updates: the toxic positivity meetings, the endless monologuer, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. How do I get out of my office’s toxic positivity meetings?

So first of all, thank you for responding to my initial question. Being entrenched in such a weird environment for so long was making me feel like perhaps my objections to this situation were misplaced or overly sensitive. COVID has had a way of wearing us all down, and if I am totally honest, it has made my fuse a bit shorter than normal in other areas of life because I am just damn tired. However, to be validated in my discomfort helped immensely and made me feel a little less “crazy.”

Shortly after my letter was published, a “blind” survey was sent out to staff about the meetings for us to rate whether or not we found them useful and/or productive (was it kismet? Is someone on our HR team a fellow reader? Who knows!). Although the survey was blind, the results were shared live as part of another meeting, and apparently only two people expressed disinterest or did on about the meetings.

Thankfully, while the number was relatively low, the staff-wide positivity meetings have ceased and only one kind of weak attempt at a social committee event was made (staff picnic with no chairs or food offered) before those petered out too.

I still get some pressure to share in my direct team meetings, but I either share something directly related to work or follow your vague response script and it’s been working fine. My main goal right now is just to stay focused on my job while considering my next professional move and my priorities for the year ahead. We are very much hoping to be able to move out of the expensive city we live in to relieve some of the financial pressure induced by the pandemic, so cross your fingers for our little family that we can make this happen!

Anyway, not as “chipper and cheerful” an update as I was hoping to have (har har), but manageable for now. Thanks to you and your readers for your kind advice and support and happy holidays to all!

2. Should I warn someone that I’m reporting them before I do it? (#2 at the link)

I wrote in asking if I should warn the instructor of my prenatal classes that I was reporting her to the hospital for teaching incorrect and at times bizarre information. Ultimately, I opted not to speak to the instructor about it. She didn’t strike me as someone who was going to be receptive to feedback. She had called on me to answer a very leading question about something that isn’t substantiated by evidence, and when I very gently pointed that out, the instructor became defensive and later made a snarky comment about me.

I submitted a very detailed letter of complaint to the hospital’s patient relations department. Their response was encouraging! They are conducting a full review of the materials being taught, met with the instructor individually to address the concerns that I had raised, and will be auditing the prenatal course. That’s really all I could have asked for.

3. My employee takes over meetings with endless monologues and no one can get a word in

So, it was a mixed bag. I stepped up and (micro)-managed/coached him to listen more than speak. At some points, I was actually rude to get my point across.

I also worked on the other side. Told people his strengths. Asked them to engage him when necessary and see the value.

This double sided approach actually worked well. This individual is up for a substantial performance based raise. People tell me that while his personality can be annoying, they value his contribution. People actually go to him to get things done because he doesn’t stop until there is an answer and the problem is solved.

People engage him on the phone and just cut him off when he goes too far. They even ask his thoughts and contributions. It has made my life so much easier and I no longer have to worry about people seeing the same value that I always saw.

It turned out well and I’m hoping that he will be rewarded for his contributions next year.

{ 70 comments… read them below }

  1. alex70*

    I feel like I now need to hear more about these “picnics” with no chairs or food. Wha-the-what?

    1. BenAdminGeek*

      Yeah, like…. what was it? Just bare tables with empty baskets and some napkins? Blankets spread on the ground with no one allowed to sit on them? Please share!

      1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        A picnic IS food! Seriously, Google the definition of “picnic.” You’ll see what I mean.

        You can’t call something a picnic just because it happens outdoors. Well, I mean, you could, but you’d be very, very wrong. It’s like calling something a dinner party without serving dinner.

        I can’t stand it when people think they can just change the meaning of a word to something different from its commonly understood meaning. As both a former English major and an aspiring author, it just GRATES on me.

    2. Happy Pineapple*

      I’m guessing it was marketed as a “picnic” but really they were told to bring their own food and didn’t even both to book a space with seating. So in other words, the committee gets credit for hosting an event when really they just had people eat their own lunches in a different spot.

      1. Meep*

        It doesn’t even sound like people were told to bring their own food. Just that food wouldn’t be provided.

        Either way, that is a good way to form cliques!

    3. Meep*

      I want to know because we had a situation over the summer where a coworker was pushing us to all go on a company-wide bike ride. In Arizona. But don’t worry! We were going to go early in the morning on a Monday. We would watch the sunrise together and then go to work! Together~ As a team.

      Luckily, she is disorganized so the fact I didn’t pick up the slack meant it didn’t happen. Now I am morbidly curious what our picnic during sunrise could have been like in a parallel universe.

      1. Meep*

        For the record, if it had happened, I would have conveniently broken my writ with no remorse the previous night to get out of this mess of an idea.

      2. Mannequin*

        Hahahahahahaha. I generally am not up early enough to see the sun rise EVER unless I’ve been awake all night (night owl and insomniac.)

        No way in hades I’d be participating in this.

    4. Random Biter*

      Reminded me of those fundraiser events where they have a “dinner” that involves no food.

  2. Purple Cat*

    update 3 doesn’t read like a “mixed bag” at all.
    It reads like a pretty darn good update!

    1. MoreFriesPlz*

      Yea I was really proud of OP for managing people into valuing that employee! And getting the employee to zip it. That sounds like really good management.

      I have a personality that was too strong/blunt for my old, very “soft” industry (and is now too soft for the cut throat industry I moved into! Score!) but I really appreciated people who told me to pipe down, chill out, soften my delivery, and otherwise do stuff that made people actually listen to me.

    2. Elenna*

      Yeah, I think maybe what they meant was that they employed a mixed group of strategies to deal with it – both working on the employee to get them to talk less, and working on others to point out the employee’s strengths. Which isn’t really what “a mixed bag” means, but I can see someone thinking that’s what it means.

  3. Wisteria*

    Great work managing, OP3! Soft skills are skills, and they can be taught just like technical skills. And just like technical skills, they take time and practice to develop.

  4. Amber Rose*

    Update 3 makes me super happy actually. Talk about finding success through understanding and compromise.

  5. Matthias*

    LW3: Hooray for progress! Also remember, if you have to raise your voice in that situation you are NOT rude. The other person who is monopolizing everything and forcing you to speak up is.

    1. Cobol*

      I wanted to say that. I remember from the original that OP did not like confrontation. Learning to be polite and respectful while still giving straightforward feedback or direction is hugely important when you manage.

    2. Hills to Die On*

      I am so curious as to how he reacts / what his thoughts are when OP had to get rude / people cut him off midstream of consciousness. And does he actually attempt to talk less, or is it just cutting him off? Imagining it like in Forrest Gump when Forrest runs down the football field and everyone has to scream ‘STOP!!’ at him and hold up signs….

      1. Cdn Acct*

        A long time ago I worked with someone who while not abrasive, was definitely a huge rambler. And I learned to cut him off to bring him back on topic, and he never minded that I could tell. It was like, he would talk until someone interrupted him, but he had no hard feelings about it.

    3. wittyrepartee*

      She may have actually had to do something that sounds quite rude though. Think- breaking in in the middle of a meeting and going “Please stop talking Steve, we’re done with this topic” and then muting him.

  6. The Smiling Pug*

    Update #3 is a wonderful update! Finding a solution through communication and seeing both sides of the issue.

  7. Goose or gander*

    Thank you for making the complaint LW2! As a new parent it is already hard enough to know what to do, even without all the misinformation of this ‘teacher’ in ones head!
    I myself was told that my troubles with breastfeeding were related to the colour of my skin, which left me with a very sour taste in my mouth, but I felt too filterable to make a complaint. So thank you on behalve of all parents who did not have the (mental) strength to take a stand.

      1. Artemesia*

        I immediately made sense of your autocorrect and assumed it meant that due to your demographic if they ran a sort on feedback they would be able to identify you through using those filters. LOL.

      2. wittyrepartee*

        I had a friend whose lactation consultant came in, and appropos of nothing commented on her breasts looking underdeveloped and that this would probably affect her milk supply. While she was breastfeeding for the first time. ARGH.

        1. Aitch Arr*

          The LC at the hospital told me that I was going to RUIN! MY! CHILD! by giving him formula when the poor thing was starving. My milk came in very late and I never had enough supply.

    1. Hills to Die On*

      That was advice in the 19th century – pretty outrageous. I am sorry someone said that to you.

    2. DiplomaJill*

      Outrageous to say to that to you! I have also heard some asinine things come out of healthcare professionals mouths’ when it comes to infants… A lactation consultant stood in my hospital room post delivery and told me “formula is poison.” WTH

      1. OP2 / HannahS*

        Also why is lactation support also full of nonsense?

        This is super minor compared to your example, but I had someone–a lactation consultant at the hospital–tell me to stop using lanolin because it’s greasy and you have to wash it off with soap, so it’s drying, and therefore I should use coconut oil. Which…is also greasy and also needs to be washed off…with soap…

        So much of it is just completely hot air.

        1. Mid*

          My best friend is a L&D nurse and interacts with “lactation specialists” often. And oooh boy some of them are wild. Some are very well educated professionals, but some appear to have gotten their information from the 1820s. One tip was that NewMom should stop taking her INSULIN if she wanted to increase her milk supply. Another was that “pleasing your husband” will increase supply.

          1. allathian*

            Ugh. The husband pleasing the new mom might work, oxytocin helps with milk production, after all, and intimate fun is a pretty reliable way to produce it.

            I hope that the “lactation specialist” got in trouble for the recommendation to stop taking insulin, that’s potentially life-threatening “advice”.

          2. Sakuko*

            When I had my child I got a lot less support than I needed because I just could not find any midwife or infant/delivery nurse who was not deeply spiritual or esoteric. I had to break off the first prenatal course because the nurse kept talking about lotus birth and other weird practices and the second one was only marginally better. It was all old-timey remedies and yoga mind exercises and stuff.
            When I had problems breastfeeding after my C-section, I just got holistic blabla (“Chemicals are poison when you have an infant, take no medicine for anything, your body knows what to do” etc.) and no practical advice.
            I’m a deeply scientific and logic-based person and I abhor bullshit, so all that esoteric talk just made me aggressive and unlikely to take the advice that might have been helpful, because I didn’t have any good way to differentiate the serious, proven useful things from the spiritual, made-up stuff.

            1. Candi*

              Sage is a very natural herb, flavorful in food.

              It also contains a “natural chemical” that is excellent at suppressing breast milk production.

              The dispensers of such nonsense need a seat right next to the gumptioneers on the train to Nopesville.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I loved my ward nurse- she actually came in to do a “vitals check” and ended up dragging the lactation consult out of my room on both of her attempts at visits. Then she did her own consult with hubby and I. She also gave hubby a card with the best type of pump if the latching problem didn’t sort itself out within 24 hours of discharge (while they were discharging me after the c-section). I still remember her with fondness.
          I brought the pump with me for the second c-section because I had a feeling I’d need it. Different hospital, different state, and second LC just asked if I had big enough flanges.

          Pumping isn’t for everyone, and if your working it can be inconvenient beyond belief, but it worked out for me and my kiddos.

        3. Critical Roll*

          It seems like extremes are very common. You either get useless, judgmental neohippie Goop adherents, or the blessed love child of Mary Poppins and Mr Rogers.

    3. The Prettiest Curse*

      So sorry that you had that experience. The topic of breastfeeding can bring out highly irrational responses in people, and the horror stories never seem to stop.

      From my days working with hospitals, I know that there is a certification system (at least in the US) for lactation consultants. The credentials are either CLC (certified lactation consultant) or IBCLC. Of course, just like with doctors and nurses, certification is no guarantee of perfection, but hopefully it does help to weed out some of the people who spout total nonsense to new parents.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        In my very very very recent experience, it does not appear to do so. (3 different IBCLCs in the past 2 weeks, too much woo)

    4. Bagpuss*

      That is horrific.
      It does seem to be an area that attracts a lot of very strange and prejudiced people, as well as some very good ones.
      A friend of mine had a horrible experience – she had a very long and difficult labour followed by an emergency C-section, and was then bullied by the midwife when she couldn’t get her baby to breast feed, and again later y the health visitor for not having ‘tried hard enough’ when they did a visit and found she was bottle feeding a couple of weeks later.
      She didn’t say anything in hospital because she was, y’know, recovering from major surgery, but her husband did when he found out (He is a very quiet, very gentle man, my friend said later that it was only the second time she she met him that she’d seen him lose his temper; they did get an apology. Although that didn’t stop the next person from telling her she was harming her child by not breast feeding. She did point out to them that starving because she was not producing any milk would probably be even more harmful, so she intended to carry on feeding her child despite their objections.
      Kid is now 14 and continues to thrive.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        The LC from my first delivery was one I found those militant breast only people – the two partial consults I had with her were nightmares because I was massively struggling. The LC for my second delivery was caring, helpful, and had the mindset “as long as baby is fed and you both are healthy, I’m not going to be bothered between breast or bottle.” She was a true gem.

        1. wittyrepartee*

          I’ve heard of women with mastectomies being told that they might be able to breast feed if the doctor missed some breast tissue. HORRORS.

          1. Mannequin*

            I AM AGHAST

            I wonder what these people think of foster & adoptive parents who have *no other choice* than to formula feed? Are they all supposed to hire wet nurses?

  8. Bookworm*

    Yay to all (except the weird foodless and chairless picnic?? That’s weird, among other things). Glad in particular that people were willing to work and compromise #3 and still value their colleague despite the endless talking.

  9. MoreFriesPlz*

    How did I miss #2?! Move the crib away from the wall for MORE AIR? That is scary stupid.

    I am thinking of my blue collar family member taking a pre-natal class at a hospital and how they would take anything said as gospel because people there had fancy degrees. It bothers me when no one will do the right thing because they don’t want to be “annoying” or hurt feelings. Thanks for doing the right thing, OP. The world needs people who speak up.

      1. Canadian Valkyrie.*

        I totally agree. You 100% did the right thing. I’m a psychologist and people say absurd things allllllll the time and I feel like I’m in a position like you where I have access to information that others (eg MoreFriesPlz family) don’t have and that don’t know better. I’m wondering; do you find that you have a pretty high sense of responsibility? Cause I sure as hell do.

        1. OP2 / HannahS*

          Yeah. I mean, as a physician I’m (like you) legally liable for the advice I dole out. Like it’s actually incredibly important that I distribute accurate information and distinguish between my personal opinion and what’s evidence-based. So it really pisses me off when other professionals don’t take their fiduciary duty seriously.

          And…again, like you, I see really, really sick people. It gives me a perspective that some of these “teachers” lack. In my first weeks post-partum when I didn’t have enough milk and the baby couldn’t latch and everything hurt and I was just bleeding and exhausted…I thought about one of my little patients’ moms and I cried because I had this perfect, healthy little baby and she didn’t, and the ache of that broke my heart. I knew in my bones that my baby would be fine, no matter how we managed eating and sleeping.

        2. wittyrepartee*

          In Public Health. YUUUUP. My favorite question about vaccine hesitancy is “so like- have they told you why they don’t want to get vaccinated?” The variety of answers is amazing.

    1. HotSauce*

      This is exactly how misinformation is spread. Not everyone has the education or insight to question sources when presented by people who seem well informed.

  10. quill*

    I’m so glad the prenatal instructor is being investigated. There was a huge potential for harm there.

  11. X-Man*

    “I no longer have to worry about people seeing the same value that I always saw.”

    That’s a really lovely sentiment OP, you sound like an excellent manager!

  12. Hapax Legomenon*

    OP3, it sounds like you had a completely positive outcome more than a mixed bag. Maybe it was a really taxing amount of work for you, but even if it was, you cultivated a problematic employee until he became the genuine asset you knew he could be. That’s a HUGE accomplishment–recognizing his potential value despite his problematic traits, and adjusting the factors within your control until he could contribute more and cause fewer problems–and I hope you take pride in it.

  13. Rat Diva*

    I’m very, very glad that my higher-ups acknowledged from the get-go that everything about COVID sucks and didn’t try to make us pretend otherwise. They made sure we knew what resources were available, and did whatever they could to keep people safe and most importantly from being laid off. The kind of stuff that actually HELPS – no foodless and chairless picnics because what the heck does that even mean!?

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      I have seen positive outcomes from Covid, in my volunteer work helping young mothers. Basically they can establish breastfeeding so much easier at the maternity, because only one visitor is allowed, and the mother usually chooses her life partner or her own mother over creepy uncle. As a result, there are never any awkward moments when the baby clearly needs to breastfeed but the mother feels uncomfortable uncovering her breasts.

      But the mothers do also suffer from increased solitude, and of course they are worried about their baby with its immature immune system and no vaccines available for them, apart from all the other BS covid has introduced into our lives. So I’m not sure just how much we should celebrate. Given the likelihood of people having lost a loved one, or having been worried sick about a loved one gasping for a ventilator, I would never mention that one little bright side!

  14. CuriousGeorge*

    LW3, if you’re on the thread, I would love more detail on what you actually did to finally get your point across. From your original letter it seemed like you had already tried being rude and hadn’t seen success with it! As a younger manager I’m interested in the learnings you got from this situation.

  15. Bob-White of the Glen*

    OP1 – it sounds like you are keeping your head down and surviving the job. But I will be happy when you are able to move and create the life you want! Any chance of finding WFH that will allow you to move once employed? Your environment continues to sound toxic and hopefully you can get out soon.

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