updates: avoiding political talk, the feelings boss, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager, when I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. How to avoid political talk from family when working in politics

Thank you so much for answering my letter about how to avoid political confrontation with family when working in politics! And thank you to the many commenters for their advice as well, I read and appreciated all of it (minus the person who assumed I was trying to force my beliefs on my family and that I lived in some progressive utopia). About a month after I wrote to you, I landed a paid full-time internship with a progressive political communications firm and loved every minute of it! I learned so much in the past four months.

My conservative grandparents who I was living with at the time were extremely supportive of my job search and so excited for me when I got the position. I used some of the advice from commenters and just kept the work I do vague, simply referring to it as “communications consulting work” and let my family fill in the blanks however they wanted. And though I did have to hear about 100 hours of Rush Limbaugh and OAN, my grandparents and I coexisted very peacefully and I was honestly so grateful to have spent so much time with them after having lived 7 hours away from them my entire life. Covid restrictions kept me from seeing some of my more argumentative family members but I’ll be moving in with my parents soon (the life of 2021 college grad) and now that all of my family is vaccinated I do think I’ll be making use of some more of your advice soon!

I’m also pleased to report that I received amazing feedback from my bosses and coworkers – so much so that they asked me to stay on as a fellow through the fall! I started my fellowship this week and I’m so happy to continue working with a team I love, doing work that I find extremely interesting and important, and gaining so much valuable experience w/ increasing responsibility! (They also mentioned we will “discuss joining the team permanently” at the end of my fellowship so *fingers crossed*). I’ve been reading your blog since my first manager recommended it to me almost 3 years ago and I honestly don’t know where I’d be without your advice!

2. My boss wants to talk about her feelings all the time (first update here)

Ultimately, a year later this terrible boss left the company. And earlier this year, I also left the company. The space has solidified for me how toxic the former boss was and how our workplace allowed it. I was recruited for a new job that was a promotion of responsibility, running a team and a big pay bump. (Not to mention, they made me the offer when I was 7 months pregnant and gave me 16 weeks of leave after I started, a workplace that really values families.) But the update today is that I got a call from another professional contact who wanted to recruit me for another job — being the terrible boss’ boss! I’m not interested in making a move, even though it too would be a great job. And the presence of the former boss definitely would have been a factor if I had been looking. But it was a little reminder, for me at least, that the tables can turn in a few short years.

3. We might have found a coworker’s suicide to-do list

Veronica saw the post and messaged me asking me if I knew about your blog, the post, etc. I feined ignorance, but she said that she knew I had written the letter and she wanted me to send the post to the owner. She wanted me to let the owner know that she was being bullied (I don’t think she was). Sometime after this, Veronica was let go (or quit?, I am unsure) and I was given her position. I think she is doing fine at another job.

4. Changing my name because of a complicated family situation (#5 at the link)

I thought I would send in a quick update and thank you to Alison and the commenters who were so helpful. I am relieved to say I was totally over-thinking it, like some of the commenters said! I told my boss and direct team members in our daily zoom check in, and everyone rolled with it pretty quickly. All I mentioned is that it is what I use socially and it came from my initials and no further questions were asked. Other colleagues immediately switched to my preferred name in emails without me having to even ask (after I changed my email signature and preferred name in our systems), and while there are a few slips of my old name people have either caught themselves or been reminded by other coworkers. I have barely had to remind anyone myself, which has been awesome.

I really appreciate the reality check that I was making it a bigger issue than it was due to my history with my given name. I’m not sure I can adequately say just how gratifying and life changing it is to hear a name that doesn’t cause me pain every time it is used. I’m proud of myself and so much happier.

{ 47 comments… read them below }

  1. many bells down*

    I know we don’t have the full context, but I reviewed the letter from #3 again and it sure sounds like Veronica WAS being bullied, to me.

    1. Threeve*

      Agree. If someone is obviously unhappy and coworkers are making it worse (and also spying on her and trying to get her in trouble) I don’t see how that isn’t being bullied.

    2. HugsAreNotTolerated*

      If Ethel was digging that deep in a co-worker’s planner then that’s definitely not her first infraction when it comes to invading her co-worker’s privacy. I’d bet money that Ethel & Betty were bullying Veronica in plenty of other ways too.
      I’m really glad that Veronica has moved on to another job and I really hope that she’s in a better space with better co-workers.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      From the original post: “They both often complain of working with another coworker, “Veronica,” saying that she snaps at them, is emotional, and often leaves work for seemingly no reason and cries often. While some of this behavior is probably true, Betty and Ethel tend to pile on and make it worse.”

      I think the LW was thinking that Betty and Ethel were simply exaggerating to elicit sympathy for themselves, but they could also have been exaggerating reports of Veronica’s behavior and goading her into lashing out. The LW didn’t report first-hand observations of any of this.

    4. HB*

      Clicked on the comments to say exactly this. Veronica, if you’re out there and a regular reader of AAM: I hope you’re doing well and have found a better job with better coworkers.

    5. Manana*

      Hard agree on this one. Ethel searched through every page of this woman’s planner then told all her coworkers that she’s suicidal, then found out about it in an internet advice column, the writer of which lied to her face about it! I hope Veronica is making 10x more money and is working with people who aren’t objectively terrible.

    6. Red 5*

      Wholeheartedly agree. This update upsets me about as much as the original post. I hope Veronica found supportive coworkers at her new job, because she seems to have not had any at all in the original workplace.

      This is also very flippant about the very real worry that Veronica may have been about to harm herself in the original post. The “I think she is doing fine” is a real throwaway when it should have been the first and most important theme of the message.

      If by chance Veronica is still reading this column: I hope you have love and support and everything you need, I’m sorry you went through this. It sounds like it was an awful situation for you and no matter how it happened I’m glad you got away from it.

  2. Mommy Shark*

    Re: #3… it does sound like she was being bullied. Your colleagues dug so deep into her private planner that they found her hidden suicide note. I would’ve been distraught. It would’ve been devastating for me.

    1. OwlEditor*

      Came here to say the same! I read the original letter and you say that Betty and Ethel pile on Veronica and make it work! She’s crying at work and their response is to make it worse? Then one of them went thorugh her personal belongings! Poor Veronica. I’m glad she found another job and I hope she more supportive coworkers. That includes you.

      1. Velawciraptor*

        Exactly. Everything OP3 said in the original letter pointed to Veronica being bullied. The update dismissing that really rubs me the wrong way. I hope Veronica is finally working in a healthier and more supportive environment.

      2. LW3*

        LW#3 here! Veronica often bullied, manipulated and was rude to other employees. She made it so she was impossible to work with. Overall, there was a lot of exclusionary behavior from everyone (I didn’t work there often enough to join any cliques).

        It’s not okay for any of you to attack me. I was concerned and that’s why I wrote in.

        1. Stacy*

          She may have been those things but that doesn’t mean she deserved to have her privacy invaded, her list outed to others, and then be lied to when she asked if you had written the letter. This comes off as victim blaming, and I think that perhaps the toxicity of this workplace has skewed your perspective.

        2. Eukomos*

          People can be unpleasant and unlikable and still get bullied. Nothing you’ve said about her behavior changes my mind on the other people’s behavior. And disagreeing with you isn’t attacking you. If you were so worried about her why did you refuse to help when she asked? Did you do anything?

          1. Stacy*

            That’s a good point. Unless there is some info missing, the events were:
            1) the coworkers snoop and find the list
            2) tell LW about it
            3) LW writes in
            4) Veronica asked if she wrote in and then asked for help
            5) LW lied and refused to help
            6) Veronica left

            1. Stacy*

              And if the original post was how Veronica found out that happened to her, only to be lied to, wow….

        3. Wants Green Things*

          You originally described the bullying behavior of others and a suicidal employee, and took a flippant tone in the update. Instead of intervening or offering assistance, you lied to Veronica, and it doesn’t sound like you did anything to improve the work behaviors of *any* of the employees.

          None of that reads as supportive.

          1. PT*

            OP works one or two shifts a week at a part-time side job with a bunch of nasty, terrible people whose BS she is trying to stay out of because a) they are terrible people and b) she only has to work with them once or twice a week. In the course of trying to stay out of their garbage, she found an actual issue that merited actual attention and asked for advice on how to handle it responsibly while still maintaining minimal involvement in their toxic BS.

            This is pretty par for the course for people who have full time jobs and work the bare minimum number of hours at a side job. They’re working to rule and they’re not caring any more than they are paid to.

        4. Velawciraptor*

          Criticism of what appears to be questionable behavior and judgment is not an attack. Time and again, Alison has written about how toxic workplaces can skew one’s perspective and judgment. There are considerable signs in both your original letter and your update that suggest that is happening here.

          Please, go back, review your letters and the comments and try to understand what so many others are seeing in what you’re writing. Anyone can become so acclimated to an unhealthy environment that it takes an outside perspective to remind the person the environment is unhealthy. The fact that you’re taking what is largely concern for Veronica as an attack on you says you’ve internalized some of the unhealthier aspects of your workplace culture, resulting in your perception of critiques of those aspects as personal attacks.

        5. row row row your boat*

          Hey LW3, I sympathize with why you think you’re being attacked. I don’t think you are, and I wonder if you understand that, based on what’s been shared, what happened was uncool and unkind on your part?

          Just some food for thought.

        6. Save the Hellbender*

          Hey, I know a bunch of comments can feel like a pile-on, but I think people here are just concerned that digging through someone’s planner is bad behavior, regardless of what Veronica was doing.

    2. Admin 4 life*

      It really does sound like Veronica was being bullied. It’s possible she already went to the owner too and was dismissed as being “too sensitive” which could explain why she asked the LW to send the owner the published post.

      You don’t dig through someone’s planner/dirt/journal/to-do lists unless they ask you to. That original letter always rubbed me the wrong way. How did Ethel show LW the suicide list? Did they still have the planner or did they take photos of it (and if they did take photos, what else did they take photos of in the planner?).

    3. Dust Bunny*

      “The interesting thing to note is, this was not laid out as a cry for help. It was deep in the planner under a Post-It note. I am not really sure how Ethel found it.”

      Uh, you know exactly how Ethel found it. Ethel was hardcore snooping, is how Ethel found it.

      1. Mommy Shark*

        right??? Snooping to that level is bullying. Full stop. You don’t snoop with positive intentions.

      2. Just @ me next time*

        Are we absolutely sure that Ethel wasn’t just carrying the planner to another room in a totally respectful way before she slipped on a banana peel and landed with her face in the planner, her forehead pushing up the post-it-note so she had NO CHOICE but to glance at the list before immediately slamming the planner shut as she realized her mistake? Or what if a masked criminal entered the store and ordered Ethel to read the planner at gunpoint? Or maybe Ethel has exactly the same planner with post-its in the exact same places and sometimes leaves it at the store, and she opened it up to make her grocery list for the week and found Veronica’s list instead?

        As you can see, there are multiple legitimate, rational, and believable explanations for how Ethel accidentally acquired this information. Somebody call Hercule Poirot so we can get to the bottom of this.

  3. Fabulous*

    #3, I don’t know how you can claim that you don’t think she was being bullied… you even wrote in your original post that Betty and Ethel tend to pile on Veronica and make [her emotional outbursts] worse.

    1. Commenter 27*

      This entire update rubs me the wrong way and — upon revisiting the original letter with this update in mind — I think the LW was seriously in the wrong. Where’s the compassion? If LW seriously thought this was an honest list, why was their reaction to say Veronica was overreacting? Why wouldn’t she share it with the owner at the request of Veronica? I don’t know. Again, just rubs me the wrong way.

      1. Mommy Shark*

        Yeah it made me feel a little queasy, if I’m honest. Imagine finding essentially a suicide note and refusing to help the person who wrote it (sending an email to the boss saying, “I wrote this letter, you may be interested in the responses” is so easy!!) and then saying they’re overreacting?? When someone dug through their private things?? Ugh this fired me up.

  4. Alice*

    I am glad that Veronica is doing fine at another job (which I hope is the case), but I don’t get why OP4 says she doesn’t think Veronica was being bullied. In the first letter, OP4 said that that Betty and Ethel “pile on” – that sounds like bullying to me.
    I mean, the whole place sounds dysfunctional. Veronica snaps at people. Betty and Ethel both pile on. Ethel and OP4 invaded Veronica’s privacy. Veronica wants other people to report bullying to the boss instead of speaking for herself. The owner hasn’t noticed or doesn’t care that this drama is going on. What a mess.
    Veronica is well out of it and I hope that OP can get somewhere more normal too.

    1. Velawciraptor*

      I hope that if OP does move elsewhere, they do some soul searching first and try to do something about how their current environment seems to have eroded their empathy and judgment.

  5. gmg22*

    I missed the “how to avoid talking politics with my family” letter when it was originally answered — glad to know that my preferred response of “I really don’t want to debate this, let’s discuss something else” is on the right track. I do admit, though, that it makes me feel sadly distant from my conservative relatives to realize that they can never really handle too much information about how I spend 40 hours of every week. For those of us who come from blue-collar backgrounds but found our way into white-collar careers, the political class warfare these days can feel like whiplash — when we’re kids, everybody is exhorted to do well in school (which in hindsight is its own set of nonsense because of how narrowly school is designed), but when you become an adult you suddenly find that part of your “reward” for being a good little nerd like you were told, is to secretly — or not so secretly — be resented by large swaths of your family.

    1. JillianNicola*

      As a very progressively-minded person (who was “the smart one” at school) that came from a very, very, very red state, I really felt that last sentence lol. Not everyone in my family but oof there are some real humdingers in the tree.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        You sound a lot like my spouse – his parents and much of his dad’s family are very supportive and loving, even when they disagree with him – but the whole area he grew up in seems to regard education as “uppity” and moving away from the area (even if for a good job) as a betrayal of one’s parents. And he’s got some real lulus in his extended family tree, too.

        And me, well, I’m regarded by most (except my lovely in-laws, the ones who count) as an uppity, over-educated city girl who keeps my MIL’s grandchildren from her. (I grew up in suburbia in a blue-collar, small-business-owning family, earned my undergrad and master’s degrees from in-state/nonelite universities, and we videocall weekly and visit as often as we can). I apparently “stole” my spouse away, though you couldn’t pay him to move back there.

        TL;DR, I’m too uppity for my husband’s hometown and not uppity enough for the white collar world I live in now, and so is my spouse.

  6. Chantel*

    LW2: “But the update today is that I got a call from another professional contact who wanted to recruit me for another job — being the terrible boss’ boss!”

    Such sweet irony! Glad you were able to find yourself a different and much better situation, LW!

  7. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

    LW1, thank you for the encouraging update! Congratulations on the internship and the fellowship! But I am seriously confused on why anyone reading your original post would accuse you of trying to push your political views on your family. You were writing to ask how you can avoid talking to them about politics … most politics pushers go out of their way to talk about politics! That commenter must have been nuts!

    Anyhow, congratulations again!

  8. Cthulhu’s Librarian*

    Everyone else is being polite and gentle with LW#3, and I just don’t have the patience for it. LW, you seem to be a coward, desperate to curry favor with bullies at the cost of another human beings mental (and quite possibly physical) health.

    When a coworker tells you they’ve been being bullied, and you think you’ve found a suicide list, maybe, just maybe, you should consider trusting their judgement instead of inserting your own. And if all they ask of you is to tell the owner, so that maybe the bullying (which you called out in your initial letter!), will get better, then you should be able to step up and do that.

    So much horror at that update.

    1. nonbinary writer*

      Honestly. And then lying to Veronica about sharing her potential suicide planning with the entire internet?? Clearly there was identifiable information in the letter. Absolutely not okay, and I’m shocked at the cavalierness with which LW #3 wrote this update.

    2. NYC Taxi*

      Agree. #3 update has me seeing red. Veronica, I hope you are in a much better place. OP who wrote in, do some deep introspection and work on yourself. Veronica was being bullied, her personal property was searched by coworkers and you didn’t even have the character to admit you wrote the letter when directly confronted. And now your cavalier attitude with the update. Disgraceful.

  9. NotAnotherManager!*

    LW4, congratulations on your name change! I changed mine for similar reasons, and my only regret is not doing it sooner. Everyone in my life adjusted easily and only a few busybodies were persistent with questions. It was liberating, and I love my current name (so much that I didn’t change it when I got married either).

  10. Observer*

    #3- Of course Veronica is doing better at her new job! She most definitely WAS being bullied. And while I believe that you weren’t one of the bullies, your response here makes you absolutely complicit.

    The fact that Betty and Ethel were complaining to you on a regular basis is just not nice. Piling on is even worse. But going through someone’s planner at that level of detail? Inexcusable. The fact that you didn’t recognize this as a problem is not great. But a number of people DID point out to you that the only way Betty found that post was through snooping. Yet somehow “you don’t think” that anyone was mistreating Veronica.

    That kind of willful denial may work in the short term.

    In the long term? Not so much. If nothing else is speaks to who you are and who you become. Do you really want to be the one who excuses the mean girls?

  11. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I’m closing comments on this one because it’s turning into a pile-on; I’m not comfortable asking LWs to send in updates if they then get piled on. I get the concerns and don’t want to minimize them — the comments explaining the concerns will stay — but I also can’t keep comments open for an additional pile-on in this case.

Comments are closed.