my coworker cried and called me militant

A reader writes:

I was wondering about your opinion on a strange situation I was in a few years ago that I don’t know how I should’ve handled.

I had a coworker, Jane, who had just turned 50. I was in my mid 20’s and in my first professional setting in my chosen field. Jane and I didn’t click, but we shared a small office with no problems. I worked in front of the computer all day, and she was often away on meetings. I think I had worked at the office for about a year at the time, and she had started after me.

My job was completing orders that came through a digital system. The person who put in the orders (Jane was one out of 10) had to fill in as much information as possible. If I didn’t have the right information, I couldn’t do my job properly. Jane was impossible at this — she never filled in enough info and getting it from her directly was like pulling teeth. At one point I reminded everyone at one of our monthly meetings to fill out everything (she wasn’t the only offender). As we were looking at the board, someone else pointed at and asked about an order that Jane had created, and I replied with something like, “Yeah, that one would need some work, Jane.”

One day, at another of our monthly meetings, one of the managers mentioned that if you had a problem with someone you should let them know, instead of going around sulking about it (not in those words, but that was the gist). Right after the meeting, I’m at my desk and Jane comes in. She asks if I have a second to talk, and closes the door. What the manager had said had resonated with her and she had something to say.

Her biggest issue was that I had called her out in front of everyone and that I had been “militant” towards her. She said she had worked in different teams for 30 years and never met someone with this much attitude, and that everyone she mentioned this to had agreed with her (I think she meant her friends and not our colleagues). She also mentioned that I never said “hi” first in the morning, she was always the one who said it first. By this point, she was very teary and said that she didn’t know what to do. I, being a level 10 out of 10 on the Scared of Confrontations Scale, made an instant semi-genuine apology to smooth things over. Apparently, that was enough for her and said she was glad to have this resolved. If it hadn’t been, she was going to the boss to say that she couldn’t work with me anymore. This all came like a torrent and I was so high on adrenaline that I almost couldn’t breathe.

Alison, I am not militant, nor do I have an attitude. I am an anxious mess and a chronic goody-two-shoes, of course I say hello in the morning! I recognize that being called out on a mistake in front of others is never a good feeling, so I will be careful with that in the future. For me, though, this wasn’t resolved. I remember being nervous around her, feeling like she’d keep score on whether or not I said hi every day. I never did anything about this, as I was a few months from leaving but hadn’t told anyone. Jane never mentioned it again.

I’m still fairly new in my career, so I’d like to learn from this experience. Looking back, I should’ve probably told my boss right away and not apologized. I think. Help?

Jane sounds over-the-top. But sometimes the easiest way to deal with someone like that is exactly what you did: apologize and let that be the end of it.

That’s not to say you wouldn’t have been entitled to handle it differently — to decline to apologize and to loop your boss in. You could have done that! But it would have made it a much bigger deal, and even though you weren’t the one causing the drama, now you’d be enveloped in it anyway. Just giving her the apology she wanted let you put it to rest without it becoming something bigger. (To be clear, I am not advocating for any sort of across-the-board policy of apologizing when you didn’t do anything wrong. This is specific to this situation, where you had a very worked-up coworker and an easy, 10-second way to defuse things.*)

Except that you then got stuck with being anxious around her for the next few months as a result, which isn’t a good outcome either.

Ideally, if we could go back in time, I’d say to do what you did in that conversation, but internally roll your eyes at Jane, file this away as “okay, Jane is super sensitive about morning hellos and any public acknowledgement of her mistakes, noted,” and move on. But “move on” can be a tough sell when anxiety is in the mix.

* It’s also easy to call it a success now because it worked. If instead Jane had escalated things, started picking at you all the time, or otherwise responded badly, you would have needed to go to your boss at that point — and in hindsight, maybe now we’d be concluding you should have handled it differently from the get-go. But at least as an initial response, what you did was reasonable from a drama-minimizing perspective.

{ 260 comments… read them below }

  1. ENFP in Texas*

    Going forward, I hope the OP will make an effort not to call out individuals in a team setting for negative attention, regardless of who it is. “Praise in public, correct in private.”

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      It doesn’t sound like OP really called Jane out, though. Another coworker noticed that Jane’s order was missing information and OP acknowledged that. To not acknowledge that would have made the meeting even weirder.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        Well we don’t know if it was obvious to the attendees that it was Jane’s order. And I think OP could have acknowledged it, but adding in “Yeah, that one would need some work, Jane” wasn’t a good idea.

        1. Green Beans*

          This super depends on relationships – there are people I could absolutely say this to, tongue in cheek, and then move on with, “but seriously, this is a broad problem across our submitters. We all really need to step up our game.”

          There are people I would never say that to, because they do not have a temperament designed for that kind of teasing (it sounds like Jane does not.) But it’s not a one-size-fits-all rule; it’s a “know your audience, and if you don’t know, don’t do it.”

        2. Ellie*

          With the benefit of hindsight, “Yes, there are a few orders like this, its something we all have to work on” would have been a better response, since she wasn’t the only offender. But its easy to say something wrong when you’re just tossing ideas around in a meeting. Most people would have just quietly accepted the lesson and moved on.

      2. Charlotte Lucas*

        Yes. It’s not clear if the people in the meeting could tell whose order it was. But the OP should have addressed it without naming Jane. (Hindsight, though.)

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I had the same thought. Yeah, not the perfect response in the moment, but haven’t we all done that when on the spot.

      3. Eleanor Shellstrop*

        I think it’s also really hard to determine how critical she was being because tone matters a lot in this situation, especially with a statement like “That one would need some work.” I can think of different ways to say that where it would come off as polite and encouraging vs overly negative and critical.

      4. Quantum Hall Effect*

        OP could have acknowledged it without naming Jane. That would have been the correct way to handle it. A simple,

        “Yes, that’s an example of one that needs work.”

        1. M*

          I took it as OP just using Jane’s name since she asked the question. For example it was Roger’s example order and she still said, “Yes that one would need some work Jane” Of course I could be wrong.

          1. Teapot Repair Technician*

            Except it wasn’t Jane who asked the question:

            As we were looking at the board, someone else pointed at and asked about an order that Jane had created

            If person A asks you a questions, and you address your answer to person B, that could be seen as a bit of a jab.

            1. Despachito*

              Absolutely.

              I second that Jane’s name could be easily left out, but it is a mistake OP owned, and I am commenting it from Monday morning footballer perspective.

              I’d personally feel that some apology for naming Jane specifically would be appropriate, but ideally without invalidating the problem of missing information (like “I am sorry I named you specifically, I should not have done that, and I understand you are upset. You are by far not the only one who does this, and it was indeed awkward of me to name just you. However, I need it fixed with everyone, because if I don’t have X, I cannot do Y. As there are more people with the same problem, do you think there is something which could help you and your coworkers to get the information from the clients more easily?”)

      5. Teapot Repair Technician*

        I doubt it was OP’s intention to “call out” Jane, but their comment could have been phrased better.

        Instead of saying, “Yeah, that one would need some work, Jane,” maybe something like: “Yeah, this one doesn’t have all the info I need. For orders like this, I would need to contact the sales rep to get the missing info before I could complete it.”

        The former is like saying “Jane, you didn’t do your job properly.” The latter is, “Everyone, here’s why it’s important to fill out the sales order completely.”

        1. GNG*

          I like this. In my field, the name of this technique is Generalizing the Problem, or sometimes, Proposing a Problem-Solving Schema.

    2. no dogs on the moon*

      i don’t think it’s fair to lay blame at the lw’s feet for that — or to consider that truly harmful or militant behavior, especially if jane has been corrected in private multiple times already (as seems to be the case) and just doesn’t seem to be interested in being corrected

      1. KayDeeAye*

        It’s definitely not “militant.” It may have other issues, yes, but militancy isn’t one of them!

      2. somanyquestions*

        When Jane is saying militant, she’s talking about the many times the LW has asked for this info. Jane doesn’t believe she’s doing anything wrong in not doing her job.

      3. quill*

        Yeah, it’s always awkward when you don’t have a script for turning things back towards the point of the meeting and someone pulls up a problem you have constantly had with another coworker. Hindsight on the phrasing, but there’s nothing militant or particularly pointed about just having the name of the submitter slip out with a general comment on the work’s completeness.

    3. Militant OP*

      I thought about what I’d feel in the same situation if I were to be called out, and it would probably feel not that great. So even if it wasn’t my intention, at all, I will be careful with it in the future!

      1. Vanilla Bean*

        I have direct reports who deal with extremely similar problems (hunting down incomplete/inaccurate info from people who are told repeatedly how to fill things out correctly.) We strive not to correct individual people publicly, but even with private correction, I’ve observed that some people simply don’t handle being told they’re wrong well, and try to flip the script to make the conversation about your attitude or tone or timing or high expectations or fairness or their workload or…. really anything but them making a mistake. That’s just how some people handle tough feedback and you can’t take it personally when they react that way.

    4. Nanani*

      They didn’t though. They were specifically asked about an order that happened to be one of Jane’s. What were they supposed to do, pretend it was fine? Blame someone else?
      Not to mention OP is not Jane’s boss and does nto have seniority so this advice about managing people really really doesn’t apply.

      If anything, their BOSS should be shutting Jane down and holding her to a high enough standard that OP can actually get work done.

      1. Your local password resetter*

        Not blame anyone and focusing on the order itsself would have been better. But hindsight, and it’s a minor mistake at most.

    5. Simply the best*

      Being as OP said exactly that, I think she’s probably already got that part covered.

    6. Ori*

      Yeah, I don’t think it’s helpful to frame this as ‘gee, Jane is super sensitive’. A lot of people won’t appreciate you singling them out in public like that.

    7. LGC*

      Adding on – you’re right, but this was probably the tenth worst thing that happened in this situation.

      Like, last week my coworker called me out for dropping some unwanted work on her. In the middle of the production floor where our employees (we’re both supervisors) could hear. It was…mortifying, to say the least, and not just because I’m highly conflict avoidant. But 1) she wasn’t wrong (she was just a jerk), and 2) I did not then proceed to have an emotional outburst at her calling her a harridan or other things.

      And 3) it was like a minute straight of her loudly telling me that I was being inappropriate and not a throwaway comment, like OP seems to have done.

      I mean, yeah, praise in public, correct in private, but Jane’s response sounds disproportionate.

    8. Firecat*

      I agree. While it was brought up organically in the meeting, in general the way to go would have been to say – Yes this is a good example. It’s missing X, Y, and Z.

      Saying – this one needs work Jane, was bad and a had the feel of name and shame.

      Agree with everyone that Janes response was over the top. But someone reacting disproportionately badly to your mistake doesn’t negate your mistake.

  2. Chilipepper Attitude*

    Does anyone have advice for the OP though about not feeling so deer in headlights when someone approaches her with a reasonable or an unreasonable comment/complaint?

    I try to remember to breathe and to repeat what the person is saying. As in, you are saying I don’t say hello to you in the morning?

    And I try to remember to ask for more information – Can you tell me more about what you mean when you say I am militant?

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      The other thing I’d try to remember is that time seems to slow down. The rant may feel like it lasted for an hour, and the pause while you collect yourself another hour, but it’s probably only 90 seconds, total. Rushing to respond probably makes things worse.

    2. Hex Code*

      Yeah, I used to de-escalate with an abusive boss by focusing on the next step (“ok, I understand you didn’t want me to do (whatever thing she was mad about), what would like instead so I can get this done for you?”

      Once I no longer cared about de-escalating, I turned to, “let’s focus on what we need to do together to meet our mission, rather than spending a lot of time rehashing our feelings,” and then finally, “I’m sorry you feel that way. What would you like to have happen in future?”

    3. TyphoidMary*

      Yes, when I’m working with myself or other people on how to mitigate being emotionally flooded in a stressful situation, it’s usually something like 1) Grounding*, 2) Attend to the content instead of the tone (the active listening you mentioned is a great way to do this) and 3) Remember the scope of your role (you may not be able to fix everything or even anything — “Pick your battles.”)

      I hope that is helpful/easy to remember!

      *Focusing on the breath is a fantastic grounding exercise; if you’re like me, though, and your breath just kinda gets amped up when you’re stressed, you may prefer “the foot thing,” where you draw your attention to the bottoms of your feet and concentrate on what they feel like.

      1. Tali*

        Great suggestions. I also developed the habit of repeating and focusing on a random word like “alphabet” or “tempura” to distract myself from my emotions for a moment.

      2. BethDH*

        Thank you so much for the foot recommendation. Focusing on my breathing makes me more anxious because it makes me self-conscious about my stress level.

    4. Rebecca1*

      This may or may not have worked with Jane, but a retired diplomat advised me to take notes and write down what the person is saying whenever someone starts ranting unreasonably. It helps them feel heard, plus if there is a tiny kernel of a good point in there somewhere, you’ll be able to see it later in the notes.

      1. Humble Schoolmarm*

        Glad to see that this is actually a deescalation strategy as I take notes all the time in fraught parent meetings. Mostly I do it for my own benefit to give me something to focus on other than fight/flight/cry. I have noticed that it usually makes parents go oddly impersonal in their critiques (Ie. “Some teachers don’t appreciate my precious’ unique learning needs.” instead of “You wouldn’t let my precious turn in work 6 months late! What kind of a sorry excuse for a teacher are you?”).

        1. Krabby*

          Lol, I’m in HR and I find this too! I can have an employee frothing at the mouth about something so-and-so did, but as soon as I pull out that notebook, the conversation gets very chill all of a sudden.

    5. pleaset cheap rolls*

      “Does anyone have advice for the OP though about not feeling so deer in headlights when someone approaches her with a reasonable or an unreasonable comment/complaint?”

      Practice, but not just in relation to that situation, but in any situation where the answer is not clear or needs time. Practice listening and being comfortable saying merely that your are listening and need to think. Don’t feel the need to answer or respond to everything with action. Especially in a rush.

    6. Salsa Verde*

      Thank you for asking this great question, I ask my therapist for advice on this all the time.

    7. Batgirl*

      “Thanks for telling me. Can I come back to you on this; I really want to give this some thought?” And if someone’s weeping or ranting, add: “especially since you seem so upset”.

  3. Thomas*

    I’m a bit confused about the idea that the OP called her out. It sounds like in the meeting, someone else brought up the specific example of Jane’s order and the OP responded. I’m not sure what the OP was supposed to do there, though of course that will depend on context I don’t think we have.

    1. Flower*

      Maybe could have just left off Jane’s name? (Assuming that was anonymized to begin with.) Simply “yep, that one could use a bit more work.”

    2. Jennifer Strange*

      Well, it’s unclear if it was obvious to the meeting attendees that the order in question was Jane’s (the person pointing it out could have just said “Hey, can we talk about order #490” and not “Can we talk about Jane’s order there”), but either way I wouldn’t have added in “Yeah, that one would need some work, Jane.”

      1. Militant OP*

        Unfortunately, her name was 100% visible and attached to it. I could have left her name out but then it’d have felt pretty passive-aggressive.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          Ah, sounds like a situation of hindsight being 20/20. I definitely recommend blocking out names in the future when putting together examples of what not to do. That way the focus is simply on the error and not the person.

          1. Amethystmoon*

            This might depend on the industry. I’ve worked in ad-proofing settings before and the entire method of operations was to do group proofing, with names attached to all errors, and lists sent out to the entire department. Not all errors were always the person’s fault who was keying them, sometimes it was the person above them, and sometimes it was the vendor. Still, those who had the fewest errors were praised in front of the group. But they believed in absolute transparency, had done it that way for years, and were never going to change it.

          2. TechWorker*

            Also this really does depend what tool you’re using – we have a case system that we use to view certain tasks and it would honestly be bizarre to talk about them in a meeting without having the case system open to be able to click through and check more data if needed. In this case ‘removing the name’ of the person assigned to it is not really possible (yes you could screenshot and blank it out or whatever but honestly that’s more likely to draw attention to it anyway..)

        2. Quantum Hall Effect*

          Frame it as “discreet” rather than passive aggressive. The social contract allows everybody to politely ignore when the offending party is obvious so as to avoid a public call-out.

        3. Teapot Repair Technician*

          I don’t think you would have come off as passive-aggressive had you not mentioned Jane’s name. You were responding to someone other than Jane, and you were addressing the entire group. There wouldn’t have been an expectation that you talk directly to Jane in answering the question.

          1. Cassie*

            I agree – it wouldn’t have been passive-aggressive to not mention Jane’s name. Since her name was visible and everyone could see that it was her order, I’d say it came off as somewhat petty to say her name specifically (in a “hey, in case you guys didn’t see that it was Jane’s order, I’m calling her out so everyone knows!”). Not the OP’s intention but that’s how it can come across.

            Particularly since the problem w/ missing info is an issue with the other order-takers too – perhaps the OP could have pointed out orders by other people that needed some work too (as examples). Also, if these order-takers are not providing all the info, there needs to be a better system in place. For example, if you are filling out a Google Form and you miss one of the required fields, you can’t submit. This company needs to figure out something like that – so that when the order gets to the OP’s desk, all the required info is there.

        4. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

          It wouldn’t have been passive-aggressive to not use her name. But man, look, when someone is crying to you because you don’t say “hi” first in the morning, whether you should have phrased your criticism differently is beside the point. Most people can take mild criticism in a meeting. It can be awkward and embarrassing, and maybe it wasn’t totally necessary to say it the way you did (maybe it was, I don’t know, I wasn’t there). But it was clearly a last straw incident over some resentments and hurt feelings she’d been bottling up. It is one thing to approach someone to say “hey, going forward I’d prefer to hear your criticisms in private.” When you find yourself in a coworker’s office crying because they never say “hi” first, you’ve thoroughly lost the plot.

          I mean, granted, we only have your side of the story here. But “I’m always the one to say hi first” sounds like she’s got unreasonable expectations of what her colleagues owe her. You don’t owe “saying hi first” or papering over her mistakes when they’re holding up work, and if she thinks that makes you militant, that’s her problem. You owe her professionalism and your work done. She owes you the same and she’s 0 for 2.

          Learning to let unreasonable people roll off your back when you’re the target of their unreasonableness is just as much of a skill as graciously taking the L, and it’s not an easy one. But you didn’t deserve her crying and telling you that she was one wrong move away from going to the boss over your “attitude” (which, for what it’s worth, would very likely not have gone the way she’d hoped, had she done it). It’s not your responsibility to manage other people’s emotional outbursts by trying to predict how they’d like you to behave and behaving accordingly.

          1. Reba*

            I agree with this! We are thinking of things OP could have done differently because she wrote in to Alison, but she didn’t do wrong. Jane’s reaction is about Jane, it is not really something to calibrate by. Let it inform Jane-based interactions, but not all workplace behavior going forward.

            1. Jennifer Strange*

              I don’t necessarily think it’s an either-or situation. I think for the most part it sounds like a lot of this is Jane being overly sensitive (especially things like who says “hi” first). But I also don’t think folks are wrong to point out the one place where the OP erred just for them to keep in mind going forward. It’s not a “Yeah, you definitely messed up and here is how” response; it’s more of a “It sounds like she’s being overly sensitive for the most part, but I do think you could have avoided this one thing” response.

              1. Simply the best*

                But she already acknowledged that and said she will be conscious of that going forward. So a litany of people saying “be conscious of this going forward” is not really helpful at all.

        5. Nanani*

          You didn’t call her out. Please ignore anyone who accuses you of that because that really really REALLY doesn’t sound like what you did at all.
          You should not be expected to pretend blatant errors come from some kind of office poltergeist to preserve Jane’s feelings.

          1. grizzlybear*

            I agree with you! It sounds like a Jane issue and not an OP issue. We are not at work to manage others’ feelings and this did not sound harsh at all.

          2. onco fonco*

            Totally agree with this. I mean, *ideally* I guess you wouldn’t name specific people when you’re giving general feedback. And now you know that Jane is an extra-delicate flower, move ahead with tact. But in the moment we don’t always say things perfectly, and nothing about this sounds harsh or unreasonable. If this had happened to me in a meeting, I might have felt embarrassed for a second, but I wouldn’t dream of trying to push back on what had been said, or think anyone but me had done anything wrong.

            If there’s a strong culture of blaming and shaming for mistakes in LW’s workplace then I might come at this differently, but if this was just noting a mistake that needs to be fixed going forward – and it sounds like it was – then Jane is being ridiculous.

        6. just a random teacher*

          What I do in such similar situation is to quickly generalize it to something like “Yes, that’s a great example of something I’ve been seeing from multiple people! It looks like there’s some overall confusion about whether x field is required or optional, and whether y field needs to be filled in with details or just a single word. So, it clear it up, I can’t do my part of the process unless x field is filled out, and I rely on getting [details] from y field, so it’s important to fill them out in such-and-such a way going forward.”

          This depersonalizes the specific example, takes the spotlight off of the specific person who made a mistake, and gets back to the overall points you’re trying to make. (In general, I try to not use real examples of student mistakes outside of one-on-one conversations without first taking them through a bit of an anonymizing and generalizing process so it comes out to me writing something like “I saw several students making mistakes like [minimal example built from a composite of mistakes]” rather than a direct example from a specific student, but sometimes a student asks me for help in front of the class in a way that makes that not possible.)

          Of course, education norms can be really different than office norms, but this seems like a strategy that would work in an office setting with some tweaking.

          1. Mizzle*

            What a masterful way to deal with this! I’m not sure I could pull it off as smoothly as that, but I’m definitely keeping it in mind. I love how you both validate the person’s remark (by saying that it’s a great example) and put the focus on the bigger picture so the person in Jane’s position doesn’t feel singled out so much.

          2. Batgirl*

            Yeah I was thinking something along the lines of “this is why I featured this example, because it’s common/tricky/whatever”. I doubt the OP featured the error to let Jane know it needs more work!

    3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I’ve had similar happen; how I handled it was to say “I haven’t been able to look at that one in detail yet”* and segue back into the example I’m prepared to look at.

      *Yea, it’s not always wholly true. C’est que c’est.

    4. Shark Whisperer*

      I think that everyone might not have known that it was Jane’s order form. There isn’t enough detail to really tell, but I think it’s possible that someone was pointing out that an order needed work without knowing which of the 9 other people who filled out the forms had done it. If that’s the case, OP could have said something along the lines of, “yes, this form is missing X, Y, and Z which can cause delays, make sure those lines are filled out before you submit a form” rather than telling everyone it was Jane’s form.

    5. AnonEMoose*

      I can’t say I’d for sure have had the presence of mind in the moment to do this. But I think what I’d advise is to try to refocus things on the mistake, and not who made it. So maybe something like “yes, sometimes people forget to fill in X, and that causes Issue Y.” Jane probably still would have been upset, but to be honest, I don’t think there was any way to avoid that. But then OP would have been able to say something like “I’m sorry Wakeen mentioned that this was specifically your order. I see that specific error from several people, so it was helpful to be able to explain why it’s an issue; it could have been done without mentioning you specifically, though. I see how that felt awful in the moment.”

      Then OP is acknowledging Jane’s feelings, but not taking on responsibility for them.

    6. Andy*

      To me, the response comes across as flippant and rude I have seen people criticise things and other in the meeting and even insensitive people do it better.

      The tone of voice you hear there might make difference. But, Jane was not only one who reacted, so it went accross badly.

      1. Nanani*

        What is with all the tone policing? Not just Andy’s comment but a lot of commenters are basically “OP should have been nicer” as if the problem is somehow purely social and not Jane not actually doing her work to a standard where OP can do theirs.

        Stop Tone Policing LWs Challenge 2021

        1. Curious*

          I think that the previous comment may be missing the point of “praise in public, correct in private”. If advancing that point is “tone policing,” then maybe tone policing is not so bad.

        2. Nonnie*

          So what if it’s “tone policing”? We’re talking about a work situation, not a social justice situation.

          Modulating your tone so you can work well with others is normal.

        3. Tali*

          Refusing to listen to a marginalized minority’s grievances because they’re angry about them =/= reconsidering how you handle interpersonal issues with coworkers. Tone policing is appropriate here.

        4. JB*

          ‘Tone policing’ is a very specific act that applies in very specific circumstances.

          Advice on how to interact with your coworkers, especially ones with difficult personalities, in a professional environment is not tone policing.

          If what you took from discussions of tone policing is ‘I should just be able to talk to people however I want all the time as long as what I’m saying is factual’, you missed the point by a long shot.

          All that being said, the focus on the public calling-out IS very silly since LW does acknowledge in the letter that she knows now that she should have handled that differently.

        5. Nanani*

          Re: all
          I think women getting told they’re not being nice enough when trying to do their job fits tone policing perfectly well. I think a lot of comments, not just the one I replied to directly, are coming across as “you should put deference to Jane ahead of doing your job” which is not a good thing. YMMV but come on people. You can’t pretend it’s not there.

          1. Nonnie*

            As a woman, you sound like you’re projecting. I’m sorry that you’ve had bad experiences in the past. But that still doesn’t make this “tone policing”, and it’s honestly a little but gross that you keep insisting it is.

    7. Nicotena*

      Mm, I’d sure Jane would feel that as her officemate OP shouldn’t have agreed with criticism and that made it worse. Jane is being hypersensitive there but it probably stung more coming from someone she’s spent a lot of time on, and I’m guessing contributed to her unhinged statements on the hellos etc. Jane probably wished their relationship was different and that pushed her over the edge.

    8. Esmeralda*

      She didn’t need to use Jane’s name at all. She could have just said, yes, that’s an example of what I mean. And of course tone, body language, etc make a difference — but the wording of the call-out was a little…much? Written out, hard to tell.

      Also, I guess I’d say that probably this was Jane being Jane, but maybe too take Jane’s response as information. Are you coming off as unfriendly? even if you don’t mean it? Truly you can have the best of intentions, and even be trying hard, and still not come off as you hope. For instance, I have a RBF and, more to the point, a no nonsense let’s get to work attitude at work — plenty of my coworkers over the years have remarked, “You seemed so unfriendly at first but now that I know you I know you are really nice!” (A sign of how nice is that they feel ok telling me this!) Truly, I work hard at not coming off as unfriendly (and I’ve been told I’m a lot better than I used to be), but sometimes, I do.

    9. JB*

      Well, just not calling out Jane specifically would be the ideal response. ‘Yes, that is an example of what I’m talking about’ or ‘yes, that is one of several orders on the board that are incomplete’.

      Yes, it’s Jane’s order. And possibly everyone could see that it was Jane’s order. But even with that being the case, using Jane’s name and telling her directly that it needs working on does come across as scolding which is going to be embarrassing.

      Many people can handle a little deserved embarrassment with grace, but some people (like Jane) have a lower tolerance for embarrassment and will go off the deep end to try and ‘defend’ themselves.

  4. Fricketyfrack*

    Ugh, I worked with a Jane once (only less “teary” and more “borderline screaming in a public space”). The teams we supported were out in the field with their laptops for a lot of the week, and a staff member who worked ~2 hours away was in town for a meeting and mentioned the strap on her laptop bag had broken and did we have a replacement? Well, the only one we had on hand was the bag my Jane used once a quarter to take a laptop to a training. Since the next one was a couple of months away and we had plenty of time to order a new one, I gave the bag to our staff member and asked Jane which vendor we used to order replacements.

    She. Lost. Her. Shit. It’s a deeply uncomfortable feeling to be confronted by someone much older and with far more work experience about something that seemed so innocuous. My anxiety went crazy, but I definitely didn’t handle it as well as the LW. I told her she needed to calm down and lower her voice and then proceeded to avoid her as much as possible until she left a couple months later (after she refused to train me in any of her duties and purposely moved a bunch of files around). I think the apology would’ve definitely been the better option to diffuse the situation but you never can tell with those Janes.

    1. TryingHard*

      The bag was a territorial thing to your Jane. You didn’t see it that way but she likely saw it as “her” bag “she” took to conferences vs. a bag available to anyone. We see this in IT all the time…. It’s someone’s webcam even though the agency bought it and it was loaned to the person. But then if IT needs it, it becomes that person’s webcam.
      Better to ask, even though you really don’t need to, than get screamed at. :(

      1. Former Young Lady*

        But this just points up how poorly calibrated this Jane was when it came to workplace norms. Who among us hasn’t arrived at our desk, at least once, only to find our chair was missing because someone across the hall was “only borrowing it for a minute!” It’s frustrating, sure. It’s a little inconsiderate, and it’s hard not to take that personally.

        But good heavens, once you’re old enough to have a job, you are too old to mistake company property for personal property. If you are old enough to have grown, adult colleagues who are a decade or more younger than you, then you are also way, WAY too old to throw a temper tantrum when those younger coworkers mildly inconvenience you.

        1. anonymous73*

          Yes it’s company property, and I would never throw a tantrum, but I have my stuff setup and my chair calibrated for my personal comfort and use and I would be more than frustrated if someone took something without asking me first. Too many people think they’re entitled to do whatever they want whenever they want when all they have to do is consider the other person and talk to them. Of course this doesn’t matter with unreasonable people, but it would avoid so much unnecessary conflict.

      2. Countess of Upstairs Downstairs*

        I will admit I would have been irritated if someone gave away “my” bag without asking me first. But I would never, ever scream at someone. I would also never have a problem giving it away to someone who needs it more than me. I just feel it’s a demonstration of basic courtesy to ask first.

        For the few people who did this, I asked them how would they feel if I just take some of their equipment off their desk? And would they just go and give away Boss’ and GrandBoss’ stuff too without asking them? They said they wouldn’t like it either, and would never do this to the Bosses. Go figure.

        1. Fricketyfrack*

          I should maybe add that I asked my boss about the bag situation and he said, “give her whatever we have” because the employee in question was out in the field almost every day, and “Jane’s” bag was the only one we had. I could, and probably should, have asked her about it first, but I naively assumed she would understand that I was just following orders, or at least transfer her anger to our boss. Now that I’m a lot older, I see how much resentment she had toward me in general, so I think that incident was just the tipping point, but I definitely could have handled it better than telling her to calm down because that NEVER works.

          1. Mary Connell*

            Ha. Yeah. Generally a bad idea to tell someone to calm down.

            I appreciated the suggestion above about note taking as a deescalation strategy.

        2. quill*

          I would be more concerned that maybe I was storing something in it when they gave it away that I would then, of course, need immediately. Whether it was a breakfast bar or a spare set of paperclips or notes from three months ago.

          1. Mannequin*

            Why on earth would you leave any of your personal items in a piece of communal company property that you use only 4 times a year?

  5. X-Man*

    I also genuinely don’t see a problem with you being militant in asking her to actually complete her paperwork.

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Apparently Jane expects puppies, rainbows, and unicorns as part of her metrics.

    2. AnonEMoose*

      This. It’s part of my job to make sure the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed. Sometimes coworkers feel like I should just “make it happen” for them, which I explicitly cannot do. So…that’s fun, sometimes. I try to tell myself that they’re asking for something inappropriate in the first place, and that helps me depersonalize it but continue to push back politely but firmly.

      1. Merci Dee*

        Same thing with part of my job. We have a handful of paperwork items that must be completed each time we process a fixed asset for use around the plant. My boss and I have learned the hard way that we don’t process the assets until we have the appropriate paperwork in hand. Otherwise, if we process the assets first, we never see the paperwork we need. I’ve only been yelled at once or twice by someone who wanted to know why their asset wasn’t ready, and I calmly checked my email — “oh, it looks like I haven’t received that paperwork back from you yet. Have you gotten those last few signatures you were waiting on?” Thankfully, that’s done a good job of defusing the situation.

      2. mreasy*

        I have recently been complained about as “intense” for repeatedly asking a colleague (jr to me but not my report) for information my team needs to complete the company’s biggest priority project. I asked him multiple times over a period of weeks because…we needed it? And it wasn’t done? And the deadline had passed? But no, intense.

    3. Quantum Hall Effect*

      Are you saying you think OP *was* militant? I don’t think they were.

      In case, there *is* a problem with being militant when asking someone to do their work—it’s not respectful. You can be firm without being militant.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        I don’t think OP was being militant. I think OP was trying to do her job as instructed and hold Jane to the same requirements as everyone else, and Jane chose to characterize that as militant.

    4. PT*

      This a huge problem with poor performers who are either a) resentful that they are being held accountable for their actions or b) simply don’t agree with the protocols and procedures of their jobs.

      They lash out at the person who is responsible for ensuring they do their jobs, usually their boss, and accuse that person of being abusive. Incidentally, it almost *always* happens when the boss is a woman. Hm.

      1. GNG*

        Yup this. I have worked with quite a few Janes. Unfortunately, even with their peers, the Janes have often developed ways to pick out which ones to direct their lashing out. OP said they are baby-faced, mid-20’s, new to this job, and new to their chosen field – unfortunately, prime target for the Janes of the world.

        Source: I’m a petite GenXer who can still pass for someone in her late-20s, and tend to be smiley. Someone just looking at me would never guess the roles I’m in. Lots of Janes tried their antics on me.

        But LW, don’t let Jane get to you. There a good chance her ridiculous comment about Good Morning is her way to test if she can put her pure BS pass you. If you want, look her straight in the eye and say good morning every day, keep asking her to fill out the forms correctly, apologize for your comment in the meeting, but never fawn to Jane.

      2. Julie*

        My coworkers seems to be both but this helps me to understand why, stripping away the emotion of her hostility to me and why I respond so negatively to it. We work in a job that has government reporting requirements and she is bound by specific ethical guidelines and she resents both and she resents being managed. It’s…a lot. She’s clearly in the wrong career path but is in so much debt that working jobs that have extra oversight are the only way to pay off her loans. In the meantime, it’s just awful to work with someone like her and our manager enables it because of her own incompetence/burnout.

    5. Nanani*

      I honestly don’t understand what “militant” even means here. It’s not a word I’ve ever heard by itself rather than as a modifier like “militant activist” for insert-cause-here.

      1. JB*

        I assume it’s meant to invoke visions of a drill sergeant barking orders and insulting troops who fall short of perfection.

  6. LiberryPie*

    This reminds me SO much of a situation I was in a few years ago! In my case I had to call the person out during the meeting – he was walking around the room while I was talking and had stopped to read the headline of a newspaper that was lying on a table. I (calmly, I think) said, “Are you done? Can you come back over?” After the meeting the guy asked to speak to me privately, closed the door, and pointed a finger in my face and yelled at me. All I remember is he said (I guess he thought this was a threat), “I’m going to ask other people if they are bothered by me walking around. If they are, that’s ONE problem. And if no one else is bothered, that’s a DIFFERENT problem.” (I guess he thought I was a problem.) I never heard about this issue again, so I assume he asked around and other people say they were bothered by him walking around the room during meetings. Go figure.

    1. Cat Tree*

      Or maybe others were bothered by him but didn’t want to say so directly to him while he was interrogating them?

    2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      What is wrong with that person?? Why is it okay if only you were bothered (by his frankly ridiculous behavior)?

      It’s one thing to stand up in meeting (sitting too long isn’t great for our health). Walking around while everyone else stay still is too disruptive. And, regardless yelling to reprimand someone does *NOT* belong in the workplace.

  7. Tobias the Fish*

    I come from another culture and I find it baffling how reluctant Americans are about apologizing. I think it is clearly the easiest way to smooth things over – Jane was upset, and the OP apologized for causing her distress, even without intending it. Sounds great. Why don’t more people do this? Often when I complain (I think always do with very good cause, but of course I’d think that from my point of view) all I want to hear is a simple apology, but what I hear are phrases like “sorry you feel that way” or “would you like a refund”. There would be so much less drama if people would just say sorry.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      It’s an admission of fault, and liability has a tendency to follow. Also, pride clouds judgment.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        ^ we are taught not to apologize in a lot of situations (like car accidents) and it lends to a larger culture where apologizing is accepting responsibility. In this situation a lot of people would think apologizing is legitimizing Jane’s behavior.

        Not saying that’s correct or that your observation is incorrect, just explaining how Americans operate.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          As an American, “apologizing is legitimizing Jane’s behavior” was exactly my first thought.

          1. banoffee pie*

            I agree. I’m not American (UK) and I don’t see why I should apologise when I’m not in the wrong. It’s a cliche that Brits apologise a lot. Maybe we apologise a lot for tiny things like standing in someone’s way for a moment, but I don’t think we’re any keener then any other nation to do big, heartfelt apologies about our behavioiur/character. Especially if we haven’t done anything wrong and the other person just ‘would like’ an apology!

            1. Cafe au Lait*

              Apologizing can also become a weapon. A patron I absolutely detested would “apologize” as an attempt to get us (the staff) to manage her projects.

              “I’m sorry, but can you show me which file to open?”
              “I’m sorry, but you show me how to format my paper?”
              “I’m so sorry, but I’ve forgotten how to look up which resources I used.”

              Culturally it’s ingrained that the person being apologized to helps “right the wrong” in some way or another. It’s why we tend to think the other person is a jerk when they don’t “soften” the apology in someway. Like saying “Thank you, I accept your apology.” Or “Nah, man, I was totally in your space when you started throwing the ball around.” Or “Nope, I was in the wrong, I read the instructions incorrectly.”

            2. Batgirl*

              I’m trying to decide if I’m a cliched Briton or not because I would have had no problem apologizing to Jane. Why not? There’s no power struggle, it’s an easy solution and if it helps her… the poor woman has worms in her brain. She thinks OP wants power over her and an apology is such a beautiful way of disproving that. There are situations where it’s unacceptable, or sexist to apologize and there are situations where it’s like someone elbowing you in the supermarket prompting you to say “Oh I am so sorry, I am in your way!” There are times when it’s just modelling good behavior and being the counterargument to any possible criticism. I like to model apologising to my students because I don’t want them to get the idea it’s only for the lowly. I don’t do it lightly, but it’s not exactly difficult.

    2. Tin Cormorant*

      In my culture at least, apologizing means you did something wrong, are admitting to it, and are communicating that you feel remorseful about this wrong thing and won’t repeat it in the future. If you did not do a wrong thing (or in some cases don’t even know what the wrong thing is that you supposedly did), you can’t very well feel remorseful about it, and it is very uncomfortable to lie about it in order to make someone else feel better.

    3. Ray Gillette*

      To Americans, there’s an implicit admission of fault if you offer an unqualified apology. I don’t like that, but at this point it’s so entrenched into our culture that I roll with it even when I notice it and it makes me uncomfortable.

      This can also cause friction in personal relationships when there isn’t a good way to say “I’m sorry for what I said, but I’m not letting you off the hook for what you said.”

      1. Lab Boss*

        Or the fact that “I’m sorry you feel that way” has a well-deserved reputation as a weaselly non-apology, but there’s not really a good way to convey the genuine feeling of “I don’t think there was anything objectively wrong with what I said and I don’t regret that I said it, but it clearly caused you distress. I empathize with your distress, didn’t intend it, and may try to communicate differently in the future to avoid distress, purely out of consideration for your feelings.”

        1. librarymouse*

          This reminds me of a time I got into a political debate with a coworker. I ended it quickly because I realized almost immediately that I had bitten off more than I can chew with her but it was really tense for the next hour until I went back to her and apologized for insulting her. I never said anything like “you’re stupid” but it was easy to tell by her tone that that was what she was taking away from it (and frankly, what I feel about her stance on the issue). Luckily we had a good enough work relationship to just resolve not to discuss the subject again. I still think her views are wildly misguided but her desk is right next to mine so we needed the peace. It’s been months and we have continued to get along well.
          Anyway, count this as my vote in favor of apologizing even when you don’t think you’re at fault!

      2. Alternative Person*

        Non-American, it’s been the same for me. It sucks. The way apologies have been weaponised is immensely frustrating. It’s made me very cautious about saying sorry as its been used against me more than once.

      3. Mannequin*

        “I’m sorry for what I said, but I’m not letting you off the hook for what you said.”

        Is that not an acceptable way to phrase it? Clear, straight, to the point.

    4. Militant OP*

      I’m actually Scandinavian, not American! But yeah, we don’t like apologizing either. Or confrontations.

      1. Rebecca1*

        LOL maybe you all sent that custom over here, along with your pastries and your pop songwriters.

      2. KD*

        I also hate confrontation. One thing I do is thank people for bringing it up. It usually takes the emotions down a notch immediately. And you don’t have to do it in the moment, it’s a good way of reintroducing a touchy subject without people going on the defensive as much.

        Like you did, I would likely have apologized – calling someone out even mildly in public isn’t the best feeling as you already recognize. But then, maybe you could have asked Jane how you could make sure all the info is there in the future. As you noted she wasn’t the only one making errors and figuring out things that work for her could also be applied to the rest of the team. Then she has a stake in the solution despite the fact she’s also part of the problem.

    5. TPS Reporter*

      It is hard for us. We should be able to say I’m sorry in such as a way as to not admit fault but to say I’m sorry you’re feeling that way and I have empathy for you.

      However, in this situation I would be wary of the I’m Sorry coming across to Jane as Jane you are great and I’m not going to critcize you anymore. That cannot happen. Jane still needs to produce the form in the appropriate manner. So I think it is okay to apologize in the moment and still hold Jane to standards. If Jane is still non compliant it is completely appropriate and reasonable to take to a manager to resolve. Jane will probably also balk at that but she can’t have everything.

      1. Nicotena*

        “Never apologize, it’s a sign of weakness” is Gibbs rule #6 on the show NCIS – he’s kind of a masculine archetype, and although most people probably wouldn’t agree with this statement, it’s worth mentioning that he’s the hero of the show! Note that women are often accused of over-apologizing.

        1. Filosofickle*

          I work with a guy that lives by this. He doesn’t make tons of mistakes but, being human, he does drop the ball sometimes and in five years he has never once even hinted at an apology. I don’t need him to fall on his sword, but a simple “Sorry I missed that, I’ll do it now” or even a non-apology acknowledgement of what happened like “I didn’t check the whole thread before responding, and I’ll do that going forward” would not be weak. It would be good manners. It bugs me.

        2. UKDancer*

          I think he’s supposed to be the hero of NCIS but can’t say I would agree. I always found him irritating, unsympathetic and annoying and liked the bits where he wasn’t around. He’s the main reason I stopped watching the series (along with Abby leaving). My hero was always Ducky but then I like David Mccallum.

        3. TPS Reporter*

          I am a woman and I am so self conscious of apologizing too much. It is exceedingly difficult to do, sorry is a very knee jerk ingrained response. Some of my staff over-apologizes to a degree that is pretty off putting. I understand they’re trying to make peace to get everyone calm and get things done. I think it works to an extent but it also can hurt you if you’re not enforcing the process you’re trying to bolster by giving someone constructive feedback.

          Of course in the moment it is also difficult to think of something good to say rather than I’m Sorry. You could follow up the quick apology with- I’m sorry you were called out in the meeting. I understand that was difficult for you. Regardless, I need you to continue to follow my directions on completing the form. If this continues I will have to speak to my manager.

        4. Amaranth*

          Well, he also hits people upside the back of the head, so I’d have reflexively flattened him or reported him to HR my first day.

    6. Lacey*

      Depending on where you are in the U.S. people might apologize just to smooth things over. People in the midwest tend to apologize for things they didn’t even do. It’s a reflex.

      But, that’s for more minor things or it might be to smooth over an explanation of why they’re wrong. Like, when someone runs into in the grocery store – in the midwest both people will probably apologize.
      Or in the office, if my coworker says, “Hey you forgot to send X” I usually reply, “Sorry about that, it wasn’t selected on the form!”

      However. If someone comes at me with a big rant about how I’ve wronged them when I haven’t, there is no chance in the world that they are getting an apology. I’m not interested in smoothing things over with them. In fact, I’m now very invested in them realizing they are wrong.

      1. Mannequin*

        “However. If someone comes at me with a big rant about how I’ve wronged them when I haven’t, there is no chance in the world that they are getting an apology. I’m not interested in smoothing things over with them. In fact, I’m now very invested in them realizing they are wrong.”

        Exactly.

    7. Gerry Keay*

      There’s a gendered component to it too — women are really heavily socialized to apologize and OVER apologize, to take blame when it’s not their fault. Growing up, I know I and some other AFAB/socialized-as-female folks have tried to correct for that, but it can of course sometimes lead to an overcorrection and reluctance to apologize for anything at all. Not directly related to the question at hand, but I think it’s interesting context on why we’ve got such a weird apology culture in the states!

      1. Alternative Person*

        Yeah, it’s something I’m dealing with because I’ve been told I have to apologize for something (fair) but I can’t get a reciprocal one from the man because I didn’t handle the situation perfectly (not fair), or I have to accept not getting an apology because the man who did the thing was having a bad day. As a result I’m very cautious about apologizing.

        The social/cultural aspect is interesting as well. I don’t know whether its always been like this or it’s a recent cultural change but the way legal standards (as in an apology is an admission of guilt) and therapy speak have become somewhat mainstream has definitely made apologizing more fraught than before.

        (Not saying that therapy speak is bad, just that as it’s become more common/expected it is also more often being used against it’s original purpose)

    8. Quantum Hall Effect*

      American work culture is strongly hierarchical, and people adhere to command and control leadership over collaborative leadership. People would like to get their way by force over building influence by establishing trust.

      1. allathian*

        It’s interesting to note that the OP’s said she’s Scandinavian. There’s a stereotype in the rest of the Nordics that in Sweden managers can’t do anything without total buy-in from their subordinates. It’s called management by consensus. I’m in Finland, and here good management includes buy-in from subordinates, but we also recognize that sometimes a decision has to be made, and managers have the final say even when their subordinates disagree with them. In practice, it’s a matter of degree, but I know people who’ve worked for the same multinational company in both Finland and Sweden who’ve said that in Sweden managers have to “sell change” to employees a lot more than in Finland.

    9. LadyByTheLake*

      I had an experience a couple of weeks ago where I said something — I asked why our contractors were being paid when the work was not completed. The reaction I got was unexpected, I was called out for my heartlessness and all sorts of other terrible motives, and I had to apologize for making the suggestion just to get the meeting back on track. Fast forward to today when the question came up again (raised by someone else) and the response was that I personally had said we had to pay the contractors no matter what– just because of my apology. My apology was taken as an admission that I was wrong, not that I was just trying to smooth things over.

      1. Despachito*

        This is awful, I am very sorry you were subjected to this.

        I think this is THE response why people are sometimes reluctant to apologize – in a hostile environment when it is held against them (in fact, the situation you are describing was set for you to lose no matter what you did).

        In a healthy setting, they would never criticize you for your initial question in the first place (it is indeed a strange thing to pay someone before the work is done, and if there was a valid reason to do that, the easiest thing would have been to give you that answer).

    10. Sparkles McFadden*

      My personal take on apologies is as follows: If I have done harm, I need to repair whatever damage has been done. This may not be possible, but I need to try to right the wrong. I either case, I need to try to make sure whatever it is does not happen again. I will own up to my mistake and explain what I’ve done to fix it and/or keep it from happening again.

      The problem is, a lot of people do whatever the hell they want and say “Oh, sorry.” They make no attempt to repair damage, or to keep from doing the same thing over and over. It’s just bull in the china shop followed by “Sorry” over and over again.

      In this case, I might say “You are right Jane. I shouldn’t have called you out by name like that. I’ll be more mindful of that in the future.” The militant attitude stuff is nutty and I would ignore it.

    11. JB*

      Wait, you want a personal apology from an employee of a business when that business makes an error? Rather than a solution, like a refund?

      I don’t think the issue here is American culture versus your own.

      1. Batgirl*

        Sometimes the apology is the solution though. I’m in conveyancing hell right now; the conveyancers dropped the ball and caused a delay. They’re perfectly willing to pick up the ball and give me an immediate practical solution, but they won’t admit they did anything wrong; therefore they aren’t saying anything appropriate towards reassuring me it won’t happen again.

    12. aebhel*

      An unqualified apology is generally taken as an admission of fault. And in your example, the service worker you’re complaining to is probably *not* actually at fault – and frankly the most exhausting thing about customer service is the people who call in not because they have a problem you can actually do anything about but because they’re upset and want to yell at you and have you apologize until they feel better.

    13. LTL*

      Pride. If there’s a conflict, then it’s someone’s fault, and if you apologize, that means you’re the one at fault. American culture is very individualist and that leads to people seeing others as adversaries rather than teammates in certain situations (I am NOT saying that Americans are inherently hostile, I’m saying that collectivist cultures or cultures that place a higher value on social responsibility tend to see scenarios as less adversarial *on average*).

    14. Mannequin*

      “Often when I complain (I think always do with very good cause, but of course I’d think that from my point of view) all I want to hear is a simple apology, but what I hear are phrases like “sorry you feel that way” or “would you like a refund”.”

      I will NEVER understand the mindset of people who would prefer a problem be ‘fixed’ by a show of performative apologetic groveling from a powerless, underpaid, low level employee than to have that same employee simply resolve the issue using whatever means they are allowed by their company.

      It’s gross and entitled and needs to stop.

  8. Daphne Moon, Seattle*

    Reading about Jane reminded me of a something experienced awhile ago – a friend simply did not get her own way in a group situation, and responded to this by crying. Anyone looking on would have concluded her behaviour was over the top, and possibly that she was an unreasonable drama llama. Unbeknownst to anyone there, that day her father was in court for abuse of her and her siblings. Anyone who knew that would have excused her behaviour, 100%, but of course no one did know, because it is incredibly private. Witnessing that situation reminded me that so often that often the circumstances that would cause us to excuse unreasonable behaviour freely, and with sympathy, are by their very nature the most private and ones that we remain oblivious to.
    All of that is to say that, OP, apologising and moving on even when you’re not sure you are fully in the wrong is actually a great skill to have. If you are dealing with an otherwise reasonable person, not only will you fix the initial wrong, you will likely gain additional respect and appreciation from them. (Kind of like when we have warmer feelings toward a company for great customer service fixing a mistake, than simply for providing a flawless service from the start).

    1. Despachito*

      I think the words “otherwise reasonable” are key here.

      I see two very different scenarios here.

      One is that you are describing – an otherwise reasonable person has an one-off lapse. In this case, it is indeed good to give them the benefit of doubt, and try to smooth things over.

      The other is what LadyByTheLake mentioned – your good will is used against you (possibly as a pattern, although she does not mention this). I think the response in this case should be completely different, because to give a reasonable person the benefit of doubt is one thing, but have your good will weaponized against you is almost completely the opposite.

    2. Mannequin*

      Jane has a history of doing poor/incomplete work and didn’t like that her incompetence was brought to the attention of people who had the power to elicit consequences for her poor job performance.

      Your friend was dealing with a single disappointment during a very emotionally fraught period and acted out of character, once.

      There is no parallel here.

  9. Sharon*

    Is it possible LW was overly focused on doing her job and most of her communication with Jane was telling her she didn’t fill out the form correctly? Because I can see myself doing that and inadvertently making someone feel bad. I have to remind myself to do the relationship-building stuff (like saying “Hi, how was your weekend) as well.

    1. GNG*

      Yeah I can see that. Maybe LW is more task-focused, and Jane is more of a relationship-focused person.

      From my own experience: Another possible piece is that Jane has bigger performance issues than just filling out the forms. She isn’t good at her job overall, and she knows it. She couldn’t fill out her form correctly because she really didn’t understand the work. Maybe she has difficulty gathering the right information from the clients, and that’s a major reason why she couldn’t fill in the form for the order correctly.

      Jane has been sitting with the knowledge that she’s not good, and after the manger made a comment, Jane decided to have a go at LW. From Jane’s POV, if LW is the one with the terrible attitude, then LW is the one causing Jane’s work issues.

      That’s not to say there’s nothing LW can handle differently. I agree with Alison’s advice, and I would also suggest LW tread carefully around Jane.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I’ve also seen the scenario where Jane is doing her best to get the information, but clients are uncooperative and Sales will sell her down the river in a heartbeat if she pushes the issue. So LW gets whatever Jane could coax the client into disclosing. Everyone knows it’s a bad system, but it’s stable until LW rocks the boat.

        1. GNG*

          Absolutely. In your example, a Jane good at her Job would discuss this LW to help her understand how things work, and not lash out at her.

        2. Teapot Repair Technician*

          I’ve been in Jane’s shoes. Filling out sales orders while talking to customers can feel like a juggling act, and it’s inevitable that some won’t be perfect.

          I’ve saved SOs where the address field was “Bob from Smith Hardware” because I knew we had Bob’s contact info somewhere, just not in the order system. Or a line item might be “custom item: nut for end of Johnson shaft” because I couldn’t make the customer wait while I rifled through a bunch of drawings and BOMs to find the part number.

          Ideally I would complete those SOs before my coworker went to invoice them, but often I didn’t get a chance to, in which case my coworker would be understandably annoyed with me.

    2. Nanani*

      But telling Jane she didn’t fill out the form right -is- LW’s job.
      Jane can solve this by doing her own job correctly instead of demanding performative niceness from a significantly younger employee.

      1. Curious*

        Absolutely — but bilaterally, not in front of a group. If necessary, escalate to Jane’s boss- but privately, not in front of a group.

      2. Mannequin*

        Yeah, I don’t understand why LW should have to engage in a bunch of extra emotional labor to soothe a difficult person into *doing their job*.

  10. learnedthehardway*

    What is it with people who don’t follow simple instructions, and then get bent out of shape when called on it? Perhaps Jane should have thought about that possibility before not doing the job correctly.

    1. Lacey*

      Yes! I’ve worked with so many people like that. And I’ve had their managers want the rest of us who can to bend over backwards to make it work. Like why are we doing more work so they can more conveniently do less?

    2. Pony Puff*

      Right? I also can’t imagine that being a humiliating thing to be called out on either. Yes, shame on you if you’re not filling things out correctly, but it’s not like the person calling you out is implying you’re stupid or incompetent. It’s not that deep.

      1. nothing rhymes with purple*

        This is only true if no one around thinks they have a reason (such as personal dislike or demographics) to decide that one mistake proves you’re an idiot.

        Jane, of course, had a pattern of mistakes and wasn’t improving, which means that the above caveat doesn’t apply to her, but in general calling someone out by name in public is more about shifting how everyone views that person than about getting mistakes fixed.

    3. Quantum Hall Effect*

      What is it with people who think it’s constructive to publicly display other people’s mistakes?

      1. Nanani*

        That has nothing to do with this letter. OP didn’t air Jane’s mistakes, someone else in a meeting explicitly asked about a thing Jane had done badly. OP is also not Jane’s boss, trainer, or cheerleader.

        1. nothing rhymes with purple*

          You’re right — the letter inspired my thoughts about the wider practice of handling a coworker’s mistake via public shaming, but those thoughts aren’t specific to the letter. [For the record I think Jane was doubly ridiculous.] I’ve seen coworkers make certain to address mistakes others made in the most public way possible, to make the issue about overall reputations rather than getting mistakes fixed. It’s a good way to promote oneself at the expense of others but not so great at ongoing cohesiveness.

      2. GNG*

        It’s not clear from the letter how Jane’s form came to be shown in a meeting. But I’ve worked in different places where we have a weekly meeting to review all current work orders, as a way to collaborate on solving any issues or delays. Not only will other see your mistakes in this meeting, the team is actually actively identifying them.

        But these meetings are focused on solving problems, and not meant to be shame-and-blame sessions. That said, these places do have workflows where collaboration is key, have cross-functioning teams, and have a culture of teamwork. No one really harped on the mistakes in these meetings.

        It’s not clear if LW’s meetings had a similar purpose or style. But if LW’s workplace has a similar way of working, then LW’s comment naming Jane would be extra out of place. It still doesn’t excuse Jane’s performance or behavior though.

    4. Liz T*

      I used to process student forms from musicians who were going on brief professional leaves of absence, like to play with an orchestra or something. They were two-page double-sided forms, and these students would stare at me IN SHOCK when I told them that, yes, they actually needed to fill out the whole thing. I don’t know why they thought pages 1.5-4 were like a silly joke or something.

  11. Duc Anonymous*

    I don’t know OP’s race or ethnicity, but I’m feeling some really weird vibes about Jane’s use of “militant” as a descriptor. I’m biracial; I’ve had that tossed at me and, sad to say, it’s only ever been a synonym for “Angry Black Woman.”

    1. Lab Boss*

      I’ve seen it a lot paired with “feminism” too. I wonder if it gets tied to traditionally marginalized groups because they’re the ones who need to fight for things- when you’re in power you don’t NEED to be militant, because you already get what you want.

      1. Hex Code*

        Groups in power who are ACTUALLY MILITANT (see white militia groups and similar terrorists) *still* don’t get called “militant” as a pejorative!

          1. Duc Anonymous*

            You win all the things. May your coffee always be the correct temperature and your commutes be traffic free!

      2. Tex*

        If OP is female as well, militant could just mean forthright.

        Jane isn’t that old, but she might be the last of a generation where women were expected to be nice, deferential and oblique in their demands. She certainly isn’t Mad Men era, but even the 1980s and 1990s were still full of jerks and misplaced expectations in the workplace.

          1. NotRealAnonForThis*

            Its 2021 and I am so frakking tired. I can’t be too nice or I’m “flirting” but I can’t be cold or I’m “a robot” and I can’t be “demanding” or I “need to be more polite in my requests” or any of another million things.

        1. LTL*

          A culture where women are considered to be aggressive when they’re being forthright isn’t a thing of the past…

      3. Nicotena*

        For whatever reason, the connotation I got there was “I expected you to defer to me because of age and you did not.”

    2. Militant OP*

      I’m as white as they come – blonde and blue-eyed with a baby face. Jane is white and blonde as well, but she is more of an upper-class Karen and I’m very much not. A small part of me thinks she thought we would be besties and then being surprised when I don’t give her slack.

    3. Rebecca1*

      OP mentioned that she is in Scandinavia so I’m curious whether there are the similar connotations in the language of the original confrontation.

      1. Militant OP*

        Yes, and I tried very hard to find an alternative that worked in this situation. Basically, I said something that in most circumstances would be considered a joke, but can also come across as a little blunt, especially in the matter-of-fact-tone I said it in. Which is why I will try to be more careful in the future.

        1. Lab Boss*

          As someone who thinks we waste entirely too much time and productivity dancing around the truth instead of just saying it, you have my sympathy.

          1. Mannequin*

            @Lab Boss I discovered in my late 40s that I’m neurodivergent, but even as a clueless kid I could see that tons of the social conventions people adhere to are worthless because they are a barrier to clear and honest communication.

    4. Rectilinear Propagation*

      I had that thought too. In fact, I half expected race to be mentioned in the letter when I read the headline.

      It’s an unfair description in any case but it raised my eyebrows.

      1. Properlike*

        I was scanning comments to see if the “militant” word choice had made anyone else come up short, but OP has already explained that race was not part of this. Possibly “feminist” then? Nonetheless, a very very curious adjective to use and now I’m curious about Jane in general.

        Also a good reminder to everyone that certain words carry certain connotations in context. :)

  12. So over it*

    I had an employee who reported to my supervisor who reported to me. She started almost every conversation about performance with ‘I feel like’ and then it went down hill from there because it was always ridiculous conclusions she was drawing. Such as us having a conversation about her supervisor not responding to her vague texts at 10 pm at night. I explained she’s not on call and it’s ok if she doesn’t respond. She came in the next day and demanded to know why I called her a liar for stating her supervisor never gave her personal cell phone number to this employee. How did she have it if she hadn’t given it to her? I then had to go back and explain not only our conversation-her having the phone number wasn’t in question- but direct her to stop texting and just call the office if she can’t come to work. The list goes on.
    I finally started cutting her off, stating ‘Can we focus on the job at hand instead of feelings?’ She didn’t want to be held accountable and wasn’t normal in her behavior or expectations. Still celebrate the day she left because it was constant drama.

  13. Calliope*

    This is one of those situations where I think it’s likely nobody was in the wrong and it worked out fine. Imagine if Jane had written in – what would the responses be to a letter that said “a new person came in at work and had a different way of doing things. I tried to adapt but didn’t do it quickly enough and she signaled me out in a meeting as a bad example. I was pretty upset and tried to talk to her but I did end up getting pretty ready.” Everyone would say that was fine and she handled it appropriately.

    Yes there’s more to it – there’s the weird good morning stuff. But at the same time, it’s also easy to sound curt when you’re focused on doing your job (I certainly do sometimes) and some people are sensitive to that even if that’s not an artful way to express it. So maybe Jane is a little over the top sensitive but that’s kind of just how some people are.

    OP, I think the thing for you is – that’s not some kind of horrendous confrontation you need to be worried about. She gave you some info about how she likes to be treated that is maybe a little weird. You apologized. It’s human nature to feel bad about that but at the same time, I think a key to being in the work world is figuring out how to move on from that kind of slightly weird interaction.

    1. ecnaseener*

      I disagree that everyone would say Jane handled it appropriately…Alison and most of the commenters would probably tell her it would’ve been best to stick with the basic request “can you not call me out by name in front of people?” and leave out the strong feelings & accusations of “militancy” and not saying hi first. Jane handled this *okay,* but I wouldn’t say *appropriately.*

    2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      Well, that would be misrepresenting the situation, since the meeting was OP saying it’s almost all of you creating issues. From the original letter:

      “At one point I reminded everyone at one of our monthly meetings to fill out everything (she wasn’t the only offender).”

      And I’m not seeing where OP is creating a new system or changing the system in place. So…no, I don’t agree that AAM would be as supportive as you think, if the same facts were presented.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I would not have told her that she handled it appropriately! I’d have told her that sometimes your work will be the example and you have to just roll with it; if you’re really bothered by it, you can ask not to be made a public example out of, but having a talk where you’re really upset about it would be over the top. And I probably would have asked if there was something else going on because the situation didn’t warrant the response.

    4. JB*

      I think you’ve got some things flipped around here. LW is not new or introducing a new way of doing things; Jane started after her.

  14. bumbleblue*

    I work with a lot of high maintenance and high strung individuals. Most of them are higher ups or Board members, so defusing can be tricky sometimes. When something goes awry and it was still not my fault, I need to ask myself what is most important for the long term: my or my company’s relationship with that person or making sure something necessary gets done or handled correctly

    If my priority for the long term is the relationship, then I’ll let things go. I’ll apologize and move on because I can’t set up a situation where they will have a grudge against me in the future. I need my Board members to be able to let something go and move on. I need to make sure they’re not hung up on something trivial or upset with me over a gaff on my part. I can’t call them out even if I would love to, because it would absolutely harm my goals. I’ve joked that my best skill is convincing people I like them even when I absolutely cannot stand them.

    Now if the priority is something like legal compliance or another thing that could put my organization at risk, that’s different. But most of the time, I need to preserve the relationship. I need to make sure what I say can’t be taken as personally, and I need to put my own feelings aside even if they are being complete dickheads (unless it’s abusive or harmful, which I then stay cool but let my manager and director know).

    The relationship vs. task applies even if I’m on the same level or in the same workgroup. If it is a mistake that could have lasting harmful impact, then I don’t really care about my tone. If it creates a significant risk, like not complying with data privacy laws, then negating that risk is my priority. But if I need to maintain a positive relationship with that person in order to accomplish future goals, that might be the priority. I have watched other staff and other departments not care about the lasting relationships, and they end up in situations where they can’t get help or support when needed because they burned those bridges.

    1. bumbleblue*

      I forgot to mention: boundary violations are definitely an exception to this rule. I once had a coworker who was a morning person, and I’m not. One day she got up in my space and literally was poking my belly with her fingers and mocking me for not being a morning person. I let her have it and I will never regret it.

      1. Gerry Keay*

        I’m sorry, she POKED your BELLY??? at WORK???!? I would have lost it, that is so beyond the pale.

        1. bumbleblue*

          She did, multiple times while laughing AND she did it in front of team leaders. She was let go that afternoon; it seemed that there were other staff issues and that was the last straw.

          1. allathian*

            I’m glad for your sake that she was let go, because that was simply so beyond the pale that in many organizations she would’ve been let go even if it had been a first offence.

    2. Filosofickle*

      I ask myself all the time: Do I want to be right, or helpful? This almost always leads me to a better action than my first instinct :D

        1. JB*

          Then recalibrate, because it’s hard to live a happy life that way. It’s impossible to be right all the time.

          1. Despachito*

            OK, but there is a fine line between wanting to be right just for the sake of it (where it would be indeed more helpful to step back and not assert your ego), and not wanting to step back just because the other party is obnoxiously and/or aggressively asserting THEIR ego (and your stepping back will, in fact, harm the process).

  15. Professional Homosexual*

    Sending you virtual hugs as someone who also comes off as “militant” due to a combination of perfectionism and bluntness/lack of tact. I can’t tell you how many times in my career I have said something like, “That needs some work, Jane.” When people have confronted me in a similar way to what you’ve described here, I apologize for hurting their feelings and promised to try to be more mindful of how I respond in the moment/phrase things going forward. I’ve found that usually helps smooth the situation and repair the relationship.

    You can also try being a little bit vulnerable and reassuring with them. For example, I can also come across as intimidating and unfriendly, but it’s really a function of me being shy/socially anxious (and having a bad case of resting b*tch face). So for example, “Jane, I am so sorry that your experience is that I don’t initiate a morning hello! You probably don’t know this about me, but I’m actually pretty shy and I find it especially difficult to talk to people in the morning before I’ve had my first cup of coffee,” and follow that up by swinging by Jane’s desk with your coffee a few times over the next weeks for some friendly small talk.

    1. Recruited Recruiter*

      At a previous job, I was in a meeting with my boss and co-worker, and was asked (by said co-worker) to notify her about her resting b*tch face whenever I noticed, because we needed to be approachable for our job. It was the strangest legit request that I have ever gotten at work.

  16. Heidi*

    Ugh, I feel the discomfort of this situation with you. One thing that might have helped during the meeting would have been to “un-single” Jane out. Say something like, “I receive orders like this all the time.” Or “The most common issue I see is people not filling out question A, and that causes problem B.” I also find it’s helpful to come up with a number, like “80% of the orders I receive don’t have question C completed, and we need this because of D.” This would make it seem less like Jane was the only problem. Now, I’m not sure that I would have had the presence of mind to do this myself, but maybe this will come up again in the future.

    1. GNG*

      All reasonable ideas. Another strategy is for LW to say nothing at all in the moment, and let Jane’s shoddy work speak for itself.

      As far as I can tell: LW wasn’t specifically tagged to speak about it and there was no absolute need for LW to insert themselves, especially not for the purpose of making it feel less like she was the only problem.

  17. All Het Up About It*

    I agree, that your apology was probably the best, most expedient way to “resolve” the issue in that moment. I think if you had been hanging around in that job longer and you wanted to feel more comfortable around Jane, you could have gone to your boss or another peer and posed the following: Someone recently came to me upset with the way I communicate about forms and data needs, even using the term militant. We’ve resolved that incident, but I wanted to ask you if this is something you’ve heard from other team members, or if you’ve personally observed something in my communication style that could give others this impression. While I recognize that my job requires me to pay particular attention to details that others might find tiresome, I’d like to be as collegial with my co-workers as possible.

    This would give you the opportunity to learn 1) Jane is just an overly emotional person who takes business matters far, far too personally and stop tip-toeing around her. Or 2) that despite you considering yourself the opposite of militant, something in your tone or approach is being read differently by those around you. Of course, the two are NOT mutually exclusive. And let’s be honest, 1) was true no matter what!

    1. PT*

      You don’t send the message to the rest of the team that someone like Jane is someone the company will be listening to and responding to, because they will start copying her behavior. You replace Jane.

      1. All Het Up About It*

        I would specifically not mention Jane in the scenario/script I outlined. Also, it’s not really about will the company be listening to Jane (it does not appear that the OP had any firing authority over her). It’s more 1) the OP being able to legitimize that Jane is over-reacting, so that they feel more comfortable continuing to work as need be and 2) considering the possibility that the OP does have room for self-improvement when it comes to communication style.

        As I stated, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. And many times in my life I’ve benefited from being able to step back, get a second opinion and see that the person who is upset with me is over-reacting, but that doesn’t mean that I couldn’t have handled a situation better. ymmv

      2. JB*

        Are you able to replace your coworkers and officemates at will where you work? Or did you somehow get the impression that LW was Jane’s boss?

  18. Random quote for a Monday*

    Completely ignoring the situation with Jane, but is there any way to modify the order system to call out required data/fields?

    1. Observer*

      Yeah, I was thinking about that. Like some fields should be required, and others should at least give a warning.

      1. Amethystmoon*

        Right, in the data entry system we use at work, it flags things red if a required field is not put in and does not let you continue any further.

  19. Agency Survivor*

    As someone close to Jane’s age, I am cringing that she cried and name-called someone in her 20s. That seems so immature and histrionic to me. A) Jane can get over being called out on filling out a form the right way, and (B) if she wants to offer some feedback to OP, she could have done it professionally and without emotion, and in that way, been more of a role model than a victim.

    1. Former Young Lady*

      This. I recall a number of “Janes” from my early career, who were chronologically twice my age (or more), but who responded to my occasional clumsiness with outright petulance. I knew better than to expect everyone to mentor me, but I was hardly going to learn the ropes from middle-aged people I knew might fly off the handle at the slightest provocation. The phrase “old enough to know better” comes to mind.

      Obviously, we should all strive to behave like grown-ups in the workplace, but now that I am pushing 40, I realize that people half my age are inevitably going to be less experienced in workplace norms. It is my job to set an example for them, not a double-standard.

  20. Lily*

    It’s always a challenge to try to get better work from people, especially in a situation where you have easy comparisons and the bad performers are glaringly obvious. I think the OP did absolutely right to call out the bad work, and no apologies should have been given.

    I used to work in an environment that required me to gather reports from different departments/people and polish them for submission to outside entities/regulators. There was a huge difference in the quality of the reports from various people. I would start by privately emailing the worst submitters, and showing them examples of what the better submitters were doing. However, because the bad reports needed a prohibitive amount of work from my staff to make them acceptable, I eventually ended up having to identify the wrongdoers to their supervisors, and demanding that their supervisors audit their quality, check for missing information, and verify facts and completeness of documentation before sending to my department. This caused me to be labeled something of a bully by other departments, which didn’t bother me at all. My actions were appreciated by my staff, which was vastly more important than accommodating substandard work in order not to ruffle feathers.
    Also, if you don’t document the bad work, the bad workers will never be disciplined or corrected.

    1. Quantum Hall Effect*

      You can do all that without naming the offenders in front of a group. There’s a reason for the phrase “praise in public, critique in private.”

      1. Nanani*

        That’s management advice, not for peers trying to get their part of the work done in the face of equals (and senior-to-them staff members) who aren’t doing their work.

      2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        That’s a good first step. That said, peers, managers, and junior staff all need ways to escalate and need a range of tools in their toolbox to n handle different situations. Always using “praise in public, critique in private” would be to restrictive (in my experience managing one or two junior staff).

  21. Caboose*

    As someone who is extremely sensitive, being called out like that in a meeting would’ve been devastating. But as someone who likes doing good work and understands the importance of feedback, there was nothing wrong with what you did.
    If I messed up like Jane did, and I got called out in person, I would do two things:
    1. Spend the rest of the day miserable and anxious.
    2. Start doing my work correctly.
    I would never in a million years think that the appropriate solution in that situation would be to call someone out personally! My emotions about work (and boy howdy do I have some EMOTIONS) are mine to manage.

    1. nothing rhymes with purple*

      Yeah, this is where I am on OP’s particular situation, if I had been in Jane’s place. More generally, I think quite a few people enjoy getting to call someone else’s mistakes out in front of ‘everybody’ but the best way to deal with this is to not make mistakes they can use.

    2. Mannequin*

      Sure it would sting if my work was poor enough quality to be used for examples, and someone brought extra attention to it, even unthinkingly, but the sting would be because I was putting out such poor quality work it needed to be used as an example.

      I think the sting for Jane I’d having her incompetence pointed out in front of people who might hold her to consequence for it, possibly combined with a false assumption that OP fud it to be malicious/rat her out.

  22. Observer*

    OP, you say Looking back, I should’ve probably told my boss right away and not apologized.

    Why? What would you expect to accomplish by going to the boss?

    On the other hand, why not apologize? I recognize that there are situations where it is better to NOT apologize. But this doesn’t seem like one of them. Am I missing something?

  23. Nanani*

    Honestly, in OPs shoes I’m not sure I could have resisted the urge to laugh at Jane long enough to get her out of the room. Crocodile tears about how “””militant”” it is to expect someone who has WAY more seniority to actually do enough of their job for the next person in the process to be able to do theirs?
    This is a joke right?
    How did Jane get this far in her career? What is Jane’s boss doing that she can get away with this bad work standard?

    There is a stink but its not coming from OP.
    Sounds like OP was as kind and decent as can be reasonably expected in the face of an unreasonable person.

    1. Esmeralda*

      Wow. I hope you never cry in the office and that you never get accused of faking the tears if you do.

      1. Nanani*

        Please don’t put words in my mouth. I said nothing about crying in the office being bad, this is strictly about Jane’s situation of a peer with seniority being so unable to deal with the apparent horror of being expected to do her job. THAT is what I can’t take seriously.

      2. Gerry Keay*

        There’s plenty of info in the letter indicating that Jane is somewhere on the spectrum between hyperbolic and histrionic, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think there might have been a heightened performance of genuine emotions to get a desired reaction (which is how I’ve always interpreted the phrase “crocodile tears”).

        1. Mannequin*

          I’ve heard crocodile tears used both ways- as completely faking the sad emotion and of exaggerating a small sad emotion into a great big deal.

      3. Mannequin*

        I feel like we are getting more and more comments where an OPs behavior, motives, explanations etc are getting picked to pieces looking for ways they are actually at fault while bending over backwards to defend clearly toxic, dysfunctional, or outrageous actions/behavior with a million hypothetical “have you ever considered [armchair diagnosis]/they were secretly having a terrible day/knee-jerk emotional response”. It’s really exhausting, TBH.

  24. Not really a Waitress*

    I had someone complain to my boss, the plant manager, that I did not say hello to them in the morning as well. So when my boss sat me down to tell me, he also told me his response. To clarify, I did not have an office. Original I had a desk, by the front door and the copy machine. Which made me receptionist and copy machine trouble shooter. A temp was working at the conference table in the Plant Manager’s office. When my boss realized I was getting interrupted from my actual role, he switched us. So my desk was actually in the plant manager’s office. So here was his response

    “Waitress gets here at 6:30 am, you get here at 9. There is a door between this office and your office that only opens from your side. For Waitress to say good morning to you she needs to walk all the way around to find you, when she is already a quarter of her way through the day. When all you need to do is open the door.”

    After doing some digging my boss discovered the employee’s boss (the plant controller) had issues with me (it was a power trip thing, I was liked and respected and had influence, she did not) and had wound up her employee against me. “Does Waitress even say good morning to you? She doesn’t?! That’s horrible! She is an awful person!”

    Bottom line: If its not related to your performance, or impacting their ability to perform their job, what does it matter. Yes, we want to be polite and respectful. But its not militant to expect people to do their job correctly so that you can do your job correctly.

  25. Esmeralda*

    I do want to note that Jane did the right thing in talking to the OP about the incident. It’s too bad she got off track, but the fact that she started crying suggests that it was hard for her to do.

    Agreed that Jane sounds like a bit much, but she deserves some sympathy.

    1. London*

      Exactly! I really hope none of the commenters throwing around terms like “crocodile tears” and “hyperbole” and “histrionics” ever cry in the office and that they never get accused of faking the tears if they do.

      1. Mannequin*

        And this is why toxic & manipulative people get away with their BS. They can always garner sympathy from people who have actually been treated unfairly.

        This woman isn’t a victim, she’s lashing out defensively at OP because she didn’t like it being pointed out that she can’t/doesn’t do her job. She’s trying to deflect from her poor performance with her supposedly hurt feelings. Instead of being about the quality of her work, it became all about her feelings.

        Toxic people will seize your every minor mistake and blow it all out of proportion to make *you* be at fault for *their* actions, which is exactly what this coworker did. Rather than taking responsibility for her mistakes, it becomes all about how OP hurt her fee fees or besmirched her INTEGRITY or whatever. Dollars to donuts that the REAL reason coworker was mad about it was she feels like the attention it brought her means she can’t fly under the radar with sub-par work anymore. And people like that get REALLY mad about having their bad behavior exposed.

  26. HannahS*

    I’ve had similar experiences in the past, and for me, saying stuff life, “I’m sorry that I hurt your feelings. I didn’t mean to at all, but I hear you and I’m sorry. I’m glad that you told me how you feel, so that we can continue to work together.” Those statements work for me because I AM sorry to hurt someone’s feelings even if I don’t regret my actions themselves, and I AM glad that people feel they can tell me when they’re upset; it’s better than them bottling it up and taking it out on me passive-aggressively.

    And then…in one case I got a sulky “You didn’t hurt my feelings” in return because in his mind, it wasn’t about his feelings, it was that MY BEHAVIOUR WAS WRONG. In the other case, I got a “Thank you, it was really hard for me to tell you, but I was thinking about it, etc.” so I re-iterated basically the same statement, and after some back and forth we were able to move on. In both situations, I sought feedback from supervisors who confirmed that my behaviour was absolutely above-board and I had done none of what I’d been accused of. That was helpful, too, to confirm for me that I wasn’t fueling the situation.

    1. HannahS*

      And to be clear, in both of these cases, the other person was being profoundly unreasonable. This was not me appropriately handling mild workplace conflict. This was like, 1500-word emails in the middle of the night where a colleague ranted at me for “disrespecting” him in one case, and in the other someone took what I explicitly said and understood the exact opposite due to his own personal insecurities.

      1. banoffee pie*

        You probably didn’t need to acknowledge that kind of thing at all, really, if you didn’t want to (1500 words?! FRONT AND BACK lol). Just because people are upset about something doesn’t mean they are in the right and even an “I’m sorry you feel that way” can make them feel vindicated. Not saying you shouldn’t have done it, obviously you have the right to do what you like :) Just musing

        1. HannahS*

          Believe me, I definitely did need to address it; this was someone I worked closely with and he copied our boss. It’s always better to come off looking more reasonable and more professional with the other person.

  27. What She Said*

    I had a colleague bring it to my boss that I never said “hello” in the morning. My boss told them, “I can’t make them say “hello”.

    My boss didn’t tell me until the colleague had left the company. I laughed about it and told my boss I always said “hello”. The issue, it was really early in the morning and I was barely awake. If the colleague had actually stopped and waited for response they might have heard my whisper or seen my mouth moving. But nope just kept walking. Well that is why they never heard my response.

  28. GJ*

    There’s a book called Surrounded by Idiots that has helped me with stuff like this. It explains the DISC personality types — which is a personality model made up by business consultants rather than psychologists, but it can be helpful in the workplace.

    Being able to quickly identify which “type” I am and which “type” other people are — even if it’s not scientifically valid — reminds me that there’s always going to be a certain amount of conflict between people who have different personality traits, and it doesn’t necessarily mean either of us is doing something wrong. We just naturally annoy each other.

  29. MeowMixers*

    OP – As someone who dealt with a lot of anxiety, hates conflicts, and is a people-pleaser, I feel for you. I’ve learned to ask for specific examples. “Ah, can you give me a specific example of where I am being militant?” If the person can’t but still insists: “Well, I don’t see that in myself. I can’t change my behavior if I don’t have specific examples.” Then bask in the gloriousness of watching people cringe and flounder as they come to a slow realization of their judgey attitudes.

    If they do give specific examples, great! Reflect and decide if it’s an issue. Just because it is an issue with them doesn’t mean it’s actually an issue that needs to be addressed. If you are able to change slightly and it smooths things over, that’s fine too. Apologies are free. Saying “Hi” first takes 2 seconds (even if it’s silly). It’s also okay to decide it isn’t worth your time. “I am deeply focused on my work. If I don’t say “Hi” first, it has nothing to do with it.” I had one person that wouldn’t let that go and wanted me to change my behavior. So I finally said “Well, that’s something you just have to deal with. I can’t break my focus and watch for you.”

  30. Tamara*

    I think the only thing that wasn’t the best idea was to name Jane as the offender regarding that particular order in the meeting. Even if her name was literally all over the order form and it was obvious to everyone that she was the one responsible for that particular form.

    But was that worthy of Jane’s extreme reaction? Not at all! I don’t think you did anything wrong here, OP.

  31. StateWorker*

    I think the key to being able to internally roll your eyes as Alison said is that she said she would go to her boss and say she couldn’t work with you anymore. It’s such a disproportionate and immature response that it makes her lack any kind of credibility.

  32. Beth*

    I’m remembering back at OldJob, right around the point where the shift into toxicity was getting going. My boss had hired a new person, whose level was much higher than mine. New Person made an errror, potentially a very serious error, which had to be corrected, and it was VERY important that he didn’t make it again — it was a case of that time around, it cost nothing but time to fix, but another time, it could have cost very serious money.

    It was part of my job to follow up on the error and its corrections, and to review with him the procedures for not making the mistake again. He showed no sign of actually paying attention, so I had to repeat it all.

    The next day, he Very Seriously asked me AND a co-worker for a private conversation, so we went into the conference room. And he lost it. He broke down and cried and bitterly complained about how badly I had humiliated him, and how there was no need for me to rub it in, and he knew he had screwed up so why did I have to say anything, and I had endangered his job when he had only just started, and he didn’t feel safe around me which was why he had asked our co-worker to be there as a witness!

    As best as I recall, I apologized profusely and tried to point out that the only reason I had repeated myself was because he hadn’t indicated that he’d heard, or even been listening; but we weren’t there for me to speak, we were there for him to cry and scold me for making him feel bad. Then he declared that now we had cleared the air, he was going to leave this all behind him. And that was that, as far as he was concerned.

    As far as I was concerned, I was never going to trust him not to deploy weaponized tears on me again, or otherwise rely on his professionalism. Yeesh.

  33. Maewin the Lascerator*

    OP, I was well into my thirties before I could master the internal eye roll/move on maneuver without worrying about the unreasonable person I had offended, but as a fellow over-anxious person, I want to assure you that it will happen.

  34. LizardOfOdds*

    I am SO GLAD I’m not the only person who’s been harangued over not saying “hello” or “good morning.” I once had an employee say that he’d noticed I wasn’t saying “good morning” to him, but he saw me saying it to everyone else. When I pointed out that others were saying “good morning” to me in order to grab my attention and ask for help (“good morning! do you have a second to look at this?”), and I was not intentionally walking around saying good morning to everyone else but instead was responding in kind (“good morning! sure, what’s up?”), he shrugged and said, “I still think you’re being disrespectful to me.” That was just the first sign of many that I’d made a bad hire, unfortunately.

    IMO, women tend to get this feedback a lot, and I put it in the same category as “why don’t you smile more?” It’s even more infuriating when these situations happen in organizations that purportedly value inclusive behaviors and diverse talent. Your norms aren’t everyone else’s, and just because it’s a norm for you doesn’t mean it has to be a norm for everyone around you.

  35. Erin*

    Apologies! I re-read the letter after responding, and I realize that I mis-gendered the therapist who wants to ride a motorcycle. I was excited – my nephew would have been PUMPED to look forward to your visits, and my sister & brother in law would have loved the engagement from him as a result of his excitement.

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