my employee is bad at taking feedback

A reader writes:

I have a new employee who’s very organized and ambitious and generally competent, but she is terrible at receiving feedback.

After reading your column for a while, I’ve tried to incorporate your advice. I’ll say things like “I’ve noticed you’ve been doing this X way, but we actually do it Y way for A, B, and C reasons. It’s not a big deal at all, just something to keep an eye on.” And her response will usually be a long, detailed explanation about why she did it the way she did, followed by a reason why her way is better, but then also, often, a thank you for the feedback. I suspect that what I perceive as defensiveness on her part is actually over-eagerness to show that she’s trying really hard. But honestly, it’s not a good use of my time to entertain these long-winded explanations, and I don’t know how much she’s absorbing the critiques and advice that I’m giving. Is there a way to head off the prickliness without making her feel more insecure?

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

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  •  Telling a friend I don’t want to work for her
  • Should I tell a rejected candidate that their parent protested our hiring decision?
  • My colleague gave all the women at work flowers for Mother’s Day

{ 236 comments… read them below }

  1. starfox*

    Regarding number 1, I think I have the impulse to explain myself if I’m corrected…. I wouldn’t argue that my way was better or anything, but I would probably want to explain myself. This is kind of a wake up call that that might be annoying and sound like I’m pushing back on the feedback when really I’m just trying to prove I’m not incompetent!

    And number 4… I totally agree with Alison. I’m not a mom, and I hate when people try to recognize “all women” for being motherly or whatever. I know it’s in response to women who feel left out because they don’t or can’t have kids, but to me, it sounds as though you’re saying that it’s just “female nature” to be “maternal,” especially when being “maternal” often seems to mean taking on unpaid and unrecognized labor.

    People have wished me a “happy mothers day” on behalf of my animals since I have pets, and for some reason, that doesn’t bother me.

    1. Gnome*

      I definitely explain myself, at least in my private life. I wonder how common this is among women (even things like, “oh, I could have sworn your favorite color was blue” types of explaining). Generally, I feel like I have to show I’m not an idiot just making things up. Imposter syndrome? Life as a woman in our society? General anxiety? I dunno, but I definitely hear myself doing it.

      1. Pikachu*

        I think maybe “reasons why my way is better” might be overkill, but I would imagine it’s pretty important for a manager to know what information their direct report is absorbing that is leading to the wrong output.

      2. starfox*

        lol yep, as a woman with anxiety and ADHD and constant imposter syndrome, I understand 100%. I actually think it causes problems in my relationships… Like, I think I’m just explaining why I did something a certain way, but they think I’m arguing with them…. And I think that if they magically understood where I was coming from (even if I’m in the wrong), then that understanding would make me look better or more competent in their eyes. When actually, all I’m doing is rehashing the thing that went wrong instead of moving on.

        Honestly, this AAM has led to an epiphany, lol….

      3. Jaydee*

        “I feel like I have to show I’m not an idiot just making things up” is basically just my personality at this point. I’m 41 now and can remember being like this in childhood. Like, sometimes I don’t even trust myself to be right about something if I can’t explain how I know it or what my thought process was.

      4. Hannah Lee*

        The part about “I feel like I have to show I’m not an idiot” is familiar to me, since that’s what I feel sometimes in situations like this.

        But it makes me wonder if there’s something about HOW LW is giving the feedback that may be contributing to it, because in my case there are specific individuals at work and in my personal life who frequently give feedback with an undertone of “what were you thinking, only an idiot would do what you did” so I’m reacting to that as much as what they are asking me to change. (And in the case of my boss, he’s a notoriously emotional communicator in the moment, even though he’s an engineer by training who thinks of himself as Mr Rational, so he’s often projecting *something* along with his planned message of “next time it would be better if you focused on xyz”)

        It sounds like LW is trying to avoid that with her wording, but it might be worth considering what their communication style normally is, with this employee and other people just to make sure they’re delivering the message they think they’re delivering.

        Or the employee could be a little defensive or doesn’t want LW to think poorly of them.

        In either case, Alison’s approach is a good one.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      Yes on #4. Actually I’m not at all maternal which is a reason why I am very happy to childless heading into menopause. I doubt anyone thinks I give off a maternal vibe. If someone said that to me I’d be pissed because is just sexism and steroetyping me because of my gender and is them actually not seeing me at all.

      1. Joielle*

        Yes! I absolutely am not maternal either. I love my nieces and nephews and friends’ kids but I’m never going to be the wacky fun “second mom” type auntie. Even when I was a kid I didn’t really like hanging out with kids.

        The holiday is simply not about me! Which is great! I don’t need to be celebrated as a maternal figure in any way, because I am not.

    3. Caramel & Cheddar*

      I’m also guilty of being an over-explainer and my boss always thought it was me being defensive, but I did it for the similar reason of wanting to make it clear I wasn’t incompetent because she always made me feel that way despite being a stand-out performer. It was a really difficult cycle of response & feedback that I’m still trying to unlearn.

      1. starfox*

        Yeah, honestly, this has been an epiphany for me because I realize I do it not only at work, but in my personal life. It seems defensive and like I’m arguing… like I try to get the other person to understand why I made a certain decision… when really, it doesn’t matter. So me rehashing isn’t helping anyone.

      2. NeedRain47*

        I don’t understand why someone *wouldn’t* explain. (not over explain, but “my understanding was X so I did Y”.) If you have no explanation for why you did what you did, I’m quite possibly gonna think you’re a bit of a dim bulb.

      3. All the words*

        Perhaps it would be helpful to remember that very intelligent, very competent people make mistakes from time to time.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood, CTA*

          Sometimes either way works but mixing methods causes problems.
          Using an example from English class, does this company’s publications use Font A or Font B? Both are professional choices used by established graphic designers. But used it random comma the document library as a whole will look unprofessional.
          So don’t justify your use of Font A — just learn that this companies design template uses Font B.

          1. LarryFromOregon*

            Yes! And OP’s wording was ALSO focused on the “why” without clearly getting to the punch line: I need you to do A not B!

    4. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      #4 bugs me because it assumes that any woman without kids feels left out and wanted to be a mom. Nope. I’m childless by choice. I came to this decision when I was 5 and never wavered, so I eye-roll on the inside when people act like they know my mind better than I do. Some of us were cut out to be aunties, big cousins, or not have anything to do with kids and others were cut out to parent and that is fine.

      1. Lady Pomona*

        Yes to this comment about NOT assuming that all women either are or are longing to be
        mothers! I recognized that I wanted to be childfree when I was 15 and I too have never regretted that decision.

        It’s ridiculous for an employee to prance around the office handing out flowers for Mother’s Day – did he go through a time warp and just emerge from 1952?! I’m sure that he handed flowers to at least one woman struggling with infertility…did he even think how someone in her position would feel about his gesture? And I’m equally sure that he handed flowers to women like myself – childfree by choice and happily so! – who have nothing against children but who know that motherhood was not our path. What a jaw-droppingly tone-deaf thing for this man to do! (And no, I’d bet my next paycheck that he is NOT assuming that every MAN in his office is a current or aspiring father. Sigh….!)

        1. Despachito*


          I am a mother, but I would consider it WILDLY inappropriate if anyone else but my children acknowledged this on Mother’s Day. It is absolutely NOT a thing anyone at the employer’s should do – AFAIK, I am no one’s mother at work!

          1. Clisby*

            Absolutely. I would think it was weird if my husband made a big deal about Mothers Day – I’m not his mother – and that goes triple or quadruple for anyone at work. (I’m very touched if my children recognize me on Mothers Day, but I wouldn’t mind if they didn’t – it’s just a kind of made-up holiday to sell Hallmark cards.)

            1. Despachito*

              I feel exactly the same – the only ones who I am touched if they recognize me on Mother’s day are my own kids, but I do not mind if they don’t – actually, this year it was for the first time, and it was just a handshake, no cards or gifts, and it was a pleasant surprise.

              I have my own small ritual of always giving a token gift to my aunt on Mother’s Day, and to my uncle on Father’s Day – but this is because they took me in their family when my parents died and always behaved with the same love towards me as to their own daughter, and I want to convey my gratefulness for that.

              So I feel this as a very intimate acknowledgement either to one’s own mother or maternal figure, where there is no place for anyone else.

            2. Panhandlerann*

              I did appreciate it this year when my hubby gave me flowers on Mother’s Day, but that was because I was in isolation due to a (thankfully mild) case of COVID (despite being vaccinated and double-boosted) and therefore unable to be with my daughters. Hallmark vibes aside, we do like to be together on that day. But normally, I would think it odd for him to give me something for that holiday because, as you say, I’m not HIS mother.

      2. starfox*

        Oh yeah. “You’ll change your mind!” People have said that to me ever since I decided I didn’t want kids. Uhh, watch me not change my mind!

        I actually really like kids, and I think I would enjoy being a mother in an alternative universe where women didn’t essentially have to give up their identities to have kids… where women didn’t take a career hit for having kids… where fathers actually contributed equally. (Also, there’s climate change, regressing rights of women, etc… I don’t think I could in good conscious bring a child into the world right now).

        1. NeedRain47*

          I’m 47, it’s too late to change my mind. I wonder if Bob gives me a flower or not.

        2. Pippin*

          It took me getting a hysterectomy for people believe, no really, I’m childfree by choice. Even well into my forties (I was 49 when I had surgery)-“oh, they’re doing amazing things so older women can have children!”. No, I’ve known since I was 13 than I didn’t want kids…

        3. an academic*

          I just want to say that your universe isn’t impossible. I didn’t think I’d become a mother, but I ended up marrying someone who is committed to doing >50% of the childrearing. I haven’t given up my identity- “mom” is a thing I do, not my identity-, and my career as an academic has been fine. However, this was all predicated on deliberately selecting a man who I thought would be an attentive father (because his father and his older brother do the majority of childcare in their houses, and because his company gives 3 months of paternity leave), having exactly *one* child, and, honestly, having money. And a large, large abundance of good luck. The stars don’t align very often, but the fact that it’s possible now means that we can work together to create a future where such things are routine.

          1. Despachito*

            Roughly the same here – for a long time I could not imagine having children (or a partner, for that matter), and I was royally pissed if someone pestered me about that.

            I did find a man I wanted to live with, and we do have kids, and I am glad for that. But I was perfectly fine on my own and did not suffer when I was single, and if the stars didn’t align as they did I would stay single and be OK.

            The pestering (fortunately not much) was so useless – I often wonder why on earth people think this is appropriate and what they want to achieve with this? The single person is either happy as is, and therefore it is utterly pointless to suggest they should want something else, or unhappy, and then I reckon it must be very painful to be constantly reminded they are lacking something. I cannot see any way when this wasn’t a stupid thing to say to people.

          2. allathian*

            Yeah, same. I was never interested in having kids until I met my husband. We’d been dating for about a year when I found myself thinking that he’d be a great dad. For the first nearly 4 years of our relationship, it was an LDR. Getting pregnant was definitely not on the cards then, because I was adamant that I didn’t want to get pregnant until we were living together.

            He’s proven to be a great dad and partner, including when our son was a baby, when I slept in one room and they in another, and he’d bring the baby to me for night feedings, even when he was working and I was on maternity leave. After giving birth I slept poorly and definitely couldn’t sleep in the same room with the baby, because I’d wake up at the slightest noise from him, whereas my husband’s nearly always asleep 5 minutes after his head hits his pillow. But I was 37 when our son was born, and I wasn’t ready to consider having another child until our son was well out of diapers, and by that time it was too late (two first-term miscarriages and at least one chemical pregnancy). I admit that I’m not too sorry our son’s an only child, either, I’m not sure I could’ve handled the poor sleep at 40+. Our son was very easy to care for as a baby, he almost never cried without an obvious reason. That wouldn’t necessarily have been the case with any subsequent siblings…

            My sister’s never wanted kids, and she started defining herself as childfree about 15 years ago, when people started using the term more often. She tells me that the best thing about hitting 45 was that the subject doesn’t seem to come up as often anymore, and if it does, people tend to take her statement at face value when she says she doesn’t have kids. She’ll only say that not having kids is a deliberate choice if the person she’s talking to seems to feel sorry for her because she doesn’t have kids.

      3. Irish Teacher*

        That is exactly how I feel about the whole Singles Awareness Day thing at Valentine’s day (not so much with Mother’s day as it isn’t really a “thing” in Ireland to wish strangers a happy Mother’s day). It doesn’t bother me or anything, but…it does seem kinda weird and patronising to assume that people who choose to be single or childfree are…feeling left out when people who make a different choice get that choice valued.

        And while I have gone back and forth on whether or not I want children, I have said since I was very small that I had no interest in relationships or marriage and have been firm on that since I was…not as young as 5, but maybe 8 or 9? Assuming people will change their mind on anything and even more so, assuming they are interested in hearing your opinion about their mind is…pretty arrogant really. And even if they DO change their mind, what exactly do people think they will achieve by predicting it? Like “yay, I guessed right. I had to annoy you to prove I knew your future better than you did”?

      4. MEH Squared*

        Same. My realization was later (22), but that was because I assumed I HAD to have children before that. When I realized I didn’t have to have kids, that was (to that point) the best day of my life. The relief I felt was enormous. And, yes, the women (all women) who insisted I would change my mind, got mad at me for not wanting children (which I only mentioned if they asked; I never volunteered the information), or who said it was my duty to have kids all irritated me. It’s also one of the reasons I started questioning my gender (all the women insisting real women have children).

        Now, nearly three decades later, it’s still the best decision I ever made–and I never once wavered.

    5. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Regarding number 1, I think I have the impulse to explain myself if I’m corrected…. I wouldn’t argue that my way was better or anything, but I would probably want to explain myself. This is kind of a wake up call that that might be annoying and sound like I’m pushing back on the feedback when really I’m just trying to prove I’m not incompetent!

      I do that, too. I’m generally less concerned with the improper action than I am understanding where the thought process behind it deviated from the desired one, so I am better equipped to make a better decision next time.

      1. CM*

        This is often a matter of phrasing. “See, I did it this way because …” can sound defensive. If you start off with, “Can I explain what I was thinking, because I want to understand where I went wrong,” then it’s clear you’re not trying to defend why our way is best.

        1. Allonge*

          Exactly. People make mistakes: I don’t think anyone is an idiot for making one.

          If your thought process is helped by figuring it out out loud, with me – sure, we can do that, but please use half a sentence to explain this, because otherwise it’s indistinguishable from ‘I know better’ and ‘I am not really listening to you, my way is right’.

      2. starfox*

        Yes, that’s exactly it. This is giving me a wake-up call to maybe do that a little more internally!

    6. ND and awkward*

      I hate when people refer to me as my dog’s mum. When my fiance says it I tell him not to call me a b-tch, but that would be a bit too rude to say to anyone else.

      1. Gnome*

        Agreed. I have kids and somebody referred to me as my cat’s mom… In front of my kids. I said something bland like, “nope, those are my kids over there, I’m just the cat’s pet human” and the person (a relative) then repeated it. WTF? I’m not the cat’s mother. My kids were very confused and I think they now view that relative as being a little dim.

        1. HoHumDrum*

          My mom, on the other hand, likes to refer to her dog as being my little brother which I personally find delightful. Our pets are frequently my favorite family members, tbh :D

          But I try to be careful in referring to other people’s pets that way, as I know for some that is a really offensive thing.

          1. WantonSeedStitch*

            I have referred to my cats as my son’s “brother” and “sister.”

          2. allathian*

            Yeah, this. My parents jokingly called their cats their “furry kids” and my sister and I used to call them our “furry brothers”… It was a lovely private family joke. To be sure, I never referred to my parents’ cats as my furry brothers outside of the family, and I don’t think my sister did so, either. I’m not sure if my parents called themselves cat parents to their friends, though.

        2. e271828*

          The veterinarian called me the cat’s mom the other day and I was weirded out. I’ve met my cat’s mom, she’s supermodel-gorgeous with beautiful ear tufts, a plumy tail, caramel-colored splotches on her long white fur, and a sweet set of whiskers, and she is definitely not me. I’m the cat’s staff.

      2. NeedRain47*

        Same! I love my cats and consider them family but they’re not actual humans and I did not give birth to them.

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

      I can understand why the OP doesn’t want to hear their explanation, especially if its long. But I would caution on not allowing explanations altogether. Who knows, maybe the employee will say someone else told her to do it X way or her trainer told her the company always does it Y way. It could show that maybe there are other problems that the OP isn’t aware of.

    8. WillowSunstar*

      I wonder if #1 had a perfectionistic parent. I did and for years, I was bad at taking feedback because my parent was overly critical of very small things. It’s possible to get better over time, but it requires a lot of effort on the employee’s part.

      1. starfox*

        Yep, I think this is why I do it, too. My mom is a perfectionist, and so am I. It’s like I think that if the other person can understand why I made a certain mistake, they won’t view me negatively anymore… even if they aren’t actually viewing me negatively. But then by me harping on it, I’m actually just dwelling on the mistake they were happy to move on from….

        1. Despachito*

          Perhaps it would help if the employee knew for certain OP considers her competent?

          I mean, although it is not up to the boss to do all the emotional work on behalf of the employee, it can still be useful to stop and think what vibes she could possibly be transmitting?

          (I am partly asking because I would be slightly offended by the wording OP describes, and I would read this a bit like “OMG stop explaining, nobody is interested in that, just shut up and do what you are told”, and while I can understand that lengthy explanations are not necessary and annoying, at least sometimes it can be helpful to have a brief information why the employee thought something was a good idea. And we shouldn’t completely dismiss that the employee’s idea sometimes can actually be better than that proposed by the boss.)

          1. Hannah Lee*

            Yeah, totally agree with your first sentence. The LW may never have communicated that they know employee is competent, and so these corrections make the employee believe they are losing LWs good regard.

            My boss is someone who when things aren’t as expected immediately jumps to expressing an impatient exasperation that someone did things wrong, which whether he intends it or not, comes across as him thinking everyone else is an incompetent idiot. So even if the feedback he’s giving is valid, he delivers it with a lot of emotional baggage that pushes all my “defensiveness” buttons. It’s up to me to manage my emotions, but he sometimes makes it hard.

    9. yala*

      This is the sort of thing that’s gotten me in trouble before. It’s a combination of wanting to show that I wasn’t being careless, that I had a reason, but also sometimes I’m genuinely confused and I’m trying to figure out where the disconnect it.

      I’ve worked on tamping it down and just doing whatever I’m told without asking too many questions, but sometimes it’s very frustrating

    10. PJ*

      “I wouldn’t argue that my way was better or anything, but I would probably want to explain myself. This is kind of a wake up call that that might be annoying and sound like I’m pushing back on the feedback when really I’m just trying to prove I’m not incompetent!”

      Yes, I like the way you said this.
      I like Alison’s response but if I was worried about a manager thinking I was incompetent I might ask “hey, do we have space to discuss this for a second?” to make sure they knew it wasn’t resistance or pushback, but here’s why I did X because it gives us Y. I’ve found that the trainers and managers don’t always talk to each other (literally or metaphorically) so it’s good to check.

      1. starfox*

        For sure! I think this is definitely a place where asking for clarification can be helpful. “This is why I thought I was supposed to do it this way….”

        But I can also see that, if the employee is explaining every single time, it seems like they’re arguing or getting defensive.

    11. Your Local Password Resetter*

      I definitely tend to explain as a defensive reaction, and it’s mostly based in my own insecurities and fears of being (or being seen as) incompetent. And it seems that’s pretty common?

    12. anonymous73*

      Assuming that you manager thinks you’re incompetent just because they correct you is the problem here. Having to correct someone is just that – they’re following the wrong process and you’re telling them the right way moving forward. You’re not “in trouble” and don’t need to provide “reasons” as to why you did it that way. A simple “I understand and will do X in the future” is all that’s needed. Sometimes it might be appropriate to say “have you ever considered this way?” because companies get stuck in the “we’ve always done it this way” rut. But a lot of times it’s done a certain way for legitimate and valid reasons. Stop taking feedback personally and accept that there may be times when you need to be corrected.

      1. starfox*

        Yep, this is exactly it. At the risk of turning this post into a therapy session (lol), people who maybe have low self-esteem or low self-confidence (cough cough ME cough) view everything through the lens of “you are bad and you are messing up because you are incompetent.” We feel the need to explain ourselves because we’re trying desperately to prove that we’re not bad or incompetent, and we assume everyone around us perceives us that way because it’s how we feel about ourselves.

        I’ve moved past this way of thinking in my logical mind, but sometimes those neural pathways aren’t so easy to budge! I don’t actually think I’m incompetent or that my boss hates me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t go back to the same habits of “PROVE YOUR WORTH!” all the time.

      2. Not a cat*

        Sometimes they *are* in trouble, especially when every small correction results in defensiveness. I won’t tolerate that in my dept.

    13. TrappedInNonProfit*

      At my job, when we make a mistake we are required to explain what happened, in great detail. And then you get accused of being too defensive. Working is just a lose-lose situation at all times.

      1. interested librarian*

        Regarding #1, a former supervisor recommended the book “Thanks for the Feedback” and I found it really helpful.

      2. Hannah Lee*

        I once worked for someone who would ask “why did you do that?” if someone did something the wrong way … but then when the person tried to explain he’d interrupt and say “that’s not a reason, that’s an excuse” even if the reason was “I did it the way the manual said to do it”

        There was really no safe place to stand with him unless you were a mind-reading perfectly perfect robot of an employee.

    14. BRR*

      I used to explain for multiple reasons and I finally realized from AAM and real life that explanations sounded like making excuses and most of the time it was better to just accept the feedback and move on. It wasn’t a big deal for most things.

    15. Rusty Shackelford*

      I know it’s in response to women who feel left out because they don’t or can’t have kids

      It doesn’t help. It really, really doesn’t.

    16. MustardPillow*

      I felt so called out by that one! I do that exactly even going as far as saying why I think the way I did it was better, and the thank you with an added promise to do it the way it’s done, maybe converse a little about why that way is the way it is. Didn’t realize it came across weird or defensive. It’s more my thinking/learning process. I’m an out loud thinker and if I don’t talk it through, I’m not completing the process. If my boss straight up said, there were better uses of her time, I’d let her go backack to work and talk to myself a little bit. Entirely unoffended.

    17. Busy Manager*

      As a manager, I think it’s important to give staff a chance to talk it out. It may feel like it’s not a good use of time but I think it’s an investment in the relationship. No one wants to be wrong, letting someone work through their discomfort is important and validating. Some people don’t need to talk it out, others do.
      My 2 cents.

    18. Allonge*

      For letter 1 – this is difficult because people have in mind wildly different situations.

      1 Boss is unreasonable (= thinks people should not make mistakes).
      No amount of explanation will improve this.

      2. Boss is reasonable and
      2a, you need info on what needs to be done / why.
      Ask a question instead of explaning why you did what you did. Or at least lead with the question. There could be a misunderstanding, or an exception or whatever, but if you have a question, ask it (or ask for a good time to ask it).

      2b, you have a process improvement suggestion
      In most cases it’s better to discuss this with your boss before implementing rather than implementing and waiting to be corrected. Yes, there are cases where that is not practical – then you took a risk and it did not work out. Discuss when appropriate (a bit alter: I was trying to do X, I know that my way did not work, but I still think Z is inefficient. Could we try P?.

      2c, it’s neither 2a nor 2b but you still want to explain yourself lest you be seen as incompetent.
      Whoever made you think that anyone who makes a mistake or needs to be corrected is incompetent was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Unfortunately at this point you are the one who needs to deal with this.

      Please recognise that for a reasonable boss, the following conversation:
      Boss: You used form B for llamas, please use form C in the future, form B is only for alpacas
      You: (long explanation) [message: see, I am not stupid, I promise I am not stupid!!!]
      is going to result in a very perplexed boss. She was talking about form B, and you are… talking at her about something that shows no understanding of what she just said.

      This is counterproductive. I know that if this is an instinctive reaction, it’s difficult to change, but please try.

    19. MCMonkeyBean*

      I think an impulse to explain is pretty normal and a quick “oh sorry, I though Z” is usually fine as long as it’s not said defensively or particularly long. Though sometimes I don’t realize an explanation is going to be long until I start saying it lol, so that’s not always a helpful guide.

      Honestly I’ve been working on this at home as I find my husband and I often get pulled into a circular conversation as both of us can have this issue to some extent but he is waaayy worse about it, where he focuses on explaining himself so much he loses track of the actual discussion. Like a totally made up analogous example:

      Me: Hey, what time is it?
      Him: It’s Tuesday.
      Me: Okay, but I was actually asking for the time.
      Him: Oh, sorry, I thought you had asked for the day.
      Me: Yeah, I figured, but I need to know what time it is.
      Him: I got it now, for some reason I heard “day” so that’s why I said “it’s Tuesday.”
      Me: Yes, I understand that, and had that actually been my question that would have been a reasonable response… but you still haven’t told me what time it is!!!

  2. Amy Farrah Fowler*

    I definitely get wanting to stay out of the weeds of a really long or in-depth hashing out of the employee’s thought process, but from an employee perspective, it can be helpful to say a shorter version of that out loud to help with the mental reframing. For example, “Oh! Thanks so much for correcting me, I was thinking X, but it’s good to know it’s Y. Y makes sense and I can do that going forward” (provided that “X” doesn’t turn into a long-winded discussion). I know that having those out loud conversations has helped me when we needed to change or correct something.

    1. Koalafied*

      Yeah, to me the long-windedness of the explanations is more of a problem than the explanations themselves perse. If it weren’t an entry-level role, I would hesitate to ask them to stop explaining themselves because I count on my mid- and mid-senior-level staff to be experts in their subject area and speak up if they disagree with a decision I’m making. The people on the front lines executing the work are often just much more aware of potential edge cases or unintended outcomes that might result than the people looking at the bigger picture.

      “The document is 4 pages long because I wanted to make sure all the information is in one place, because sometimes people follow up with us asking for this supplementary info when we don’t provide it. I considered creating multiple documents, but didn’t want people to have to download multiple attachments or have an active internet connection to follow the links in the primary document. But thanks for letting me know it’s important to keep it to one page – I’ll just include ABC key details.”

      ^ No. I do not need all that.

      “We do get about X% of sign-ups reaching out to us asking for that supplemental information, and it creates a burden on customer service to have to respond to those requests individually. I’ll revert this back to the usual one-page format as asked, but I’d also recommend we either put the extra info in a second document and include it with the initial confirmation, or create an FAQ on the website and link to it in the one-pager.”

      ^ Yes. Please tell me if following my instructions will make unnecessary work for team members and lead to a less-ideal experience for users, and please tell me your recommended solution that doesn’t create those problems.

    2. goducks*

      Yes. The LW says it’s not worth their time to have these conversations with the employee, but it might be good management to just let them explain themselves, especially if the end result is that the change is made and its not an ongoing problem. Those two minutes where the employee explains may leave her feeling validated and heard (she’s trying to show she’s not careless, she had a thought-out reason for doing things that way) in a way that cutting her off and saying essentially “just do it this way, I don’t care why you aren’t” won’t.

      1. Despachito*


        Perhaps it could help if OP lets the employee explain at least sometimes but asks her to keep it short and concise?

    3. starfox*

      Yeah, I think this is true. I assume the explanations are excessive, but a short “Ohh, okay, I thought x because blah blah” could be helpful since there seems to be a breakdown of communication somewhere.

    4. tamarack and fireweed*

      I think there are two key things the junior employee needs to learn to pick up on:

      1. when it’s not the time to have an in-depth conversation with their manager/mentor/senior co-worker (because they need to move on to the next thing), so whatever their response to the feedback is it has to fit in ~30 s of speech.
      2. that their manager/mentor/senior co-worker is pretty much never interested in their thought process just for the sake of the thought process, so whatever they say, it has to show some inner distance/capacity of reflecting on oneself.

      Within these parameters, the response to the feedback could be from a wide-ranging list:

      – “Oh, wow – I really was on the wrong track here, huh?”
      – “Right – thanks for the pointer. I swear I DO know that Alaska isn’t in Canada…”
      – “OK, got it, and getting on it.”
      – “Thanks – that’s really quite different from how I used to go about it / how we learned it in school . Let me give it another shot and I’ll send you a new draft.”
      – “Thanks! So I’m hearing you right that the forms I was using do never apply to [situation X]?”
      – “Thanks, this hadn’t occurred to me. I’ll swap things around, but just to make sure I am on the right track, can we have another discussion about this at my next 1:1?”
      – “I see. This didn’t come up in my training. Do you know of some additional resources on [X methodology]? Can I ask [SME co-worker] in case I get stuck with this approach?”
      – [if the junior employee truly thinks they are in the right here, eg. they’re asked to break a regulation or do something unethical or blatantly detrimental] “I see – this doesn’t seem to be the right time to have a longer talk about this, so could we set some time aside to go over this in more detail?”

      Provided they fit the situation (obviously not all responses fit all imaginable situations) and don’t reveal inappropriate skills/knowledge gaps no manager should get annoyed about this amount of response to feedback.

    5. SnappinTerrapin*

      “Thanks, boss. I always want to do things the way you want them done and to stay in step with everyone else.

      “If you have time, or were wondering, I don’t mind explaining why I thought the way I was doing it was reasonable before I found out how you prefer I do it. That might help me see the bigger picture and help me avoid guessing wrong if another situation comes up where I’m not sure what you prefer when you aren’t here to guide me.”

      I always figured there was more than one way to accomplish most goals, and I try to ensure whatever I do is reasonable, but it’s also very important, even if there are two or more “right” ways, to follow the protocol that management prefers. If they wind up seeing some advantage to the way I was doing it, at least they know I’m not trying to usurp their authority or otherwise be a “difficult” employee.

  3. DarthVelma*

    I have worked very hard over the last 40 years to avoid having children. I think if a colleague tried to give me flowers on Mother’s Day because “all women are motherly donchaknow”, the nicest response they’d get is me feeding them the flowers.

    Especially this year.

    1. Pikachu*

      As someone who was traumatized by pregnancy loss, I cannot describe how infuriating #4 is.

      There are just no words. None. Especially in the wake of women being stripped of their human rights and potentially forced into motherhood…

      Just, no.

    2. Amanda*

      I don’t want children either and I would be pretty annoyed with a male colleague giving me flowers cause mother’s day. I also feel like it’s tasteless because you never know if someone wants to be a parent but have had issues making that happen. It seems like a cruel reminder that they haven’t had children yet.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        And there’s the added complication of the colleague having ZERO idea what their coworkers relationships are like with their own mothers … is that day painful for them because it’s celebrating a motherly relationship they never had? Or did their mom recently die? (I was a bit fragile as Mother’s Day was approaching because my own mother passed away late last year. If some sexist dolt at work had handed me a “happy Mother’s Day”rose like he was doing me a favor he likely wouldn’t have enjoyed what happened next)

        Seriously dude, don’t insert your narrow minded gender views into other people’s days. It’s not “nice” or “professional”

    3. Kacihall*

      We went to my mother in laws in Sunday. I have a kiddo in kindergarten. After the political SC bs, I was in no mood to celebrate mother’s day (except directly FROM my child and directly TO my mother and MIL.) I tried explaining it to her, she told me everything happens for the best and it would all be okay because it’s Mother’s Day! My husband made an excuse to leave real quick after I said it might be okay for her but I’M still affected. (I wasn’t intentionally calling her old but not sorry. )

      I am a mother, yes – but only to my kid. I should not have to deal with everyone on the country acting as if that’s ALL I am good for.

    4. a tester, not a developer*

      Can you imagine the response if someone gave all the men something on Father’s Day because maybe they knocked up a girl in college and just don’t know they’re a dad? I’d pay to watch the public freakout.

    5. WillowSunstar*

      Single woman and not a mother, but I’d take the flowers and use them for photography macro practice, and upload it to all the stock photo sites I’m on. Might as well try to make a buck from it.

    6. anonymous73*

      There could be many reasons why a woman doesn’t want to be recognized on Mother’s Day. I lost my mom in 2009 and Mother’s Day is my most dreaded day of the year. I just want to pretend it’s a normal Sunday and I don’t want any hoopla. I have a stepson and he and my husband usually get me a card, which is cool, but I don’t want any sort of celebration. If someone tried to give me a flower at work, I say no thank you. But if he insisted, he’d get my wrath.

    7. Emily*

      Once, my grandboss introduced me to a visitor as, “This is Emily, she just had a baby.” I pointed out to my own boss that the correct introduction would be, “This is Emily, she manages our teapot division.” (She passed the feedback along and grandboss apologized immediately, fwiw.)

      At work, I am a professional, an expert in my field, and a valued colleague. I don’t want recognition in a different way.

      1. mf*

        MAJOR YIKES. See, this is *exactly* how women get sidelined in the workplace by gender bias. Someone sees a woman as “Emily, who just had a baby” rather than “Emily, the talented manager of the teapot division.”

        So often, men remain professionals in other eyes’ after having kids, but when a woman becomes a mother, she is seen only as a mother because people forget all about the other parts of her identity, especially her career achievements. :(

      2. Elenna*

        And what’s the betting it would never have occurred to him to introduce a new father as “This is Wakeen, he just had a baby”? Sigh… at least he apologized when it was pointed out to him?

      3. allathian*

        Ouch! That’s just so inappropriate… At least he had the sense to apologize when his faux pas was pointed out to him.

  4. The King of France Lost His Pants*

    Q1 – Very interesting. I’m still not so sure the language is that clear. The suggested wording still sounds like suggestions and inviting discussion. “You don’t need to….” “Don’t worry about….” and she responds with “well, here’s why I felt like I need to XYZ”.

    From the employee’s perspective, it seems like the perfect opportunity to discuss your thinking and why you do the things you do. It seems like if Employee is wanting to be seen as someone who may, say, think outside the box, or has ideas, or is thinking about the processes and wanting to amend them.

    All of that is to say that it may behoove you to be even more (kindly) direct. “I don’t think I’ve been clear. I need you to do it this way.” Or some other kind and direct script.

    1. Elle Kay*

      This ^
      You’re softening it more than it needs to be and I can completely see how it could invite discussion

  5. ehh*

    For LW#1, I don’t think I completely love this approach. What if the employee actually has a process that would make things more efficient and the boss isn’t seeing it? It seems like the boss and advice assumes that the boss always knows best.

    1. Sir Ulrich Von Liechtenstein*

      It would be very odd if every single piece of feedback this employee has ever been given is something they can and in fact should offer process improvement on.

      1. ehh*

        I agree. But to make a blanket statement that the employee should refrain from explaining each time seems a little too much.

        1. yala*

          Yeah, eventually it just results in the employee seeing issues, and gritting their teeth and letting them pass because it’s just not worth the social capital to explain or ask.

      2. Nameless in Customer Service*

        Besides, if you needed an employee to have an opinion, you could just tell them what it should be.

      3. Montana*

        Actually, it makes a lot of sense, especially if the company is smaller or there’s a disconnect between what the manager’s role and what the entry level staffer actually does. A lot of companies fall into the trap of “Well this is how we’ve always done it” and sometimes it takes fresh eyes to say “Does it really make sense that we’re printing a Word Document and scanning it instead of just saving as a pdf file?” (Yes – real example here.)

    2. Llama Zoomer*

      I had the same reaction! But I guess it depends on what “A, B, and C reasons” are and why they are in place. If something is an accreditation requirement or the legal way to do things, sure, excellent reason to direct and not entertain the explanations. But if the reason is “we have always done it that way here,” then I totally relate to the employee’s impulse to explain why an alternative approach might work.

      Being in an environment where the leadership did not appreciate any ideas that were not (1) their own or (2) the way it had been done for 25 years was very challenging for me! Thinking critically and continuous improvement of our processes and policies was just not an option…

      1. Birdie*

        I was at a place where I was constantly met with “But this is how we’ve always done it.” The problem was, they were running afoul of the law in some cases! When someone says “The IRS regulations say you must do it this way, here’s a print out from their website explaining it” and your response is still “but it’s always been just fine doing it the other way” there is a serious problem.

        I should have gone running the other direction after my first week. Instead I stupidly stuck it out for 3 years.

    3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      A lot of business processes have a lot of inertia behind them and calcifications around them, so just having a better widget/process doesn’t necessarily improve the big picture.

      There’s usually a better way to get a better process onto the books than going rogue and just doing things differently (extenuating circumstances notwithstanding).

    4. soontoberetired*

      there are ways to suggest different ways of doing things, but when you are being told to do something a certain way isn’t the time. I got some things changed in my workplace by bringing them up in more appropriate settings like group discussions as a general query. Like Did we ever try doing something this way? What was the experience like when you did it that way?

      1. Dust Bunny*


        I’ve gotten things changed at my workplace before but always by going to my boss at a cooler moment and asking, “Is there a specific reason we do Thing X way? I’m running into A and B problems with it and if I could do Q instead, it would be easier.” But sometimes there is a reason we do things X way and boss knows it’s not ideal but can’t change it due to legal reasons or conventions within our discipline, so we keep doing it N way instead.

      2. allathian*

        Yes, exactly.

        Luckily my organization’s strong on continuous process improvement. Things can often be changed just by pointing out that it would streamline the process and mean faster or otherwise better service for customers. We have a specific forum for discussing ideas, though. Responding to corrective feedback from your manager by explaining your thought processes is unlikely to get you the result you want.

    5. Why Do I Do This Job?*

      I just dealt with this exact problem with a new co-worker. The issue was “new employee” refused to listen to why it HAD to be done a certain way. She kept saying her way was easier and should be just as good. After I found numerous mistakes and made our boss go over it with her and make her fix her mistakes, she finally realized that her “new and easier” way would not work. I told her if she would have just let me explain everything to her, there wouldn’t have been an issue. SHEESH

    6. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I think OP can tell eager staffer to write a memo and/or scheduling a meeting during a slower time to discuss these issues.
      I’ve been with the same boss for 20 years in a highly regulated field. If I (and my colleagues) don’t follow a procedure to do something, she will tell me, “you need to do it this way.” I/we will say, “I thought this was OK.” Nope, please follow this procedure.
      So I do. But after that I/we review the procedure and if I think my way improves on it, we’d schedule a meeting to discuss.
      My boss is very open to improving procedures.
      Even the procedure review procedure :)
      She recently told us to mark up the documents in sharepoint with questions/comments/changes and during the regular reviews of them, she will accept/reject. She always follows up. It works really well.

      1. SnappinTerrapin*

        When there is more than one reasonable way to do things, an interactive process can be useful for all involved.

        But whether I’m the manager or the individual contributor, the manager gets the final say on which reasonable way is the preferred (or mandated) way to do it.

    7. Antilles*

      To me, it really depends on how often this explanation is happening.
      If the employee was accepting most feedback simply, then only occasionally firing back explanations? Sure. Maybe there’s process improvements, maybe it’s a chance to teach, or maybe I even end up nodding and agreeing that actually your way is better.
      But it reads to me like the employee is doing this all the time and at that point it’s a huge waste of time. And even if the employee *does* occasionally have a good chance for improvement, it’s going to get lost in the noise of the constant explanations.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        This. It can be a very fine line between stifling new ideas and shutting down unproductive over-explanation. We’ve gotten some really great ideas from people on the ground doing the processes and try to be a continuous-improvement sort of place; however, when you’re in the weeds and don’t have the bandwidth to explain for what feels like the twelfth time that we do it this way for a reason (particularly if that reason is “it’s the law”) I get where it’s wearing.

        It does get easier, after a while, to quickly suss out of something is a “potential improvement” explanation or an “I (wrongly) think you’re going to fire me and need to explain exactly why I made every decision I did along the way” explanation.

    8. I should really pick a name*

      It’s a fair concern, but I think that at this point, by pushing back so many times, the employee has already shown that they don’t have a good sense of how to pick their battles, and that can be a difficult skill to teach.

      1. pancakes*

        Yes. And if they do have good ideas, they really need to not hide them in long-winded explanations. Be more concise.

    9. anonymous73*

      Just because an employee thinks they have a better way doesn’t mean it can be done that way. There are generally reasons it’s done a certain way and it can’t always be changed. And if you’re doing this every single time you’re corrected, it becomes a problem.

    10. truesaer*

      I think I agree here. Many corporate processes are just an accumulation of years of tweaks to ‘this is how we always do it’ and many processes are also sort of fundamentally broken with barriers to even doing it the designated way. It’s important for a manager to at least listen to feedback in most cases. Even if the process doesn’t need to be improved (or can’t easily be), the employee may be trying to explain the barriers that make it difficult for them. They might lack training, or the process may not be documented, or they rely on another team or individual who doesn’t respond quickly enough to meet the deadline, or whatever it may be.

      “It’s not a good use of my time to listen” is usually not a mentality I hope to see from management.

    11. All the words*

      When one has a way to improve a process wouldn’t it be best to present that directly to one’s supervisor/manager as a separate communication? Just deciding to change procedures without a buy-in from one’s boss seems not to be the best method. Of course employees often have ideas for process improvements. I often do (or think I do). They’re presented as an email or a quick meeting. If they like the idea, great. If it’s not workable for whatever reason, no harm done and I probably learn something when they tell me why it’s not workable.

  6. Artemis*

    Bob’s Mother’s Day flowers for all the women…just ick.. I don’t know how much patience I have for this stuff anymore especially from men. Now that it’s abundantly clear that the society has clearly decided to see women as incubators.

    1. AnotherLawyer*

      It’s similar to an issue I’ve run into in my old office when they set up a “women’s committee” that ostensibly was to help recruit and retain more women, but literally the only issues they ever addressed were getting a nursing room set up and providing better maternity leave. 100% of the agenda topics for each meeting were about working mothers.

  7. KofSharp*

    The “all women get roses for mothers day” has already chased me out of a couple churches and recreational activities. I would hate having that at work, too, especially when I’ve heard “good thing you’re single so we don’t have to worry about you going on maternity leave for at least a couple years!!!” My uterus, my business, and if me needing mat leave comes up, let me bring it up. Don’t give me a rose because of my “potential motherhood”

  8. whistle*

    Companies better think long and hard about any Mother’s Day celebrations now that the US is clearly on the path to turning it into Forced Mother’s Day. If someone had tried to wish me a happy Mother’s Day this year because they just knew I’d be a good mom if I wanted to be one, I would have lost my fucking mind.

    WOMEN DO NOT EXIST TO PROVIDE YOU WITH CHILDREN. Stop acting like we do, whether it’s giving us flowers or taking away our rights. Both actions represent the same disgusting attitude.

    1. Distracted Librarian*

      “WOMEN DO NOT EXIST TO PROVIDE YOU WITH CHILDREN” – +1 million, and this really needs to be on a bumper sticker. I’m a mom, but I’m also a lot of other things. I refuse to be defined by my capacity for reproduction.

      1. Snoozing not schmoozing*

        I was lucky, growing up in the 50s and 60s, that my two aunts were both childless, although married. It never occurred to me NOT to be able to choose. Although I have one grown offspring, if Mr. YOU Get a Flower, YOU Get a Flower, ALL WOMEN Get a Flower Because That’s What Women Do had handed me one, he would need time off for a nasal petalectomy.

    2. pancakes*

      I’m in my mid-40s and I would say we’ve been on that path my whole life. The violence and attempted violence against clinics and doctors in the 1980s and 90s was relentless, and the restrictions some states enacted or relentlessly attempted to enact in the 2000s despite being rejected by courts over and over again made their intentions abundantly clear. Indiana, for example, jailed Purvi Patel in 2015. Let’s not pretend this mindset is new.

  9. Rainbow*

    4: I’m sure the dude meant well. But speaking as a childless lesbian, if someone gave me flowers on Mother’s Day I’d be apoplectic (hopefully not to their face as I can see he meant well). I’d also be pretty mad if he gave them to other childless women and not me. And I’d also find it very skeevy if he gave them only to the mothers. It’s an absolute nope all around.

    1. Pikachu*

      I’m ready for men to stop “meaning well” and asking themselves if they would do the exact same gesture for their colleagues with penises.

      The answer is always No.

      1. Anon for this*

        Yep. There are a couple of men on my team, and they went out of their way to wish a Happy Mother’s Day to everyone on the team, even though not all the women on the team were mothers. Even as a mother myself, I found it off-putting and kind of gross.

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        Exactly this. Stop “meaning well” and start actually thinking about how the things you do are impacting other people.

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

      I think the best thing would have been for Bob to say: I brought flowers in to share. If anyone wants one for themselves, or to give to someone help yourself. They are in the break room. If they aren’t taken we will put them in the lobby.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I think the best thing would have been for Bob to bring flowers to his own mom, and to anyone who has given birth to his children.

    3. Anon but tired*

      I think I am going to create a bingo card for all the excuses people come up with for creepy men’s behavior, but I’m struggling whether the free center square should be “I’m sure he meant well” or “He’s not a bad person”.

      1. Zephy*

        Free space should be “Boys will be boys”

        I can’t help but think of the scene from 2 Broke Girls – “I’m afraid if I start writing that down it will turn into a suicide note.”

    4. DataSci*

      I really don’t care if dude “meant well”. Dude was a sexist jerk who may have seriously hurt someone if there was anyone dealing with infertility or pregnancy loss because he couldn’t imagine any woman’s relationship with motherhood as anything other than literally rosy.

    5. anonymous73*

      Intentions are irrelevant and it’s a tired excuse for getting away with bad behavior.

    6. BabyElephantWalk*

      Why do you need to give the benefit of the doubt to someone who is being sexist?

  10. DataSci*

    LW 4 is far, far too easy on Bob the flower-giver and her colleagues are 100% in the wrong. Mother’s Day is problematic enough at the best of times (for reasons Alison describes and then some) that I’d rather people just stayed out of it other than with their own families, but this year of all years, for someone to openly state they see women only as mothers or potential mothers is just horrific.

  11. Miss Muffet*

    The Mother’s Day thing is such a good example of how something can seem totally innocuous/”nice” to someone and be so totally off for others. This is why we shouldn’t just take our own perspectives (But he MEANT well) if someone can be (or says they are) hurt by actions. Nice to some people is creepy, off-putting, sexist, rude, etc. to others.
    And I think the thread the other day just so perfectly encapsulated the idea that Mother’s Day is a family holiday, so unless you are a business directly associated with Mother’s Day, you shouldn’t mention it at all.

  12. Antilles*

    #3, oof. The candidate emailed you to debate the decision and then their parent also emailed you? Either of those would be ridiculous on its’ own, but both combined makes me think that’s quite a bullet dodged of “this person might have been awful to work with”.

    1. Sir Ulrich Von Liechtenstein*

      Ohhhh yeah. Two bullets, I’d say. If you hired this person, you’d be dealing with their attitude and their parent day and night.

    2. Essentially Cheesy*

      I thought the helicopter parenting was so out since about 2010. Apparently not.

    3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Was the family Welsh by any chance, because I’m flashing back to the Welsh cousins who shared a last name and worked in the same company. Cousin 1 wrote to AAM about distancing herself from her cousin and aunt and uncle who, after interviewing with their son, would call or show up to make sure, geez, I don’t know what…maybe smoking behind the building with the bad kids?

    4. Meep*

      My dad is a teacher. He has taught middle school, high school, and community college level calc. He is retiring this year because he is so over the parents. These people must be the same ones who complained to the principal at his former MS when their darling child wasn’t allowed to take the final at home. No, he didn’t have a learning disability or any valid reason for taking it at home. His mom wanted to “help” him take the test as she had been doing his homework all year. The principal told him to let them! He moved on to teaching community college at the end of that year when he was told he would get the boy’s sibling next year.

      1. Cheshire Grin*

        Yup, that was pretty much the experience for all the teachers in my family. The students are okay, but the parents are seriously out to lunch. And the school bureaucracy is just letting it all drift by because….reasons…I guess.

      2. Irish Teacher*

        This is one of the many reasons I am just rolling my eyes so hard at our government’s idea that teachers should correct part of the Leaving Cert. and if they don’t want to, it’s because they don’t want continuous assessment. Nope, we want continuous assessment; we just want ye to pay to have it corrected anonymously, so parents, management, etc, can’t pull that kind of stunt. Send it away, as the parts of the Leaving Cert. already done separately from the main exam are, have it corrected according to strict guidelines by people who don’t even know what county the exams they are correcting from come from, let alone who the students are, who are supervised by people who enforce the strict guidelines, after being taken in exam conditions under similar strict guidelines, all controlled by law as the Leaving Cert. is (seriously, you could, at least in theory, go to prison for certain breaches. Doubt it would ever happen; a fine is more likely, but it’s on the books). That way, we know the college application system is fair.

        There are significant problems with our current system and I (and most teachers) are all for reform, but let’s not destroy the one thing we do really right, the fact that the system really is accountable and that nobody gets unfair advantages in the testing (yes, people do have unfair advantages all along, like access to extra tuition, support from home, etc, but still).

        Every time I read things like this, I get more frustrated at how our government seems to want to make that kind of corruption easier.

    5. GreyjoyGardens*

      Oof, indeed! You dodged a bullet, er, I mean, helicopter parent. I hear so many stories on AAM about helicopter parents butting in to their ADULT child’s every decision, it makes me glad that 1) I don’t have kids so I’m not expected to be Mommy instead of a person, 2) that with all my parents’ many flaws, at least calling my employers was not one of them! (Exception: when I had to make a trip to the ER. I did ask Mom to call my workplace and explain, “GreyjoyGardens is in the ER, that’s why she’s not coming in today.” I *asked* and it was an *emergency.*)

      Also glad I’m a worker bee and not a boss, because helicopter parents are a curse to bosses and professors everywhere.

  13. Corporate Counsel*

    The flower thing actually disgusts me. Especially now. What on Earth would possess someone to think “I brought you flowers because your genitals are capable of creating a child and I want to force you to celebrate that even if you haven’t made that choice?”

    1. Aarti*

      Or if you lost a child! Or desperately want a child and can’t have one! Just rub salt in the wound!

      1. tessa*

        A bit of an overreaction. People are tone deaf about a lot of things. So the guy handed out flowers, wrongfully thinking every woman he works with would appreciate them. Why not limit the offense to that? By the logic of many similar comments piling on him, no one could do anything because any act could be deemed as horrifically insensitive. Also, wouldn’t this situation be a great teaching moment for the guy? Because I doubt he’s trying to be purposely insensitive.

        1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

          There is literally no good reason for what he did, though.

          He did this at work, which makes it already inappropriate. Even if it wasn’t at work, there’s also no good reason for giving mother’s day cards, flowers, or anything else to women you don’t know well enough to know whether they’re mothers, or whether they want to be.

          His “teaching moment” can be that someone takes him aside and says “Fergus, this was utterly inappropriate, because you’re at work, and because the best interpretation here is that you haven’t yet learned the difference between work and a social club, and also didn’t think before treating your colleagues differently because of their gender.”

          If he actively wants not to be insensitive or offensive, he should welcome a clear explanation of why he should never do this, or anything similar to it. But the “teaching moment” for a clueless adult male doesn’t justify acting as though he didn’t hurt anyone.

  14. Simone*

    I am in this exact situationwith Q1, I work in a small office with only 3 people. While training, it is A LOT to take in (it’s a whole new language to learn, really!)
    While I KNOW I’ve told my staff to do it a certain Way, I will catch them doing it a different way, which then makes me say “oh no do it this way because….”
    But my employee willl say “oh I thought to do it this way because of this, that’s why I did it this way” or “oh I didn’t know that! That’s why I did it this way ”
    No where do they say “I’ll do it like that from now on” or “thanks for catching that” they just always explain themselves and it’s VERY frustrating especially when we all have to be the exact same cog in the machine.
    This tip will help me in my office setting, I see other commenters seeing it from the employees perspective but in my setting I’m definitely on the letter writers side! I hope this tip helps me in the future, thanks!

    1. NeedRain47*

      Tell them the “because” part the first time you train them. If they don’t know why it has to be a certain way, and you didn’t mention it, it’s not going to seem important.

  15. NotMyCircusNotMyMonkey*

    Re #1 – After many years in the workforce I have learned to pick my battles, but I still get diarrhea of the mouth when I get nervous and feel like I’m being put on the spot. I find when I get constructive criticisms, the shorter it is, the better, especially for one-off mistakes. “Hey, quick note – you know that thing you did? Yeah, I’d rather you not do that. Thanks.” And I receive harder criticism much better with positive -negative – positive type of messages, like this: “You’re really doing great at A, I appreciate all that you do … However, going forward could you do this with B instead? … Fantastic, let me know if you need anything from me to complete what I just asked you to do. I’m here for you and I want you to succeed!”

    I had a boss that did this and it made adjustments seem like a positive guidance to help me succeed rather than criticism of things I was doing wrong that needed to be fixed. She also listened when I did make a case for why I did what I did, and alternately, she understood when a mistake was me having a momentary lapse rather than a procedural issue. It made me more confident and helped me to learn when to plead my case or simply adjust and move forward. Her positive attitude helped to heal the wounds of many managers who were horrible at managing people and who made me so distrustful of people for so long in my career. (I swear I had PTSD from a manager who would pull me into her glass-walled office for all to see and chew me out for 30 minutes because I was not, for example, picking up the sales phone line by the second ring.)

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Do we work together? Joke, but that’s my experience with my boss and it’s created a workplace where I’m confident about speaking up, I know when I don’t have to or shouldn’t (important things, sometimes, just be quiet and move on) and confident about failing. I’m not going to fail. I’m going to make a mistake. And we will be able to move on from it.

  16. R*

    As someone currently struggling with fertility who very much wants a child… the flowers on Mother’s Day gesture, however well meant, would make me cry at the office. I appreciate work as a space where I don’t think about this topic, thanks!

  17. The Lion's Roar*

    I’m interested to see what people think about #1! I’m about two months into a new position right now, and I generally do give a quick explanation of my thinking when my work is corrected – not because I think my way’s better, but to establish that the mistake didn’t arise from a lack of care.

    When I’m corrected my response really is quick (along the lines of “I grabbed that from our CRM because I didn’t realize there was a better source for the information elsewhere, so that’s good to know”). In some instances it’s helped bring attention to situations where information should be in an obvious location but isn’t. Still, I think I need to keep an eye out to make sure I’m not crossing the line into defensiveness/seeking validation for my original thought process.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      You can ask. Really, if you have a good manager, you can just say, “I get it. I did X because, Y and Z. Can we talk about why I think this is better? I have some ideas I want to share about this.”

    2. I should really pick a name*

      I think the “quick” makes a significant difference, but it’s also important to gauge how your boss is responding to your explanation.

      1. The Lion's Roar*

        These are usually sitdown reviews in her office, and my explanations generally fit well into the pace/tone of the conversation. A lot of the time she’ll respond with more information (conversationally, not like I’ve pushed her to repeat her point with more detail) or, as in the CRM example, give me the go ahead to correct discrepancies going forward.

        Still, there’s been once or twice that she just moved onto the next item but I wanted more of an acknowledgment from her. I had the sense in the moment to squash that impulse and just follow her lead, but it’s a good idea for me to think more about why I’m elaborating and whether it’s really worth her time or mine.

        The overall good news is that she’s never had to give me the same feedback twice, and at this point I’m getting way fewer corrections anyway, so we’re trending in the right direction.

    3. anonymous73*

      I think it depends on the frequency of the explanations. If every time you’re corrected you feel the need to explain yourself, it’s going to get old really fast. Being corrected doesn’t presume incompetence or lack of care…you’re new and you won’t always know how to do something or have all the answers. Ask clarification questions if needed. And if you have suggestions on how you think something could be done better, wait until you have some experience and time in your role, because you may come to understand why certain things are done in specific ways.

      1. Dust Bunny*


        You don’t need to explain yourself all the time, especially if you’re new.

      2. The Lion's Roar*

        Yeah, I don’t think I’m established enough to make suggestions at this point. They’ve said I’m welcome to make them (in a previous job I was in charge of process improvements for my department), and because it’s such a small firm there are a lot of workflows that have become unwieldy over time, but that just means there are a lot of quirks and one-offs I need to understand better before I start thinking I know a better way.

  18. DisneyChannelThis*

    The flowers is so gross.

    Value your coworkers contributions to your shared work, value your coworkers attitudes that make them not impossible to spend 50 hours a week with,value your workers abilities that help projects move forward. DO NOT value their genitals and internal organs.

  19. PJ*

    LW1 is giving me a little PTSD and bad flashbacks to my time as a team leader – I wasn’t the manager, but I was in the loop with all management’s moves on our team, including a particular employee we never should have hired. (I told the managers as much at the interview but was overruled.)

    They simply could NOT take any kind of constructive criticism, feedback or even the tiniest bit of direction. Tears made a regular appearance. So did a phone call from “Mommy” to our manager – since Mommy was immediately called whenever said feedback was given (in the kindest, most empathetic way possible).

    We were in a financial industry with recorded calls and one of their transactions had an error. We reviewed the error (empathizing – large numbers are hard to read, maybe say it this way, etc.) only to be accused of editing and altering the recording to bring them down!

    *sigh* yeah.

  20. Elle Kay*

    #2 Unless Belinda knows otherwise “Thanks! But I’m not looking to change jobs right now”/ “I’m happy where I am!” should cover it

  21. OyHiOh*

    RE #4, I overheard something so astonishingly awful this Mother’s Day weekend, that I and my partner both were in serious danger of losing our eyebrows entirely.

    Setting, coffee shop we like for Sunday mornings. Scene, behind the counter. Players, 3 young women and a young-ish man although definitely older than the women. Action: Something breakable hit the floor rather dramatically, resulting in thousands of shards sent scattering. The women continued taking orders/making coffees and food while the man got to work cleaning up the mess. The horrifying part came at the end of the clean up. One of the women commented “thanks for the help.” And he responded “anything to help on Mother’s Day. You’re all potential mommies”

    Cue a bit of awkward tittering from his coworkers and a studied determination to get back to work/out of the awkward as quickly as possible.

    1. Purple Cat*

      And if it was Monday instead, he wouldn’t have helped?
      Or better yet, just sat back and done nothing if it was male coworkers?

      1. OyHiOh*

        I honestly think either of these might have been possibilities any other day of week/occasion, extrapolated from his tone of voice in the moment!

    2. GreyjoyGardens*

      The next “something hitting the floor” ought to have been that man’s behind! Or how about some hot coffee in the lap! As a childfree woman (I commented to my equally childfree best friend that my uterus has always had a “no vacancy” sign) I would have been FURIOUS. ENRAGED. DRACARYS.



      I get the awkward tittering, because I wouldn’t be able to do any better in the moment, but this is someone who *desperately* needs a comeuppance of some sort.

  22. DataSci*

    One comment, since I’m seeing it a lot:

    We all agree Bob the Flower Dude in #4 is gross.

    Can we please express our opinions of his grossness without assuming anything about the genitals of women, or about who in the office has what particular organs? Saying he’s “reducing people to their genitals” erases trans and non-binary people. Not all women have uteruses, and not all people with uteruses are women. Bob was sexist toward women. We can criticize that without being transphobic.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      so more like:
      He’s reducing coworkers to one role. That role is problematic because it is not his place to laud every coworker for that role. It’s not his place to pigeon hole a coworker into that role. It’s not his place to other a coworker for not fitting into that role.

    2. DisneyChannelThis*

      lol sure jan, the guy assumes everyone who presents female has a functional uterus and a desire for using that uterus to generate kids but we’re the a holes for calling him out on that by referencing uterus’s

      1. van wilder*

        DataSci pointed out that what Bob is doing is gross, and didn’t call anyone names. They simply made a good point about more compassionate communication. There’s really no reason for this rude of a response.

    3. Bcd*

      We don’t all agree Bob is gross, so please don’t use that blanket statement.

      Misguided, yes, but I wouldn’t straight up call him gross.

      1. allathian*

        Bob may or may not be gross, but his behavior certainly at least touches the line if it doesn’t outright cross it.

        Sure, sexist jerks can do many worse things at work than simply giving every female-passing person a flower for Mother’s Day, but that doesn’t change the fact that Bob’s behavior’s unacceptable. Things I consider worse than the flowers include constant mansplaining, sexual harassment, taking credit for female-presenting people’s work or ideas, especially if he wouldn’t do it to a male-presenting person, just to name a few.

  23. Anon b/c of the Shame Wizard that lurks inside me*

    LW#1–this issue really hits home for me because I’ve always had problems accepting criticism. Turns out that I have ADHD inattentive, with a corresponding issue often called Rejection Sensitivite Dysphoria. RSD isn’t in the DSM, but enough therapists see this associated dysphoria that it may soon be. It’s exactly what it sounds like. According to “extreme emotional sensitivity and pain triggered by the perception that a person has been rejected or criticized by important people in their life. It may also be triggered by a sense of falling short—failing to meet their own high standards or others’ expectations.”

    And it bites, big time. Especially when I’ve had to be super-organized and pulled-together. It’s like I let myself and everyone down if I haven’t done everything just right.

    What works for me: not getting criticism face to face, so that I have time to take the punch (b/c it really feels like a gut punch) and work on it in my own time. Maybe, LW and others who need to give feedback, if you are getting the kind of response that is in this letter, that you email/text/slack your feedback and tell the person to take some time to absorb it. It may help; it does for me.

  24. Dark Macadamia*

    #4 well of course he won’t bring flowers for Father’s Day, flowers are for GIRLS! For dads you need a nice bouquet of hammers :)

    And ugh… I AM a mom, but not Bob’s mom! Mother’s Day is a family celebration, not a work one.

  25. Former Hominid*

    If you want to raise your blood pressure, or lower it with the knowledge that this comment section has very much improved- check out the comments on the original “flowers for mother’s day letter”. Tons more “he was just being nice!” comments and a few “you gals are too sensitive and btw the wage gap is a myth” ones as well.

    1. londonedit*

      Was that the one where the excuse was ‘well he’s British and apparently that’s what they do in Britain on Mother’s Day’? Because that is also 100% NOT true. No one in Britain celebrates Mother’s Day at work, and no one gives out flowers to random women on Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day isn’t even as big a deal here as it seems to be in the US, and the most you’d do is give a card/flowers/present to your own mother, or to the mother of your own children. It’s definitely not a work thing.

      1. allathian*

        It’s not a work thing in Finland, either. I’m glad nobody at work wished me a happy Mother’s Day. It may have come up in a discussion about what we were doing on the weekend, but that’s it. It’s simply acknowledged as a private family celebration, and that many people have issues with it for various reasons.

  26. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    #4: This man is stuck in the 1950s if he thinks it appropriate to prance around the office bestowing flowers on every woman for Mother’s Day! Almost certainly he gave one to someone who’s struggling with infertility as well as to someone (like me) who’s happily and deliberately childfree and finds the assumption that OF COURSE every woman is or aspires to be a mother to be both exasperating and amusingly tone-deaf.

    And no, I’d bet my next paycheck that he is NOT going to waltz in on Father’s Day and bestow flowers on every male colleague in the office…because of course MEN have identities that don’t always include parenthood – unlike women, who, y’know, are ALL just MADE to be mommies, right? Sigh…

  27. Sad Desk Salad*

    #4 is so cringey. I am so, so sick of having these emotional, performative displays of feel-good attention that wallpapers over so many bad issues.

    Not every female-presenting person can, or wants to, have a child.
    Not every female-presenting person is a “pet mom,” “friend mom” or “office mom,” and if your office has the latter, you have a problem with pinkwashing someone’s job role.
    A person’s body parts do not represent their parenthood status. You’re literally giving someone flowers for the sole reason that you presume what their genitals look like.
    Mothers often have real needs that are not being met by society, their workplace, the child’s other parent(s), and schools. A flower is a slap in the face when an otherwise capable worker is being mommy-tracked or parental leave is inadequate.

    Mother’s Day is a BS holiday and we all know it. It’s a way to sell flowers and restaurant meals, and it has absolutely zero place in a workplace (unless you are, of course, a florist or restaurant). It’s up there with “Administrative Professionals Day” only personal–too personal. It’s a minefield. Just don’t go there!

    If someone wished me a happy mother’s day I would visibly cringe and ask them why they said that. (They would say I’m a “cat mom.” No–my cat is my cat, not my child. I very much do not want or have children. I am not a mom. Stop that.)

    1. tessa*

      I grow flowers for Mother’s Day (and Father’s Day, too), so no, Mother’s Day isn’t a BS holiday for everyone. In fact, in many ways, it’s a lovely holiday. Not everyone feels that way, and with good reason, but the world doesn’t stop because of anybody’s personal strife. Rightly or wrongly, it just doesn’t.

      1. allathian*

        That’s true, but that doesn’t mean that people should be forced to celebrate, or even acknowledge, Mother’s Day at work, unless the workplace is somehow involved in other people’s celebrations of the holiday, like a florist.

  28. anonymous73*

    #3 – I kind of disagree with Alison. I would have responded back to the candidate. It may not have been received well, but it’s like teenagers – you can give them advice and they usually ignore it because they know everything, but one day they will eventually say to themselves “Hey mom & dad were right.”

  29. anon for this today*

    Forgive me for not having read all the comments, did skim. But for all the folks out there saying that they explain because they want to show it’s not carelessness, I’ll expose my 100% crotchety grumpy side because this is an anonymous safe space. And warning, I am super grumpy today, for unrelated reasons!

    I don’t care.

    I don’t care that you want me to think well of me, I don’t care particularly if it was carelessness or a different way of doing things, I don’t care how you thought it should be done. And you know why? ‘Cause half the time the way I’m telling you to do it in the future is a totally arbitrary thing made out of a need to preserve comformity/consistency for data processing reasons. It’s not better. It’s not the best way. It’s just the way things need to be done for now until we change the way all things are done.

    I’m assuming you’re competent — perhaps that’s a difference here. I assume you’re competent and had some good reason about 85% of the time, and 15% of the time it was lack of info or a mistake. So bring up the actual points of confusion right away. Not, “Well I tried to do it this way because I thought the thing was…” But instead your concern: “Does that affect the timestamp on the file?” “Deborah does it this way; is that difference a problem?” “The manual indicated llamas be groomed head to toe, as I did; can you tell me why you want me to do it tail to neck?”

    Those are the questions of a competent colleague. They indicate understanding, confidence, and that you can take targeted action. Long-winded explanations without a question are to me indicative of people who cannot identify what is important. And that may be unfair — I do try to listen, in real life, honestly — but the folks who can immediately bring up the salient difference have a skill I pay attention to.

    1. Nameless in Customer Service*

      This is really useful advice. In my experience, every time someone has to correct their underling their opinion of them drops, but a response that quickly demonstrates comprehension might help ameliorate that.

      1. Despachito*

        “in my experience, every time someone has to correct their underling their opinion of them drops”

        isn’t exactly this the principal nightmare of many underlings and the exact cause why they feel the need to explain?

        It certainly depends on the circumstances, and I understand why the opinion would drop if the boss explains a very trivial thing or has to explain the same thing repeatedly, but doesn’t everyone make an occasional mistake? And if the employee is competent and OK most of the time, why on earth would the odd mistake lower the opinion of the boss of them?

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          The level of fear that assuming your boss’s opinion of you drops every time you make a mistake would likely lead to a lot more mistakes from nerves and make everyone involved miserable. There are so many factors to assessing the impact of a mistake – Did I explain it well/provide good training or documentation? How much experience do they have? Is this common or unusual? Did it have a major impact? Are we agreed on what they will do next time?

          I find that looking forward and having a short memory for minor/infrequent issues makes everyone involved much happier.

          1. Nameless in Customer Service*

            I find that looking forward and having a short memory for minor/infrequent issues makes everyone involved much happier.

            It sounds like you are an easier manager to deal with than some I’ve had, then. I’ve had the managers who wanted to know Why I made a one-letter typo in an internal email, and the ones who said, “you misfiled this just like you misfiled that permission slip two years ago,” and the ones who responded to a question along the lines of “what color ribbon do you want me to tie around the llama’s neck?” with “so this animal is called a llama and to groom it you will need a brush, a comb, a stepstool, and a sink”. And even the managers who told me flat out, “We didn’t hire you to have opinions,” which was at least honest, I suppose. I’ve seen a general correlation between power and unreasonableness, and manager and bosses have a very tangible kind of power.

            Which is, to circle back, part of why I found ‘anon for this today’ s advice so helpful. I don’t want to spend a long time on any given mistake either, especially when trying to explain my thought process gets seen as defensiveness and earns me ten minutes’ lecture on my ‘attitude’ and how I need to ‘learn to think’. Pointers on how to quickly prove that I do have a brain in my head and to elicit precise instructions on what my manager wants are really useful.

  30. Shoney Honey*

    I had an employee like #1. They argued that maybe the way they were doing it WAS better and they weren’t being given an opportunity to contribute.

    So I ultimately based my conversation on their options- was it a process or procedure that could NOT be changed for some reason (legal, policy, etc)? Then there was no room for discussion.

    However, I did try to give them space to be heard on things that weren’t set in stone. There were a couple of times that they had great ideas! And this worked for a little while! However, for this person this ended up being a symptom of a larger issue where they weren’t good with feedback at all and they eventually resumed pushing back on everything. This combined with the gymnastics they wanted us to do before even having a conversation with them of ANY sort (could only be open door meetings, after lunch, and not on a Monday or a Friday) and they eventually ended up leaving because they just couldn’t take it.

  31. abby*

    4. Ugh, Bob is disgusting!!!! I would have vomited over him (no joke, if I was nauseous at the time I would try and make it come out)! Then I would go to Bob’s manager and explain I don’t expect to work in a sexist workplace where men want to stroll around judging motherhood. What is the problem that you can’t see it? If I was you I would seriously spend months digesting what Allison said. She covers all the points. Learn more about sexism so you can see what the problem is.

    1. tessa*

      Or, you could calmly explain to Bob why his handing out flowers in this context is, or could be seen as, insensitive.

    2. Churlish Gambino*

      I would personally prefer a coworker who misguidedly gave me a rose for Mother’s Day than with a coworker who thinks an appropriate reaction is forced vomit on another person.

  32. NeedRain47*

    Re: #1…. Just tell her straight up you’re not interested in any changes, even if they are improvements. She’s trying to be helpful and demonstrate her rationale. She’s not psychic and has no way to know that you consider her ideas a waste of time.

    1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      But that’s not what LW said. She said that listening to a *long-winded* explanation/excuse was a waste of her time. If the person being corrected gave her a *short* explanation, it would probably be only a minor annoyance and not something that led her to write to AAM.

  33. Lobsterman*

    LW1’s employee sounds like they don’t want to be an employee, which is fine. Some people are better suited to running their own businesses, etc.

  34. Purple Cat*

    LW1 I definitely get that the explanations can be annoying and time consuming, but I would really focus on the business issue first. IS she taking your feedback to heart and incorporating your feedback? That’s what’s most important. If she isn’t, then that’s the problem you need to tackle. If she is, then just encourage her and support her and let her know she doesn’t HAVE to explain everything. As other people have said, it’s likely a defense mechanism.

  35. Old Cynic*

    Re #1. I was that employee back in the day. Back before Lotus 1-2-3 was the office norm (that’s how long ago!) and we still used huge adding machine/calculators, I was tasked with coming up with 25% of the value of a series of numbers. My supervisor practically had a coronary because instead of multiplying each number by .25 I was dividing by 4. Same result. I promised her, it was the same exact result. She wasn’t having any of it.

    I think I was nearly terminated over that.

  36. Rusty Shackelford*

    they are seeing this gift in a negative way when it really seems to be just a nice thought

    Okay, so what is Bob’s nice thought? What nice thoughts would make a man give his coworkers a rose for Mothers’ Day?

    1. He thinks they’re his mother.
    2. He assumes all female-presenting people either are mothers already, or plan to be mothers.
    3. He assumes none of the female-presenting people in his office are struggling with infertility, or have experienced the loss of a child, or don’t want to be a single parent and haven’t been able to connect to a partner, and therefore his rose won’t make anyone sad.
    4. He assumes all female-presenting people would appreciate that he has Thoughts about their motherhood status and feels these Thoughts need to be expressed at work.
    5. He just thinks All The Ladies Like Flowers And Want Them From Bob and this is a good opportunity.
    6. He thinks people will consider it a sweet gesture and he’ll score some points.

    Which of these thoughts are “nice?”

    1. College Career Counselor*

      I hear you. To take this further, I would assume that Bob is oblivious to 1-3 and in my opinion, if Bob is thinking at all (he’s not), it’s a combination of 4, 5, and 6, with some outmoded “performative gallantry” thrown in.

    2. tamarack and fireweed*

      Well, I’m in the “it’s gross” camp, but it’s easy for me to think of a thought that is indeed “nice”. Bob thinks that flowers are an incontrovertible sweet gesture. It’s not necessary to assume that he does it to score points.

      I personally feel about it similarly to if someone had brought in chocolate eggs for everyone at easter, or little national flags and paper decoration for every desk on the national holiday.

    3. Eff Walsingham*

      As a person with no kids who has lost a beloved mother, I had made plans to hang on Sunday with a good friend in the same circumstance. Just when I thought we’d cleverly escaped from Unwanted Wishes, I heard the dude who delivered our Chinese food tell her “Happy Mother’s Day!” at the door. Gah! *rolls eyes*

  37. Cooldoggo*

    Someone should get ties for all the men in the office for Father’s Day and explain its the male equivalent of the flowers. My only concern is that the men wouldn’t see this as the absurdity that it is.


      I’d say only get them ties if they are in a workplace where ties are not usually worn. If it’s a tie-wearing kind of place…I don’t know, garish beer koozies or something?

      Like, it has to be both stereotypical and not something someone actively needs for maximum effect.

      1. TeaCoziesRUs*

        Beer koozies would be hilarious! Particularly ones that say something like My Coworker Thinks I’m a Great Dad. :)

  38. mythopoeia*

    LW’s employee sounds exhausting, but I think she could see much better results for both of them with fairly minor changes.

    * Start with the acknowledgment that her boss has tried to help her and she’s taking that on board–“thanks for the feedback” or “great, thanks” often work.
    * Distinguish between “I want to justify what I was thinking so you don’t think I’m incompetent” and “I want to give you the reasons behind my thought process so we can figure out if they apply here.”
    * Sign off with a clear acknowledgment that the feedback is being put into practice.

    My job involves giving and receiving feedback all day long, so a common email from me to a superior looks something like this:

    “Great, thanks for clarifying that. I’ve read through your feedback and made most of the changes. One reason I suggested that we do thing x in this way is that we’ve often used this way to avoid such-and-such pitfall. Does that affect at all what you want to do here? Let me know–I’ll go ahead with your request to do x unless I hear otherwise from you.”

  39. LMB*

    I don’t like the whole idea that employees should just say “ok thank you” to any feedback managers feel like giving, whether it’s good or bad or needs more conversation. Explaining yourself or simply talking about it, understanding it better on both sides, etc should be a good thing in most situations. It doesn’t have to be an argument.

    1. allathian*

      I tend to agree. Some people will say anything just to get the person criticizing them (they usually see it as criticizing them rather than their work) out of their hair, and then they’ll just go on doing as they’ve always done.

    2. Nameless in Customer Service*

      I agree with you, but from what I’ve seen many companies reserve the perk of having an opinion about job processes for management level and above. Peons don’t get to have opinions or come up with new ways to do things.

  40. Sam Quentin*

    I m of the mind that maybe her way is better, but you are just too set in your ways to listen to her.

  41. Anon for This*

    One reason I would explain why I did X instead of Y is due to the fact that someone else told me to do it that way. The person giving me the feedback needs to know that I didn’t just make it up and that there is at least one person who works there who believes that X is the way this process should be done.

    What’s interesting is that it can turn out that sometimes X is correct and other times Y is the way to go and the difference is based on the specifics of the situation.

  42. Missouri Girl in LA*

    We had a “Mother’s Day” breakfast at our office last Friday. The ladies who put it together always try to do something monthly (now that the pandemic has calmed down in our region a bit). Their intent is honest and good and I’m not one not to bring my share for a pot-luck. However, if this were 30 years ago, I’d be in my office, door closed, crying because I went through infertility treatments (failed) but ended up adopting (I’m adopted, so it’s not a huge thing for me personally). Back then, we didn’t really talk about this stuff and I never ask about kids or judge. Not my business.

    On top of it, our lovely admin had gifts for everybody-small journals with bible verses on the cover. As a person who grew up in an area where my religion was basically called a cult, it’s taken a long time for me to be more understanding of some religions. I gracefully accepted the gift, thanked my lovely co-workers, and went on with my day.

    However, I have to agree that a man handing out flowers to all the “moms” is a bit much though I think if anybody pointed out to him that he was back in the 50s, he might be surprised. Maybe he might be embarrassed. Sometimes, we need to be kind and explain why that’s not a good idea. It is difficult to navigate all the changes in our society today and as a person who is trying to be aware and kind, I know that I make mistakes that are nothing but just that-a mistake. I always want to be respectful of my fellow humans but I really don’t want to be “shamed” because nobody took the time to explain something to me.

    1. TeaCoziesRUs*

      Exactly. I honestly think Bob acted in good faith, with an old-fashioned gallantry. I also think if we assumed more people acted in good faith, we would be able to hold more grace for their mistakes. I know I’m certainly NOT perfect – and in fact I screw up rather vividly at times. However, I am almost always coming from a place of good faith and belief that my fellow humans usually have good hearts. (Except on roads… then no one knows how to drive. Including me sometimes. :D)

  43. Not Your Lady*

    Re: #4: I’ll bet this guy doesn’t bring in flowers for all the people he views as “women”* on International Women’s Day.** That makes the sexism flare more brightly–“women” are only worth acknowledging when it’s about their perceived reproductive capabilities.

    *I’m enby, but most people read me as female. I’m also childfree. Receiving a gift on Mother’s Day would be offensive to me for both of those reasons, among others. I’d be bothered at getting a gift on Women’s Day, but not horrifically offended since it’s not like I’m being reduced to reproductive organs.

    **Dear workplace: I’m glad you don’t do some office-wide thing for “all the ladies” on Mother’s Day, but I really wish you’d respect my “no” the first time each year when you’re taking the International Women’s Day photo for your social media feeds.

    1. Not Your Lady*

      I’d be bothered at getting a gift on Women’s Day, but not horrifically offended since it’s not like I’m being reduced to reproductive organs.

      To clarify: granted, there’s still some being reduced in that case also, with people assuming sex/gender by appearance–not saying that people don’t bring sexism into Women’s Day as well! Unfortunately.

  44. bopper*

    Here is a great word: Nevertheless

    “Nevertheless, I need you to do it Y way. Is that something you can do?”

    Then they must answer “yes’ or “no”.

  45. GreyjoyGardens*

    Mother’s Day is far more fraught than Father’s Day in this regard, but Bob (and everyone else) should not assume that the adults working with him are parents, or want to be parents, or want to be parents but were disappointed due to infertility or whatever. So don’t go handing out flowers to people because Motherhood Is Sacred.

    Love, Childfree Spinster Cat Lady

  46. Montana*

    LW #1
    I would stop and really think about if things *must* be done that way or if your employee brings up valid points. I have a supervisor who thinks they’re the expert on how everything *must* be done, even when the things don’t affect them in the slightest and they hardly ever use/interact with what they’re changing. People like that are usually not very self-aware, even if they’re well meaning. I would really reflect on the situation and ask yourself if you’re more bothered by the consequences of your employee’s actions or if you’re just bothered by the fact that they’re disagreeing with you at all.

    It very well may be 100% the former. it’s just hard to know for sure until you stop and think about it.

  47. Me*

    I sadly came from a company where we had to explain everything because our boss would make you feel like a complete idiot if you did not do something exactly as she would all while no training was provided, so I can totally see why OPs employee may be doing it. It could also be a symptom ADD, I often explain myself so I can compare the 2 concepts out loud but in my own crazy way. OP should focus more on if the employee is picking up the concepts that are being given.

  48. Me me*

    I sadly came from a company where we had to explain everything because our boss would make you feel like a complete idiot if you did not do something exactly as she would all while no training was provided, so I can totally see why OPs employee may be doing it. It could also be a symptom ADD, I often explain myself so I can compare the 2 concepts out loud but in my own crazy way. OP should focus more on if the employee is picking up the concepts that are being given.

  49. Your Momma*

    It gives me great relief seeing so many people comment on LW#1 and the perceived missed opportunities for process improvement by refusing to even hear out the employee.

    I also wonder if LW#1’s employee is talking about their reasons for doing their work that way because they are actually seeking to understand how to prevent making the mistake again. I can definitely see the employee stating the reasons why they did what they did as a way of trying to increase their understanding of the event so that they can better navigate in the future.

    LW should be happy to have an employee who cares enough to try and talk through the issue.

    If LW still doesn’t care to spend their time working with the employee despite the growth opportunities for both the business and the employee then maybe instead of doing it verbally, LW should send an email. Let the employee respond via email, if they so desire. And then LW can just not read the response since consideration takes up too much of their time.

    1. yala*

      “I also wonder if LW#1’s employee is talking about their reasons for doing their work that way because they are actually seeking to understand how to prevent making the mistake again.”

      That’s usually why I would do it about 80% of the time. Like, ok, this was my understanding, I wasn’t just doing it for a lark, but also…this was my understanding based on the information I had, so there’s a disconnect somewhere. I need to know where that disconnect was. (Or ideally, we both do, especially if we often misunderstand each other)

  50. TeaCoziesRUs*

    LW #4 – I’ll be in the minority with you. I think it’s a sweet gesture – particularly if he also included any single dads, uncles, or grandads raising kids. I love that he acknowledged that even if a woman was childless (by choice or chance), he sees that they could potentially make excellent mentors to young people. The only pushback I would give him is to consider how he’ll handle Father’s Day – will be also bring in a rose for every dad, single mom, aunt or grandma, etc? If it makes him blink or say anything other than a genial, “Of course I am!,” then you have an opening to explain how this can be viewed as sexist, patronizing, minimizing women’s professional accomplishments, etc. I see that you see his heart is in the right place, but this falls under that umbrella of intent =/= impact. I also think that because you appreciated his gesture for its sweetness you can have this conversation in a way that makes him less defensive than someone who views it with adversarial intent.

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