an acquaintance blabbed when I sent him a confidential email … and now I might become his boss

A reader writes:

I have been approached by a mid-size private company, Company X, for what would be my first IT executive role. As part of my due diligence on the company, I have been quietly reaching out to my network where I know people who work there or used to work there or have had business dealings with them.

Enter an old acquaintance who I’ll call John. John and I worked together in a large multinational 20 years ago, and we are both on the board of the same volunteer organization. I emailed John in email to ask if he was still at Company X and said I was in some discussions with them and did he have anything he was willing to share about them?

John replied to my email, added in the entire board we’re both on, and added in a senior manager at Company X. He didn’t actually respond to any of my questions but instead used it to ask unrelated questions of our board, but my original question to him was there quoted beneath his bizarro response.

I wrote a new email to him — just to him — saying it wasn’t cool to share an obviously private confidential question with over a dozen unrelated people, and asking him why he did so. He replied, adding back in all the people I had taken out (!) and asking why not since it was relevant to them. (Spoiler: it wasn’t.)

I’ve cut my losses, stopped replying, and will never again trust him with anything. I’d leave it at that except … if I am hired by this company, I will be either his direct manager or his manager’s manager.

No one has said anything to me about his responses, and the board simply ignored his emails, but there is some splashback on me as I’m the one who nominated him for the board and it’s difficult to not feel that (what seems to be) his lack of professionalism reflects on me.

It will be a challenge to have him reporting to me as his position requires trust; his is a customer-facing role supporting major sales efforts and both Company X and I would rely on his professionalism, judgement, and communication. But I no longer trust any of those.

Anyone looking at our LinkedIn pages will know that we’re on the same board and once worked together; it’s obvious we know each other.

Am I being unfair? Should I bring this up if I’m hired as his manager? With him? With anyone else?

What do I say if I’m asked about him in general or this incident in particular: by our board? By anyone at Company X during interviews? By anyone at Company X after I start there?

What on earth.

At first I thought John was one of those people who doesn’t do email very well, and he wanted to address a question to you and the rest of the board so he just replied to your email rather than starting a new chain. There are people who don’t seem to understand the difference between “new message” and “reply.”

But after you rightly took him to task for that, he added all those people back in a second time and insisted the message was relevant to them? After you’d just told him not to share your confidential question with them? And for some reason he cc’d someone at Company X, the company you were asking about, too?! That’s not just email ineptitude; that’s some sort of odd belligerence and a complete inability to understand or follow professional norms.

You’re right not to trust John’s judgment!

However, if you’re hired as his manager or his manager’s manager, there will be plenty of opportunities to observe John’s work and intervene if you see problems. So I don’t think you should (or even need to) bring this up with him if that happens; instead, just plan to pay a lot of attention to how he operates once you’re on the job. If he turns out to be flawlessly professional and this was a weird fluke, then sure, at some point you can say, “Hey, what was up with those messages back in April?” But it seems highly likely you’re going to uncover additional evidence of problematic judgment, and then you can address those as his boss without getting into an interaction from before you worked there.

Read an update to this letter

{ 259 comments… read them below }

  1. Hills to Die On*

    This is one of those cases where you can do everything right for the next 5 years but the whole Email the Board Incident of 2022 will always overshadow. WTF John. Sometimes it’s hard to People, I guess?

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Ha. My first response on reading the title, without any further perusal, was, “Sucks to be John”. Because Alison’s right: OP is about to be his boss and now has reason to look way more closely at how John operates and lord know what he’ll find.

      1. Artemesia*

        Unless of course this process torpedoed the job offer; do we know the OP is being offered the job?

        1. OP*

          I’ve made it through two rounds for the original position, and I’ve been told that others have not progressed that far.

          I’ve also been told that others at the C-level have questions about my suitability (which is fair, I mention in another comment that in many ways I’m an outside contender) – but they think I’m great and want to create another role “same level or higher” that would carry it’s own new P&L rather than being adjacent to an existing one.

          I asked if that meant I was no longer in the running for the first exec role. I’m still in, apparently.

          This new role would not have any direct authority over John’s current role, but I would be partly resourcing it from within the company and partly from new hires, and John’s expertise is directly relevant – he would be working for me at minimum with a dotted line and perhaps with me as his sole director.

          1. Nelliebelle1197*

            Do you think he knows that and that is why he did that weird email nonsense? I have read the letter twice and still don’t understand what he was doing.

            1. PinaColada*

              That was my take as well; I think he is trying to sabotage the LWs chances at the company out of jealousy, not wanting to work for him, who knows what, but definitely not a bumbling mistake in my opinion.

              1. Petty Betty*

                That was my take, too. John’s actions feel deliberate, sabotaging, and the way he very much played the “this IS relevant to them so of course I’m cc’ing everyone” as if implying that OP has something to hide (which obviously, they don’t, but doing quiet due diligence is meant to be discrete/quiet and John is most definitely trying to shout from the rooftop with a bullhorn).

                It makes me wonder if John is very much aware of which position LW is going for and does not want the power imbalance, or may have applied for the job himself and by receiving that email, felt his own chances of getting the job slipping away.

                1. OP*

                  I would normally say that John couldn’t possibly think he was in the running. Every reason that I’m an outside contender (no previous management experience; experience only in Teapots but not also in Llamas and Mudbricks) also apply to John… but John does not have the same career trajectory or eminence.

                  But given we’re only here at all because of what charitably at best is questionable judgement, who knows.

              2. MCMonkeyBean*

                I don’t see how it would though? Copying a bunch of people on the board who seem to be completely unrelated to this entire process, and another manager at the company who probably already knew that OP was being interviewed for this job… I don’t see how this would impact any of those people or their opinions of OP, though if I were them it would certainly impact my opinion of John. I just truly cannot come up with even one single attempt to explain what John might have been thinking here lol. It’s so baffling.

            2. Raul*

              The first time i would give him benefit of the doubt. The second time its intentional. Watch your back. John is shady.

      2. fhqwhgads*

        Since John was an idiot enough to add all the same people back to OP’s “WTF, John” second message, at least they all know OP’s not the ass here. John is.

    2. Anonymouse*

      Karma just sent me an email saying OP will become John’s boss.
      And the first thing John will do is send an email to the board.
      Disconnect John from the internet.

    3. June*

      Yep. I don’t think this bodes well for OP. Weird stuff leaves a bad taste in peoples mouths no matter how it originated. Maybe next time call, so there won’t be a email trace.

  2. Murphy*

    What a weirdo response!

    I feel like if I were copied on this, it would reflect poorly on John, but not OP. It’s completely reasonable to ask to get more info about some place you’re applying.

    1. Hills to Die On*

      completely. I can just imagine these people texting each other like, “did you see what John did? Poor OP!”
      I would still consider OP, and I hope she gets it and keeps a short leash on John, who has No Sense.

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        interesting, i feel like the second i realize an email isn’t relevant for me I just delete it.. I can’t imagine the board members were that exercised about this.. i think from the outside it would seem pretty mundane

        1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          maybe to the first email, but the second one would actually get my attention!

          1. June*

            I think sending the second one was a mistake. Especially after the weirdo put the first one on blast. He showed he could not be trusted.

            1. Panhandlerann*

              I doubt it was a mistake. Since she replied to him alone and he piggybacked on that message from her, he must have had to actually add their names back in (as she states explicitly that he did).

              1. Need More Sunshine*

                It was a bit of a mistake on OP’s side, is what June is saying I think. John had already showed his judgement is bonkers, so OP could have called up John or some other contact vs email to ask what was going on.

                1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                  But at that point, it may just have been a silly mistake, forgetting to wipe out the previous email to make what he’s writing look like a new email because he can’t be bothered to put OP’s address in his directory and therefore needs to find a previous email and reply to it.
                  John is a jerk. He’s trying to sabotage OP’s application, even if it’s not clear why.

            2. Ellie*

              I would have assumed the first one was a mistake on John’s behalf – one that a normal person would not want to repeat, and it was a kindness from the OP to point it out. I would have reacted the same way.

              I don’t think OP has anything to worry about though, John’s the one that looks ridiculous, not OP. He’s probably a missing stair – just never send him anything that you’re not happy for the entire office to see and watch him closely.

    2. MEH Squared*

      Agreed, especially since he added them back in. WTF, John? It would not reflect badly on OP at all to me.

      Also, this is why Alison is the professional. My impulse was, “Fire his ass if you get the job.”

          1. Ellie*

            I’m willing to bet that there’s something that John is doing that would make it easy to fire him over – he’s antagonistic and his judgement is terrible. He’s probably doing all sorts of things. I agree that OP shouldn’t jump the gun by firing him on her first day though – just wait a couple of weeks and see what else shakes out.

          2. The Lexus Lawyer*

            Problems like John generally take care of themselves. I disagree with your take

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Except that no, they don’t. There would be no need for this website if they truly all did.

      1. No_woman_an_island*

        Or email him about his performance but cc the CEO, the CFO, the board, his grandma, and his kindergarten teacher.

      2. SixTigers*

        It sure looks like John’s going to make it easy for someone to draw up his termination papers — and I’m wondering if the reason the boss’s job is open is because the former occupant didn’t make sure hizzer employees were acting like decent and reasonable people.

        I mean, if John is going to do stupid and self-destructive things like e-mail loony messages to half of his acquaintance when asked for a private assessment of the place he works, what sort of shenanigans does he get up to with customers?

        1. Mrs. Pommeroy*

          If maybe not termination papers then at least a PIP!
          I in John’s place would be mortified once OP shows up as his boss but I have a feeling John might be belligerent instead…

          Also @SixTigers is “hizzer” your way of saying his/her?

          1. thebeaglehaslanded*

            I confess I’ve never seen “hizzer” before this, but I kind of like it.

            1. Katydid*

              Jo Clayton used ‘hizzer’ in her later books; it’s where I learned it, at any rate. And yes, it = his/hers. :). (Iirc she also used s/he as a pronoun, but, like hizzer, it doesn’t seem to be used much.)

            2. Mrs. Pommeroy*

              I like it, too! (Relatively) inclusive without being clunky.
              Now I’m wondering if “theirizzer” would be a clunkier but more inclusive version. (Or presumptious because not every non-binary person uses “their” as chosen pronoun?) And if anyone could infer what I mean if I start using ;D

              1. Mrs. Pommeroy*

                “if I start using *it*”! Not “if I start using” in the colloquial sense (drugs or something ) xD

      3. OP*

        I admit I had exactly this impulse for days afterwards, but even in the height of my irritation I sensed that the way to deal with unprofessional lapses of judgement is to be flawlessly professional with exquisite judgement… hence asking AAM. :)

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          Good move, OP! But one more thing to watch out for: while I don’t have the slightest doubt that John’s weirdly aggressive email behavior is going to reflect solely on John and not on you, it’s very possible that his intention in the first place was to try and prevent you from getting the job by making sure that everyone — especially the key person at Company X whom he included on the email — knew you were poking around for information on Company X from sources who weren’t your official interviewers.

          Not that there’s anything wrong with doing this, any more than there’s anything wrong with interviewers talking about you to people you didn’t list as official references. But because certain not-very-good interviewers get huffy about it, he may have hoped that yours from Company X would react poorly. (Though why he included the board, I have no idea.)

          So yes, be professional and polite and keep an eagle eye on John’s judgment. But also stay alert to the possibility that instead of having an employee with lousy judgment and confidentiality skills, you might have an employee who doesn’t want to work for you and tries to sabotage you. Either with the company or the board or both.

          1. Sue*

            I agree. My first thought was that John is not your friend and has decided to do some weird sabotage move. He only makes himself look bad but I would be wary.

            1. Sasha*

              Mine too, honestly. He doesn’t want you to get this job.

              How he thinks copying in the whole board will help with that I don’t know. Maybe somebody else on the board is also interviewing?

          2. Mrs. Pommeroy*

            Are there really interviewers who will get huffy about that? I always thought that was the peofessional thing to do – poke around in your network for a bit more information than you could glean from that which the company gives you and maybe establish if you might be a good fit for eachother?

            1. anonymouse*

              I was thinking that John sent the info back to OP’s current company as well. He did put it out there, so there’s that. But that was my big take away.

            2. Working Hypothesis*

              Yeah, I’ve met some who got really weird about it. I take it as an important red flag about the team in the first place, though. Sometimes it can mean there’s important information that they’re actively trying to hide, and sometimes it just means that the hiring manager is controlling by temperament, and doesn’t want to let you have any information that they didn’t give you even if there no particular reason not to. But either way, it’s a bad sign.

            3. a good mouse*

              For my current job, when they made the offer and I was still on the fence, I asked if I could talk to someone currently in the role. TBH I got the idea from my sister, a lawyer who was also going through interviews at law firms where apparently this is pretty normal. I had some specific and some general questions that I felt like I’d only get candid and/or concrete answers for that way – things like how much travel you actually do, what a typical day on a project looks like, some questions on office culture, etc. It’s a very small company and I was moving from a very big one.

              Later, some people from another department were in town and we went to dinner, and they basically said they were impressed by the chutzpah of asking that and that they didn’t think they’d have risked it. I was surprised a) that apparently that got around and b) that it seemed like a risky ask? Honestly I feel like it is something I’d want to do regularly moving forward.

          3. Nanani*

            But isn’t completely normal to reach out to contacts at a company you’re considering working at? It’s not like OP was asking for the secret interview gossip or anything?

            So even if it was meant as sabotage I don’t see how it would work that way at all.

            1. Working Hypothesis*

              Usually it doesn’t, and it seems pretty clear from the updates further down this comment section that it didn’t do any harm here. But there are enough interviewers who would take offense (even though they totally shouldn’t) that it is something an inept saboteur might try.

        2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          I do agree with Alison and you on this one. It probably would make you look bad if you fired him too soon after starting there, as though you never gave him a chance. Other people wouldn’t know the backstory and you would not have had enough time seeing him in this job to base it on job performance. But if he does something this weird, you will be able to pile up some performance problem documentation in no time and it will look much cleaner and above board.

          1. Artemesia*

            Oh there may come the day though. I protected a colleagues job several times when he would otherwise have been fired because I felt his contributions outweighed the difficulties he posed. And then he did several things to me similar to this including a confidential request and when offices were being constructed for him and me talked to the builder and managed to widen his office at the expense of mine — we had long narrow offices — but mine was a foot narrower which made a difference.

            So the next time the discussion of his job came up (I was slightly his ‘superior’ and had some management authority over areas he worked in). I just didn’t say anything when people wanted to not renew his contract. And he was gone.

            The day will come. Yes be impeccably professional — but get rid of this guy when you can.

            1. Artemesia*

              including sharing a confidential request (in a way that undercut me) similar to the example here.

            2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Did your John know that you’d been rooting for him, that he owed you for that?

          2. TangerineRose*

            Yeah. John sounds like someone who will do more things like that. He might only do obnoxious things to people when he thinks he can get away with them, so the OP might want to pay attention to people who work with/for John.

        3. StellaBella*

          OP, please consider that John may have applied for this role and was not in the running because of his lack of skill, hence why he blabbed. Also Do.Not.Trust.Him and look carefully at his work if you do become his boss or grandboss.

      4. Hiring Mgr*

        Firing John immediately WOULD reflect badly on OP (to me at least). Alison’s right here – keep any eye on John for sure, but move on from this incident

      5. fhqwhgads*

        Depending on who the person was that John cced at the hiring company, John’s ass might be fired before the position is filled.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      Same; I wouldn’t fault OP for it, especially once I got the second email. I’d just roll my eyes and think John’s a ding dong.

    4. Starlike*

      My guess is that John does this with most emails he replies to, and everyone involved has learned to ignore everything he says or even has a “John” filter set up. He seems like the kind of person who has that particular “everything I do is relevant and fascinating to the most powerful people who might even tangentially be associated with it” self-importance.

  3. Purple Cat*

    What the heck John?
    The *only* possible saving grace I can think of is that if you didn’t specify you were interviewing with Company X and just asked for info *about* Company X in general, then maybe John thought he was being helpful by casting that net further. But to then double-down after being called out on it? Just no.

    I don’t think you need to bring this up to anybody, but absolutely put it into your mental file. I think it’ll be fairly obvious if this lack of judgement extends to the rest of John’s professional dealings as well.

    1. Tuesday*

      Agreed! My first thought was that maybe John thought he was being helpful, if OP didn’t specifically say the email was confidential – “oh, OP wants info about Company X, here are some people that can help.” But that doesn’t explain the strange response that didn’t answer the question, OR the fact that he added everyone back in. Wild!

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Yeah. And it’s not like John was putting OP into contact with anyone they don’t already know. OP already knows the board members and can ask directly!

      2. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

        But the thing is the board members are board of a volunteer organization. Not the board of the company so there is no reason to even bring in the volunteer organization.

    2. Sloanicota*

      My first thought was that John was interested in the same job or didn’t want OP to become his manager.

  4. Pants*

    I hate reply-all, though I know sometimes it’s a necessary evil. When I reply to a singular person in one of those cases, I always start with [This is just to you, not a reply-all.] I feel like that covers me a little bit. For John to add those people back in? Sheesh. I kinda hope OP gets the job so John can squirm, though he seems like he may not realise he should squirm.

    1. ecnaseener*

      This wasn’t even reply-all though. John actively added people into his reply who were not included in the original email. Reply-extra!

    2. Khatul Madame*

      I, too, hope that OP get the job, but John evidently lacks self-awareness. People like John don’t squirm. OP may be more embarrassed for John than John himself.

    3. Elitist Semicolon*

      I also make a point of saying that I’ve taken other people off the chain and the colleague who, like John, adds those folks right back in is the bane of my existence. They’re also in the habit of copying folks in on emails in which they discuss something completely different, then at the very bottom, add, “I’ve asked Avocado Bob about the matter we discussed yesterday. How disappointing that I haven’t heard back” when they haven’t written to Avocado Bob at all, so they’re definitely not an email pro.

  5. Dona Florinda*

    John just told you a lot about himself, including poor judgement and complete disregard for your private information. I wouldn’t trust him again, ever.

    1. Rich*

      He also told everyone on the board, and the senior manager at Company X. I don’t think anyone is going to trust John again.

    2. RJ*

      I completely agree. If you do get the job, OP, John should be a major concern and IMO should be shown the exit door ASAP.

      Kudos on your SN. I loved El Chavo del Ocho as a kid.

  6. Calliope*

    Doesn’t it make sense to ask him why he thought it was relevant to the board? It all sounds weird but if you’ve known him for a long time and trusted his judgment before this, could their have been a miscommunication about why you were asking about company x?

    1. Observer*

      At this point, I can’t see any reason to do this – no upside, and a lot of downside.

      I think the OP is wise to cut their losses.

      1. Calliope*

        I mean, sure if they want to, it just seems more likely there’s something else going on. Otherwise someone you’ve known for years and trusted enough to recommend to a board trying to get you in trouble by tipping off your job search to a group of people who don’t have any reason to care.

        1. Observer*

          What could John tell the OP that would make this a reasonable way to behave?

          1. Calliope*

            “Oh, we had talked about using company X for non-profit issue Y. I didn’t read carefully and thought that’s why you were asking.”

            It doesn’t make it good behavior but that would move it from shady long-time friend backbiting me, cut him off to annoying incompetence to me.

            1. Antilles*

              What I don’t get though is why he did this:
              I wrote a new email to him — just to him — saying it wasn’t cool to share an obviously private confidential question with over a dozen unrelated people, and asking him why he did so. He replied, adding back in all the people I had taken out (!) and asking why not since it was relevant to them.
              Even IF he truly believed that the original email was relevant to everyone, why would you add everyone back in to your explanation of “actually this is relevant”? That’s a discussion that should be held exclusively between OP/John. I don’t at all see the point of bring everybody back into that sidebar discussion.
              I’ve had to add people to email chains before; every single time I just handled it privately with a direct email or message to the organizer along the lines of “please don’t forget Jimmy on this next time” or “this is a decision that really should include Jimmy as senior VP because he needs to be aware of this” or etc. There’s zero reason why that couldn’t just be basically a sidebar; CC’ing everybody else on that sort of discussion is almost like you’re trying to call attention to HEY EVERYBODY! OP DIDN’T INCLUDE JIMMY!

              1. Artemesia*

                yeah — if there was a benign explanation of the first violation, there is none for the second. That is a blatant attempt to damage the OP. It would for all sensible people have the opposite effect and damage the reputation of the ‘friend’ who did it.

            2. Kella*

              I truly can’t think of a generous explanation of someone explicitly saying “this is a private conversation just between us” and responding by adding a bunch of people to the thread. Unless you are trying to out unethical or illegal activities, this is just rude, no matter how you spin it.

          2. Calliope*

            “Oh, we had talked about using company X for non-profit issue Y. I didn’t read carefully and thought that’s why you were asking.”

            It doesn’t make it good behavior but that would move it from shady long-time friend backbiting me, cut him off to “read him the riot act for being a dumbass and move on”.

            Also why are you arguing with me when you told the person below who made a similar comment that they have a good point and you hope the OP finds out what’s going on?

              1. Miss Muffet*

                right. the first breach was dumb but there’re a lot of plausible explanations. the second one was just WTF dude.

              2. Calliope*

                I promise, I’m not saying he’s not a moron. I’m questioning whether this is absolutely shady behavior such that it suggests never trusting him on any level ever again even though you’ve known him for 20 years, had a good opinion of him, and might be his boss. I’m just saying, I suspect there’s more to the story than “he was trying to screw me over” because that just doesn’t make a ton of sense to me on the facts given.

                1. Kevin Sours*

                  Sufficiently advanced stupidity is indistinguishable from malice. I’m just not sure where you go from replying to a email saying “dude that was confidential” by CC the entire group.

                2. wendelenn*

                  I can’t reply directly to Kevin Sours but I think “Sufficiently advanced stupidity is indistinguishable from malice” is freaking brilliant and needs to be on shirts and mugs ASAP!

                3. Please Mark This Confidential and Leave It Lying Around*

                  Also hear to Yes Kevin Sours.

                4. Marthooh*

                  A+ Arthur C. Clarke reference. (For non-sci-fi fans, he once wrote “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”)

            1. Observer*

              No, I hope the OP finds out, but I don’t think they should ask John.

              I hope they find out for curiosity’s sake mostly. But also, it might be useful to understand how John operates. Not because there is likely to be an explanation that’s ok, but in the sense that the OP shouldn’t be blindsided the next time that John pulls something. But, I do not think that the OP will get the information that would be useful to them by asking John.

              The scenario you suggest doesn’t make sense given the facts of the letter.

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          I don’t think it would make any sense to continue trying to have a “private” email conversation with John when he keeps adding more people to the emails. And it definitely would not make sense to have the conversation “publicly” with all those people on the chain.

    2. Fluffy Fish*

      Nope. He had a chance to not act like a fool when OP emailed them privately again and said wtf, and John included people again after being specifically told not to.

    3. Lunch Ghost*

      Not the way it happened. The “question attached to unrelated email to board” alone could be a mistake; the “forwarded question to board, OP objected, John pushed back on OP’s objection” could be a miscommunication about why the question was being asked. Put both together and it’s fishy enough to assume John isn’t going to have a good answer.

      1. Calliope*

        Aren’t those all one incident? I don’t understand how the second doesn’t subsume the first.

    4. wordswords*

      It does make sense to ask, but the thing is, OP did. That was the second email. John could have replied directly (without CCing the board) saying “Whoops, sorry if I should’ve asked you first! It seemed relevant to me because XYZ,” or “Oh geez, I’m so sorry, I misread and thought you were asking [other thing] that the board would want to weigh in on,” or whatever. Instead he doubled down and CCed the whole board in on that second email too, which would be a weird response even if this had been about a completely innocuous and obviously board-relevant subject.

    5. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      The only reason I could think why the volunteer board would need to know is if they have some sort of rule that one board member cannot be the manager of another board member. But the OP hasn’t accepted a job they were just asking questions. So even if that was a rule he jumped the gun,

      1. JSPA*

        Or there’s some buried wording stating that board members can’t work at the same company (and only John has bothered to read every subsection and paragraph of the bylaws)?

        (PS It’s still ridiculous–the board does not need to pre-plan before there’s even a job offer.)

        1. OP*

          The board we’re both on has no rules about connections between board members. There would be no issue with John & I working at the same company or one of us reporting to the other.

    6. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      maybe, but NOT IN AN EMAIL! In the park, far from any recording devices, like a Soviet spy

    1. NeedRain47*

      If he were, I’d think this would tank his chances more than LW’s, since he made a fool of himself “in front of” the senior manager who was included on the email.

      1. Livnoutdoors*

        That was my thought- that he had shown interest in this role, been rejected in early interviews and is now trying to torpedo LW’s opportunity, thinking it would look bad if everyone knew LW was asking about the company. It wouldn’t seem to have that effect – but John seems full of poor judgment so maybe he doesn’t realize that HE is the one that looks like an ass?

    2. SixTigers*

      And if John thought that sort of behavior would disqualify OP, he just demonstrated in blinking neon lights that he is NOWHERE near qualified for that role.

    3. missy*

      I think this is it. And that he also has some sort of weird idea that asking “Hey, how is it working at X” looks bad for LW, maybe because he sees it as confidential information or, like, gossiping. And so he thinks by blowing it up he is making LW look bad, when really it isn’t. John has some sort of warped idea of business norms in this area and he doesn’t realize he is the weirdo here.

  7. Sam Bee*

    I know this is a paranoid read of the situation but to me it feels like John’s actions here are deliberate. Like maybe he knows OP would be coming in to a role with authority over him and doesn’t want that for whatever reason so he’s trying to make things awkward enough that she self selects out of this role. Allison’s advice is good, but if OP does move forward here I would definitely keep an eye out for signs of sabotage or insubordination.

    1. Another Ashley*

      I agree! I don’t think Jihn’s just “awkward” or tactless. He was definitely trying to sabotage the OP.

    2. Observer*

      Maybe yes, maybe not. But regardless, the OP needs to watch John VEERRY carefully. Because the best thing you can say for him is that he has terrible judgment.

    3. Fluffy Fish*

      I agree with you. I don’t know the motivation but it reads exactly like John is trying to tattle that OP is looking for a new job.

    4. tinybutfierce*

      Yeah, if he had just explained privately to the OP that he thought it was relevant to the board, etc., and that was it, that would have been one thing. But being told “this was intended to be a private conversation” and then replying by adding back in everyone the OP made it very clear they didn’t want to include? That, at best, smells of malicious incompetence to me.

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        I agree that this looks very much like an attempt to sabotage OP’s new job, and maybe their place on the board as well. It was really inept, if so, because nothing OP said in either email was going to reflect particularly badly with these people on OP — John’s the one who’s come out of this looking terrible, and probably not just to OP (if, indeed, any of the others noticed or cared). But the fact that John aggressively chose to do EXACTLY what OP told him not to do is a good sign that he has zero respect for OP’s authority even over things that OP should currently have the right to control, such as their own email recipients. He’s not going to show any more respect for OP’s authority over him as a boss.

    5. Sparkles McFadden*

      Thinking this is deliberate is not a paranoid read at all. Just because it’s a weird and ineffective plan doesn’t mean it’s not a sabotage attempt. The end result is John made himself look like an idiot (or exposed himself as one) and LW should keep an eye on John if the job comes through.

    6. The Rules are Made Up*

      I agree. It feels petty and sabotage-y. Especially since he never actually answered OPs question, just went LOOK EVERYONE OP IS INTERVIEWING AT THIS COMPANY for no good reason. And then went LOOK EVERYONE OP DIDN’T WANT ME TO TELL YOU THAT THEY’RE INTERVIEWING AT THIS COMPANY.

      Granted whenever people start CC’ing any and every unrelated person to emails (esp if those people are high up) I give a side eye, because it’s rarely necessary and usually overly aggressive if not passive aggressive.

    7. Kate, short for Bob*

      Not paranoid to me, and I wonder if OP is a woman that John thinks shouldn’t be rising above him, hence the new hostility

    8. SnappinTerrapin*

      I agree.

      But even taking the most charitable view, that John is simply incompetent, he has also demonstrated that he is an enthusiastic and hard-working incompetent who doesn’t take feedback constructively. Such a person will create a lot of work for others in the organization as they try to clean up his messes. If I have to have an idiot on staff, let them be a lazy one who can be given low priority tasks to free up the more competent folks to do important things. Something like overseeing a fatigue detail of soldiers, painting rocks around an HQ building. People like this can’t be trusted to exercise sound discretionary judgment.

  8. Hiring Mgr*

    I don’t really understand this one…is there a reason why John thought it was relevant for the others? Unless he just completely misunderstood (twice) and thought you were just trying to find anyone who knows anything about company X?

    But either way, it sounds like this is someone you’ve known for years and as you say recommended to this board. Personally I’m not sure one strange interaction would cause such a loss of trust but everyone will react differetnly.

    Also OP mentions getting “splashback” but also that nobody said anything and they all ingored the emails ? Anyway, i agree with Alison, don’t say anything..

    1. Tuesday*

      I agree. Unless the OP asked about Company X in a way they would find insulting (like “I’m really not impressed with the CEO, what can you tell me about working there?”) OP really didn’t say anything that those people are likely to remember down the road. If I was on that chain I would just be embarrassed for John. It sounds like he wildly misunderstood what was happening there, or had a very strange agenda.

    2. Pocket Mouse*

      Or perhaps thought the discussions OP was in with the company were related to the volunteer board, and not related to personnel decisions? From the letter, it’s not clear how specific OP was in the email regarding the purpose of reaching out, or even in the follow-up email removing the board. I could see John’s perspective of “everyone will need to be aware of this and other questions” if he truly thought it had to do with their volunteer work, and in that case he’d be just as perplexed as it seems he was from OP’s telling.

      OP, re-read your email in this light of this possibility and talk to John to check for a shared understanding before concluding all trust is gone.

      1. A Feast of Fools*

        But OP did that with their 2nd private email to John where they explained it was private and asked why he shared it with everyone. And then John added everybody back in on his reply to that 2nd private email.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      My reading was that OP realizes this exchange really just makes John look bad, but that the “splashback” would be because he recommended John to the board and now John made himself look like a dumbass which might make people question OP’s judgement.

      I think OP will be fine though. Honestly it’s all very, very weird and I agree it shows terrible judgement on John’s part, but I would bet most if not all recipients of the email read it and thought “huh, what an odd exchange” and then moved on and don’t think any more about it.

  9. SofiaDeo*

    If LW and John met as colleagues at the same level, and LW has now surpassed John career wise, I am wondering if this is some bizarre inappropriate reaction to that. LW has already “recommended John for the board” they are now both on. If LW does take this job, I agree with Alison and the others that John will need to be watched closely. I’m not going to get into the “why” this might be going on, and for any other factors that might be exacerbating the inappropriate reaction from John. Other than to agree, John is totally, 100% inappropriate.

    1. OP*

      There may be something to this. We met at the same level in different countries for the same multinational. Our career trajectories there and since (including at our shared board) have been very different and not in his favour.

      I don’t like thinking that that could be a factor, but you may be on to something.

      See my reply below though re. my not really caring about intentions, and trying to refrain from telling myself stories about what’s in his head. Whether I get this job or not, whether I am his boss or not, I think it’s more helpful to focus on the consequences of his actions rather than on his intentions. I am certainly wary of him now and I can remain entirely professional while also making sure I don’t stand on the edges of any cliffs with my back to him. It doesn’t matter if he pushes me by malice or by being clumsy but I certainly care about the fall.

      1. Product Person*

        Wow, OP, this company will be lucky to have you if you end up taking this job!

        I love how you’re approaching this, and as an experienced technical employee working for a nice company that is trying to hire my next boss bc I don’t want their job, I’d love to learn that you were being hired :-).

      2. fhqwhgads*

        OR one of the reasons John’s career didn’t have the same trajectory as yours is because his judgement is crap, as you know now.

  10. Mirve*

    The most generous read might be that he didn’t realize you meant *employment* discussions with X, but that you were talking with them about something to do with the organization on which you are both on the board. That would explain thinking that the other board members needed to know and the person at X if it was relevant to whatever service he imagined you were thinking about using. In other words, the only context he imagined you were asking questions was relative to that board.
    Of course, if you included questions that made it clear you were thinking of going to work for X, this wouldn’t make any sense whatever.

    1. Elenna*

      Sure, but adding everyone back in after OP specifically said it was confidential is still ridiculous.

  11. Jean*

    It’s possible that John may have that same bad habit that I have observed in coworkers before – namely only reading the first sentence or 2 of an email, not bothering to get any context, wildly misunderstanding what’s being said, and then making a fool of themselves by going off half-cocked in a reply. I had a manager at a previous job who did this repeatedly and never learned to stop, despite it causing issues for him and for the team time and time again.

    In any case, it’s not a good sign. It indicates aggressively poor communication skills, which aren’t exactly desirable in a report. I’d be watching him very closely if I did end up taking a position above him.

    1. Anon in IL*

      I agree with this. And then becoming defensive when the OP explained his misunderstanding.

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      I really think this is the only possible explanation. None of the theories about him trying to intentionally do anything to OP make any sense to me given the people included on the list. I think this is purely incompetence and poor communication skills with possibly a smidge of belligerence. I think OP made the right call to just drop the email chain and agree with Alison that I wouldn’t do anything in particular about this exchange if you get the job, other than letting it motivate you to look over his work and behavior very closely if you end up supervising him.

  12. e271828*

    I think John is trying to spike the LW’s candidacy for the job. I’ve seen similar kinds of weird spray-email things from guys who thought they were cleverly, subtly outing someone *they* thought was doing something underhanded (asking about Company X, in this case) which was actually a normal thing and not at all nefarious, except in the guy’s mind.

    Hope your volunteer organization’s board has term limits, LW!

    1. Viette*

      I second the suspicion of incompetent sabotage. I’ve seen plenty of would-be saboteurs doing things that they think are so Machiavellian and sneaky but are in fact stupid and counterproductive.

  13. Ellena*

    So let me get this straight – John made a colossal fool out of himself both to the board of the nonprofit AND to the senior executive at the company he works for? There must be more to the story because John doesn’t seem 21.
    I really hope OP gets the job and provides us with a much needed update.

    1. Observer*

      Good point. OP, I hope you find out what was really going on with this guy.

  14. Important Moi*

    No, no, no,.

    I flat out disagree with Alison. This is not some weird fluke. Treat all future interactions with him as though he is the town crier on the town square. That doesn’t mean you are rude or you are somehow punishing him. You are protecting yourself and have a right to do that.

    When a person shows you who they are, believe them. ~ Courtesy of Maya Angelou

    1. Observer*

      Alison didn’t say that it’s probably a weird fluke. She said it is POSSIBLE. But until proven otherwise, take is as proof that this guy is not someone who you can trust, because at minimum he has no judgement or discretion.

    2. A Feast of Fools*

      I think what Alison is saying is that OP shouldn’t march into John’s boss’s office and say, “John is incompetent and should be, at a minimum, put on a PIP right now.”

      She’s saying that if OP gets the job, they should watch John very, very closely to see if he exhibits the same untrustworthy behavior at work as he did in the two emails from OP.

      If John is jealous of OP’s success and wants to torpedo her chances at Company X, that doesn’t automatically mean that he is behaving inappropriately at work, too. Lots of crappy people are good at compartmentalizing their crappy behavior.

  15. BeenThatDoneThere*

    No need to bring it up with John. As Allison said, just observe him, and he’ll almost certainly give you a good enough reason to burn him.

    When he does give you enough? Just get rid of him, even if the ammunition he gives you might not fully justify it. Clearly, he is untrustworthy, and even when given an opportunity to correct his mistake (somewhat) he chose to double down. Just go into the new job and put a target on his back. Sounds like both you and the new company will be better off.

    I’ve learned the hard way over the years that subordinates that are either this clueless or untrustworthy or, worse are willing to embarrass or harm you for whatever reasons (like John) should be eliminated at the earliest possible moment. No additional chances, no PIP. No “watching closely” (other than to gather ammunition). Nada. “John. you were 10 minutes late to the staff meeting. Security is here to collect your badge and walk you out.Have a great life”

      1. Calliope*

        But why would it sabotage the OP? It didn’t make them look bad; it made John look bad.

        1. tinybutfierce*

          Some people simply aren’t self-aware enough to realize how their attempts to make others look bad just end up reflecting poorly on themselves instead.

        2. the+cat's+ass*

          Agreed, but it feels like he was trying to sabotage her candidacy, though i think that backfired and he sabotaged himself.

        3. TiredMama*

          I feel like there is a piece of this puzzle that none of us (including OP) has…like some conversations that John has had with senior management at his company. Maybe he wants them to know that he knows that OP applied and cc’ed the board to act as if it gives him a reason for cc’ing a bunch of people, he thought it would look bad that OP was asking for information about the company while applying (personally I think it is smart), he thought the board would be interested in knowing she is applying for a new job? In any event, it seems to have been ineffective. Hoping for an update.

        4. Please Mark This Confidential and Leave It Lying Around*

          Are you John?

          No seriously: why are you digging for a plausible, harmless reason, in two threads, for John to be blameless? If these people are on boards and have senior roles, this is no one’s first job out of college!

          1. OP*

            I’m 50 and John is in his mid 50s. His current role isn’t senior but this is far from his first rodeo.

        5. quill*

          Some people figure that the mere appearance of drama can undermine someone. Especially if that someone has less demographic privilege.

  16. Tuesday*

    To everyone saying this is sabotage: how? Am I reading something wrong? He copied the volunteer board they’re both on and a manager at the company OP is already thinking about working for. How would that reflect badly on her? It’s not like he copied her current manager. If I was included on this chain I would just think it was weird.

    1. ecnaseener*

      No one’s suggesting it would be effective sabotage. There’s no way to read this situation where John’s not, uh, less than competent at whatever he was trying to do – so the question is what on earth was he trying to do.

      1. Tuesday*

        I definitely agree that there’s incompetence here, I just don’t understand what John would think could happen if he was doing this maliciously. What would the volunteer board do about anything?

        1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

          This is my thoughts: John thinks that reaching out to contacts that work at a potential new job is wrong. For some reason John dislikes OP and is trying to
          1. torpedo their chances with Comapny X which is why he CC’d higher management and
          2. He dislikes OP enough that he doesn’t want them working on the board so he is trying to get them kicked off by showing how unprofessional and sneaky they are by asking normal questions.

          1. Arthenonyma*

            Yeah that’s my best guess – for some reason John thinks that OP reaching out to him was… wildly unethical? Shady? Sneaky? And he wants both Senior Manager and the board they’re both on to know ALL ABOUT IT, stat.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Alison should offer the occasional writing prompt drawn from bizarre ploys: Construct a situation in which John’s move here was a brilliant stroke and highly effective.

    2. NeedRain47*

      It *doesn’t* reflect badly on OP. But resending something to a group a second time, after specifically being told it was supposed to be private, definitely wasn’t an accident. It’s a reasonably logical guess that John thought it would look bad for OP. I would certainly be very embarrassed if it happened to me.

      You’re right that it really doesn’t make OP look bad. It makes John look inept at best and malicious at worst.

    3. Meep*

      As someone who worked closely with someone like John, I can guess that he had a twisted sense of morals. My former boss would constantly say inappropriate things that she KNEW were inappropriate before foisting it onto me as something I said. That led her to feel like I was out to get HER because she was actively attacking me. Part of that was she couldn’t take any accountability for her actions and had a large case of projectionitis, but it also led to weird bizarre situations where she would try to ‘sabotage’ me in ways that weren’t actually harmful to me because she was just insecure when it came to ANY perceived slight.

      For example, one of the lesser bonkers things she did was tell her boss that I was taking management classes like it was a bad thing. She really thought she had “got me” and proved how disloyal to the company. In actuality, I had asked him for a letter of rec so he knew. lol.

      1. Sparkles McFadden*

        Yes, there are people whose brains work in incredibly convoluted and self-absorbed ways. People like this assume that every action is some part of a nefarious plot and they must take action to expose and thwart the evildoer! In reality, the supposed evildoer is doing something totally normal and everyone else is thinking “Wow, John sounds crazy.” Sadly, this end result confirms John’s suspicions, so people like John never learn.

      2. Observer*

        one of the lesser bonkers things she did was tell her boss that I was taking management classes like it was a bad thing. She really thought she had “got me” and proved how disloyal to the company.

        If that’s the “less” version, you should join the Friday open thread and let us know about some of the more bonkers stuff. It must have been pretty rough when it was happening, but it does make a good story!

        1. Meep*

          Oh, I have tons of mind-spinning stories that left me thinking I was possibly crazy for years. An investigation into her concluded I wasn’t. For a taste, a medium bonkers thing she did was tell another coworker that she would be fired if her and someone who did not work for the company were dating. (She wanted to hire him, he hates her guts.) They weren’t btw.

  17. Kate in NZ*

    What the heck. I’m surprised that no one has said – why did you send an email asking questions like that to John in the first place? This is the kind of question I would always save for a personal meeting, phone call or maybe a text. My rule is to never write anything in an email you wouldn’t want someone else to read. And I’d never answer an email like this that I received out of the blue from an acquaintance either. I’d expect a phone call or even a coffee meeting. It’s just odd to me but maybe it’s a cultural difference.

    1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      Knowing the answer to that wouldn’t make any difference to the advice here. Alison can’t usefully tell the LW “go back and change what you did last month.”

    2. Gan Ainm*

      I agree and had the same thought. I don’t think it was outrageous for OP to send the email, but I would have phrased it as “I’ve been talking to company X and had some questions about working there, was hoping we might be able to speak, do you have 30 minutes this week to catch up?” so that it would be clear I wasn’t asking them to commit in writing to their opinions on their employer. It was a very slight misstep on OP’s part I think, but John could have easily circumvented this whole mess by just responding like a normal person with “hey I have time Thursday at noon, I’ll give you a call then.” and moving it to a verbal conversations Just because someone emails you a question doesn’t mean you have to respond via email.

    3. Sparkles McFadden*

      The “call instead of email” ship has sailed so there’s no point in going there, since we’re discussing the aftermath.

      That said, I’ve had verbal discussions with people like John, and people like that will send a “follow-up” email to everyone in the company that says “Just to recap our discussion…” as some kind of a gotcha move to get their crazy message out there to other people.

    4. OP*

      I am indeed kicking myself for this, I’d thought I was ever so discreet in not even mentioning it was about a job.

      I changed my tune with the next person I asked about Company X. The overture was in email but I requested a call to discuss, and was clear that I was requesting confidentiality – and was fine if they weren’t comfortable speaking on that basis.

      It went fine, they were in all respects an anti-John.

      FYI Kate in NZ, your culture is a lot closer to mine that to John’s. It doesn’t seem that much of a cultural difference to me. I think I wasn’t sufficiently alert to the nuances.

      1. Arthenonyma*

        I do also wonder a bit if not mentioning it was about a job is what’s come back to bite you here. Like John thinks it’s about something else, something the board has an interest in? Not defending him, just… boggling, tbh.

    5. Rocket*

      I read a lot of similar cloak and dagger advice from commenters here and that’s just…not a world I live in. It would never occur to me to have a personal rule like that.

      1. HelloHello*

        Same, I can’t imagine being off-put if a friend or former colleague emailed me to ask about an organization. It seems like a perfectly normal request to have via either email or phone, though also something I’d know to keep between us and not blast into the world.

        Unless you’re trying to work for the CIA or, idk, a secret project for a famous person or something, I just don’t understand why “so what is the company you work for like?” would be the kind of information that is so classified it can’t be put into writing.

      2. Lizzo*

        Consider yourself lucky. I think many of us make these kinds of comments because we’ve experienced these things (e.g. attempts at professional sabotage) personally during our careers, and want letter writers to benefit from those experiences, strange as they may be.

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        I agree, this seems like such a normal email to send. I don’t think OP did anything wrong in sending it, and I don’t think anyone who was erroneously copied on the email chain would think OP did anything wrong in sending it–if they even bother reading that far down the email thread.

  18. Jess*

    I would like to take a moment to state that adding people to a reply, rather than suggesting one direct one’s inquiry to the added people, sucks out loud.

    I ask a question, the person replies to the negative and copies a bunch of unrelated people, including management, with no additional insight or information. So, I ask one of the people, usually a direct report for the original person, that they copied, in a fresh email. Get ignored.

    What the actual fudge. There needs to be an professional email best practices training for everyone.

    1. Calliope*

      Very normal email to send and receive , in my experience. You don’t want your employer to know your job hunting but it’s not like it’s the names of our assets in Russia.

    2. Meep*

      To be fair, back when I was working with my Toxic Coworker, I was constantly recopying her manager back onto the email chain (the only way I would communicate with her so there was a paper trail), but she is actually insane. Well, not insane enough not to refuse to use written communication so there was no paper trail, but insane enough to think EVERYONE was out to get her. Even complete strangers.

      My point is, that sometimes it is justified.

    3. Antilles*

      For project-related stuff that isn’t sensitive, it’s often fine to just add someone right in. Just to add the new person in my reply-all with a brief “Bob is really the expert on Vanilla teapots so I’ve added him to this thread for his thoughts”.

      But for an inquiry like this where it’s a potentially sensitive topic? Yeah, you should definitely confirm with OP first.

    4. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      I just had that happen to me at work by 2 different people, and one happened to be on a Sunday no less.
      I asked a non-urgent question of Person A about a llama. Person A responded he didn’t deal with that type of llama, and forwarded the email to Department B. Department B person did not answer my question, but instead forwarded the whole email chain to one of my grand-managers about how they were hiring people to do social media for llamas. Manager then responded to the thing on a Sunday. Not one of them responded to me and only me saying THEY DIDN’T KNOW. It was so rude and unprofessional.

      I had to respond to the manager that the question was for a llama report I was preparing for her, but wasn’t quite finished yet because I had hoped to find some more information internally about that type of llama first in order to give a comparison on feeding.

    5. kitryan*

      I had a supervisor who was incredibly thoughtful about this. I could send her my questions and not worry that she would forward the email on without checking in first if she couldn’t answer all of them. This meant that I didn’t have to aggressively police my language. I was never writing anything that was actually *bad* but occasionally I was more critical of things to her than I would be to the other person’s face. A tiny bit of venting as it were.
      My current supervisor is not bad or anything but doesn’t think of this generally, so I’m a bit more guarded in my language and write most emails to them so I wouldn’t hesitate to have them read by anyone at the company. Venting only occurs in person.

    6. Emmy Noether*

      Mh, for non-sensitive work stuff, I think it’s fine to redirect questions (only to those one honestly thinks can help though!)

      It usually goes like this: person A sends me a question I can’t answer. I reply with something like “Hi A, unfortunately I don’t know, but last I heard, B was taking care of this. B, could you answer?”, copying in B. B will then respond to A and me with the answer, so I know it’s taken care of. It saves one round of emails, keeps me informed, and usually works out fine.

      Now, confidential questionss like here are another beast, and copying in bosses is pretty aggressive most of the time.

      1. Ally McBeal*

        This exactly. I had to do this yesterday – my direct report got a question from an external party that I couldn’t answer, so I looped in my boss and asked for clarity. He ended up having to ask someone else because he wasn’t entirely sure either, and now all three of us have the answer for future reference.

  19. Enn Pee*

    The good thing, I suppose, is that John didn’t FORWARD the email to various people without your knowing.
    If you take the job & supervise him, I’d be very careful what I put in writing when communicating to him alone; I’d be worried that he’d pass things along, out of context…

  20. Jam on Toast*

    I wonder if John himself or someone John backs in the horse race is in the running for the position?? Was this a hack-handed attempt to cut the OP off or otherwise derail her application for the position. It just seems such a significant and purposeful over reaction on John’s part to such a typical networking request that I have to ask myself “What’s John getting out of this?”

  21. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    I’m not the only one whose spidey senses are tingling about gender and/or race being relevant here, right?

    1. Important Moi*

      Yes, it made me wonder. My suggestion that LW mind their P&Qs proactively wasn’t well received .

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        One person pushed back on the assertion you were disagreeing with Alison, that’s hardly the right framing.

    2. Meep*

      That was one of my thoughts as well. John doesn’t want OP to be his boss because OP is either a woman or a minority and is trying to sabotage them. My second thought was a case of paranoia where he thought OP was trying to sabotage HIM.

    3. SofiaDeo*

      Correct, which is why I wasn’t going to speculate about reasoning. Just, I wondered if they met at the same level, since LW is now obviously higher/faster *at least* for volunteer work advancement since was on the board before John. Now LW asking “what’s it like at your company?” And John either wants this job, or doesn’t want to work with LW as a senior person let alone at the same level. John is older and isn’t doing as well, career wise.

      So John adds in all these Board people in response, thinking asking is is inappropriate and would like to start making LW look bad on the board they sit on. If someone sends and email asking for something in writing you’d rather discuss in person, you email back “let’s chat” or simply call them, if you don’t even want to leave a paper trail of a possible discussion. Then doubling down on top of that, when asked “why everyone was included in a private email”? John is not neutral about LW. Let alone “friendly”. John actively dislikes LW in my opinion and IME. Because the second email situation makes it clear it wasn’t a sloppy read of the first email, John did everything deliberately.

  22. learnedthehardway*

    With any luck, nobody really read the email. If they did, the person who looks bad here is JOHN, not the OP. In fact, it may actually look good that the OP was leveraging their network to find out about the company, as recruitment for senior executive roles often carries the expectation that candidates have and can leverage networks, understand in depth about the company, and know how to get information that isn’t widely available. The OP has just demonstrated they have all those qualities. John has demonstrated that he is an ass. The OP has also demonstrated that they handle conflict effectively – addressing the person causing the issue professionally and asking for an explanation.

    Nobody on the board will (or nobody should) hold this against you, OP. If they do, they’re naïve. They should, however, hold it against John, who has just displayed his lack of judgement and professionalism to the world at large.

    That said, if you get the role, don’t bring it up, treat John professionally. My guess is that he’ll manage himself out of the role and company on his own.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Yeah, in this sort of situation it’s good to be the person willing to let this just move straight on out of the other board members’ minds, rather than gearing up for anything that ensures they will have to think about it for another minute.

      You can be extremely super right and John wrong, and hapless bystanders will glare at the last person to attempt to drag them into this.

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      Some would-be saboteurs are annoying in the present but actually quite helpful in the long run. They give one a chance to demonstrate professionalism and grace in an uncomfortable situation. ( At least that’s what I say to myself when in the middle of one of those weird “What the Hell!?!” situations.)

    3. Gary Patterson's Cat*

      I agree it looks very unprofessional for John, and not the OP unless OP was asking some kind of highly confidential questions about the business or something. But even if that were the case, John should have replied only to OP and said something like sorry, but I’m not at liberty to discuss this.

  23. Meep*

    I see one of two possibilities –

    1. He doesn’t want OP to be his boss for some reason and is actively trying to sabotage them. Possibly because he is trying to snag the job himself.
    2. He is like my weirdo of a former manager and extremely paranoid and thinks OP is somehow trying to get him in trouble at work. Maybe, because someone else was an absolute weirdo and tried it in the past or because he is just naturally a weirdo.

  24. R*

    Looks like your first act as his boss is to send him for some extensive, grueling, months-long training on email etiquette.

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

    I realize this is not a literal quote: “I emailed John in email to ask if he was still at Company X and said I was in some discussions with them and did he have anything he was willing to share about them?” but this is super vague without any other context, so he might really have missed that your question wasn’t about the Board or volunteer org. Maybe as far as he’s concerned, his relationship to you is only about Board/Volunteer activities and he didn’t catch that you’re asking a job networking question based on you two working together 20 years ago. Not everyone thinks of people they’ve worked with previously, especially so long ago, as automatically being a job “network”.

    It’s not ok for him to CC in a bunch of people without clarifying what you are asking about or what your discussions are, but without additional context, I honestly don’t think either of you look terribly bad by this misunderstanding.

    1. KRM*

      You think it doesn’t look bad that OP said “hey, it wasn’t cool for you to add a bunch of people to what was a personal question to you” and then John READDED everyone and said “but relevant!!!”. John *maybe* misread the first email. Maybe. But the second interaction is…yeah, that’s not a misunderstanding, and it makes John look bad. At best he did not even try to comprehend the OP’s reply to him (or really the original email, but I’m granting your weird premise). At worst he’s attempting some kind of ham handed half assed sabotage.

      1. Tuesday*

        I’ve been wondering how this would be sabotage, but reading this take, I could see a situation where it’s like Pay No Attention described, then OP emails John to “scold” him for copying other people (John’s interpretation). John is then irritated because OF COURSE the other people need to be involved, how dare OP snark at him for doing the right thing? So he copies them to make OP look foolish, when really he had totally misinterpreted the initial email and only makes himself look silly.

        1. Gary Patterson's Cat*

          It’s still terrible. If you are ever unsure about something in email, for God’s sake don’t forward it to a bunch of other people.

  26. Natalie*

    I would make a point of asking at the interview “What would you expect me to do about an employee with poor judgment” and make sure the answer isn’t “Cater to them”

  27. OP*

    OP here.

    Thank you all for responses I’m finding helpful and insightful! Answering some questions that have come up, sorry if this is too long:

    I did not mention that I was interviewing for a job, or specifically request confidentiality. Lesson learned. When I more recently reached out to another contact, I specifically requested confidentiality and asked if they were OK to have a call on that basis.

    Why did John do these things? I don’t know. I am reconciled to never knowing as I agree with the comments that there are no upsides to asking further, and many downsides. As the excellent Captain Awkward says: closure comes from within, not from others.

    My concerns about splashback were hypothetical and apparently unfounded. It’s now two months later and none of the people he added to his emails have mentioned it. I’ve had several dealings with the volunteer board in that time, and also two more rounds of interviews at Company X. I’m not about to bring it up if no-one else is.

    The idea that John may be applying for the same job, or favours someone else who is, is not one that had occurred to me. That would require him making the leap that it was about a job at all, and for that job. I am in most ways an outside contender for the role, having no formal management experience. If our positions were reversed it wouldn’t have occurred to me that it could be for that role. That doesn’t mean he didn’t guess.

    There was a question about why ask this in email at all? John is in a different country many time zones away and always complains about the telephone infrastructure in his country. But per above I asked my next contact for a call to discuss; once bitten, twice shy.

    Lastly if I were reading this as an AAM reader I too would be wondering about gender, race, and other dimensions of privilege. Both John and I are male and of the same race, but from very different cultures. (If you’re familiar with Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory, John’s country is far higher on Power Distance Index, Individualism, Masculinity, and Indulgence than mine. I don’t know if this is relevant or changes any advice but I’m tossing it out there.)

    I am relieved to have the sanity check that my calibration for professionalism was correct, thank you all. I am also relieved that everyone agrees that this reflects only on John. I have no problem with it getting back to Company X that I’m making discreet inquiries; if anything, I agree with the comment saying that they would respect me for professionally doing due diligence.

    Thank you, Alison, and commentariat for confirming that if I gain this role I should be forwards-looking not backwards, and my legitimate authority over him only begins once he is part of my division.

    The big eye-opener for me here is how many of you suspect or are outright certain that this was some attempt at sabotage. I’ve been blinking a lot as I read your comments! I’m wary of going too far down that rabbit hole because it is story-telling. We can’t know what was in John’s mind and why he acted in such a surprising and disappointing way.

    But I also don’t think it matters. It’s a core value of mine that intentions matter very little and we should judge people by the consequences of their actions. I’m also aware of stereotype threat and that people tend to (seem to) act to confirm your opinions of them, so I don’t want to be telling myself stories that he was trying to sabotage me. My job and career can be harmed by him whether he is a malicious saboteur, a hapless fool, both, or something else entirely, and I can and will be wary without buying in to stories.

    1. Important Moi*

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

      Some of us are a little jaded. I will consider what you said.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      The cultural differences stand out to me as the most relevant. While the commenters here are not from a homogenous culture, we do tend to see things through an American lens because a) the statistical majority of us are American and b) Alison is American, so while some people chime in to explain how things might be read differently in different cultures, most of us know her point of view very well and see things as she frames them. While we do get letters that are clearly not American, we rarely get the differences you’re describing with two people in the same situation being from very different cultural backgrounds (I’m sure we’ve had some, but it’s hardly a daily thing).

      Which I say in such detail to acknowledge in particular the saboteur angle might have come from that cultural misunderstanding, so I think you’re right to be wary of it. You continue to act with outstanding professionalism and a level head, I find that admirable.

    3. Sparkles McFadden*

      Thank you for your thorough response. I’m glad to hear there was no fall out from this. I agree that you don’t have to know or care what John was trying to do.

      I once was going into a job (same company, different department) and my new grandboss informed me that one of my future staff members threatened to quit rather than work for me and they wanted to know why. I truthfully replied that I had no idea because I barely knew who he was. On my first day, I was told that the guy wanted to come back and give it a try. Was I OK with that? I said I had no idea what the guy’s objection was so I didn’t care if he stayed. He came back the next day, and I just pretended none of it happened and behaved in a normal professional way. He ended up being a very good employee and I never found out why he objected to me in the first place.

      I hope it works out equally well for you. Good luck with moving forward in the interview process!

    4. MEH Squared*

      Thanks, OP, for this additional information. I especially appreciate the explanation of the cultural differences between you and John. I think you have a healthy attitude about what happened and what to do going forward. Good luck to you!

    5. Working Hypothesis*

      OP, I don’t think you have to make assumptions about what John intended, but I do think you need to keep open to the possibility that he means you harm if you end up managing him. There is a world of difference between how to make somebody clueless but well meaning and how to manage someone who is actively trying to make trouble. There are things each will do that the other doesn’t, and if you don’t learn to recognize which you’re dealing with when you see the first steps of the pattern, you’ll be caught flat-footed by the later and more dangerous ones.

      So if you end up managing John, keep your eyes open. Don’t react to the intent; react to the action… but watch the patterns so you know after a little while what you’re dealing with. If he opposes your authority or goes behind your back, those aren’t things that happen by accident. And they’ll tell you what kinds of behavior you’re likely to get from him further down the line.

      1. OP*

        I like the way you’ve phrased this. Thank you, this is good advice. “Don’t tell stories about why people do things” is usually good advice but it’s been itching me and you’ve exactly out your finger on why.

    6. Purple Cat*

      Wow, I just want to applaud this thorough well-reasoned response. You seem like a very mature capable professional and this internet stranger is rooting for you to get the job.

      Good luck!!

  28. RagingADHD*

    This is reaching, I know, but is there any connection or potential connection between Company X and the volunteer organization that might either

    a) lead John to believe that your inquiry about the company was related to the org rather than to a job search? or

    b) make it questionable for you to tap into a fellow board member as a backchannel resource? If John thought you were trying to leverage the connection in some inappropriate way, this could be either pushback or an attempt to CYA through transparency.

    I can’t think of a specific scenario where that might be the case, but his second response was so hostile, it makes me wonder what he thought was going on. There’s no reason to be hostile over job research, but if he misinterpreted it as some kind of backroom dealing, maybe he thought it was warranted.

    I presume the LW has previously known John to be a sensible person, or they wouldn’t have nominated him to the board. When sensible people suddenly have bizarre responses, it’s usually a misunderstanding.

  29. Did I miss it*

    But this wasn’t a reply all the first time….and what about he question of what to say to the board? I don’t feel like we really got an answer to some of the questions this letter writer asked.

  30. StudentA*

    I wish we had more details about what the emails contained. I’d like to know WHAT John said to all these people. Like, how much of an ass does he look right now? Also, the content of his emails inform how the LW would approach things.

    Also, you learn a lot about someone from being on a board with them. What sort of behavior did he exhibit before? Was he always professional?

    Personally, I’d never trust him again, one off or not. He embarrassed you not once but twice. On purpose.

  31. Slovenly Braid Cultist*

    Freely admitting this is letter fanfic with no grounding in reality, probably, but it’s so weird I can’t help trying to find a logical explanation for his weirdness: maybe John thought you were trying to imply you knew something he didn’t want you to know and were trying to get him to “share” and admit to it, and he thought he was calling your bluff by getting the Board in to show that he had nothing to hide?

    Like, John thinks you heard and want to spread a malicious rumor, so in his own mind he’s getting ahead of it by getting the board et al to back him?

  32. Ozzie*

    Whenever I notice someone has dropped others off of an email chain, I consider why that may be. Obviously there are VERY OBVIOUS good reasons to do so. OP has clearly done that here. Literally wtf John.

    I’ve also had a John-like move but the other direction, dropping people off of a conversation that they -absolutely- need to be involved in… and I generally try to give people the benefit of the doubt on that one, until it happens multiple times. But as the person who will add them back on in those instances (especially when it seems very shady), I can very, very honestly say that John is being very shady here, and again, literally wtf.

  33. OP*

    My first email to John:


    [pleasantries] [segue from last professional interaction we had not that long prior]

    I ask a favour of you: I would love to pick your brains about Company X as I am in some conversations with them and I’d be grateful for your insights.


    He replied to my email, did not address anything in it, added in all of the board, and asked the board unrelated questions about things he wanted from them. There’s no world in which this was a Reply All mishap; right from the start he added in the board and used replying to me to ask them about stuff.

    He also added in Senior Manager Y who is at Company X but not on the board and has no business being asked board questions of. None of John’s reply touched on Company X in any way.

    1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      Wow! Thanks for this info OP. This is very strange. I’m wondering if John thinks that you asking about company X is wrong and wants to show the manager and the board how sneaky and underhimed you are. (Even though this is a normal thing)

    2. Esmeralda*

      Ineptitude. Brain fart. Two brain farts. It’s possible — I think, likely. It doesn’t reflect well on John, but they’re not at the level of fire the backstabbing bozo.

      Really, there’s a lot of cloak and dagger fictionalizing in the comments…. As you said above, OP, no need to speculate on motives at all. Keep an eye on him. If something is awry, you’ll see it.

      1. Confused*

        Yeah, it kinda looks like a very derailed train of thought: started an email from you, forgot who he was, then started an email to the board. That explains why he didn’t understand why his questions to the board were not meant for these recipients, but also it very much doesn’t explain the manager from his own company.

        Who knows – do as you said, that makes the most sense.

    3. Pocket Mouse*

      Very weird, but yeah, that’s far too vague to communicate this is about a job candidacy. Any chance Senior Manager Y has a name similar to someone on the board and that part of the weirdness, at least, is an autofill error?

      1. fhqwhgads*

        It doesn’t really matter that it was vague about a job candidacy. There is nothing to read into that email that makes how John responded make any sense.

    4. redflagday701*

      OP, I’m going to second someone above who wondered if John was confusedly under the assumption that you were inquiring about Company X for reasons related to the board you’re both on. I agree that sabotage seems unlikely, since you didn’t even mention the job. So maybe John saw your name, reflexively assumed you were contacting him about a board project that would involve Company X, and then cc’ed everybody he thought should be part of the discussion (including the Company X colleague).

      It’s still really weird, but the other possibilities are just as weird. I honestly wonder if he might not have a drinking problem (exacerbated by the pandemic) or early-onset dementia. I know that’s a leap; it’s just the vibe I’m getting from his odd, somewhat belligerent persistence.

      1. tamarak & fireweed*

        My thoughts also went to the point in your first sentence. Initially, my mental image of the situation was a lot more geographically restricted (like, the OP and John met at a large employer in a mid-sized city and are both on the board of the running club). That would have been extremely bizarre. But now, with the information the OP provided, the picture is much more widely flung, and I imagine the organization has something to do with the industry they’re both in (duh).

        In this case, I could imagine the sequence of events started with a misunderstanding on the part of John that the reason you were writing was in some way implicating the company WRT the nonprofit – maybe there’s some internal turmoil going on that somehow engages the standing of the company with the nonprofit. (Eg., there was a software security breach that either hasn’t been made public, or is completely irrelevant to the OP, and the nonprofit is somehow involved in setting industry norms, or whatever.)

        But be that as it may, it doesn’t really change anything. It’s still bizarre, and the fact that the John’s reaction wasn’t “oops, sorry, I must have completely misread your message” does either question his motives or his judgement, or both.

        Nonetheless, and I didn’t comment on that earlier, it is also my impression that the OP comes across as a little overly worried. I can’t see how what was obviously John’s action could possibly reflect negatively on the OP, at least not with approximately professional collaborators/board members. On the other hand, John is already employed at the company and, presumably, minimally competent at his role. If there are concerns about his performance, and the OP becomes his boss or grandboss, they should be handled just like for any other employee a new manager inherits. It is certainly reasonable to keep an eye out for potential desire to sabotage, but not, IMHO, to immediately worry about unsuitability of John for the work he would be doing (or *will* be doing). The OP might want to re-think this high prize put on “trust”. You don’t really have to trust in a complete, holistic way – people build a work track record, and deserve to be evaluated on it.

    5. Arthenonyma*

      Just to give you an additional datapoint – I would not have realised that email was about applying for a job and I would not have thought of it as a confidential question. Doesn’t explain the whole copying in everyone stuff but I feel like some of the “he has proved himself completely untrustworthy” takes here are too extreme. And while I agree in general with “I’m not going to tell stories to myself” as a response, it’s kind of hard to react only to the behaviour, when you don’t know what the behaviour is driven by. Never trusting him again makes sense if it’s 100% clear he knew this was confidential- but my initial take would be more like “note to self make sure to tell John directly when something is confidential”. (And then keep an eye out for future red flags, because yes, it could also be that he’s just untrustworthy.)

      1. RagingADHD*

        Agreed. There is no indication at all that this was about a job or intended to be confidential.

        He could very easily have read that as a request to be connected with someone at Company X who could help with your questions.

        Considering John untrustworthy is a massivr overreaction.

    6. Avril Ludgateau*

      That doesn’t seem like a particularly damaging email to have the board included on, so at least in that regard, it’s less stress for you, OP.

      Is there any chance this is a role that requires security clearance (like a private entity with a federal contract), and John isn’t clear on what kind of things are truly confidential/secret and was looking to the board for guidance? I can’t get into his brain, but at least I can say that your initial email, as worded, wouldn’t set off any alarm bells, if I were on the board. I think it’s completely reasonable and appropriately pro-active for a candidate to want to get an employee’s take on a company, and you didn’t phrase it like you were looking for something incriminating, private, or “juicy”. But, I’m not a board member, so take that with a grain of salt.

      1. OP*

        No security clearance issues in the new job that I’ve been informed of, and I’m under NDA already so we can freely talk in the interviews.

        Relevant: I am not a USA citizen or resident and Company X knows this. If there were security clearance issues I would have been excluded from the start.

        (I feel like I’m doing the opposite of Improv and constantly saying “But no” instead of “Yes, and”!)

  34. Lei*

    Too much speculation maybe, and I don’t know if OP’s second mail was worded in a way that makes this completely implausible, but one thing I think could have happened is that John *is* one of these people who don’t understand the difference between “new message” and “reply”, so when he saw a message from OP he went “right, OP, wanted to talk to them about the board”, and then just wrote his message, completely ignoring or possibly not even reading OP’s email. And adding in all those people because *his* (John’s) message *is* relevant to them.

    Then when OP asked why he would do that he didn’t understand this as “why are you sending my (OP’s) message to everyone, not cool” but as “why are you sending your (John’s) message to everyone?”. Hence the “uhm, what I wrote *is* relevant to them” answer.

    Still very clueless at best, and doesn’t explain why he’s also adding in someone from Company X (maybe he really does think that his message might be relevant to them?) But I think John’s behavior is a little less bizarre if you assume he’s ignoring OP original question across the board and treating the whole thing as a new conversation that he started.

  35. Emma*

    I bet you 20 bucks John is after the same position and is trying to sabotage you.

  36. George Pig*

    John’s conduct is obviously egregious. But, at least assuming it’s a fiduciary board, the other board members definitely have the right to know if OP becomes John’s manager or his manager’s manager. It would not be appropriate for both of them to continue on the board under those conditions because of OP’s potential to influence John’s exercise of his fiduciary duties.

    1. Observer*

      None of which is relevant. Now, if the OP gets the job, then they would have to deal with it. But at the moment all the OP said was “I’d like to pick your brain about company X” which has nothing to do with the organization or it’s board.

    2. OP*

      There are no restrictions in the board on who board members are to each other. John could be my boss, my direct report, my brother, my husband, my opponent in a well-publicised court battle, whatever. It’s a community organisation, the board are all unpaid volunteers.

      All these comments are having me wonder whether there should be any such rule though.

      1. Lizzo*

        OP – I think it’s worth encouraging the organization to examine the makeup of the board as it relates to the organization’s mission. For example, is there representation on the board from the population your organization serves, or the populations who are directly or indirectly impacted by the organization’s work? Is there diversity on the board–not just ethnic, racial, or gender, but diversity of background, professional experience, etc.?
        Also important: are there term limits? Is there some sort of succession planning so that institutional knowledge can be retained over time, but fresh perspectives (and younger voices) can be cultivated and brought in?

        1. OP*

          Briefly: it’s a community of practice, think “user group”. They’re desperate to have anyone at all so anyone who expresses interest and either anything going for them or people vouching for them will be invited to the board. It’s open to members to vote but positions are always vacant so there is never any contest. There are term limits for President but not for any other position.

          This might be a great question to take to the open thread, I’ll do that now.

          1. Lizzo*

            Maybe the question that needs to be asked is, “Why are positions always vacant?”
            See you over on the open thread! :-)

  37. hodie-hi*

    Maybe John is having some kind of health issues that cause poor judgement and irrational behavior? As in, John today is not the same John from two months ago. He’s had a stroke, or developed a tumor, or a chemical imbalance or nutritional issue, or … something.

    1. shedubba*

      I was wondering the same thing. OP posted in comments that John is in his mid-50s, so a sudden cognitive impairment isn’t out of the question, especially with Covid in the picture. But that’s just pure speculation, and not really actionable.

  38. Jessica Fletcher*

    I bet John and/or the Company X manager he included want the job you’re being considered for. Can’t see how this would help them, though.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about the board. His bizarre behavior reflects on him, not you. Unless he’s brand new to the board, I wouldn’t see it as a reflection on you if I were on the board.

  39. Harbor Porpoise*

    I had something similar happen about 10 years ago, when kooky great grand boss forwarded a sensitive email to our entire global region. The good news is that it reflected badly on great grand boss and not on me. One of the recipients (grand boss) replied all admonishing his boss and reminding everyone cc’d that emails are meant only for the person they were originally addressed to. Boss added a red, all caps warning not to forward without his permission as part of his signature, and it’s still there to this day. It was all mortifying at the time, and the sense of betrayal was huge, but now I giggle to remember the origin story of that email signature every time I see it.

  40. OP*

    My partner asked if I could summarise what I’ve learned from the truly excellent responses here. I said:

    – there’s near consensus that what he did wasn’t OK and I didn’t overreact
    – I was right to not take it personally
    – I was right to have some trepidation about how to handle it if I get the job
    – it’s OK to not like, respect, or trust someone in the workplace due to incidents outside the workplace, BUT
    – it’s not OK to treat them differently because of it; a manager only has standing to address what happens in the workplace on their watch
    – John may simply be a hapless fool, or a malicious saboteur who is incompetent at it
    – the reasons mostly don’t matter EXCEPT any subsequent interactions with him as his manager should be alert to the nuances should it be one vs. the other, as responses to one would be wrong as responses to the other
    – my obligations as a professional exec-to-be don’t go far beyond ensuring I am scrupulous and not vindictive
    – should I end up as his boss, it’s OK to not spend political capital to protect someone who has burned me
    – John does in fact have plenty of reasons to be jealous and resentful, which I had a blind spot about due to what I now realise is loyalty to who he was 20 years ago

    There are of course many other lessons here, thank you all for such useful perspectives! I particularly appreciated the ones that found something to critique in how I handled things – that’s helpful feedback, and it also helps me trust the advice here more than if it had been 100% supportive.

    1. Walk On By*

      – John does in fact have plenty of reasons to be jealous and resentful, which I had a blind spot about due to what I now realise is loyalty to who he was 20 years ago

      That’s some black belt-level introspection there. Can I borrow your self-awareness for a moment? I have a meeting with my boss so…

  41. DireRaven*

    I just thought of an alternate explanation: John is on Thin Ice with the board and that senior manager and they have all asked him to copy them in on emails he sends, to keep them “in the loop” and ensure he is actually doing his job (correctly)

  42. Bobs*

    Wtf John. I’d call him up and say exactly that. Wtf John? What a weirdo. He may want the job. Or want you to not have it.

Comments are closed.