere either. Going back to work was what I chose, but they wouldn’t have and that’s fine but they had a hard time realizing it was fine. There is nothing wrong with listing your grandmother’s home “quickly,” you have your reasons and by all indications in your letter you and your family aren’t acting irrationally. Actually it makes a lot of sense to me. But maybe she didn’t know that and was worried about you, or it called up a memory and hit a nerve for her, or maybe she was just being Judgey McJudgerson. Though it’s also possible that you’re like me, and you felt defensive already and heard more judgement than was intended? My therapist walked me through that thought process a LOT so that could just be me.

    Anyway, my point, summed up slightly, is that death and grief are messy and hard, and people fumble and screw up and also are sometimes jerks. It can make it all worse, but it makes my grief easier to assume that it was just a random accidental stupid than trying to give it any more meaning or importance. I’d wager all of us who have lost somebody could start a mega thread of the awful or idiotic things people have said to us, but I’m also fairly confident that wouldn’t help you right now so I’ll refrain from starting it.

    It’s okay to need some space from your coworker for now to work out how you want to deal with her comment, but that really can’t last forever in a work context. So at some point you’ll need to figure it what you need to at least be professional with her. For me it’s usually just time.

    And a long ranting session with my BFF who will agree with me completely until I’ve gotten it all out ;)

  55. Daisy-dog*

    #1 – I am very sorry about your grandmother.

    I just wanted to point out something – you may be assigning negative intent to your coworker’s comment when it was just confusion. Others have pointed out that it is indeed very fast by standards of putting a house up on the market at all. Many kudos to your very organized grandmother who was taking care of her family right up until the end! That was very thoughtful of her. I hope you are able to forgive your coworker’s poorly worded comment.

    1. Tuesday*

      My thought while reading the letter was, “Wow, that’s fast — I can’t even imagine being organized and neat enough to be able to manage that!” Coworker shouldn’t have commented, but I agree that it’s quite possible she wasn’t thinking anything negative at all.

  56. teams lamenting*

    I think a big part why they use hearts at all in the 3rd letter is just that the options for reactions in Teams are so poor! It’s one of my biggest complaints about Teams ever since the pandemic started. There are only 6 options for reacting to messages in Teams — thumbs up, red heart, laughing uproariously, shocked, sad, and mad. The heart is the only option when you want to express something more than a thumbs up, like appreciation.

    I wish so badly that they were more like Slack, but I think Slack probably has a trademark on the functionality I’m looking for.

    1. teams lamenting*

      oh! plus! you cannot respond in a thread directly under messages in Teams chats, only in the official channels — another big issue with Teams that forces folks to use the heart. for ex: you can’t write back “Thanks!” in a sub-thread, you’d have to take up real estate/ping other people in the main chat, so a heart is the fallback because it’s less disruptive to the other people in a chat.

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

      Agreed. Teams recently expanded the emojis but the reaction emojis stayed the same. I want to be able to choose from the whole gamut in a reaction to a comment. The barf emoji would be very useful…

      1. JelloStapler*

        Eye roll would be nice – more to commiserate than rolling eyes at my colleague.

    3. Cooper*

      Slack definitely doesn’t have a trademark on the emoji reactions– Discord has the same feature!

  57. DiscoCat*

    #2 I’m a cis-het woman presenting as such and wear what became known as “Normcore” a few years ago. Jeans or Khakis, men’s shirts and jumpers and generally stay buttoned up. I work in academia/ tech and no one has even noticed except for the occasional deterred oggler.

  58. Donkey Hotey*

    #2 – For reference, my 75-year old, 100% cis-, 100% het- mom lives in a -V-E-R-Y- gender conservative part of the US and has dressed for her jobs in khakis and men’s shirts for the majority of the last 30 years. I know this because her wardrobe includes some of my clothes from high school and she wears them to great effect.
    Unless you’re somewhere more conservative than Salt Lake City, Utah, you won’t stand out or be seen as making a statement in the slightest.
    p.s. Good on you for living your authentic self.

  59. Pink Geek*

    LW #2, I dressed in men’s cut women’s wear for years in a business casual office with no problems.

    I encourage you to go in on your first day back in the look you want! Show up like what you’re doing is normal (it is!) and people will act like it’s normal. In my experience, change elicits more comments. (Show up in a skit for the first time in 3 years and suddenly everyone thinks you have a date…)

  60. Rez123*


    I’ll echo some of the other posters thatunless there is a backstory it might have been off the cuff comment without any malicious intent. I’m actually an idiot that might make that comment since that was my reaction when I read your post. It has nothing to do with thinking you were grabby or not grieving, it’s just that my grandmother passed away in mid-april and to get all the initial paperwork/practicalities done to arrange the funeral and start with the legalisties took over 5 weeks. Now we can actually start with the will, estate etc. I’m mainly impressed taht you manged to organize everything so quickly. I don’t doubt this has been hard for your family.

  61. Jerusha*

    LW #2, I’m cishet female, but not particularly femme in presentation. My business casual work “uniform” for years has been polo shirt + slacks. The slacks are women’s but have pockets :). Some of the polo shirts are “women’s”, but most of them are “men’s”, for a few reasons:
    1) In my experience, “men’s” shirts are much better constructed, of sturdier material, and have actual sleeves [some of my “women’s” polos have these useless little cap sleeves].
    2) I’m busty but I’m also fat, particularly in my abdomen, and so shirts that are cut to “accommodate” my bust end up too tight in the belly. I find straight-cut shirts much more flattering.
    The only practical difference is which way the shirt buttons, which I don’t know anyone else has ever noticed. Anyway, I tend to wear them all with one button open (or the equivalent on the handful that have >3 buttons), so I only really notice the direction of the button placket when clipping a lavalier mic to my shirt.

    I definitely agree with the advice to begin as you mean to go on – if androgynous attire is what you’ve “always” worn, then odds are no one is going to notice or find it worthy of comment.

  62. Passing By*

    For #1 I want to point out, as it didn’t seem like others had yet, that if your coworker is from a religious or cultural background that has stricter customs, disposing of property before the rites/mourning period would be seen as rude or disrespectful. For instance in a lot of Orthodox, Catholic, or Jewish traditions you don’t do such things before shiva is over or the funeral mass which are both 7 days out.

    1. Ann*

      But surely that coworker would know that their religious customs don’t apply to everyone. Catholics don’t go around expressing surprise that other people are eating meat on Fridays in Lent; Jews don’t go around shocked that everyone else doesn’t attend Yom Kippur services, etc.

      I think much more relevant is what others have been saying– that it was probably said with no ill intent but just expressing surprise that it was logistically and administratively possible.

  63. Bibliovore*

    Please accept my condolences on the loss of your Grandmother. People say stupid things. That has been my mantra.
    Right now, I am buying a new car. 2 weeks after my husbands death. The plans have been in the works for months.
    My answer to the exclamation ” you’re buying a new car right now?!” “Your husband just died.” I took a breath and said- this was our plan. I am following through.
    This was your grandmother’s plan. you are just following through.
    And people say stupid things.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      And let them stumble and stutter. Don’t rescue the conversation.

    2. Observer*

      Snarky me wants you to respond to “Your husband just died!” with “Yeah, I noticed.”

      Real me just wants to bop that person on the head. They probably didn’t mean anything by it. But it’s REALLY stupid and rude. I’m sorry you’re dealing with that on top of everything else.

  64. Retired (but not really)*

    When I worked in the office supply store, our dress code was business casual. Because I’m tall for a female I got tall size khakis or similar pants (from JC Penney) and for long sleeved shirts I had to get men’s because none of the ladies’ ones were anywhere close to being long enough to be able to button at the cuff or to stay tucked in. Nobody ever commented on it, either coworkers or customers.

  65. NoftheC*


    Your dress doesn’t need to be A Thing. Until recently I worked with a cis, lesbian woman who chose to wear men’s clothes. She was just more comfortable dressed in that style. When I began working there she had a short feminine hairstyle although while I was there she did change to a more masculine cut. She just made it clear it was a question of preference and to everyone in the office it was just a part of who she was.

  66. Ann*

    Others have given good advice on what your options are for what to wear, and what responses you might expect.
    Just to respond to one point in your question, you said “I have also been considering doing it when we first go back, and if I’m called out on it, saying, “Oh I didn’t know, I haven’t been in the office for so long.”
    I think it is highly unlikely anyone will “call you out” or even make a mild comment about such neutral clothing like khakis and a men’s dress shirt, but if they do make any comments about it being gender-inappropriate, I would not advocate for your response of “I didn’t know.” That seems way too deferential to me, and implies that they have the right to criticize your gender expression, or that the company has a right to demand that people dress in a gendered way. I would just change the subject, or say “this is what I’m comfortable in.” It’s also possible that saying “I didn’t know” (implying “I didn’t know women aren’t supposed to wear men’s shirts”) could confuse the other person enough to shut them up, since they might think you are being sarcastic. That could be good but maybe not what you are aiming for.
    It’s a different case if they are telling you that what you’re wearing is not formal enough (e.g. you’re expected to wear a suit) but since you said others wear business casual, this should be fine.

  67. Delta Delta*

    #1 – A couple things jump out to me, as a lawyer: 1. The calendar. Your grandmother passed on May 16, which was a Sunday. The property valuation was done on May 19, a Wednesday. It makes perfect sense that you’d be able to make a call first thing on Monday (to a person who does property valuation who you probably know since you’re in that line of work) and set it up fairly quickly. I’m also guessing that since you work in the field, maybe you were able to get the valuation done by someone you already have contact with, and who might have been able and willing to do it quickly as a professional courtesy. These are all good things. 2. Usually it takes some time to get permission from the probate court to sell property. If the property was somehow held so that the estate didn’t have to be probated, it’s entirely possible this could move this fast. Alternatively, I suppose if the executors also are quick to move, they could have filed a petition to open the estate also on Monday, and listed the house as soon as they got permission from the court.

    All this having been said, there are some people who just get stuff done fast. There are also people whose lives have been tied up in probate court for years because of Reasons. It seems like the co-worker’s comment didn’t land right but was probably not at all ill-intentioned.

    1. LW#1*

      My mum is the executor, and she, my brother and I are the only beneficiaries. Custom in our family is it passes to ‘blood’ only, not relatives by marriage, and to grandchildren as the end on the understanding that they will make a provision for their children. My mum already owns part of the house, inherited when my grandad died. So from that point of view it is very straightforward.

  68. For Post #2*

    I dress rather masculine at work (or at least do not like blouses, skirts, dresses, cardigans, etc.) only because my industry is very masculine.

    What I end up wearing are collared dress-shirts that are of a more feminine cut, but I always pair it with more masculine pants (think waist-high jeans or khakis – cuz today’s women’s pants ride too snug on hips). On top of the dress shirts, I always have a waistcoat or loose-fitting sweater (depending on the temperature) which makes it more androgynous.

    Most of the clients and personnel I talk to, have no issue with the way I dress, but oddly in a room full of men and being one of two women there, on occasion, I do notice that I am treated just a little bit differently (thrown more questions regarding in-depth technical knowledge) b/c of my clothing.

  69. SmileAndNod*

    I have a differing opinion than most of the commentators. It’s been my experience in cases I served as a reference that the recruiter’s line of questioning often swerves from “tell me about this person” to some version of “what’s next for you?” “Are you interested in something new?” Or the less subtle “you’re well known in industry for X. I’ve been wanting/trying to connect… what would it take to bring you over [to the dark side]?”. When the reference procurement person is the hiring manager, in many cases, they go into detail re: their current business problem and I can’t help myself from opining.

  70. DollarStoreParty*

    Hours after my dad died we were shopping for new carpet for his house, and I had a dumpster delivered to get rid of all the incredibly old smelly furniture he would not replace since our mother died. In our minds, we were going to be hosting family from out of town and needed to get it in a presentable state (it was most definitely not in a presentable state). As I was standing in the carpet store talking to the sales guy, I told my sisters that we were insane and no one needed to come to the house, given that there were many, many hotels available in the area. But our immediate reaction in our grief was to clean, get rid of stuff. We realized he’d done the same after our mom passed. So hereditary? But as my brother in law told his mom, who was extremely critical of us in our joy of destroying old beat-up furniture with his sledgehammer, everyone grieves differently, it’d been a difficult few years, and let us do whatever the hell we want. It never ceases to amaze me when people put a time limit on mourning or tell you how you should do it. I’m always the one to say you do you – it’s your grief, your relationship, and it is no one’s business. Full stop.

  71. NoName*

    LW2 –
    Have you considered polo shirts? Both men and women wear those. I have a non-binary child who likes polo shirts for this reason. Though they prefer the ones from the men’s department because they think the women’s shirts have a more feminine cut and they are usually trying to de-emphasize their curves. Either way, I think polo shirts are pretty neutral.

  72. JackJackJack*


    I truly think it will be less of an issue than you’re anticipating. As an also closeted non-binary AFAB person in a professional workplace, as long as the clothes are well fitting there’s never been remotely an issue (and I have worked in conservative states). I’ve been questioned about whether my pronouns are right (I introduce myself as she/her or she/they depending on, frankly, my own calculation of the risk of being half out vs not inviting questions) but have never had anyone question presentation.

    1. JackJackJack*

      Would also very much second polo shirts as a good option – they read very neutral.

  73. Former Employee*

    “You’re very quick getting it on the market considering she only died a few days ago.”

    I probably would have agreed and said how amazing it was that we were able to manage to do so.

    I’ve known people who said it took years to settle the estate of an elderly family member after they passed away.

    Why all the negative assumptions?

    It’s almost as if people are looking for reasons to cut people off or require some sort of no contact order.

  74. LW#1*

    Update for you all; my boss pulled my coworker in to her office the next time we were all in the office, and told her to shut the door. That virtually never happens in our office unless a client is in there, so she knew something was wrong.

    My boss told me afterwards that she told her she was out of line and completely inappropriate in what she said to me, and that she had really upset me. She told her that it was absolutely nothing to do withbher, and for all she knew the decision had nothing to do with me (which it didn’t really, we discussed it as a family by my parents made the decision.) She also told her to remember that I have just lost my nan, a woman I loved and was very close to, and to think about how I must be feeling and how she would feel if the situation was reversed.

    Coworker went out for lunch as soon as this conversation finished, and when she came back she asked how I was, how my daughters and husband, as well as the rest of my family were coping? She also mentioned about how she must have been a much loved woman, especially when I mentioned that we had all gathered together at her house (in violation of the covid rules in our area which state no more than 6 inside, and we had 6 adults and 4 kids) to make sure her house looked how she would have wanted it, and to raise a glass on her birthday (which was 6 days after she died.)

    I have yet to hear an apology, and I am not expecting one now, however I now realise that there is nothing to be gained by holding on to this. She is thoughtless and has the tact of a bulldozer through a window, but that is not my problem.

    1. calonkat*

      I’m glad you’re letting go of the hurt, it sounds like she truly didn’t realize how much it hurt you. The conversation about your nan being much loved was probably an apology in her head (it’s really easy to rehearse everything you want to say so much that you leave out important parts because in your mind you’ve already said them!)

      And know that I think all of us are just astounded (in a complimentary way) that your family could get this accomplished so fast! Even with preplanning, you all were remarkably efficient! Your nan sounds like a wonderful woman who will be missed by all who knew her.

      1. LW#1*

        We are all surprised too, an offer came in on it today… we have managed to find people we know who need furniture, and will be doing a driveway sale and carboot with other items that none of us need/want. When going through her accounts my parents found two charities she supported which we were not aware of, so we will be making donations to them, and other causes that we think she would approve of, there are two cancer charities i think she would approve of, and possibly the local women’s aid would like some clothes and bedding.

  75. Bella*

    #1, Try talking to the co-worker yourself or let it go. It’s not your manager’s responsibility, especially if it was a one-time thing.

    #3- Hearts are “likes” on Instagram. Maybe your team is big into Instagram in their personal lives.

  76. PacketLoss*


    I like to think of the heart reaction in Teams as another way of saying “thank you,” mostly because I tend to associate gratitude as something that comes from the heart, and the thumbs up seems to be more of an acknowledgement or approval.

Comments are closed.