my employee spends too much time justifying everything she says

A reader writes:

I recently hired a new employee who has some personality traits that are affecting the work environment and other staff. It’s hard to identify the exact problem but I think I think it can be summed up in two ways: she doesn’t know how to end a conversation and she feels the need to justify her actions in every situation.

As an example, she might come into my office to ask if she can be 10 minutes late next Monday due to a doctor’s appointment. I might say, “Sure, we have enough coverage, no problem.” At this point I would expect her to say, “Great, thanks!” and leave, but instead she lingers and explain at length that she’s tried really hard not to have appointments conflict with work, she doesn’t think it will be much more than 10 minutes, and she’ll try in the future to schedule them on her day off. No matter how much I reassure her that she’s all set and everything is fine, she continues on, repeating the same thing in different ways. It gets to the point where the conversation becomes awkward.

As another example, she might ask if she can post something to our website. I say, “Sure, that’s a great idea.” She usually responds with something like, “Okay, I just wanted to make sure because … etc.” I repeat, “Yep, no problem.” She responds with more justifications or comments about why she suggested posting this item and why it would be a good idea, even though I’ve already told her I agree it’s a good idea. Again, the conversation becomes awkward.

This type of thing happens in almost every interaction with her, even minor ones. The other staff and I are feeling very uncomfortable and awkward. I know it must be difficult to start a new job when your coworkers all know each other, but we’ve tried hard to welcome her and help her feel she fits in.

I have already spoken to her, saying I don’t want her to feel she needs to justify everything, but several hours after speaking to her, this behavior continues. Any advice on how to correct this or help the staff deal with it? Do you think we’re being too picky or “clique-ish”? Do you think her behavior can be changed, or needs to be?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 251 comments… read them below }

  1. another Hero*

    I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s very young; if not, she’s probably had workplaces where this is expected. either way, I don’t think it’s an immutable trait! growing more professionally confident or getting used to the more relaxed expectations where she’s working now will probably help. but it would definitely be a courtesy to mention it and help that transition along rather than waiting for her to figure it out. I hope op did!

    1. January*

      She might be. I used to work at a place like that. No one ever flat-out said “you have to have some really good justification” but they would make subtle little digs that let you know you better have a Damn Good Reason. I left for therapy on Fridays at 5pm for awhile and my boss would always make a comment about how she wished *she* needed therapy to have a reason to leave early, and made a big deal about how that was “smart” of me to schedule it that way. -.-

      1. The New Wanderer*

        I wonder if that boss every realized that she actually truly might benefit from therapy to figure out why she feels people need an excuse to leave at a perfectly reasonable time.

        1. January*

          We’re lawyers, so leaving at 5pm (despite the fact that it was the end of core company hours and we were in-house) was seen as “Oh, where are you rushing off to?” I really hate the self-flagellating mentality of the legal profession.

          1. L.H. Puttgrass*

            Ugh. Law firms. When you need an example of a toxic workplace, they’re there for you.

            In this case: showing why setting things up so that partners make money based on how many hours the associates work is not a recipe for a reasonable approach to work-life balance.

            1. SeluciaMD*

              This. I used to be a paralegal in a large firm and after one particularly long day (and night) on an urgent project where I was at the office until after midnight, the partner I worked for said “you know, when you are here that late you can always just sleep on the couch in my office.” As if that was a totally reasonable, totally kind suggestion.

              It was the moment I decided I needed a completely different job in a completely different field.

            2. January*

              I wasn’t even at a law firm, I was in-house! My boss and people on the same level as her killed themselves like they were at a law firm, though. I think part of the reason I was selected for lay off (though I’ll never know) is that I pushed back on the idea of doing the same. I typically worked ~55 hours and that was considered to be on the low end.

              1. Anonymous4*

                55 hours a week! That’s either 9+ hours a day, 6 days a week, or 11 hours a day, 5 days a week, and both of them are outrageous!

                I’ve worked 11-hour days, and I’ve worked 6- and 7-day weeks, but neither of them is something I’ll do without a screaming emergency. Which we’ve had. I’m really glad you got out of that, even if it was with some assistance, shall we say — that kind of schedule eats people alive.

      2. SpaceySteph*

        “everyone can benefit from therapy” plus pointed look signaling boss needs therapy. She sounds terrible!

      3. Tex*

        “Yes, therapy has really helped me identify how to directly communicate instead of throwing out passive aggressive digs at people.”

        1. MLH*

          So Lamy potential causes for this… Volatile parents, rejection sensitivity due to adhd, partner abuse. Try to be kind and remember she’s more than likely not trying to be annoying, it’s probably a defense mechanism.

            1. Splendid Colors*

              I agree. I think the OP needs to make clear that although some workplace cultures expect people to justify things–that is not her management style. If she’s already said “yes” then everything is OK, no need to justify. If OP needed more information to make a decision, she would ask for it up front.

      4. Meep*

        Do we have the same boss? Only mine isn’t smart enough to be a lawyer. She is a Grade B grifter at best.

        Mine once commented about a coworker who was going to therapy and how she “wished she could afford therapy” but alas she “was busy running this company.” When I needed therapy (because of her), I didn’t tell her about it and ended up scheduling it at lunch so I could sit in my car. It was also recently pointed out to me that I didn’t want to tell anyone I had bought a home and that I had gotten married because of fear of retribution from her. It is kind of scary.

      5. fueled by coffee*

        Shoutout to a coworker at my first job who, upon hearing that I was taking a day off for a Jewish religious holiday, said “Wow, I wish I could take the day off for holidays.”

        For starters, ma’am, you already get Christmas and Easter off automatically (I’m pretty sure that workplace was off for Good Friday, too, because we were in a region of the country with a very high Catholic population), but also, you are free to use your vacation days for Yom Kippur if you really wanted a random day off in September, too!

        1. Meep*

          OMG. That is hysterical. For a while we had Good Friday off, but not Memorial, Labor, or Veteran’s Day off. Same for 4th of July. The lady deciding which holidays we got off is Catholic and her ex-husband is a veteran so screw holidays celebrating him! When it came down to it, it was Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Good Friday as our only company holidays (no Black Friday off unless you took it off). It was comical when someone new onboarded and she had to explain why we had Good Friday off but nothing else.

      6. CommanderBanana*

        Yeah, my current boss has anxiety/abandonment issues (not armchair-diagnosing, they’ve told me this) but instead of managing it themselves, they spray their anxiety all over everyone, and one way it manifests is refusing to acknowledge when we request time off or making taking time off so painful that you give up.

        I finally went to HR after I got passive-aggressive digs about having a doctor’s appointment in the evening outside of work hours because she wanted to hold a random call at 7 pm and was butthurt that I wouldn’t be there.

    2. WomEngineer*

      I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s her communication style and/or trying to avoid being perceived a certain way. Being new, she hasn’t built a reputation. I understand why she might emphasize things like “being late won’t be a habitual thing for me” or reflect on how she’s approaching work – even if those things aren’t necessarily looked down upon in her organization.

    3. irene adler*

      This is the standard behavior of someone in the lab where I work. She’s over 70. She’s quite good at her work. Nonetheless interacting with her is always exhausting. Most people try to limit contact with her.

    4. Wintermute*

      I think you nailed it. This is a textbook bad workplace/bad boss maladaption.

      That’s one reason bad jobs suck so much not only do they cause stress and hamper your growth, but you can pick up maladaptive behaviors which look strange in more functional company and at a more functional company.

        1. HigherEdAdminista*

          It might not even be just the workplace! For people who grew up in abusive homes or homes with bad dynamics around this kind of stuff, over-explaining can easily become a deeply ingrained way of living.

          1. ___JustNo___*

            Thanks for posting this. People who grew up in abusive homes might spend a good amount of time “explaining” or justifying because they had the stuffing knocked out of them when they didn’t. Think about coming home and knowing that the abuse was coming – but not knowing what set it off. (Been there.)

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        I have been this person because of abusive workplaces. I literally have to watch out for it in my own communications, especially when my imposter syndrome rears its ugly head. In some ways, having had rotten bosses lasts long after the company is dead.

        If you get used to having to justify every little thing, even stuff that should be “Of course. Thanks for letting me know.” you just get into the habit of not hearing the okay and launching into justification. It really is insidious, and it can take a sensitive manager to de-train the habit.

    5. MusicWithRocksIn*

      I don’t know – I’ve worked with a couple people who do this, and they are mostly older dudes. I feel like it comes from a place where they just don’t think you understand them, so they re-explain and re-explain the same information in slightly different formats until you are ready to run though a solid wall to get away. You say “Yea, I get that” and they will just keep repeating it. These are also the only people I’ve ever worked with that made me run low on patience and get snippy – and I am extremely non-confrontational.

      My go-to method on this is to just blatantly change the subject so dramatically that they can’t take it back to where it was before. Then use that Segue to exit the conversation. “It is totally fine if you are late for work Wednesday, don’t worry about it. Oh – Hey, Did you hear that Jason is taking over purchasing responsibilities? Be sure to give Jason your purchase requests starting Tuesday. Ask Martha about any questions about that. Oh, I’ve gotta see Martha about a question I’ve got for her, see you later!” and que me running off. Probably not the method a manager should take, but I will do what it takes to get out of the never ending conversation.

      1. irene adler*

        You might be onto something there- with the older dudes. My now retired boss would re-explain things all the time. He’d take a hour for something that needed 10 minutes time.

        I discovered that actively agreeing with him (verbally) after the first iteration would curtail things. Turns out, he does not recognize visual cues in conversations- at all. To the degree that if you walk away from him as he is talking, he just follows along, chattering away. He had no inkling that you are trying to end the conversation.

        1. Salsa Verde*

          I wrote about my boss below, but sadly since we have been working from home for two years, I can’t really give him visual cues, and it’s much harder to interrupt him in an online meeting. I’m trying to figure out the magic wording I can put in my questions to make it clear that I just want a quick answer to the one clarifying question, not for him to go over the entire explanation again.

          1. BeenThere*

            I have a few team mates which I collaborate with on boss spells, the magic words that will get you the behavior you desire.

      2. KateM*

        Now I wonder what would happen if one asnwered a mansplainer according to this AAM’s advice, except for making it quite clear that you as his female boss believe the problem is his insecurity and needing encouraging that it is OK to do this or that.

      3. Salsa Verde*

        I have this problem with my boss as well. He gives a soliloquy on something as an instruction, and then I ask one clarifying question (that I try really hard to make a yes or no question, or close) and he just re-explains the whole thing from top to bottom, never definitively answering my question. And then he’ll try to add an example, which I don’t need, I just needed ONE specific clarifying question answered. It’s exhausting.

        1. Anonymous4*

          I’ve dealt with guys like that before, and I say, “One question!” And I hold up one finger. And then I ask the question. If he starts in at the beginning, I interrupt and say, “No, I’m asking about the such-and-such. How do you hoodangle the such-and-such?”

          That will usually get them onto the actual question, but I have had to interrupt and redirect two or three times with dedicated Automatic-Replay guys. The important thing is, don’t let them start rolling with the chronic reiterations.

      4. Hlao-roo*

        I had a friend whose “trains of thought” were like long freight trains. It took them a while to get up to speed but once they did, they kept going and going and going. They certainly weren’t going to stop for one little “Yea, I get that.” He was a friend, not a boss, so I would listen to him explain something the first time, then zone out while smiling and nodding as he explained it again and again and again.

      5. L.H. Puttgrass*

        The best version of this I’ve heard (although perhaps not the most tactful) is, “I already said yes. Why are you still arguing with me?”

    6. Avalon Angel*

      My first thought was that she used to work in a toxic environment that expected/created this sort of dynamic to the point where she thinks this is the norm.

    7. Lacey*

      Yup. My first job out of college required a lot of explanations for even really small things like needing to use the restroom more than twice a day.

      So at my next job I was SUPER on edge all the time and nearly had a breakdown because I’d messed up some copies. The kindness at that job really helped me to move on and be a more normal employee at the one after that, but I think if I’d had multiple jobs like the first or done a longer stint at the first, I would need much more than a hint that my overexplaining was both unnecessary and unwelcome.

    8. Momma Bear*

      I was also thinking young and not feeling empowered. I realize this is an old question, but OP might also try having her put these requests in an email where OP can skim and just say yes/no and gloss over the verbal excess. I also agree that OP should be clear on “if I say it’s OK, it’s really OK.” Some people need that spelled out, especially if it’s the first job where they’ve been trusted. Sometimes I still need to remember that *I* am a decision-maker for x and y. It’s just something you grow into.

    9. Cake or Death?*

      IDk, my mother is exactly like this and she is not young lol. She CANNOT have a short conversation; it’s almost like a compulsion for her. Of course, since she’s my mother, when she starts rattling on, I can tell her “too much detail” and she’ll cut to the chase lol.

      1. K*

        My cousin’s husband will tell her to “land the plane” when her stories (frequently) get into too much detail – hilarious.

    10. JamminOnMyPlanner*

      Oh gosh I had an assistantship in grad school that probably ruined me for this. I had to justify every little thing I did and beg and plead to do basically…anything. One time I needed to run across campus for fifteen minutes tops to pick up a check from another office. That other office closed before I got off, and as a poor graduate student, I needed the money. My boss wanted me to come back to campus the next day on my day off to pick up the check.

      I only made $10 an hour, so I was tempted to offer to reimburse them the $2.50 they’d pay me for that 15 minutes.

      1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

        Now I’m having flashbacks to that job. Another time, I got free tickets to the Major League Baseball team that I support. I only worked 4 hours a day because it was the summer (I actually tried so hard to not work there in the summer so I could work a job that paid me more than $800 a month but they told me I’d be fired if I didn’t work in the summer, so…) I think I worked 1:00 to 5:00 and the baseball game was a few hours away.

        I told my boss, hey, I have these free tickets, so I can either work 9:00 to 1:00 or I can make up the hours by adding on extra hours other days. She literally started crying and shaking and saying I was being extremely disrespectful to her because I “didn’t ask.”

        She still made me stay until 5:00 and I had to rush to make it to the game on time. I actually don’t remember how I even made it.

        1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

          OMG, what in the hell was wrong with that woman?

          I mean, I don’t necessarily expect you to know the answer to that, but there is something REALLY wrong with a boss who cries over being asked for a very minor schedule adjustment. It’s not like you were even asking for time off; you were asking to work the exact same number of hours, just in a slightly altered configuration. WTAF.

    11. Lazy Catnip*

      I don’t think this has anything to do with age.
      I’ve encountered this behaviour quite regularly. It’s usually a sign of people who are not used to being seen and respected.
      Also workplace PTSD from a toxic former job can do that to people.
      Alison’s answer is spot on: the only thing that helps is telling them firmly to just stop.
      This will trigger a gush of even more apologies and explanations the first few times which have to be interrupted and sternly stopped.
      It then helps to use the next possible occasion to dish out some well founded praise.
      You then have to stop them again when they start deflecting the compliment but a few more firm interuotions and clearly detailed explanations of future behaviour will finally make them realize that you see them, that you understand and that they can just trust you to not being out to get them.

    12. SimplytheBest*

      I’m sure it can be, but I’ve known people in both the workplace and in my personal life where this is just how they talk. About everything to everyone.

    13. matcha123*

      I’m in my 30s and have been working since a very young age, and I do something similar.
      It’s nothing to do with confidence per se. It’s more that older coworkers will later pick apart every part of my work and, without verbalizing it, imply that I’m incompetent and I should have asked more questions…but when I go to ask questions they act annoyed that I’m asking such simple questions.
      I really suggest that people, such as yourself, not assume that explaining is due to a lack of confidence. Instead continue to support the person and also ensure that other staff aren’t creating an unwelcome environment.

      The OP says that’s not the case, and I believe her, but I can say that speaking with confidence to a senior colleague who assumes younger people are incompetent results in what the OP wrote in about…

  2. Dust Bunny*

    I used to work at a place where getting any time off for anything was such an ordeal that you felt like you needed All The Justifications to make sure the bosses thought it was worth their time to let you have it. I wonder if this woman’s previous employer was like that?

    1. Amber Rose*

      Yeah, this definitely sounds like some habits I had after the last place I worked, where every need to be out of office was met with All The Guilt and every decision I tried to make independently was met with interrogation hour.

      1. Liz*

        BTDT. Now? If i need time off or need to come in late or leave early, I just email my boss, and tell him. he has no problem with it.
        Same with making work related decisions. If its something really huge, of course I run it by him, but other times I just let him know, hey i’m doing this, or i did this.

    2. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Yeah, this definitely pinged me as a work situation where there is suspicion and lack of trust from management so you develop bad habits to cope with that. It can be really, really hard when you eventually get a boss who isn’t like that, because you’ve spent so long having to explain yourself for every tiny thing. She should definitely work on this, but I’ve both experienced this dynamic and seen it in others and it’s really, really hard to shake.

    3. Meep*

      My soon-to-be-former place of employment is a lot like this. Everything has to have justification due to the Toxic Manager calling the shots. She screamed at me several times for doing something I was TOLD by her boss to do. One time was even after she sweetly told me that we have to communicate at all times. (Yes, it made me stop communicating with her at all!) I found myself having to go overboard on justifications, because even if she said “fine” she was completely sitting there waiting to whine about what a lazy employee I was to one of my coworkers, or worse, her boss.

      It got to the point that I couldn’t take time off to move into my house because she would’ve used it against me. So my husband and mom packed everything up and moved while I went to work. When I finally told them I had moved a week after the fact, she went right for that reasoning too, and was visibly upset when I told her that we had already moved so she didn’t have to worry!

      1. allathian*

        I remember your posts about this a few months ago or whenever you were moving, and I’m very glad to hear that you’re leaving that place soon.

    4. hayling*

      Yep, was definitely thinking that she worked in a previous workplace where there was very little trust. Sounds like a bad habit she picked up after working in a place that made her justify her every movement. I had a super micro-managey boss who I had to get approval for every. little. thing. and it got engrained in me. At my next job my new boss sat me down and was like “Hayling, I trust you, and will always back up your decisions, you don’t need my approval on every little thing.”

    5. Lacey*

      100%. I used to give the most detailed explanations of my time off.

      Now I just say, “I need this day” and if it was ever not possible my boss would let me know.
      I do sometimes share what I’m doing conversationally, we’re a chatty bunch, but it wouldn’t be part of the request.

    6. MissDisplaced*

      It’s precisely what I was thinking, because I’ve BEEN this employee. Some toxic managers or workplaces require that you justify every little thing. It kills your self worth and confidence, but what’s worse is you can carry those coping mechanisms with you to the next job.
      I hope the OP has a bit of patience, because it will ho away in a more supportive environment.

    7. LinuxSystemsGuy*

      I could also see this dovetailing into a situation where you’ve prepared ALL the explanations expecting to need them, but then when you don’t you kinda feel like you wasted all that effort. “No, no in my head this was a much longer conversation, and I need to use all this material I prepared.”

  3. kicking_k*

    Yup. Sounds like she has experience – in work or out – of having her decisions routinely questioned or overturned and her requests shut down.

    I think she can unlearn it, but yes, I think you need to say something unambiguous and then (kindly) point out when she’s doing it for a while.

    1. Rachael*

      I was coming here to say this. I used to do this when I was younger in the workforce because I grew up with my mom dismissing anything I did. It was just me trying to get the other person to see that what I was talking about wasn’t nonsense. I learned as I went that people didn’t think like my mom and it was a relief! I would just talk to her and tell her you trust her.

      1. Notpeoplepleasingtoday*

        Ugh, same. I’ve been married for a decade with a toddler, and my wife can tell if my anxiety is running high, because I will stay over explain every little thing. Turns out they are some real downsides to constantly steamrolling a kid into doing only what you want.

        1. Rachael*

          Yup. Also, my mom also accused my of lying all the time (even though I rarely did) and this caused me to ramble with explanations in order to make sure that people knew I was telling the truth. Turns out that people don’t need all that detail, lol.

    2. KHB*

      Or even worse, having her decisions approved but used against her later. (E.g., she asks if she can be 10 minutes late on Monday due to an appointment, the boss says “sure, OK,” and then on her performance review she gets dinged for having been 10 minutes late on Monday.)

      Even if it’s not exactly this, I think it’s extremely likely that there’s something in her previous work experience that’s provoking this behavior, and that addressing the root cause will get you a lot further than telling her ever-more-clearly to knock it off.

      1. kicking_k*

        There’s various things that can cause it! I had a boss who, from a genuine desire to train me to think for myself, would respond to any questions (even simple ones) with the suggestion I think about it some more. The net effect was to make me very anxious about asking _anything_ without being able to demonstrate that I had really, really thought about it.

        1. KHB*

          Interesting synergy between this and this afternoon’s question. It can be reasonable, in some circumstances, for a manager to say “You’re coming to me with questions more frequently than is sustainable for me getting my own work done. Eventually you’ll need to be able to figure these things out for yourself, and only come to me with questions when you’ve really, really thought about it.” If communicated appropriately, that shouldn’t be anxiety-inducing.

          …But it also shouldn’t have anything to do with something like “Is it all right if I come in ten minutes late on Monday.” That’s either all right, or it isn’t – and it’s the boss’s job to figure out which it is, so it’s not something the employee needs to have thought through.

          1. kicking_k*

            I think it’s a useful tool for training – but not for questions like “Can I have Monday off?” or “Have you got the Teapot Protocol paperwork, because I need to check something?” or even “Can you confirm for me that Rules 7 and 11 apply?” Sometimes you do just need a yes or no answer and move on, not a ten-minute-plus teachable moment.

          2. kicking_k*

            Ah, I’ve seen that question now and yes, there is a weird synergy! Must be “How do I get my inexperienced employee to proceed without needing hand-holding?” day.

      2. I Fought the Law*

        Yes! My last boss was abusive and would approve things and then use them against us later. I’ve been at a new job for about four years and I still have to work hard not to over-justify every request and decision. I actually started to panic a little just reading this letter. I hope the OP will consider this possibility and not punish the employee for coping mechanisms she likely was forced to develop.

  4. The New Normal*

    I’ve been this person. I was trained this at my earliest few jobs because I didn’t know how to recognize toxicity. The micromanagement and justification for anything other than status quo was taught swiftly and deeply. Add to that a bit of imposter syndrome and I can see how this employee feels the need to frontload and justify constantly. Having patience and modeling patience will be a godsend for them. Simply reinforce that the employee need only state the time off request and no justification, and then do that. Cutting them off can be helpful if done in a kind way.

    1. ThisIsTheHill*

      Me too. It took me a few years in a normal working environment to mostly stop (I still slip now & again) going into detail about why I needed time off, the reason I called in sick, why I was 10 minutes late, why I didn’t answer a work call after hours, etc. OP needs to reinforce what she’s told the employee & it should stick eventually. I remember the huge weight being taken off of my shoulders when I finally got it – I’m an adult & was finally being treated like one.

    2. Office PTSD*

      I was in a toxic workplace ten years ago. I still struggle with things like this and constantly feeling like I’m not good enough. I don’t think people realize just how damaging it can be. I reign it in better now that I’m older, but I definitely still panic on the inside.

      1. DJ Abbott*

        That sounds like me before I got EMDR therapy. Mine was for abusive family, but I still think therapy might help you. You shouldn’t have to feel like that at all, inside or outside!

    3. Grace Poole*

      I still find myself writing, then deleting, half of an email draft explaining or justifying the format or the organization, when all the person wants is the files they asked for. It’s very freeing to be able to send off a “here are the files!” message with little filler.

  5. January*

    The first thing that came to my mind is that you could frame this as the employee second-guessing you, or not believing what you say. It’s difficult to work with somebody who constantly says “Are you sure? Are you REALLY sure?” after every question. I would also suggest that this seems to be her trying to get you all to manage her emotions for her. She’s looking for you to say “magic words” (or at least a magical amount of repetition) to soothe herself, and that’s too much emotional labor to ask of coworkers and bosses.

    1. Broadway Duchess*

      I don’t think this is at all what’s happening here. It seems to me that the employee is coming from an environment where it was necessary (or she perceived it to be necessary) to explain her thinking on things and she doesn’t recognize that it’s not needed here. That is something that can be annoying to deal with from OP’s perspective and she should definitely talk the employee about it, but this is a bad habit that the employee needs to be coached out of.

      1. January*

        I’m not sure what you’re saying here-the fact that she “doesn’t recognize that it’s not needed here” despite the fact that she’s been told many times that it isn’t, *is* asking her boss/coworkers to manage her emotions and do emotional labor. And I agree that she needs to be coached out of it.

    2. Nomorejustsorums*

      This. Yes. I could have written this about two employees, both of which can’t manage emotion and at least one of which, but probably both, really need above and beyond and past the moon accolades.

    3. JamminOnMyPlanner*

      I’ve had a job in the past where I had to beg and plead and justify time off. It’s probably a bad habit she picked up from having a horrible boss.

  6. PizzaDog*

    she’s probably had some terrible bosses in her work life, if she’s justifying these little things to you. work with her to unlearn that behaviour.

    1. Lucy Skywalker*

      Either that, or she really did mess up in ways that she thought weren’t a big deal but then turned out to be.

  7. Myrin*

    Aah, this is very timely because I definitely recognise myself some in that employee – certainly not to the extent as OP describes her but ugh, I cringed just reading it because yeah, I’ve definitely done what’s described word-for-word.
    For me, I’ve never actually been in an environment (neither in my personal life nor at work) where I was expected to justify things in such a way, and I’m actually very confident and not insecure at all (which annoys me even more because I know this can make me come across that way), it’s just… a weird verbal tick. Also, I like talking and have a strangely hard time stopping myself sometimes even though my brain is screaming at me to just shut up.
    So, yeah, definitely a very helpful reminder to see this.

    1. MsSolo (UK)*

      We had someone at a previous workplace who did this as well, and some of it was just that she was chatty. She’d tell you five different ways that she was having a sandwich for lunch, and you might interpret it as making sure you believed her, or justifying having lunch, or many other things, but it was so constant in so many areas it was clear it was jut a verbal tic that you had to accept because she was a perfectly nice person who just couldn’t figure out how to let a sentence end.

    2. WomEngineer*

      I recognize it too, especially with regards to explaining your thought process. But I don’t see it as insecurity. I see it as verbally showing your understanding of the work and inviting feedback. It makes sense to ask if her role involves (A) communicating outside the group (which updating the website seems to imply) or (B) understanding why things are done a certain why and/or how it fits into the “big picture” (which is a big deal for my work and career progression)

      1. Anonym*

        Hmm. This is true of my work as well, but not recognizing that you’re wasting people’s time and exhausting them with a performance of your comprehension is a detriment to success in most roles, including communications and strategy. I hope OP was able to help her, whatever the origin of the issue.

        1. Salsa Verde*

          Agreed – I think this is why my boss does it. He wants to explain his reasons and thought process, and that’s just not necessary for everything, especially when we only have a 30 minute meeting and a long agenda to get through! All his meetings run long, and it’s mainly because of that.

          1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

            I had a co-worker like that. We referred to him as The Clockmaker, because if you asked him the time, he’d tell you how to build a clock, in excruciating detail. He wasn’t a mansplainer; he’d just spent several years teaching 13-year-olds who needed that amount of detail to retain 10% of it.

    3. ThursdaysGeek*

      My goddaughter does this to some extent too, but I really think she is just a verbal processor: she is working out things in her mind, but needs to say them out loud. If I think about it, I do think some things over and over, but since they stay in my mind, they don’t bother anyone else. It’s not insecurity or a bad boss – it’s just the way her brain works.

    4. Shiara*

      I have some of this tendency as well. Some of it’s wanting to “show my work” so to speak, and some of it is being prepared to counter objections and then when there aren’t any it all comes spilling out anyway. Also I do have some people in my life who will make snap decisions that they then regret or even take back, so if I feel like someone’s made a decision too fast, even if it’s what I wanted, I feel compelled to present the downsides to make sure they’re going to stick to the decision once they have all the information I do.

      I’m trying to be more self aware about it.

    5. Gamer Girl*

      I have ADHD (recently diagnosed), and apparently this can be a “thing” for people with ADHD.

      (In my case, it’s a double-whammy, as it’s a learned behavior from my parent, who–surprise!–also has ADHD, though diagnosed over a decade ago and just never told me. O.O)

  8. Pikachu*

    I have a couple people that do this, and they are not new to the workforce. I still can’t figure it out, because they will repeat the exact same thing multiple times even if I acknowledge and tell them I got it, I understand, I agree, even if I repeat it back to them to show that I heard and that yes there are no problems everything is fine.

    The more it happens, the more I think it’s actually a listening problem–they are so concerned with communicating the thing that they don’t know how to listen for a meaningful response and adapt when they get one.

    I still don’t know how to fix it either.

    1. jane's nemesis*

      I worked with someone like this. She wasn’t necessarily justifying herself, and it didn’t seem like insecurity, and she was a veteran. She would just repeat the same talking points over and over in slightly different ways. I never did figure out why she did it, or how to get it to stop, but I left that position partially to get away from her, because talking to her was So Freaking Painful.

      1. Tex*

        I think the military has a very specific way of making a presentation. I’ve heard about the process a couple times: “I am going to tell you the following 3 things, here are the 3 things, to sum up what I just told you were the following 3 things.”

        1. Metadata minion*

          That seems reasonable in a longer-form presentation — give people an overview, go into detail, recap.

        2. NeedRain47*

          I don’t think this is just the military, this is what I’ve heard about public speaking my entire life: “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you’ve told them.” But that’s for speeches & presentations, not for telling your boss that you’ll be ten minutes late on Wednesday.

          1. kathy*

            Honestly I think some people probably just like to hear themselves talk. My mom is a great example. She will tell you the same story about her friend’s kid’s neighbour’s dog and will continue to repeat it until she has gotten it all out of her system.

        3. Verthandi*

          I’ve had the misfortune of watching professional development videos that tell you what they’re going to tell you, but they don’t actually get to the part where they tell you what they’re going to tell you. It’s all appetizers and no entree.

      2. Jean*

        I have a coworker who does this too! It’s SO ODD! Like just say see ya later and walk away if you’re done talking, you don’t have to keep standing here repeating yourself and looking at me expectantly.

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        I have a boss who would explain something and then say “does that make sense?” and I would say yes, and then he would continue explaining it in different ways. Lots of tuning him out and smiling and nodding to get through unnecessarily long conversations.

        And I know the way I’ve described it sounds very condescending but it really didn’t come off that way. He was actually really nice and I liked him as a person! It was only annoying because every conversation with him was like 10 times longer than it needed to be. Thankfully he has actually been promoted so many times that he’s now my great-grandboss and I don’t interact with him directly much anymore other than him checking in casually on occasion to make sure everything is good.

    2. Emily*

      I agree. I don’t think this behavior is necessarily about having had bad bosses before, as most people in the comments are suggesting – some people don’t listen to the response and are ‘ruminating’ on their own reasoning aloud. It’s very annoying (and I do it too sometimes) but it’s quite hard to correct unless they have it pointed out multiple times. I think OP might just have to actively shut it down for a while – “Understood. This is what we talked about before, you don’t need to justify further so you can stop now. So about those spreadsheets… “. Hopefully they will catch on eventually, but it’s the kind of habit people often have difficulty correcting themselves.

      1. rambling rover*

        Yes–it’s definitely a possibility that she’s had a bad boss or other bad situation, but I also have caught myself doing this without having been in such a situation. I write the script in my head (“if she asks if I could take a different day instead, I’ll explain that I already bought the tickets, and…”) and then I feel like I need to finish the script. Just because it’s there, which is silly!

        Here’s the thing, as I see it: Ultimately, it’s not OP’s job to figure out the root of the problem for her employee. What it IS her job to do is to be a good, trustworthy, straightforward boss and communicate clearly and kindly the behavior that is going on, why it needs to stop, and when it’s happening. If the employee is doing it as a response to a former bad boss, that is what will help her unlearn that response; if she’s doing it just because it’s a habit, that is what will help her be more self-aware. Either way, what she needs from her boss is pretty much the same, fortunately!

    3. AndersonDarling*

      I do this. After two decades of not being listened to, I’ve learned to repeat myself and eventually I may say it at just the right time where I have the attention. Or I need to repeat something 5 different ways to find the one that they want to listen to.

      1. Nethwen*

        “After two decades of not being listened to, I’ve learned to repeat myself and eventually I may say it at just the right time where I have the attention. Or I need to repeat something 5 different ways to find the one that they want to listen to.”

        This so much. Depending on all the context of OP’s responses, the employee’s life experience may be causing her to interpret “Sure, that’s great idea” to mean “I heard your voice making noises and your noises got in the way of what I want to do; I have no idea what you said, but now it’s my turn to talk.”

        1. Radical Edward*

          YES. This x 1000. I have lifelong experience with several people who operate this way and it’s turned everyone around them into serial repeaters and over-explainers (because heaven forbid they call out being chronically ignored!). I certainly wasn’t immune, either. After a workplace encounter with someone who sounds exactly like the person OP describes, to the point that reading this made me tense up with anxiety, I snapped (so to speak) and now I politely shut down this behavior whenever possible, as SOON as possible.

          Unfortunately for me and my department at the time, our overexplaining colleague seemed to be operating from a place of both deep personal insecurity and overconfidence in their academic background. This resulted in literal lectures anytime they received feedback or their (unnecessary, wildly inappropriate) ideas were not taken on board. They didn’t just do this in spoken conversation, either – they would send novel-length emails after office hours, that we had to comb through for relevant information and then reply to, only to get another novel!

          It’s equally possible that their reliance on abstract knowledge was simply masking their deeper insecurity, or that it was only masking the sort of new-to-work insecurity that most recent grads feel at some point, but either way the end result was entirely unmanageable. I watched this person unravel themselves by refusing to take anything I said at face value, overcomplicate every single customer interaction, and then spin out as they tried to retcon those interactions in ways that put them unassailably in the right… even if nobody had complained.

          Then they quit one day with no notice because ‘we were too demanding’.

    4. kicking_k*

      My daughter is like this. She’ll tell you something to which there is no real response other than “mm-hmm” or “yes, I know”, then she’ll tell you again, and again…

      It’s not a big problem as she’s a kid, but we do pull her up about it. I do think it’s a listening problem, as she does get a verbal response. She just reacts as if she didn’t!

      1. quill*

        Having been that little kid: It can be hard to NOT finish your thoughts on a thing even if someone responds!

      2. Nethwen*

        Sometimes, asking a question, even tangentially related, can fill the need that produces repetition. Of course, then you’re opening the door to more talking when you might not want/be able to listen right then.

        Child: Did you know that the sky is blue when it’s sunny?
        Adult: Yes, I know. What color are lakes when it’s sunny?

        Child: My unicorn sneezed!
        Adult: What do unicorns wear to birthday parties?

        1. kicking_k*

          Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. She’s old enough (8) to know when she’s being humoured…

          I sometimes think she just wants to keep contributing to a conversation, even if she has nothing new to say yet. Her brother is very chatty so silence may seem like a wasted opportunity!

        1. kicking_k*

          On occasion, I have! It’s not always entirely clear what she wants. She does get a response, it’s not that we ignore her. Or “Sweetie, you said that twice already – we all heard you by now.”

    5. Chauncy Gardener*

      I’m currently working with a guy like this and I want to poke myself in the eye with a sharp stick every time I have to have a meeting with him. The verbal diarrhea is overwhelming. I don’t think he’s like the OP’s person, I think he’s a mansplainer who loves to hear himself talk and explain even the most simple thing over and over and over in.the.same.conversation. And does not recognize experience or expertise in anyone else.

  9. Free Meerkats*

    I’ve been fighting this battle with my spouse for over 25 years now. And yeah, it’s something related to her upbringing or a previous workplace. If the latter, you may be able to fix it, if the former, the odds are pretty good you and she are stuck with it. I blame my MIL (may she rot in Hell forever.)

    1. Cj*

      My late mother-in-law did this. Drove me crazy, but for some reason I still found myself picking up to have it. I don’t think I do it at work, but I have in social situations.

      My sister called me out on it once, and I’ve been trying to being more aware and not do it, especially because I know how annoying it is.

  10. Cat Mouse*

    Very likely an insecurity. I had this trouble and didn’t realize that I was constantly justifying my actions until a coworker asked me why I did it. That made me aware of what I was doing and it still happens occasionally, usually when trying to propose something, but it can be hard to overcome if you have always had to prove your worth previously.

    1. Cold Fish*

      I recognized myself in the description so much I had difficulty reading the letter. For myself it is a combination of anxiety and difficulty reading social cues.

      It might help to definitively close the conversations. In your examples:
      **when she asks for time off you respond with “Okay, not a problem.” to 90% of the population that probably is a closed conversation but because of my anxiety I would be expecting more and not recognize it as enough because you mention problem so I’d keep keep trying to justify it. Try instead “Okay, do you need anything else?” (Topic closed, she either has something else to bring up or she doesn’t.)
      **the website idea “That’s a great idea.” I’d be thinking “okay…..does that mean go ahead with it? that she likes the idea but maybe someone else would be better? do I add it?” perhaps instead “That’s a great idea, run with it.” (No further discussion needed, she has the next step.)
      Anyway, that’s what would work with me.

      1. CH*

        OP, definitely try this in combination with what AAM suggested. It may not help with your colleagues/coworkers, but it may help the employee start recognizing the pattern.

      2. Cat Mouse*

        Yes, definitely good responses! Even if people are good with social cues, having it stated clearly that no more discussion is needed is very helpful!

      3. Christina*

        Yep – answering “I’ll be ten minutes late” with “sure, we have coverage” makes her think its a potential problem in the future – and moving to address that problem with assurances that she will try to not schedule doctors appointments. But coverage is really your problem, not hers – if you don’t have coverage for ten minutes late for a doctors appointment, you are going to need to address that. So “thanks for letting me know!” closes that down. And yep, giving her next steps – “that’s a great idea, can you mock something up for Thursday’s meeting?” or whatever – a clear move forward with a clear “this is how you should proceed.”

        1. rambling rover*

          This is great advice, especially if the employee is doing this because of intense anxiety or fear of rejection! On the other hand, OP may not always be able to predict what exact wording will make the employee start anxiety-spiralling in any given situation. (I have a tendency to anxiety and there have been times when I couldn’t relax until a family member told me they loved me *in the exact words I was thinking of*. These thought processes aren’t reasonable, and it’s not possible for someone to predict them all!)

          If this type of problem does seem to be at the root of the issue, perhaps OP could tell the employee, “If I give you an answer that leaves you with questions still, please ask those questions outright and specifically. I would rather you ask the question than try to explain away a problem that may not exist.”

          For example:
          Employee: Can I be ten minutes late?
          OP: Sure, we have coverage.
          Employee: [rather than panicked rambling] If I need to ask for time off in the future, will getting coverage be a problem?
          OP: No, we have enough employees that coverage is consistently available. You’re fine to go ahead. [or whatever conversation-ender is appropriate]

          Hopefully, after this is repeated a few times, the employee will be able to start to see that this workplace is sane and normal and not full of hidden traps.

  11. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    I am reminded of the scene in “Shawshank Redemption”, where Red is paroled and working in a supermarket, and then asking the boss for permission to use the bathroom. Finally the boss gets on his case “if ya gotta go, just GO! Don’t ask me…” yet Red explains, for the last 30 years, while in prison, he had to ask permission.

    I have worked with people who worked, in a prior job, in places we’d call prisons, and had to ask permission to go to lunch, use the bathroom, get a cup of coffee or a soft drink, etc. In some environments – yes, you have to let your co-workers know you’re going to be away from your workstation for a few minutes.

    It sounds like this lady came out of a workplace that’s run like a prison. Habits, like Red’s asking to use the bathroom, can be hard to break.

    1. Goody*

      At least Red’s continued explanation was a voice-over to the audience, not to the pimple-faced assistant manager. A little different, but not by a lot.

    2. JamminOnMyPlanner*

      I have had a job where I had to ask to use the bathroom. And was sometimes told “no.” Oh god it was the WORST.

  12. SebbyGrrl*

    Also sounds like EE could be anxious…
    I over think, over strategies and def. over talk – can’t take Yes for an answer – bc I’m stuck in an anxiety dance.

    I couldn’t read the article as Inc. allows…Allows… per month(?) free…

    Thinking 3 pronged approach.

    “EE we talked about this before. Remember, you don’t need to say or justify anything after I say yes. Not taking yes for an answer is a problem. Can you fix that?”

    “You act in a way that seems to reflect micromanaging on my part that leads to you over explaining. That’s got to stop.”

    “Sometimes when we are new to an environment there’s anxiety about the parameters of the new environment. Could you pause before coming to me and reset/remind yourself you ask a question, you get a Yes, you say thank you and go back to work.”

    1. Combinatorialist*

      Just as an FYI, for the ones that are being revisited, if you copy the title into the “Search this Site” box, you can usually find the older post and at least the answer that Alison wrote the first time.

    2. Cj*

      Alisons reply is that the OP needs to be more direct. Your suggestions are certainly direct, but a little harsher than needed for the initial conversation, in my opinion. Your comments come across more like scolding and then coaching.

      Maybe if the employee doesn’t change after using Alisons suggestions, it may have to come down to using yours, but I would try a little softer although still direct approach first.

      1. Joielle*

        Yeah, too harsh – but personally I think these suggestions are not direct enough? If someone told me I was acting in a way that reflected micromanaging, I would think it was kind of rude but also not know exactly what I was doing wrong or how to fix it.

  13. Seminaranalyse*

    With my last Boss i had the Problem that she wanted the Ultrashort Answers and no Explanations which sometimes led to Problems since the Way she wanted Things done was not feasible to me and there were sometimes logical Problems in her Thinking. After a discussion we appreciate our different Styles. I get to explain my Thoughts which he understands more but she also makes me
    Talk more to the Point.

    1. Salsa Verde*

      This would be the ideal outcome for me, but I’m the one who wants ultrashort answers and no explanations – you have inspired me to have a talk with my boss tomorrow!

      1. Seminaranalyse*

        Yeah i’m thankful for her helping me getting shorter to the Point but she appreciates my knowledge and that i am taking my time with technical Explanations to other employees cause i have a lot more Patience when explaining Things. This is for me about Respect and Appreciation. I have grown a lot more in respectful Environments.

  14. Generic Name*

    Was there an update on this one? It stood out to me that the boss said, “Maybe the reason she does this is we’re too cliqueish” which doesn’t make any sense to me. Franky, if you are a manager and if you wonder/think you might be too cliqueish, you’re probably too cliqueish.

    1. Smithy*

      Because the OP calls this out potentially being cliqueish, I do think it might be valuable for the OP to reflect if there are a number of organization or team processes that seem particularly vague.

      For a team that has worked together for a long time and gets along well, vague or ambiguous guidelines around PTO or work approval processes can feel very freeing. That ambiguity allows for inevitable exceptions or unique situations, and the team knows each other, the work, and larger environment well enough to confidently make decisions or ask specific requests. For a team like this, more rigid guidelines or onboarding processes can feel restricting or maybe even impossible to write down. But for some kinds of new hires, particularly younger ones or people coming from really toxic environments that level of ambiguity can be particularly difficult to navigate.

      So if every time someone says “is their a manual or source of guidance around PTO/how to upload to the website” and every response is individual or unwritten, it can be increasing difficult for some people to feel confident. And can elevate a feeling of a workplace as a clique – not because people aren’t being personally welcoming, but because they haven’t done as much as they could to explain how their office/team works.

      1. All Het Up About It*

        The worry about being clique-ish, along with the manger being sure that this behavior was annoying the whole team as well as herself – made me pause a bit as well. Especially as when I went back and looked at the original, there was the added fact that the manager was a new manager, and promoted. So many of the people she was managing were likely her peers not long before. The new hire might have even filled her role.

        So even if the inability to accept Yes as an answer was a problem, I hope the manager was able to look at her handling of the situation from various angles. So when long time team members complained to her about it, she would ideally have given them constructive methods to address it, opposed to saying ‘Oh I KNOW! It’s so annoying and awkward when she does that!” Not that the manager was necessarily doing that, BUT I could see it happening as part of that difficult transition from peer to boss.

        It’s just such a difficult letter because there are clues, that point to a clique and then there are clues that point to JUST a clueless and/or anxious new comer.

  15. Katie*

    Kindly tell her that she doesn’t have to justify herself so much. If you say okay she doesn’t have to go on.
    Also if you can, at least for time off/appointments I have told my people that they don’t have to ask permission. Just put it in my calendar. They are all good employees and know the bad times to take off.
    If it is a ‘bad time’ then a basic reason will do (appointment/funeral/etc)

  16. Courtney*

    Perhaps she used to work retail? I know I had a hard time switching my brain from retail environment to a more office style job. For example, I catch myself asking my supervisor if I could come in late because of a dr appointment (we don’t have a typical 9-5 work day, very flexible hours and you just need to get your work done before deadlines). She reminded me I don’t need to ask her- Just tell her.

    I definitely used to be this person. It is a hard habit to break, especially if her former working environments were very “micromanage-y” or she had to get a ton of approval before doing anything.

  17. Detoxing from Past Employers*

    Sounds 100% like OP has worked/lived/participated places where absences were not tolerated unless you were dying or you groveled hard and then punished yourself with guilt (and made sure the boss/teacher/coach heard you punishing yourself).

    Being direct is a kindness to help people unlearn this behavior. It has also helped me unlearn this when my boss pointed out when he will be absent due to things like appointments and followed up with “and if you ever have a dentist appointment in the middle of the day. That’s fine too. All we need is a heads up.”

    It can take a while to really believe that it’s okay to have autonomy over your work-life balance if you’ve been in a situation where it wasn’t okay for a long time.

  18. Mannheim Steamroller*

    If this employee is young enough, she might have learned this behavior from an overbearing home environment.

    1. Gerry Keay*

      Yeah, or just any extended living with someone who doesn’t respect boundaries or a person’s wants and needs. Lots of JADE (justify, argue, defend, explain) happening. Hope they’re able to sort things out and feel more confident in stating their needs.

  19. Jenn*

    “You’re selling past the close” tends to work pretty well – it’s light-hearted and usually only requires explanation once.

    Also reinforcing trust on other occasions. I had this behavior, and it came from literally NEVER being taken seriously when I said something for many, many years.

  20. AMW*

    This is a very relatable habit. Many circumstances in a person’s life can lead to them feeling like they must justify everything they do, whether that is excessively controlling parents, a micromanaging boss, abusive interpersonal relationships, and so on. My bet is that this employee might not even realize they are doing it most of the time; this is something they have been conditioned to do by one circumstance or another. I’m glad LW called attention to it, but for this type of habit a one-time redirect probably won’t be enough. Like AG said, be clear, but also gentle, if possible. There’s a reason someone behaves this way.

  21. ArtK*

    Something that both parties need to realize is that you don’t need the other person’s permission to end a conversation.

    1. Random Bystander*

      That can be easier said than done, to be honest. It’s less the case now (we’re all working from home) but back when we were in the office I had a co-worker who was much like the one in the letter–in this case, an older woman (mid 50s when she started). She’d pop up in my cube (instead of using IM like everyone else did) and after five minutes of lead in, she’d get around to her question, I’d answer, and then there’d be 10 minutes of explaining why she felt the need to ask … and she would not leave, even if I said, “I’ve got to get back to my work now” and turned to actually start doing said work, she was still yammering behind me with the explaining/apologizing … it was exhausting.

      At least now, she has no choice but to use IM (well, she could call, but I just reject), and I can ignore the IM unless there’s an actual question in there.

  22. Polecat*

    I have a relative like this. She’s been like this her whole adult life and she’s not young anymore by a longshot. If I say to her, would you like to have lunch tomorrow, and the answer is no I already have plans, that takes her at least seven or eight minutes to say. It’s multiple apologies and explanations and too much information and she simply is unable to stop talking. She is also extremely sensitive so rather than try and correct her or criticize her, I just let her wind down and then I say that’s OK no problem another time, or whatever. But it is beyond irritating!
    Because this is a work environment and it’s affecting perceptions of her in the workplace, I think you can be more aggressive and interrupt her and say that you already said yes no worries no more explanations are needed. And if she starts talking again and explaining, you interrupt her again. You can do this nicely but firmly. I do think it comes from an overall anxious personality and wanting to anticipate every possible reason someone could be mad at her and explain it away ahead of time. I doubt that it only shows up in her work life.

  23. Alice*

    Yes, please have a conversation with her and spell it out! I’ve been in that employee’s situation, due to a combination of anxiety and coming from a dysfunctional workplace where my manager would say “yes” but mean “I’m not really listening to you right now”. I eventually got out of the habit but it took a long time, and I’m sure I annoyed a couple of managers in the meanwhile. It’s a kindness to have this conversation now, to you and to her.

  24. RagingADHD*

    I have succeeded with a couple of people who have this tendency by cutting them off (with a smile) and telling them to “take the win.” Or “I already said yes, are you trying to change my mind?” A couple of times of that, and it finally took.

    She is stuck in a pattern, and you explaining and repeating isn’t going to get through. You have to give her a pattern interruption and break the cycle. Be warm and kind, but firm and brief.

  25. Optimistic Prime*

    That is exhausting. My dad always justified his question before he even asked it. He would explain to me that he thought over different possibilities and options, etc. He would go on and on and then when he would finally get to the question is was asking something silly like “How about we eat at this restaurant tonight.” Drove me up the wall. I would cut him off and just say “What is the point?”
    I can empathize. Doing that with an employee can be a lot more frustrating.

  26. animaniactoo*

    I have been reading AAM long enough to know that the answer to this is don’t tell her:

    I don’t want her to feel she needs to justify everything

    tell her that you need her to stop doing that.

    1. James Thomas*

      Which was exactly Alison’s answer, and the answer to so many similar questions AAM gets.

      As an aside, I don’t know how many of us are advice fans, but I read Miss Manners too. Her answers are always the opposite. She’ll suggest the writer say something cryptic, and then get ripped in the comments.

      1. animaniactoo*

        The MM advice (particularly as of late) gets ripped regularly in another community I participate in.

        There is a style of indirect communication that works when everyone understands the code. But if someone is writing in for advice, they already don’t understand the code, or the person they’re talking to doesn’t understand that code, and it’s unlikely anything other than direct – polite, but direct – communication is going to work.

        1. James Thomas*

          I only read MM to go to her comments. That commentariat isn’t quite one I see eye-to-eye with, but it sure is spot on when MM suggests some esoteric response.

          I know this violates AAM’s commenting policy for being off topic, but I just want to give everybody here a shout out, because this is the best commenting section on the whole internet. And I promise to not add to this thread.

          1. Cj*

            I wonder if you read Miss Manners on the same website as I do, because saying the commentariat is not one I see always see eye-to-eye with is an understatement.

      2. Working Hypothesis*

        Miss Manners occasionally suggests cryptic messaging, but far from always. She’s well known for trying to get across the concept that “No, thank you,” is a complete sentence, for example, and therefore that you do not need any excuse for declining an invitation. You can just say no. That’s pretty radical these days, but very useful and about as direct as it gets.

  27. introverted af*

    I know these are old letters, but if this was happening in 2022, I would also wonder if maybe your coworker needs more socializing/talking with people. I like talking about my work, I like my job, and while I love WFH, sometimes I go a lil bit overboard talking to people. In my experience though, the people I’m talking to have been gracious about hearing me out and just conversing in general, and I try to extend that to others even if I don’t really want to talk to them.

  28. Sack of Benevolent Trash Marsupials*

    I have a young employee who struggles with this. My impression has always been that this is a behavior left over from college, where potentially professors did want you to explain all of your thinking. But definitely insecurity from parental dismissiveness or other negative experiences probably also plays a part. I have told them “I trust you have thought all this through” enough times that they are finally getting more comfortable giving shorter answers :-)

  29. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

    Hi, I was this person and still have to fight the urge to do this a lot (and sometimes fail). For me, it stemmed from several issues: undiagnosed ADHD, which exasperated my anxiety and often made me feel like a complete failure at life in general, so I felt like I needed to have a justification for everything locked and loaded; a history of toxic bosses who wouldn’t speak immediately with me when they had an issue with something I was doing but also wouldn’t affirm when I was doing something correctly, so I never felt secure in the quality of my work (I have been blindsided in both a review and a one-on-one with really vague-but-overly-harsh statements about certain things that the person speaking to me either refused to or could not elaborate on, and I’ve also had a manager criticize something I’d been doing that she didn’t like in front of like 10 people when she had not discussed it with me previously); I had one boss that basically pitted most of my team against me right before they retired, so I felt like I needed to constantly have a reason for every decision I made since it would otherwise be immediately ignored or shot down; I don’t have the same level of education as most of my peers, so even though I’m doing the same (and often better quality) work that they are, I’ve felt like I need to prove myself every step of the way; and I just straight-up suffer from imposter syndrome and have since I was a teen.

    I say all that to answer one of the last questions in the letter: yes, change is possible. It’ll take a great deal of reflection and working through past hang ups on the employee’s part if that sort of thing is at the root of it, which is obviously outside of your control. But change is definitely possible.

    I would bet money that your employee has come from a passive-aggressive or otherwise dysfunctional work environment and thus believes she needs to always have an out for any potential conflict. Or, who knows, she may just be insecure, or has something else going on entirely. But I’ve seen the damage those sorts of environments have done to my own brain and work style. The effects lasted a couple of YEARS.

    One thing that my current manager has done, which I really appreciate and has helped me recover from the damage done by his borderline emotionally abusive predecessor, is make it clear that he will not surprise us in a review. He will address issues as they come up and does his best to be as transparent as possible with all of us about various business dealings. He’s a bit blunt and his style probably isn’t for everyone, but I appreciate the candidness. He’s not rude or cruel; he just says what’s wrong, makes suggestions on how he’d like it fixed, and also shows us time and again that he trusts us to do our work.

    I think regular feedback — good and bad — can be helpful if someone has been in a rocky work environment previously. You eventually understand that you aren’t going to be punished in a review or a one-on-one for something you did two weeks or two months ago, and it helps calibrate overall expectations. It’s not the whole solution, but it certainly helps, especially for someone who might have come from a dysfunctional work environment.

  30. Resident Catholicville, USA*

    I’ve been that person and still am, to some degree. I have worked in some wacky places and yes, it’s a learned behavior from them, but also a period of adjustment- I stop doing it as much over time, after I’ve picked up on the work culture and how different situations/interactions play out. Also, sometimes inserting my justification is a way of double checking that my logic checks out with my coworkers about how I handle certain things.

  31. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    It’s responses like this that bring me to this site and to Alison’s advice before tackling problems. I’m thinking specifically about the part regarding tone: “I’m emphasizing tone here because I’m guessing her behavior comes from insecurity, so let’s not add to it.”

    I so appreciate your approach that considers both the leader and the follower. <3 Thank you!

  32. NeedRain47*

    This letter could be about me, except that I’m not a new employee anywhere.

    Yes, I do this sometimes b/c I have been and still am in many life situations where if I don’t justify myself (and sometimes even if I do) I’m going to be questioned, put down, attacked for being wrong. I am trying to shut the questioning down before it starts by explaining my thinking. When it comes to work specifically, I am also trying to demonstrate that I am conscientious employee and making decisions as best I can to respect the needs of my employer (and with this person being new, I bet that’s what she’s doing here.) There are also way too many people who will say something is “fine” when really they do not think it’s fine and will treat you differently based on whatever you did even if it’s “fine”.

    Being clear about what kind of situations don’t need explanations is a good idea, but be careful about making blanket statements, b/c sometimes explanations are necessary and justified.

  33. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    I’ve been this person AND managed this person!

    In both cases it took saying “I said yes, I don’t need the backstory. I trust you” to start to break the habit.

    1. Hannah Lee*

      Same. I had huge culture shock on this front going from a 10,000+ person multi-national public company where nothing was decided quickly and without multiple powerpoint info packs to a small (25 person) private company with 2 owners whose offices were right next to each other’s, and mine. No power point packs with back ups needed, just a 1 page summary and a 3-5 minute conversation and then I was off doing whatever I’d proposed. New IT hardware, process improvement, changing out troublesome providers, hiring a new XYZ person, scheduling my summer vacation/time out of office, etc … I figured it out, gave him the 411, pull someone in for a 5 minute conversation if needed and then I was off with a yay, nay or look into this detail first and if that looks fine, go ahead.

      Simply and matter of factly communicating expectations of what’s needed for decision making in THIS particular working environment is key. LW should obviously probe for details when needed (trust but verify with new employees on big business decision making) but set the expectation that you don’t need a research paper, particularly not one presented after a decision’s been made.

      The other piece is feedback on the “continuing to sell after getting a yes” I’d keep it light with a “asked and answered! Was there anything else? If not I’ll get back prepping for my next meeting” That does 2 things: it reinforces that employee shouldn’t go on adding justification info after their point is taken and a decision is made, and it removes whatever “benefit” the employee was getting from the unwanted behavior – reassurance and soothing, extended face time with boss and other decision makers, avoidance of something else, hearing the sound of their own voice or settling their own nerves, etc.

  34. Tired*

    I am the director of my very small not-for-profit organization. I have a long-term employee who does this behavior all the time, and I don’t know how to fix it either. I have patted her on the back for her good work; given her raises when other directors didn’t bother (and she let that happen to her); asked her bluntly why my answer isn’t good enough, sent emails so the answer is in writing, etc. and she just continues to do it. A 1-minute conversation sometimes turns into hours of her not being “sure” of what’s going on.

    I do think that somewhere in her past, she wasn’t trusted, but I get so tired of her some days that I look for ways to avoid talking to her. I do think she listens to me because all of a sudden, she is quoting me back to me. There is really nothing wrong with her work product (and sometimes it is downright excellent), her work ethic, she is always on time, etc. I don’t think writing her up will do any good. The behavior seems embedded into her work life as well as her personal life.

    I have been here for 7 years now, and she tries my patience! She is a couple of years from retirement, and I am hopeful that this will be sooner rather than later.

    1. irene adler*

      Similar situation here. I’m not a director though. I have a co-worker who often carries out projects under my direction. Excellent work product but man, what one has to go though with all the justifications, explaining, etc., is so tedious.

  35. PT*

    One thing I’d add, too, is that the LW should evaluate whether or not they are actually listening and understanding when she speaks.

    I have had several bosses who would ignore me when I spoke. So I would say, “We need to order more hay for the llamas, we only have a few days’ supply left,” and they would hear “The llamas have plenty of hay!” and then the next day, I would send an email “Can I have a PO for the hay supplier like we discussed yesterday?” and they would hear “PT wants to spend lots of money! NO!” and then we would have another meeting that afternoon where I said we are critically out of hay, and they would hear, “We need to buy a new llama,” and tell me no. So I would call the following day and say, “We really need to order more hay ASAP,” and they’d hear “Why didn’t we buy a new llama?” and tell me no that is too expensive.

    Finally we would get to the day the llamas were out of hay and I’d have to go to the feed store and buy bales of hay at retail so the llamas wouldn’t starve, and they’d be like, “Why didn’t you plan better and ask for a PO of hay last week? This is costing us extra!” even though I already asked five times and they didn’t hear it.

        1. BeenThere*

          Current boss is this. Fortunately I only need code approved and have built a strong alliance with with my team mates to bypass the boss in many situations.

  36. Janet*

    I had a family member who used to over-explain and over-justify everything all the time. In her case, it wasn’t a learned response from a bad boss, but was definitely rooted in deep insecurity. I think a lot of it was that she needed to convince herself that what she was doing/thinking was right, even when the other person had no issues with it and was totally bored by discussing the same thing for far too long. (It didn’t help that she also worked with young children in her career, because she had would talk to adults like everything needed a ton of explaining.) She outgrew it as she matured and got more confident. I’m not saying OP shouldn’t tell her employee to stop, because of course she should. Some people just don’t pick up on social cues and need to be told their conversation style is just not great. But I hope for this employee’s sake that this tendency will naturally disappear if/when she feels more secure, because I’m sure she is annoying people in all aspects of her life.

  37. Lucious*

    >>”can this behavior be changed?”

    Yes. But not overnight, and not after at least one potentially tough conversation. In the OPs shoes, I’d set aside some time and ask about the employees prior work experience- and the workplace culture they worked in. Someone who’s spent even just a year working for a toxic boss and/or company will learn coping mechanisms that they may not necessarily be consciously aware of.

    If the OP makes it clear the employees perspective is valued and they don’t have to justify their decisions, it’ll go a long way to solving this to everyone’s benefit.

  38. Meep*

    This hits close to home. I hope you gave her some grace. It really isn’t fun for her, either. Trust me.

  39. More dopamine, please*

    I have a tendency to do this. A colleague once responding by telling me “Don’t sell past the close!” I had to pause and think about what it meant for a moment, so it worked!

    OP’s employee may be extending the conversation because it feels too transactional to just get an answer and leave, especially when she doesn’t know her colleagues well. When the OP responds to a request with “Yes, that would be fine,” it might be helpful to signal that no further justification is needed by providing reassurance and moving on to another topic immediately. “Yes, that would be fine. It’s no problem at all, and thanks for letting me know ahead of time. Now, about today’s schedule, are you progressing as planned on X and Y?”

  40. Formerly Prof, now Non-Prof*

    I totally agree with all the assessments of this person’s behavior and I also have one alternate possibility to add:

    My partner is an over-explainer and we’ve realized that sometimes it’s because he wants more engagement with his idea, rather than a blanket “yes.” Over our years together, we’ve learned that “yes” without discussion feels, to him, like I’m being dismissive. It sounds to him like even though I’m agreeing, I don’t really care enough to get involved or I’m not acknowledging the amount of work it took for him to come up with this idea. So if he’s selling past the close (a phrase that I just learned in the comment section and will now love forever), it’s often because he wants to see not just my assent but to also my willingness to share in his process. It’s not a perfect comparison, of course, but in the scenario where the employee is asking to post to the website, I wonder whether just a blanket “sure” might not land a little bit like “I genuinely don’t care, whatever.”

    1. River Otter*

      Some thing that I have learned over the years is that when somebody keeps saying the same thing to you over and over when you have already responded, it means you did not respond to the thing that they wanted you to respond to. I have definitely noticed that many times, responding to the words is not enough validation of what the person said, and they also want an acknowledgment of, for example, their process, as with your partner. LW will have to get to know their employee to understand their communication style, but what I notice is missing from the responses that LW gives in the letter is they don’t validate what the employee said. So rather than a response of “yep no problem“, try responding with, “you are going to be 10 minutes late on Monday? OK, no problem, we have enough coverage.” It is a lot more words that are not actually necessary, but some people really seem to need that.

      1. Formerly Prof, now Non-Prof*

        I think this is a great point. Sometimes, a person might want more validation than is really appropriate (like someone who needs constant reassurance), but I think it’s generally very considerate to offer some validation, like: “Thanks for being so considerate about the scheduling — I can tell that you really try to respect everyone’s time. Our practice is that, as long as you’ve checked that there’s coverage, being 10 minutes late is fine.”

    2. A Wall*

      This is exactly what I came here to say. I absolutely do this (not as often now, since I have learned that it drives people up the wall, but I used to do it a lot) specifically when I haven’t gotten a response from the other person that actually indicates what they think / how they’re interpreting the information I’ve just given them. Essentially, when I do not feel necessarily that I’ve been listened to fully, or where I did not receive information I was looking for from the other person.

      For example, the late start for an appointment. If I was new at a job and asked for something like this and they just said “sure, we have coverage then,” that doesn’t tell me whether this request is being received well or received poorly. It doesn’t tell me if they are ok with me doing this every so often, or if it’s generally frowned upon and they’re just ok with it this one time. In essence, I did not actually get a reaction to what I said, which makes me feel like I do not know where I stand in the situation past that I got the ok this time.

      With other things it is often that I feel like you didn’t really hear or internalize what I said, because you didn’t react to it. That’s what will usually lead me to repeat myself.

      1. Formerly Prof, now Non-Prof*

        I’m glad I captured that shared experience! This kind of communication can be so challenging. When my partner shares an idea and I say yes without follow-up, I often mean it as “I trust your judgement and think you’re brilliant, so I don’t need to question or second-guess you.” But of course he hears, “I don’t even care enough about your ideas to ask questions.” In a workplace setting, I can definitely imagine this same dynamic playing out as a manager meaning “yes, that is standard practice every time this comes up” and this kind of employee hearing “yes for this specific instance.”

        1. A Wall*

          It’s a lot easier to cut through the disconnect with personal relationships, too. With my spouse I can just ask for what I want to probe for directly, and in fact we just had a whole thing about this a few days ago about this. He asked me for a decision, I gave it, and then I tried to probe for what his thoughts were by telling him the way in which I was concerned my decision might be the wrong one. I didn’t get any response to that. So I said, ok, I’m looking for input here, do you think this decision might be the wrong one given what I said about the possible issues? Or do you think it’s still a good idea? That way he could just tell me.

          Starting a new job, having an exchange with your boss? Not gonna be that simple. Especially for something like asking to come in late for an appointment, where it would not be unusual at all for a lot of managers to approve it while also not really liking that you’re doing it. And also, unlike with your spouse, you can’t exactly ask your new boss directly “how does my request make you feel?”

          1. allathian*

            In many cases, how a manager feels about an employee request is irrelevant anyway, and the manager’s feelings aren’t always reasonable. Sure, taking time off is probably always a minor inconvenience, but people still need to take their accrued PTO, and if a manager refuses to grant PTO at all, and doesn’t just deny it on particularly busy days/weeks/months, there’s clearly a problem.

          2. Formerly Prof, now Non-Prof*

            Great point. I think that the inherent power dynamic is really what’s at issue here. Partners are (should be) equals, whereas there’s always and inherently a hierarchy and a power differential between employee and boss. Obviously, a good manager is one who really tries to be aware of that and how it can affect things. It also strikes me that, if I were coaching an over-explaining employee in how to communicate with their boss, I would probably recommend that they try to get at that “how does my request make you feel” thing that they can’t really ask by saying something like, “Since I’m new here, I’d love some feedback on whether this is okay going forward or if there’s something you’d want me to be considering next time this situation comes up. Is there any context that you think I’m missing?”

  41. Dino*

    I had a professor with a “no hedging” rule. If you asked a question and hedged and explained and blah blah blah, she’d make you ask again with no hedging. It was great! And trained us out of that. Maybe this employee needs something similar.

  42. quill (and the bees agree with me)*

    Ah, yes: the anxiety reaction of someone who has not had most of their experiences with an authority figure saying “yes, it’s ok” be the actual truth.

  43. Pumpernickel Princess*

    Ugh, this is one of those seeing yourself in the letter moments! I just love to share my thought processes and am forever unlearning that not everyone needs to know the intense journey I took to making a small decision. Fortunately my boss and I share this quality (not as intensely as in this letter though), and can laugh about it!

  44. PurpleHeartsRed*

    I had a job (scratch that, a grandboss) that just crushed my confidence. (Think sobbing I’m not stupid every night). I acted much the same way at my next job, asking permission to do any and everything. Finally a colleague said “you know what you’re doing so just do it!” It was what I needed to hear and I was able to start acting independently.

  45. DaisyBruin*

    This is a learned behavior from somewhere else in her life. I’ve done this because it’s how I learned to deal with toxic bosses. It is a hard habit to break, but once she feels comfortable in the culture, she may start realizing that you trust her to be an adult. Mentor her, make sure she understands that you hired her to help move the company forward and justification is only needed if you need more information about one of her ideas (i.e., a no or maybe as opposed to a yes which needs no further explanation from her.)

    1. JimmyJab*

      My husband does this in our relationship – he grew up in an angry, yelly, blame-y household and I think that left him insecure about making any decisions himself without justification.

  46. Rosie*

    Over-explaining can be a trauma response based in anxiety — as others noted, it could originate from either personal or work-related histories. I think the response here is correct, but it’s definitely best to sympathize with their potential experiences.

  47. Misskleio*

    Honestly, this was me a number of years ago … I went from a position in an office that was micromanaged and I was the only employee who worked in the evenings. It was expected that I have a darned good reason if I needed to be late/request or/required help in general.

    Moving from that to a smaller office with a boss who trusted us to do our jobs was a life changer. But still it’s been six years and I’ve only just started being comfortable with a short “taking a sick day!” Text. It’s rough.

  48. Yikes*

    This spoke to me- I am one year into a new job/recovery from a Bad Boss. That boss approved things without complaint only to quietly punish you later without you really knowing when or why. It was impossible to know what might be problematic. I don’t do drama and was blindsided by this behavior which became apparent 6-10 months into my 18 months there. New boss is great but since I never saw it coming before I live in fear.

  49. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

    This honestly sounds a lot like teenagers I work with. Is this employee very young? She may still be in a school mode, where she is uneasy about the amount of autonomy afforded her. And of course, that attitude may have be reinforced by a toxic workplace that prevented her from moving past that.

    Do you really get the feeling that she is trying to justify her actions? If not, it may just be that she wants to continue talking. Either way, Alison’s practical advice stands. But if you feel like all the reassurance about not needing to justify herself gives limited returns, I might focus more on just emphasizing the end of conversations.

  50. Dax*

    It sounds like she’s struggling with some really severe anxiety and needs more than a reasonable amount of reassurance. The way she goes on and on until it’s awkward makes me think she’s searching for reassurance but never quite manages to feel reassured.

  51. All of the Why All of the Time*

    I worked in automotive that tried to use a MANDATORY 5 why system for EVERYTHING. They thought they were fusing Japanese Automotive and North American style efficiently. You want something you had to answers five full levels of why. They even presented it on a tour of their Japanese investors. I facepalmed so hard. Don’t get me wrong, great rootcause analysis for technical troubleshooting but even with those it can be hard to get to 5 levels of legit why. But when its not a technical/mechanical issue it plays out kind of like this, because you know you have to make the 5 whys you try to give as little info as possible so you have enough to get there:
    Employee – I’m requesting approval to leave early.
    Boss – why1?
    E – I have an appointment
    B – why2?
    E – I’m due for a teeth cleaning and checkup
    B – why3?
    E – I’m scheduled bi-annually
    B – why4?
    E – My dentist advises it.
    B – why5?
    E – I have slightly acidic saliva

    1. irene adler*

      Oh gracious!
      I guess when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. **shrug**

      Hope they don’t invoke the PDCA cycle on such requests. Or ask you to value stream map something.

    2. Lasslisa*

      I am such a toddler at heart, I want to chase those why’s into “the American Dental Association did a study and decided to make this their formal recommendation” “because that is their charter” “because of the rise of public health as a field and consideration for medical practitioners” —

  52. Cake or Death?*

    Well, if my mother wasn’t retired, I would assume she was working for you, because this sounds exactly like how she is: she cannot have a short conversation. No matter how simple the request is, it’s never a short convo. It drives me bananas. One of my sisters is the same way. It’s like some sort f personality quirk where they feel awkward having short conversations or something…which is one of the reasons why i rarely answer the phone when either of them call lol. They know to text me if I don’t answer, and while I still end up dealing with a wall of text, at least it’s not a verbal convo I’m trapped in.

  53. Anallamadingdong*

    Oh dear. So what is your advice for someone who very clearly recognizes her own behavior in this letter? I know that I do this. I know that I annoy people (in many ways not just the over explaining thing but I am certain this is my #1 annoying thing) I know I should stop but I don’t seem to know where the line is, the point where I do not need to explain myself.

  54. emmaX*

    In the moment I think it would be helpful to expand on the initial reply to acknowledge what they are asking .
    So instaed of : “Sure, we have enough coverage, no problem.”,
    try “Yes, you can come in 10 minutes late on Friday. Thanks for letting me know. We have enough coverage and so it’s not a problem. You can work the extra 10 minutes over lunch/at the end of the day”

    I would also find that easier to say to someone as compared to an entirely seperate conversation asking them to not to justify.

  55. The Tin Man*

    I’ve been an overexplainer before. I think a decent part of it is insecurity, and another part is that it’s semi-rehearsed in my head so then when there is no pushback or further questions then everything I rehearsed just kind of falls out of my mouth anyway.

    Unfortunately I am not sure what I can transfer to the letter writer – I have gotten better at it with self-reflection and with growing confidence.

  56. CurrentlyBill*

    Perhaps phrase it in a lesson of,” When you’ve made the sale, stop selling.”

    It’s something a lot of newer salespeople do. They get a customer to say yes, but instead of starting the paperwork and helping the customer get on with their day, they keep talking. Sometimes they end up undoing a closed sale.

    If you have a conversation like this with her, then you also have a shortcut to follow up with later. The next time she does it, just respond with a smile, “You’ve made the sale.”

  57. Former Radio Guy*

    I can relate to the employee here. For me it was a trust issue and being in a couple of toxic workplaces dealing with managers that I couldn’t trust. I was probably a bit like this in my current job where they’ve been very good at dealing with my outside scheduling needs. I likely had a tendency to over justify myself early on before I knew I could trust my current managers.

  58. Shangrila*

    I had an intern do this (continuing adult student) in a deadline driven job where I was barely hanging on. Every conversation was her needing to reflect on the process, her minute choices, her bigger decisions, her coursework that tied into the work situation….everything. It was exhausting. Nothing felt genuine or natural and I started to avoid talking to her (awful, I know). Turned out she had a major career implosion and was working through feelings of insecurity, inferiority, and imposter syndrome. I never had a breakthrough with her, the reflection never lessened, and she moved on in her education.

    1. Shangrila*

      I’d also add that I’ve worked with other colleagues, and have done this myself, where a quick “sounds good” doesn’t fulfill the need I had for the conversation. I’m talking deeper level topics than basic time off requests and things like “I chose red for the llama teapot and here is a long reflection on why.” I’ve had to learn WHEN to push for that fulfillment versus taking the win and letting go of everything I had wanted to unpack with the conversation. I have also seen it used as procrastination; can’t go work on that worrying project when I’m talking to the boss for 45 minutes about it… (my intern did this)

  59. nnn*

    When I started at my first job out of university, one thing they told us in our onboarding was “We’re all professionals, we trust you to be professional.” This covers all kinds of things, like “Tell rather than ask when you need time off for a medical appointment” and “If you need a coffee, go get a coffee, no need to ask permission” and “We don’t have a dress code.” And whenever us new recruits fell into over-justifying habits from our previous jobs, our managers would simply repeat to us “We’re all professionals, we trust you to be professional.”

    Maybe it would be useful for OP to come up with some kind of similar narrative explaining why the employee doesn’t have to justify things, from the point of view of this organization’s culture. That way it’s less “You’re doing it wrong” and more “This is how we do things here” or “This is yet another example of how our organization differs from your previous jobs.”

  60. TPS reporter*

    Boss might be a little short with their responses which could lead employee to think either boss isn’t listening and just wants me to go away or boss isn’t fully contemplating the details here. What if in the example of time off you expand and give her more or your reasoning- say “10 minutes late every few weeks is perfectly fine, I just need to know a few days in advance to make sure we have coverage. ” With the website say “that sounds great, just shoot me a draft before.”

  61. AnotherSarah*

    I’ve worked with a lot of students who have been told–usually by other teachers–that they need to give full explanations for everything. If they’re late? Every place they lost time and how they’ll do something different next time. Etc. I feel for people in this situation, when do you know that you’re trusted?

  62. Blue Eagle*

    This reminds me of a time I was over-explaining after getting an OK. My boss cut me off with “you can stop talking now, you sunk your putt”. That was all it took for me to get it. Perhaps a similar metaphor from her interests would work for her (e.g. the movie’s over, the roast is done, you made the basket, etc).

  63. raida7*

    Oh my god, I was just talking about how I feel bad just being so so so aggravated by people who overly-apologise!
    Here’s the thing – she’s making herself lower status to you, and the constant apologising and justifying is reinforcing that.
    We don’t like people really low status – just watch a fast food trainee get treated badly by customers, it’s not that bad customers seek out trainees, it’s that being unsure, apologising a lot, agreeing with the customer adds up in your head to… a weak and useless person. Which for some reason is just so hateable, it’s fascinating.

    Your new staff member needs confidence, practise speaking, tactics to say what she needs to say and no more, etc.
    I would suggest public speaking class like Toastmasters, I would suggest Improv training – great for learning status and to match the other person’s energy, also looking for what works for her in regards to planning what to say and saying what is planned.

    I used to write scripts, and now it is simply bullet points, based around questions – What does the other person need to know? What is of value to them? Have I confirmed that this is the right approach in the future? What do I need to know?

    And then something like a doc’s appointment meaning I’ll be 10mins late becomes
    -topic: I have a doctor’s appointment, the best date & time has a work impact
    -business impact: 10 mins, date & time
    -confirm right approach: Would you like me to send this in an email or denote it on the joint calendar? Is there a rule of thumb here for personal appointments?
    -thanks: Thanks boss, I appreciate having the flexibility to get to this appointment
    -finish: Alrighty, I’m gonna get back to work [thumbs up] [smile] [walk away]

    But she needs to be told this is a professional development ‘opportunity’ to help her communicate professionally with colleagues, which will serve her throughout her career, and ask her what types of things she’d like to learn and improve on.
    Overall, you can’t train someone to be not anxious, not low status, not unsure. You can train them on how you want your staff to provide information, how to frame the most important info, how to analyse a situation and confirm what’s *necessary*, and confirm that they have done a good job in specific instances or parts of a task in a matter-of-fact manner.
    Find out from them how they like to be managed, if they have an example of a bad boss or a good boss.

    Overall – sorry! It’s real hard to not snap at someone like this, and snapping at them reinforces their internal need to apologise.

  64. Happy to be here, where am I?*

    I have a similar tendency to over-explain, but it used to be a lot worse before one very specific intervention. I was talking with my young-adult son who blew up at me and exclaimed “Why do women do this?” Evidently his 3 female roommates felt that same need to explain and justify at length, and he was exhausted with it. He wanted them, and me, to say only “Please turn down the radio, thanks” or whatever without explaining and justifying and excusing themselves.

    I was really taken aback, but I took it in and decided he was essentially right — not that it was necessarily gender-based, but that it was an annoying and unnecessary behavior. I had to accept that it was unnecessary to do all that explaining, which really felt unnatural to me, in order to understand that it was annoying.

    I vowed to myself to clean that up. I don’t always succeed, but at least I am now aware and can sometimes cut myself off if I hear myself doing it.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      My ex-wife did this, and so does my girlfriend. I suspect, with them, it has to do with their upbringing by overbearing parents. I’ve also noticed that the tendency is more pronounced if we’ve had a disagreement about whatever it was, and their choice was adopted as the solution. I’ve already conceded, agreed to do it their way, and they keep justifying it. Drives me bonkers.

  65. Essess*

    I used to do this when I was younger. The reason I did it was because I wanted confirmation that my thought process had been right to get me to the final result or the final question. So I wanted the answer to my question, but I also wanted confirmation whether I should have taken any other actions/steps into consideration if I had a similar question or decision to make in the future.

    1. rubble*

      yes, this is the sort of thing I would be thinking, too. I wonder if a regular sit-down meeting would be helpful for this employee, so that she has a set time and place to ask those questions.

  66. JustAMillenial*

    “it can be summed up in two ways: she doesn’t know how to end a conversation and she feels the need to justify her actions in every situation.”
    Sounds like my experience in the workforce, well, world, as an autistic person. I genuinely don’t know how to exit a conversation with most people, and I’ve spent my life needing to justify my actions to others. Both cause me anxiety, and I also wish I wasn’t doing it. The conversational thing in particular is incredibly stressful – I don’t know when it’s ok to talk, how long to talk, or when everyone is done. That’s because what I interpret as the end isn’t always, and I’ve been called rude and curt for walking away when I think it’s ok.
    Please consider that some of it is conditioned (having to justify ones self), and some may be genuine confusion (not knowing when it how to dip from a conversation).

  67. Floofy Cat*

    I had to stop and think about whether I qualify as a “recent employee” where I work now in case this was about me!

    For myself, I know where it comes from. A previous job where not only was it nearly impossible to get time off without explaining why in detail, but also because of lots of miscommunication I’d often be told one thing by one person and then had someone else chastise me for it later. I definitely developed a (bad) habit of trying to proactively justify myself so if I got questioned down the line I had a response to, “Well, why didn’t you just do it this other way?”

    I’m working on it, but it’s taken time to realize I now work in a place where I’m trusted to a) be an adult and b) know how to do my job.

  68. HappyAgain*

    When I read this post I either thought the letter rider was very junior and used to asking permission in a school environment or she had previously worked in a toxic controlling work environment. I would suggest consistent coaching to slowly change behavior and perhaps also suggesting at the same time parameters when permission may not be necessary. Give her the benefit of the doubt, at least for a few more months.

    In my last job I felt forced to resort to that same terrible behavior of asking permission for every tiny little thing. It was a function of the corporate culture. Senior management was like Oz — all knowing all seeing and powerful. Anyone else was viewed as minions to serve management whims.
    Entrenched in their jobs for decades, they held on to the past tightly. The command and control culture undermined normal work behaviors I had from 30 years of professional work. The pay was decent and I liked the work so I held on for 5 years until covid-driven layoffs pushed me out. Best thing that ever happened. While I’m now make less, I work in a normal environment and feel like myself again: professional, respected and valued. If the environment is bad, you sometimes don’t realize the impact until you get out.

  69. rubble*

    to be honest, if I worked in a different industry I would probably be this person. the reason I do it (and I’m trying to get better at not doing it) is that in my head, I’m thinking “but I didn’t give you all the relevant information yet! what if you need to know it later? what if you think I haven’t considered x, and thus you think I’m an idiot?” if I could, I would tell everyone around me every thought I ever have, just in case, but I know that’s absurd.

    I’m also that person who will come to you and start talking/asking questions about something, realise halfway through that I didn’t explain what I’m talking about and you’re sitting there baffled, stop mid-sentence to backtrack, and just end up saying a lot of muddled up things. I then have to repeat myself to get it all straightened out.

    in both scenarios, I think it’s because I need a bit of time to think through things before I say them, but if I just sit still and think, nothing happens – things come to me when I’m actively doing something. so I often start saying something, then I remember all the context while I’m talking, and it comes out all in the wrong order.

    I’m not sure if this helps in any way, but it might be an example of what’s going on in her head when she does this. if it were me, I would not be stopped by being told I don’t have to justify things, as in my mind that’s not what I’m doing – I’m just providing you all the information.

  70. CommanderBanana*

    It may be a holdover from previous places. I often feel like I have to justify taking PTO off, because my boss refuses to respond to PTO requests, and when you take PTO, you’ll get a bunch of passive-aggressive comments about something happening “but you weren’t there” because you, were, you know, using PTO time that you earned and are entitled to.

  71. Milksnake*

    Most everything has already been said, but as an over-explainer I’m compelled to add my $0.02. If OP isn’t approachable about unlearning this with her employee it will just make it worse. Being irritated with her will reinforce why she needs to justify everything.

  72. The Rat-Catcher*

    I do this and honestly the one is the cause of the other. I keep justifying because I don’t know how to end the conversation. I’m not sure if this is the autism or the controlling background from strict parents and religious school or both, but I just cannot gracefully end a conversation. Nobody brings it up – I guess because I am a rock star at my job and it’s presumably worth the price of admission with me, so I forget that I need to work on it. I appreciate the reminder though.

  73. Marketing*

    I have been this person and I now manage a few people like this. I have learned to have a cheerful but crisp response with an action for them that implies, “This topic is now closed.” It’s really just the tone of voice….want PTO? “Sure, schedule it in.” Want to be put on a new project. “Great idea! Reach out to the PM.” I learned this from a boss who taught me to be more direct.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Yes, definitely close the loop.

      I currently work someplace where people avoid making decisions and instead you get something like: “It looks ok but why don’t you run it by the Llama Managers and see what they think.”

  74. MLH*

    So Lamy potential causes for this… Volatile parents, rejection sensitivity due to adhd, partner abuse. Try to be kind and remember she’s more than likely not trying to be annoying, it’s probably a defense mechanism.

    1. Nanobot*

      Ouch. I think I just got a bingo. Growing up, I had a parent who had to have everything their way and I really had to argue to be allowed to do something else. And they could blow up about the most ridiculous things. This has been reinforced by a relationship where my partner’s mental illness means that they can flip from “you’re the light of my life” to “I want you to move out now” at the drop of a hat. And I have started to suspect ADHD, I certainly ping high on the self tests and I’m a people pleaser who really hates rejection. I overexplain and argue for my case a lot. I need to rein that in. But it’s so hard to trust people.

      This blog have been such a great resource to learn about human behaviour, including my own. Thank you.

  75. Ashkela*

    The fact of the matter is that it’s great that OP says that they’ll speak up if something needs justification, but as an autistic person, let me tell you that neurotypicals don’t mean that nearly as much as we do. (Not as in accusing folx of being dishonest, but there is a difference). Add in my agreement that she’s been expected to justify things in her life – either work or frankly, more likely at home, and it’s going to take time and proof that something won’t come back and bite her in the ass for it to stop.

  76. LittleMarshmallow*

    I have one colleague who struggles to end conversations. Poor thing will just sort of stand there waiting for you to release him. I’m not his manager so I don’t bother trying to change his behavior but I’ve found that if I just say “ok, bye”, he happily trots away to his next thing. He’s a wonderful colleague and extremely smart. We all love working with him so this little quirk is just part of the deal of getting the privilege of having him on our team. I also say hi to him enthusiastically most days… which sometimes leads to him thinking I need him to stay and chat. Since I know that I about him, I just make sure I remember to say “ok bye” when he starts to look fidgety.

  77. Genie*

    Goodness. I mean no disrespect here to LW, but someone justifying their suggestions or questions in a work context in the way LW has described shouldn’t leave anyone feeling uncomfortable or awkward.

    The likelihood is that this employee feels the need to explain and justify to this extent due to previous negative experiences in life and/or work. You becoming impatient with them will not help them feel more comfortable; them feeling comfortable and safe is the only way this behaviour (which is a defence mechanism developed to avoid harm) will cease.

    Whatever you do, do not block this person off from asking questions or clarifying things with you or other team members because you feel awkward or impatient, either.

  78. VivaVendetta*

    I’m an over-explainer too. My own reason (I believe) is that when I have to request something I overthink, planning out exactly what I’m going to say and try to forestall any possible questions or problems. Then, when I come to ask, my brain shouts “you must say everything you practiced!” and I feel really unsettled if I don’t get to say it all.

    I’ve worked on coaching myself out of this after a series of good, approachable managers, and I don’t ‘rehearse’ my requests nearly as much now, but it’s a conscious effort on my part not to do it.

  79. Hmm*

    Two words: trauma reaction. It is extremely likely that this justification and explanation behaviour stems from past bad experiences, including in other jobs.

    Also, I mean no disrespect, but is any of this actually a real problem?

  80. SassyAccountant*

    Speaking from experience she’s probably traumatized. Seriously. I have work PTSD from the horrible toxic places I’ve moved on from and even though I’m now somewhere, where I am not experiencing one iota of this past toxic behavior, I’m two years into this job and I still double check, I’m still unsure, I still automatically tense up when I’m told the boss or director need to talk to me. I expect the worse because that’s all it has ever been. It will take time and understanding. My current director is so smart and kind. I caught him in a huge mistake and he didn’t get mad at all when I pointed it out, he thanked me and when I tried to be like oh well I wasn’t sure, I wanted to defer to you etc I finally flat out told him I have imposter syndrome from past traumas and he said “you ever feel like that, call me. I can assure you, you are not an imposter, you’re very very good at what you do.” Do I believe him? Not yet but I want to. Time. It takes time. Be kind to her. Before I had terrible bosses, I had a great boss who said “did you solve it? Yes? Great no need to tell me anything further. Now go home, the work will still be here tomorrow.” He was great. Until recently I forgot how important it was have trusting but knowledgeable bosses who believed in work life balance. Ahhh the mythical unicorn.

  81. Zach*

    I do think there are times when the “sure” comes off as dismissive, as if the person giving it didn’t see the same conflict that you did. In those case I would think it should be okay to elaborate on why you think there’s a possible conflict

  82. Evvie*

    I have diagnosed PTSD. It would be C-PTSD if that was recognized. Justifying reasons and falling over yourself to apologize is a BIG part of that, and thanks to two bosses causing PTSD triggers (threats, screaming, telling me I’m an “embarrassment” because I was getting divorced), being told “stop justifying’ would feel the same as a slap. Or it would have until I had two magic bosses who talked to me, not at me, about them observing my justifying and apologetic behaviors. They didn’t ask for specifics about the past, just a general “am I right in thinking you had an authority figure who made you feel like crap?” but looked on solutions for the future.

    Having a boss lead with questions made all the difference in tbe world. If anything, I’m a little TOO bold at work now! :) (Hey, I don’t put up with treating people like crud, sue me…er…don’t sue me…)

  83. Old Teacher*

    Something I haven’t come across yet in the comments but occurred to me almost immediately is: could there be an overzealous “gate keeper” assistant? I’ve worked in a couple of places where the secretary grilled us about any request we needed submitted to the boss, then if we were fortunate enough to be granted audience with the boss we found ourselves diving immediately into the same soliloquy to get out ahead of any of the same questions or arguments we just went through before gaining admittance. When people finally started getting honest in exit surveys about the micromanagement coming from the secretary on the boss’s behalf the boss changed the requisition process to a form email to cut down on what had been happening.

  84. PB Bunny Watson*

    I would be very surprised if the staff person isn’t beating herself up after these interactions. I’ve been there, and I’ve had staff go there from time to time. I think it would help her tremendously to have the boss address it with her when she does that. One I had would tell me to “take the win” or “take the yes” in a joking/soft tone. I’ve had success with breaking that kind of loop with staff by telling them that the situation is completely okay and they have nothing to worry about. That situation was an issue of anxiety, and they were more comforted by a forthright acknowledgement of that.

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