I accidentally started a rumor about a coworker

A reader writes:

I work for a large company. My department is four teams of six people, each under a manager who reports to a vice president. I have been working here for 10 years and my annual reports are all good, but I’ve been itching to move up the chain.

A manager is retiring at the end of the year so a position is open and our company indicated they would prefer to promote from within. One of the other people who applied along with me, “Alice,” is okay at her job but excellent at soft skills. Always on time or early, good at small talk, generally a pleasant person on a team, and also dressed well and conventionally attractive. I know for a fact that my numbers and work product are better than hers. I am overweight, not interested in dressing for trends, mediocre looking, and do not always have a conversation piece at the ready.

Alice got the promotion. I was really let down because I felt I deserved it and I also felt this is indicative of our society in general. It feels like a bad coming-of-age movie where the awkward fat girl loses out to the thin prom queen. Another member of my team brought up Alice’s promotion and I said, “Well, I guess we all know how she got this promotion.”

I meant to imply that Alice was promoted for shallow reasons. My coworker thought I was implying Alice was having an affair with our vice president. My coworker evidently said this to someone else because the next thing I knew everybody was talking about Alice and the VP. I do not think Alice is having an affair with anybody, especially our VP who is a really good guy who I hope to work with in the future.

I don’t like Alice and I don’t think she deserves this promotion, but she also doesn’t deserve everybody thinking she slept her way into it. Is there anything I can do about it now?

Oh no. Yeah, you have to correct the record.

Please, please go back to the original coworker you spoke to and set her straight. You’re going to need to be blunt, because you can’t take the chance of your message being misinterpreted again. So: “I was horrified to realize that I made an unkind remark about Alice and you thought I was saying she got her promotion by sleeping with someone. That is absolutely 100% not what I meant — I meant she was promoted because her soft skills are so good, not anything unseemly. It sounds like my remark got misconstrued and spread around, and it could really harm her reputation. It’s important for me to set the record straight so she’s not unfairly maligned. Could you help me?”

I think you’ve got to go further that that too, though. If you’re aware of other people talking about it, say something similar to them yourselves — don’t rely on the first coworker handling it because (a) she may not and (b) even if she does, it sounds like it’s spread beyond the original person she told. Since this started with you — and given how harmful it could be — you’ve got to take responsibility for stamping it out with everyone you can.

I’m somewhat torn on whether you should say something to Alice herself, but leaning toward yes. I wish you didn’t have to, because it’s going to be awkward — but I think you do. If it had only spread to two or three people, you’d be more able to stamp it out directly with them. But if it’s spread further, Alice deserves to know it’s happening so she can decide for herself how to handle it. It also might help her make sense of things she sees that otherwise she wouldn’t have context for, and she might make different decisions if she has the info than if she doesn’t. Apologize profusely and tell her you’re doing everything you can to set it right, but I do think she needs to know.

For what it’s worth … you obviously know far more than me about the situation and it’s entirely possible that Alice didn’t deserve the promotion, but it’s also possible that she was a reasonable pick. You might be better at your current job than she is at hers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she’d be worse than you at the next job up — which might require different skills, particularly soft skills (which tend to get more important as you move up). You see this a lot with people who are great at doing X and so they get promoted to managing people who do X — but managing is an entirely different skill than X and so some of them flounder. It works in reverse too: someone can be just okay at doing X but really great at the skills needed in the next job up. That doesn’t mean that’s what happened here, of course. It’s possible that this was an unfair promotion based on superficial reasons — that’s a really common thing that happens too — but it’s worth allowing for both possibilities in your thinking. And particularly now, given what’s happened and that the original remark was unkind no matter what it meant, it’s hard to argue against giving Alice some extra grace.

{ 821 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I’m seeing comments assuming that the OP meant Alice only got promoted because of her looks — in fairness to the letter writer, please note that she didn’t say that’s what she meant. She says she believes Alice got promoted because of her soft skills (and possibly her looks as well, but she’s not focusing solely on Alice’s attractiveness). That’s still problematic but it’s not the same as how it’s being represented in some comments below.

  2. catcommander*

    I guess other people on the team felt the same way, if a sour-grapes remark like that gained traction in the department. I feel bad for Alice.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      It’s also possible that it’s diametrically opposed to how Alice is perceived and the shock value of how she comes across v. the salaciousness of the rumor has fueled it. Or that some people just like to gossip and create drama. Alice is certainly the one I feel for the most in this circumstance.

      1. Science KK*

        This. We had a rather dramatic incident at my job last week (interpersonal stuff, no bodily harm or anything) and one of the students literally said what’s this meeting about? Oh, it’s about yesterday with a HUGE grin on her face. She then tried to press our manager for details, and when she had to miss said meeting & I gave her a gray rock answer she was visibly upset.

        Some people just want drama for drama’s sake.

    2. ButtonUp*

      Is the LW even certain she’s responsible for this rumor? It’s wild to me that a throwaway comment like that which could be interpreted multiple ways would actually fuel this level of gossip by itself.

      1. Nantia*

        I’m sorry but what OP said in this context is always about that person sleeping their way to the top. It’s either that or nepotism, no one is going to immediately think that OP was making an insightful remark on how this society values beauty or extroversion more. And the fact that OP thought this comment was appropriate and couldn’t possibly be misconstrued proves that she really does lack certain soft skills that are necessary in higher positions.

  3. Hej*

    Soft skills matter and if you’re saying stuff like that about coworkers (either meaning) then you aren’t ready for a high level job.

    Try learning from her instead of tearing her down.

    1. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

      This. LW, your judgment is clouded by your personal biases. It sounds like you are really thinking hard about this now, which is good, but you have more work to do on that before you’re ready to manage a team!

      1. Smithy*

        While soft skills can be taught, I think that unfortunately they’re very often seen as something some people have and some don’t – therefore very few people are good at *teaching* soft skills.

        Therefore the way it’s most commonly positioned is “looking at X person, they have great soft skills, copy them.” And unfortunately, for anyone struggling with any skill, it makes those skills to learn vague and how to get there unclear. I have a job that asks for a lot of soft skills and in a very early job, I was asked to give a presentation on those soft skills to my colleagues. I was early in my career and for a number of other reasons it seemed wildly daunting so I hoped it was a request that my boss would forget about and I’d never have to do. As those were requests I received more and more over time, I’ve gotten far better in giving concrete examples around how to improve soft skills in incremental steps. But unlike more linear and concrete skills, finding ways to explain and coach on this took a lot more time to figure out – and lots of people don’t.

        1. The Real Fran Fine*

          I’ve gotten far better in giving concrete examples around how to improve soft skills in incremental steps. But unlike more linear and concrete skills, finding ways to explain and coach on this took a lot more time to figure out

          I’m really struggling with this as a first time manager, and I wish someone could just point me to some videos or guidance documentation around the topic of EQ because I’m at a loss for how to coach my direct reports to essentially be like me (my manager’s words).

          1. StitchIsMySpiritAnimal*

            I don’t know about videos or guidance documentation, but learning the mediation process is close to being a class on soft skills.

          2. RosyGlasses*

            I have done this a few ways – a combination of reading through AAM articles and clipping out phrasing that she suggests for different situations to help me coach my leads and managers, and there are some books to have them read and classes that I send them to – but the challenging part of soft skill development is that success in that area is very much tied to a person’s mindset and inner drive to be self-aware and adjust their behavior and mindset towards thinking of how they impact those around them.

          3. Smithy*

            I have zero help on resources, but I do think that my first piece of advice is that coming from the place of trying to “be like you” is the first piece to unpack. Most likely your team has diversity of personalities, and so this isn’t about creating clones of you but rather people who can achieve similar results that are benefitted from strong soft skills in different contexts. So that may be in writing, on the phone, running meetings, networking internally or externally, etc. etc. etc.

            Once you determine exactly where those EQ skills are needed, it’s easier to break down exactly what you want someone to be able to do and where their gaps are.

            I will also add, that specifically calling out things to your direct reports about engagement/skills appreciated by specific internal senior staff helps in better articulating what the outcome of the higher EQ is as opposed to the EQ itself. I’ve worked for a few places where whenever certain senior leaders are in a meeting, they appreciate seeing staff ask questions. For them it shows engagement, active listening, and/or a well run meeting. Now – I get that in practice, this isn’t always rooted in reality, but if your direct reports know in advance that VP Doe likes this – they can try to ask a thoughtful question or two. Over time, they may be better as sensing that while VP Doe likes this, SVP Foe doesn’t care – but this is a good “fake it till you make it” intermediary step until you see your staff identify on their own the large meetings where they can sit quietly vs are required to engage more (or any other sort of example).

            1. The Real Fran Fine*

              I do think that my first piece of advice is that coming from the place of trying to “be like you” is the first piece to unpack.

              Oh, I definitely don’t want to or think my team needs to be like me – I was saying my manager was complimenting me on my soft skills/EQ and said she wants me to coach my team to be as strong as I am in those areas, but…I was at a loss because not everyone is going to have my personality or wants to do the things I do exactly the way I do them. That was what challenged me most – everyone on my team is wonderfully different with different strengths, and I don’t want to turn them into mini mes because I’m not always right! Lol

              But I’ve been doing the things you suggested (giving them insights into how certain internal stakeholders like to be approached, giving them historical context on why certain decisions were made at our company, making intros where I can while also preparing them for the stakeholders’ various idiosyncrasies, etc.), and that seems to be going well for the most part. I just thought maybe there’s a lot more to it than that I’m missing something, lol.

          4. Jay*

            Take a look at “Crucial Conversations” and other work by the same authors. They have workshops and trainings and probably videos. Their approach is evidence-based and effective. The book is very accessible and IMO fun to read.

            I teach communication skills and small-group education to medical folk. “Soft skills” are skills. Like any other skills, they can be learned and taught. They are often disparaged and in medicine there is a definite element of misogyny in the hierarchy of “soft” and “hard” skills. Women are supposed to be naturally better at “soft skills” and are held to a much higher standard. This is also true in academia where women faculty are downgraded by both students and colleagues if they are insufficiently nurturing – and downgraded again if they are nurturing because that means they aren’t serious scholars.

            Communication and relationship skills are absolutely crucial to developing and maintaining strong relationships. For docs and managers and lawyers and anyone who would like to be a good partner or friend, relationship skills are incredibly valuable. I think we’d all be better off if emotional intelligence and relationship skills were a core part of the school curriculum.

            1. lurky mcgee*

              I second the recommendation for crucial conversations! It’s really really helped me in both my personal and professional life. I always thought I just “didn’t have” soft skills and that I was at a disadvantage, but I’ve learned so many and others have noticed a change in me. (It was one of the top things on this year’s performance review.) So, anyone looking to learn soft skills–get your hands on that book!

            2. Imma Pick a Name and Stick to It*

              Just ordered Crucial Conversations and Crucial Accountability. Thanks so much for the recommendation, I think these will be game changers for me.

              FWIW, I think the bedside manner, ie.”soft skills” of medical doctors have improved over the past few years. EI should be a core curriculum, conventional wisdom is that soft skills are all innate and personality-dependent. Not true. Some, like OP, deride soft skills as only exhibited by the less competent. That’s not true either. I hope OP can get past their resentment and jealousy and position themselves for greater success, while remaining true to themselves. People can smell phoniness a mile away, genuine soft skills don’t change your core personality.

              Also, OP should take some corrective action, although the spreader of unfounded gossip actually was not her. In 2022, the notion of women sleeping their way to get ahead should be dead anyway.

            3. The Real Fran Fine*

              I will definitely take a look at this book! Thanks for the rec – I’ve read a few books like this and wasn’t sure I could put into practice what was there, but maybe seeing it in practice through workshops will help me figure this out.

            4. TeaCoziesRUs*

              Going to your last statement about schools, I think this is happening. I took my daughter to a doc yesterday and she told the doc that she was stressed (we moved this summer, new school, missing old friends, etc). The doc mentioned she never would have understood what “stressed” meant as a pre-teen, even though she obviously felt it now and again. We both agreed that (for the most part and noticeably within US military communities) kids today seem much more open about what they’re feeling, trying to discern what’s going on behind the feelings, and generally falls about owning their emotions in a way adults like myself who were taught to will away our feelings can only admire. I can’t say whether this is accurate in a larger U.S. context, although I’ve seen the pattern repeated at every city we’ve lived in – and most of my kids’ schoolmates are not military. There is also a strong emphasis in military family support about resilience and seeking help when needed due to servicemembers’ so frequent deployments, so this also might be a reflection of our own little niche. But what I see in this niche gives me hope!

          5. yala*

            For some reason, the phrasing of “essentially be like me” kind of has my back up, if only because some of the worst miscommunication/bad blood in the workplace has come from people expecting other folks to be like them in very particular ways and reading anything that they personally wouldn’t do, however benign, as hostile/challenging.

            1. The Real Fran Fine*

              See above – this wasn’t my phrasing at all, but more of my manager’s wish that my direct reports would be as effective as I am with our stakeholders.

          6. Ellis Bell*

            It’s a lot like learning a language in that there isn’t a magic resource out there that will make you fluent overnight. However every “word” you learn will count in making life smoother. I’m a teacher of young humans with unpolished approaches to others, and so all I do is teach soft skills (right alongside with the subject I teach! Joy!) and everyone has different baselines. You have to model what you want to see, reward what’s going well, and only then correct what’s wrong. One thing at a time.

          7. Analytical Tree Hugger*

            The resources others suggested sound great. My initial thought/idea was to ask your employees to think of a few conversations they’ve had recently. Pick two to three whre came away feeling good about it (i.e., heard, affirmed, productive) and then pick another two to three that felt the opposite.

            What made the first group different from the second? What did the other people do that helped make the conversation that way? Focus on the patterns, rather than individual pieces. That is, “summarize what you heard” is a tool for active listening, but learning when and how to apply it is the real skill.

            1. The Real Fran Fine*

              I like this exercise a lot and will definitely try to implement this going forward in our 1:1s.

          8. Interrobang*

            Coaching soft-skills is my extracurricular activity at work (within a very analytical STEM primary function). I find LinkedIn super helpful for curating soft-skills content. I’ve helped to create trainings on a variety of topics like influence, effective verbal communication, emotional intelligence, resilience, and time-management. I would check it out. Also TED talks on those topics :) Good luck!

        2. See you anon*

          Not maliciously gossiping about coworkers is an incredibly easy soft skill to adopt. Even if OP didn’t mean to start a rumor about Alice having an affair, she did mean to gossip about her and sew seeds of doubt in her abilities.
          Maybe being vindictive and petty is why OP wasn’t put in a position where she had more power over fellow workers.

          1. Ellis Bell*

            Yeah, I say this with all sympathy to the OP making a genuine mistake, but their issue with soft skills is not so much “always having a topic ready” as “thinking before you speak”.

        3. Lizzianna*

          I have a really hard time coaching soft skills. I think part of it is that feedback on soft skills feels much more personal. Another part is that, as I was telling my husband the other day when venting about a particularly challenging employee, “I don’t know how to explain to someone they have to be nice, without treating them like a preschooler!”

          That said, watching my child learn social skills has actually helped me figure out how to coach them professionally – with a 5 year old, you can assume that literally no one has explained certain concepts to them, and you have to be very concrete and literal – I’ve gotten better at adjusting the grace and concreteness for an adult audience. But it’s still hard and takes a lot more thought and care than coaching hard skills.

          1. The Real Fran Fine*

            I think part of it is that feedback on soft skills feels much more personal.

            THIS! This is what is so challenging for me because it does feel like you’re saying, “Your personality sucks and you need to change,” which is so problematic for many reasons in general, but more specifically on my team where all three of my reports are some kind of marginalized minority – as am I – so I don’t want to tone police or critique something about their presentation since we deal with this kind of mess enough in the real world and the workplace.

            1. Tracy Flick*

              Well, that’s a valid thing to worry about. If you can’t come up with specific actionable advice based on specific changes you would like to see – “it would help if you could start presentations by asking people how their weekends went,” or, “hey, some of your written communication is coming across a little abrupt – could you add a quick greeting or something, like this?” – then I’d consider that you might actually be reacting out of bias.

              1. The Real Fran Fine*

                My concern isn’t about my bias, but the bias of those who are complaining about one of my direct reports to my manager and then my manager saying that she wants me to coach that person to operate more like me. I haven’t seen anything from this person I would deem to be problematic, and so I was drawing a blank on what to coach on when I’m getting secondhand information that I can’t personally validate (I’ve erred on the side of just giving general feedback on topics this report has directly asked me to assist with).

                1. MigraineMonth*

                  That does sound very difficult, especially if you’re being asked to pass along (likely biased) feedback about issues ( or “issues”) that you haven’t seen yourself. Would it be helpful to ask the feedback-givers to talk to your reports directly, or would that just subject your reports to more microaggressions?

                  I work in a male-dominated field, and I really struggled with bringing up a female colleague’s abrupt tone, because I first had to decide whether the feedback was valid. In my case, I did decide to bring it up with her directly (not going to her manager first!), and we had a good conversation about how easy it is to misread tone in emails.

          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            The best management coaching I have ever had is my child who’s on the autism spectrum. We have to explicitly state expectations and brief on what’s happening, and it’s been very effective at helping me non-judgmentally explain what behaviors are expected/not expected in a professional context.

        4. Elle by the sea*

          It’s a well-known misconception that hard skills can be learnt but soft skills cannot. That’s not true – it’s just harder to put your finger on what soft skills one is missing and why. Furthermore, soft skills or the lack thereof are often tightly intertwined with one’s personality type, hence they might be rather hard to improve without the feeling of having to change your personality. It’s also quite common to assume that soft skills are somehow inferior to hard skills, therefore most people have less incentive to work on them. But the fact is that the concept of job performance is a synergistic view of your hard skills and soft skills – so, there is no point in complaining that someone got a promotion because of their soft skills. It matters how easy you are to work with and your soft skills play a crucial role in that.

        5. Marvel*

          This is so important to me as an autistic person. You can absolutely learn soft skills, even if you’re starting from a disadvantaged place. I can, and have, and am very successful at applying them. In fact, it’s a huge part of my job as someone in a management position who supervises and coordinates between large groups of creatives! My field is very competitive; if I hadn’t developed my soft skills, I would not be employed.

          I think when people say soft skills can’t be taught, what they mean is often more that the attitudes and motivations behind those skills can’t taught. And that part is true! You can’t teach someone to WANT to get along with others. But that doesn’t mean you can’t teach someone HOW to get along with others.

          1. Despachito*

            Oh, absolutely this!

            IDK whether I am on the spectrum but strongly suspect I am. I spent my entire childhood making mysterious mistakes as to human interaction – I could never lay my finger on it, I just saw that I must be doing something wrong because of how people treated me and because there was a repeating pattern.

            I started to get the grasp of it in as late as in my early adulthood, and now I think I significantly improved, so I absolutely think it is learnable.

            The one thing I instinctively knew from the beginning was that there was no point complaining that people treat me in a certain way because I am fat / from a poor family /whatever. It may have been A factor but definitely not THE factor. Retrospectively speaking, a lot of people I was dealing with were indeed a..holes, but the largest factor was in MY OWN head, and this was definitely changeable.

          2. Little Owl*

            this is really interesting! I suspect I’m on the spectrum, so if you’ve got some free time, could you please talk about it on the Friday thread?

        1. Cat Tree*

          I recently held interviews for a position. The two finalists were so close. They were both good at soft skills and technical experience. But one was excellent at soft skills and one was excellent with technical experience. Ultimately I decided that technical skills are easier to teach than soft skills so that’s how I made my decision.

          1. Ann Nonymous*

            That’s the right call. Choose the more pleasant person and they will likely be more teachable in technical skills as well.

            1. Imma Pick a Name and Stick to It*

              Unless maybe it’s for a brain surgeon or pilot? I want the technical best then,especially if their soft skills are good but not stellar. Wouldn’t choose the seemingly nicer person in this scenario.

              1. Angstrom*

                Crew Resource Management became part of commercial pilot training after fatal accidents were linked to the crew being intimidated into silence by the captain. Pilots and surgeons may not have to be “nice”, but they do need enough soft skills to lift the performance of the whole team.

                1. UKDancer*

                  This so much. Yes you want the technical expertise but someone can be the best pilot in the world and still crash the plane if the co-pilot feels unable to tell him there’s an engine problem because he’s a jerk.

                2. Imma Pick a Name and Stick to It*

                  I did say the theoretical pilot and surgeon should have good soft skills, and are preferable IF their technical skills are better. Certainly did not say that being a highly skilled jerk pilot or surgeon is acceptable.

              2. MigraineMonth*

                As others mentioned, both of those professions require technical skills, but more crashes are caused and patients are killed by bad teamwork than bad technical skills. (Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto was a huge eye-opener to me.)

                I’d rather have a pretty good surgeon who listens when the surgical nurse tells her that she contaminated her glove or forgot a piece of gauze inside the incision than a great one who doesn’t listen.

              3. CommanderBanana*

                You seem really dug on in this and I’m not interested in debating it, but I think we can all agree that there are some jobs and some scenarios where technical vs. soft skills are more important and vice versa. But as the other commenters have suggested below, so-called ‘soft’ skills are incredibly important even in positions considered to be highly technical!

                Chernobyl is a good example. Obviously you want your nuclear engineer to have impeccable technical skills….but when your nuclear lab is run by someone that all of the other engineers are so terrified of that they can’t sound an alarm as the nuclear reactor is literally melting down, that is really bad. Brain surgeons and pilots don’t work in a vacuum either.

          2. CommanderBanana*

            ^^ This. When I’m asked for my feedback on candidates, I always say that I’m looking for traits that are harder to teach because, if you have THOSE traits, I can teach you do anything. I can’t teach someone to be proactive, thoughtful, kind, energetic, curious, diligent, etc.

            I’d rather hire for capability than knowledge, any time.

            1. Imma Pick a Name and Stick to It*

              Serious question: how do you assess proactivity, thoughtfulness, kindness, energy, curiosity, and diligence in job candidates?

                1. ALLCAPSRESUME*

                  So – this letter is really interesting to use as a case study of this question because we can tell that the LW lacks the specific soft skills required for a management role, particularly one in their workplace, beyond their self-identification of soft-skills in general as a weakness because of the way they framed and explained the situation. Beyond that the way they verbalized their reaction to their interpretation of the situation had a direct resulting situation that has escalated that at minimum is awkward and distracting and at worst could potentially harm people’s careers.

                  I think being overly literal with any interviewing style is folly but one of the best aspects of behavioral interview style is the opportunity to not only hear someone give an example of an experience, you get an opportunity to get some insight into how they perceive the world and the way they perceive their role in situations and their interactions with others. The resulting mistake in this letter is unfortunate and something they need to deal with but it’s everything else that is a giant, giant red flag that suggests that LW is a unreliable narrator and is refusing to confront their actual shortcomings in the workplace.

                2. CommanderBanana*

                  I don’t think they are, but that’s not something I want to debate. They’re hard to quantify, yes.

                  It’s easier to verify that John produced X number of widgets per month. But if I had a choice between John and Jane for a supervisory position, and Jane’s widget numbers were lower but I called John’s references and heard that John caused several other people to quit, I wouldn’t want to choose him even if he was better at producing widgets.

              1. CommanderBanana*

                It’s not easy. Personally speaking, I think that interviews alone are not a good way to assess candidates.

                References are really helpful, but obviously this only works for candidates who are able to give references, and not everyone can! I worked for one company (briefly, and a long time ago) that was led by a person so venomous they would purposefully try to ruin any former employee’s chances if they were contacted for references, and unfortunately this was in a field that required clearances so many former employees had to list this employer on clearance paperwork.

                You do the best you can – multiple interviews if that’s reasonable, contacting references, contacting former direct reports, etc.

                I now work in an area/industry that is fairly insular, so professionals in this field often develop reputations. If I hear that a particular person was a nightmare to work with from their vendors, there usually is something there.

                Most organizations I’ve worked for have horrible hiring practices. For example, hiring someone as a director or manager without ever letting their future direct reports meet them or participate in the interview process.

                1. MigraineMonth*

                  For my first job in my professional area, I worked for over 5 years at a company that had a policy that managers were not allowed to give references, full stop. If I hadn’t had former managers that were willing to bend the policy, I don’t know how I would have gotten my next job.

              2. Koalafied*

                In my experience, the best way to assess soft skills in a candidate is reference checks. You’re usually not going to be able to draw conclusions from the limited data available to you from resumes and interviews, but managers and coworkers who have had a front row seat to the candidate’s job performance for months/years are pretty well positioned to speak to them.

          3. Smithy*

            Yeah, in my professional world – I’ve always defined what we call copy-editing or writing as far more in the soft skill set area than more technical definitions of copy-editing or grammar.

            We’ll get a report written by someone where English isn’t their first language, and need to edit that report for a specific donor. And while I don’t want wild grammatical boo-boos and/or confusing syntax, I’m more looking for someone who can catch issues a donor would notice. Sections that can just be cut, because while technically relevant, the report is too long and this is the least interesting part. Or a part that has no conclusion or will raise concerns and technically we don’t need to include it.

            If the final report ends up meeting those donor needs but has a handful of grammatical errors and a few awkward to read phrases – that’s fine. I can coach writing for specific donors, but I need to know the general instincts are there in adjusting a written document for a specific audience. I used to have colleagues who could say they could teach writing and I never really got that. I can coach, I can improve – but to truly teach a new hire that sounds exhausting.

    2. Someone Else's Boss*

      Right, making this comment and not knowing what someone would think are both signs that OP is not ready to manage. Just because you have the teapot lid specs memorized doesn’t mean you’ll be able to mediate conflict, manage time off, etc.

      1. ferrina*

        Exactly. A key part of being a manager is having strong communication skills. Based on the LW’s comment, this may be part of a broader pattern of not quite having the communication skills to be a strong manager right now.

        Not saying that LW needs to have a witty repartee at the ready, but being able to have clear communication and pleasant interactions with colleagues is really, really important.

        1. Imma Pick a Name and Stick to It*

          ferrina, a key part of being a GOOD manager…I’ve had many with less than stellar communication skills.

    3. Just Another Zebra*

      This. This this this. OP, I know you didn’t mean for all this to happen… but you DID mean to negate Alice getting the promotion on her own merits. I think you need to take a real introspective look at why you weren’t promoted, instead of dramatizing why Alice was.

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        This is my take too.

        Soft skills are hard! For those of us who aren’t naturally inclined, they can be emotionally wearing and take all of our energy to use. Alice might be more naturally inclined, but that doesn’t make her more shallow than someone who is naturally better at “hard skills,” it’s just a different inclination.

        That the OP pooh-poohs soft skills so out of hand both with such a negative attitude that a person take the entirely wrong meaning from their words doesn’t reflect well on them and shows that they truly might not be management material yet in that they don’t see what benefits soft skills have in the workplace. (And therefore be ready and willing to respond well to any employees that show more soft skill expertise than hard skill expertise and utilize those skills well within their team.)

        1. yala*

          That was kind of my read. Plus, with the overall attitude toward Alice, it feels like OP kind of resents women who look/dress/act a certain way, and that could lead to some problems if any of the women reporting to her in a management position fell into those categories. Personal bias isn’t the same thing as systemic bias, but it can still be pretty damaging to an individual.

          1. Not teenage but still ninja turtle*

            +100000

            It’s not that OP doesn’t have the skills. It’s that A) OP actively doesn’t want them, and B) mocks/ makes a moral judgement of people who do have them.

          2. Avril Ludgateaux*

            There is a grand irony in a person lamenting that they are being judged for/reduced to their appearance (i.e. losing out on a promotion for clearly no other reason than being overweight, not putting effort into their appearance, and not being the right kind of social)… and then turning around and doing the exact same thing to the person who did get the promotion.

            It is harsh to say, but OP has a bad attitude for management. Who knows, maybe she will learn and grow from this, but the first step would be the self awareness to recognize she’s making the same kind of superficial judgments that she accuses other people of using against her.

            1. Mac (I Wish All The Floors Were Lava)*

              I just want to sound a note of caution, because I feel like fatphobia is still such a mainstream-acceptable mindset that sometimes people get really, really upset with fat people for saying “I think XYZ was fatphobic.” Pointing out that thin people have more privilege in our society and being upset when you witness that privilege playing out is not, in fact, an equivalent form of bigotry to fatphobia. I agree that the OP has some maturing to do with how they express themself, but I do not think it’s inherently superficial or bigoted for them to be mistrustful of a situation where a marginalized person lost out on a promotion to a person with more power.

        2. WantonSeedStitch*

          This is very true. When I look at my team and think about who might eventually be management material, I don’t look at who is the best at painting teapots. I look at which teapot painters are the best at collaborating with the teapot designers, which ones are best at communicating with the clients to better interpret their needs, which ones are helpful and positive when there’s a lot of work to do, etc. You can be the greatest teapot painter ever, but if you blame the designers every time something goes wrong, roll your eyes at client requests, and don’t step up to help others out when they’re overloaded? You’re not management material.

    4. Suzie SW*

      100% agreed. My first thought was, of course they would want someone with strong soft skills in the management role. Then, given how LW spoke of Alice both to her coworker and in the letter, it showed a lack of maturity that would make me quite hesitant to promote them.

      I received a promotion once over a colleague who I felt was, at least on paper, a more natural fit for the management position than I was. We were both skilled in our jobs – I had a broader experience, but she had more in-depth knowledge of the program. What I later found out was that others at the management level found this person abrasive and stubborn, and they knew I would take a more collaborative approach. Those soft skills were what made me stand out, and also what provided a buffer for my colleague to move up into a leadership role as well (without the friction), so it ended up being a win for all involved.

      1. The Real Fran Fine*

        Then, given how LW spoke of Alice both to her coworker and in the letter, it showed a lack of maturity that would make me quite hesitant to promote them.

        That part. I’m sure the decision-makers behind this promotion peeped this about OP as well and decided to pass. People really underestimate how important it is to have leadership that’s actually good with humans and not just task focused.

        1. Imma Pick a Name and Stick to It*

          Yeah, if nothing else, this site underscores the need for leadership that’s good with humans, because it is often sorely lacking.

      2. Anon and on an on*

        This. Kind of illustrated by OP’s:
        “Is there anything I can do about it now?”
        My first thought was, you know what you have to do. You are hoping you don’t have to do it.
        But then I realized, it is possible that OP genuinely does not know.
        Speaking as someone who thought, as a teen, that people didn’t like me because I was fat, like weird stuff, etc. I wasn’t that. When someone reached out to me, I was unwelcoming, off-putting, uninterested, because they were X, Y, Z, so why would I bother? “It’s stupid. I’ll do my own thing because good things only happen to X, Y, Z people. I’m not one, therefore nothing I do will change/affect anything.

        OP, you too seem to think that you are a square peg in a round hole.

        Maybe you are, but you can still take responsibility for yourself while being yourself. You don’t have X, Y, Z qualities and those who do have things handed to them. Please understand that those qualities may be easier for some, but they still work on them. You can, too.

        I have friends, a relationship and good job now because I allowed myself to see myself differently which allowed me to act differently, and damned if I didn’t get a different result.

        Good luck to you.

        1. Imma Pick a Name and Stick to It*

          This is excellent. Sometimes, self-introspection can lead to this type of change, other times therapy and counseling is needed. In any case, it’s not hopeless when someone has internalized so much negativity. Good for you for changing.

        2. Boof*

          Yeah; i don’t know op’s lived experience because the bias can be very real, or very self assumed (i say this as a chubby nerdy female), or a combination of both – but at the end of the day we only have control over ourselves. Try to be who you want to be and if the environment is a bad fit, try to move on. And i have found it very true that confidence, style, and competence can be every bit as attractive* as raw physical form. *platonic as well as romantic attraction

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            Not that you asked, but I find that the word ‘appealing’ can fit that “all kinds of attraction” concept. Maybe not in all settings, but enough.

      3. NYC Taxi*

        I’m horrified for Alice having to work under the cloud of OP’s sour grapes commentary. I hope OP does the right thing here.

        As a long-time manager and seeing OP’s attitude I’m not at all surprised she didn’t get the job. I just received a promotion earlier this year and I know a large part of it is soft skills because I need to work across our company with people from many different departments, countries and backgrounds. I have the ‘hard skills’ for the job too, but I know it’s that extra – the soft skills that got me the job.

      4. Alternative Person*

        Same. I recently got assigned a big project over a peer because of my soft skills. The other person is a great individual contributor when given clear scope and direction but their tendency to go off piste and a spotty interpersonal record meant management were happy to give me the project. My more measured approach and better interpersonal record edged it out despite our similar levels of experience.

    5. Anony vas Normandy*

      Right! I mean, oof, LW, I get that you’re disappointed, but this is may be an example of why you didn’t get the promotion.

      1. The OTHER other*

        I was going to say this. I’ve been passed over for promotion, it sucks, I get it, but dismissing someone else’s qualifications like this to another coworker like this is just terrible.

        LW says she didn’t mean to suggest Alice had slept her way to the promotion, but given what she said and how common this trope is, it’s an entirely reasonable interpretation by the coworker. Saying she only meant that Alice got it due to her attractiveness and personality instead of her ability–well, that’s really not that much better.

        LW may produce more widgets than Alice does, but just based on this letter I wouldn’t promote LW to supervise a team of widget makers. I hope she can do some introspection and work on being a better coworker.

      2. morethantired*

        I agree. It’s not only bad practice to be talking about a co-worker like this, to do it in this way shows pretty poor judgement. When you know you have strong emotions about ANY work situation, it is best to vent to friends and family outside of work!

    6. Public Sector Manager*

      I’ve been managing for 12 years and soft skills are key!! And I’ve known many a good manager–people who look like Alice, people who are obese, people who are not very attractive, people who can’t dress to save themselves–and they all experts in amazing soft skills! I would work for any of them.

      The OP needs to take Hej’s response seriously. The letter says way more about the OP than it does the hiring practices at OP’s job.

      1. Klara*

        What stands out to me is that the OP says she isn’t interested in following trends as a reason she is, in her perception, less put-together than Alice. But Alice might not have a big interest in “following trends”, either—she may dress well and wear makeup, etc. because it makes a good impression. That’s why I do it. I don’t care about trends or looking put-together when I’m at home, either. You do not have to be thin—or wealthy— to care about your appearance and dress well. To feel as if it’s unfair that Alice looks put together—that some people just naturally luck into caring about their appearance— is very odd.

    7. LilPinkSock*

      This right here. Given the choice, I’d prefer to reward the person who does a fine job with excellent soft skills rather than the person who is a “rockstar” and says ugly things about others. And I definitely know which person I’d prefer to work with and model myself after.

      1. Sylvan*

        Yeah.

        My supervisor is prettier than me, younger than me, and less experienced than me. She got promoted by being really, really good at what she does.

        If I got upset about that, I would only hold myself back by damaging relationships and fueling resentment over someone else’s success.

        1. No Name Today*

          “I would only hold myself back by damaging relationships and fueling resentment over someone else’s success.”
          Louder for the people in the back.
          You are only hurting yourself.

    8. Marvel*

      Yeah. If the LW’s soft skills were middling, that would be one thing, but it sounds like they are actively bad and need to be improved ASAP.

      If it were me supervising a person who made a comment like this, I would take it very, very seriously. Even if they said they didn’t mean it like that (because people lie about what they mean all the time). You CANNOT say this about someone, period, and doing so shows a striking lack of judgement.

    9. Petty Betty*

      Absolutely this. None of what was said (in any context) was meant in a positive way. It was fully meant negatively, as a way to bring her down and somehow imply that you (or even someone else) was better suited for the position if not for… (implied reasoning implied but left unspoken for the listener to infer based on subtle hints here). You purposely didn’t say her “soft skills”, therefore what else was the listener supposed to infer with your hinting? I think that you may not have consciously intended this to happen, but you did want it to happen all the same, otherwise you’d have made your meaning quite plain to the listener from the get-go. Now you’re probably concerned that the rumor mill might get backtraced back to you as the originator of the rumor and you want to do damage control.

    10. Erin*

      +1 to this!

      Even if you don’t like the Alices of the world on a personal level, you need to respect them on a professional level. Making either of those comments won’t tear down Alice’s reputation, but they do make the person who said them look gossipy, jealous & judgmental.

  4. I should really pick a name*

    I think it’s worth pointing out that even if it was interpreted the way the LW intended it, “Well, I guess we all know how she got this promotion” really isn’t an appropriate thing to say in the workplace.

      1. WillowSunstar*

        Agree also as someone who’s always been the overweight nerdy one. In general, one’s tongue does need to be bitten at work, and sometimes quite often. I would say if you want to work on soft skills, Toastmasters is a good place to do that. It’s helped me a lot.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Yeah, it’s one thing if you think it due to past trauma and pettiness, but it’s quite another to mention it to a coworker.

          Part of soft skills is knowing when to keep your sour grapes to yourself. Yes, I struggle with this myself, but at least I know it’s problematic.

    1. Glomarization, Esq.*

      I’ll go further and say that there’s really no other way that just about anybody would interpret that comment.

      I hate to pile on the LW, but, man, this conduct goes beyond the LW “not always hav[ing] a conversation piece at the ready”. This is more than soft skills. This is courtesy and collegiality with co-workers.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        That phrase can pretty much mean “Because the top boss is their parent,” “Because the top boss’s best friend is their parent,” and “Because they are sleeping with top boss.”

        If the first two are out, people are going with the third as your real meaning.

        OP, failing to imagine how that phrase would land is another example of not being ready for more responsibility, where your words would have more of the company’s weight behind them. Alison’s advice is right–go to the person you told and explain what you meant. Both because it is the right thing to do, and because if this circles back around to “Where did this even start?” trying to do damage control is better than standing there saying “Moi?”

      2. Person from the Resume*

        I disagree. I was wondering how the coworker interpreted sleeping the way to the top rather than Alice is prettier, thinner, and more personable than LW.

        Now, LW should have never said what she said even with the intended meeting. But lots of people start off conversations without providing context, without recognizing that what’s going on in their head isn’t common knowledge to the person they’re speaking.

        I don’t think LW’s statement implies Alice was sleeping her way to the top, only that LW think’s Alice wasn’t the most qualified and got the job on merits unrelated to her qualifications.

        Also for the LW it’s entirely possible that the LW’s coworkers do not think she’s unattractive, unfashionable, overweight, unfriendly, or whatever else is going on in her head. People are often focus on their flaws much more than other people do.

        1. ADidgeridooForYou*

          Oh I disagree. Unfortunately throughout history people have worked under the impression that women can’t achieve anything on their own – that they had a connection or used their womanly ways to seduce men in power. If someone told me “we all know how she got that promotion,” that’s going to be my first interpretation. It’s loaded with a lot of connotations.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            It would be my first interpretation too. I’m not looking at OP and thinking “well this person isn’t attractive enough to get a promotion” – that would never even occur to me. I’d be thinking something much more untoward if this comment got made.

          2. learnedthehardway*

            Hard agreeing with this – LW’s statement is pretty much guaranteed to be interpreted as a comment about Alice having slept her way to the promotion. Whether LW intended to say that or not, it’s what some people WILL interpret as her intention, and not unreasonably.

        2. MsClaw*

          No. That wording absolutely implies ‘slept her way to the top’. It’s a shorthand that’s been used for generations.

          1. Person from the Resume*

            MsClaw, you are wrong because it does not absolutely imply that to me and some other readers. This is not the universal fact that you’re claiming. Maybe it’s because I’ve worked in industries where people do not sleep their way to the top. Maybe it’s because of where I’ve worked which is around the country, but generally not big cities.

            1. Observer*

              It’s universal enough that the OP not realizing that this could be the interpretation is a problem.

              1. MsClaw*

                Yep, I mean there may be some people who are …. sweet enough to take a more generous interpretation of that statement, but this is a common shorthand in media my entire lifetime, in actual workplaces, in small towns, in urban megaplexes, in schools, government, industry. Unless you immediately follow up ‘we all know how she got that job’ with something like ‘by being amazing’, it’s not at all surprising that people chomped on this morsel of gossip.

              2. Clisby*

                This. +100. Is the OP living on some other planet? She’s worked at this company for 10 years – she’s not brand-new to the working world.

            2. Critical Rolls*

              Excuse me? What industries do you think are full of women sleeping their way to the top? What cities? Yikes!

            3. HugsAreNotTolerated*

              Your naivete is charming, but there are no industries where people don’t sleep their way to the top, and this is something that happens literally every where not just small towns or big cities.

            4. Just Me*

              Yeah, it wasn’t until I read the rest of the letter that I realized what the co-worker thought OP meant – I would never have assumed it from the comment.

        3. Observer*

          I disagree. I was wondering how the coworker interpreted sleeping the way to the top rather than Alice is prettier, thinner, and more personable than LW.

          Anyone this unaware of the trope of a woman who “sleeps her way to the top” (and now I want to wash my hands because I types such an ugly thing) has a problem with basic communications and knowledge of the current environment. That’s a pretty strong deficit for someone who wants to be a manager.

          Now, LW should have never said what she said even with the intended meeting.

          Exactly. And that’s the main reason why this was such a bad thing to say, and why people are pushing so hard on it being a potential disqualifier for management. Because even taking the best possible connotation, it was still an ugly thing to say and probably indicates that the OP does not understand some of the basics of management.

        4. LB*

          That wording is a stock phrase to mean someone slept their way to the top. That is by far the primary connotation, full stop.

      3. Sandi*

        I’m guessing there is a cultural element, because it would not be interpreted that way here (tech in a big city). It might be viewed as favoritism because there are a few cliques in my workplace and when one senior manager gets a promotion then typically her few favorites suddenly all get new jobs in her new office or company, but I have never heard anyone assume anything more than that and definitely never about sleeping with each other. Well, except for the married couple that show favoritism to each other, but that’s a different problem! It may be because tech is so male-dominated and we’re sensitive to that perception because being a female manager is already hard enough.

        1. TechWorker*

          I mean I also have never worked anywhere where people ‘sleep their way to the top’ and I would still interpret it as meaning that. And probably be like ‘uh what?!!?’

          I think one weirdness is the phrasing, if someone said ‘well we all know how she got the promotion’ it sort of implies the affair is common knowledge… I blame gossipy coworker here too.

          1. Imma Pick a Name and Stick to It*

            I would interpret it to mean, in 2022, that the person was a known suck-up.

        2. JB (not in Houston)*

          It generally wouldn’t be interpreted that way in my office either, and I work in a conservative field in a conservative state. I get that it can mean that and is often used that way, but like with so many things, context matters. I have worked with several coworkers over the years who seemed to coast by on their personality/likeability alone, and if any of those coworkers had been promoted over someone more substantively capable and the person who wasn’t promoted made this kind of comment to me, I would have known that they meant “that person wasn’t the most qualified but the bosses just like that person better.” And most if not all of my coworkers would take it the same way.

          That said, over the years, I have worked with several people who always go with the worse possible interpretation of statements and situations even when there is absolutely nothing to support it, so I would never say anything like this in the office. You never know if you might be talking to someone who is likely to jump over the meaning that would seem obvious to most from the context and go straight to something worse. And that type of person is often the same type of person who enjoys spreading rumors. I get why the OP was shocked that her comment got interpreted that way, but it’s a good lesson on why you can’t make those kinds of comments in the first place.

      4. Delphine*

        I agree. There’s only one thing that comment implies when it’s directed at a woman and I struggle to believe that’s not what LW intended people to think. But I’ll take LW at her word here.

      5. Nina of the North*

        “I’ll go further and say that there’s really no other way that just about anybody would interpret that comment.”

        In my experience, it could mean “Because they’re from the same neighborhood (either where they grew up or where they live now)” or “Because they’re the same race/religion/gender/ethnicity” or “Because they speak the same language.”

        1. Klara*

          None of this matters, though, because the OP’s co-worker jumped to the worst possible conclusion, which is a common way to interpret this phrase regardless of how it’s perceived in any given person’s town/industry/mind. OP KNOWS how it was interpreted— and that’s the problem. Is it open to interpretation? Yes. Does that absolve OP? No, it was foolish and harmful thing for an adult to say.

    2. The Original K.*

      My first thought. No matter the intent behind it, it was unkind and unprofessional. “I didn’t mean to imply that she was having an affair; I meant to imply that she only got the job because she’s pretty” isn’t really better – which is why the language Alison offered focuses on the positive aspects of Alice’s soft skills. Based on this letter, OP doesn’t sound very nice and not someone I’d want to work for. Soft skills do matter in managing. Being really good at making widgets doesn’t mean you’d be good at managing widget-makers – we’ve seen this countless times on this site.

    3. ErinWV*

      I think it speaks to OP’s insecurity that she thought she was implying that Alice is more conventionally good-looking/personally charming/whatever, but everyone heard differently. Not only because “we all know how she got the promotion,” is pretty common shorthand, but because (assuming she does not work for Vogue, or similar) people mostly don’t focus on our looks as much as we focus on them ourselves.

      1. Tracy Flick*

        There’s a comment right below yours that advises the LW to care more about their appearance, because that will help them get promoted. I think your read on the phrasing – and LW’s insensitivity – is correct – but the LW isn’t wrong that appearance is creating an unfair disadvantage.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Appearance can create an advantage or disadvantage. We have no idea if it does here. If you’ve got a pile of other reasons for not getting something you wanted, then focusing on appearance like “Welp it’s obviously the thing over which I have no control” isn’t good advice. (And people thinking that will be streamed past by average looking people who are on time and have soft skills and are good at communicating.)

          Related letters: Person convinced that he didn’t get a job post-internship because he had been (unknowingly at the time) rude to the CEO’s wife. Yeah, they gave him feedback on a bunch of stuff to improve on, but he knew it must be the wife thing.
          (from Prudie) Person appalled that he didn’t get the promotion he expected when he went to the better school, and the company instead had prioritized experience, connections, quickness at picking up hard skills, and existing soft skills to promote someone with a degree from a state school.

          1. Tracy Flick*

            First, it doesn’t really make sense to act like bias is nullified where it isn’t the deciding or sole concern – LW might or might not have lost out on any given promotion because of sexism, but sexism is still a factor in LW’s life and working life; it exists and therefore creates a disadvantage for LW. (It also is a factor in any discussion of LW’s soft skills, current or potential or perceived. “Soft skills” aren’t gender neutral.)

            Using LW pointing out this bias as support for assertions that LW:

            – has major self-esteem issues
            – is an unpleasant person
            – is making something out of nothing
            – doesn’t care about more important/relevant qualifications
            – is a toxic person
            – needs to work on her confidence
            – needs to go to therapy to deal with her self-loathing
            – might actually BE a frumpy poorly-groomed slob
            – who could probably use some basic advice on dressing appropriately at work
            – or who should just drop a couple hundred dollars at Ann Taylor

            …is also not helpful! I would characterize it as really gross and disrespectful. And to be honest, I think the reaction in this comments thread is itself tinged with fatphobia and misogyny.

            I think it is a good idea for LW to look at a number of factors, and certainly to focus on the ones that LW can change (and without being cruel to themself), but this is a real thing that has a significant impact on people like the LW. It doesn’t help the LW to act like it isn’t real – let alone to use her very reasonable fear as reason to doubt her professionalism or reasonableness. That’s crazymaking and cruel.

            It’s also important to acknowledge the depth and severity of this kind of bias. It is not true that competence wins out – sometimes competent fat women with winning personalities are unfairly denied jobs and promotions, and sometimes they get to watch their coworkers stream past them on the wings of unfair social advantage. That’s just reality, and it isn’t coddling LW to acknowledge it.

            1. Calliope*

              Ok but you know Alice ALSO is subject to sexism, right? And one very common way that women are subjected to sexism in the workplace is by having coworkers question whether they earned their position or got it through being hot or sleeping their way to the top. This is not a simple sexist vs. not situation.

              I do get it. I’m not conventionally attractive either and have read all the stats. Women are denied opportunities due to appearance. But I’ve also been around sexist workplaces long enough to have seen women punished for being “too” attractive too. “Oh I can’t believe she even got hired. She’s just going to be a distraction” for instance, about one young woman. There’s no magical way to be a woman who isn’t subjected to sexism in the workplace.

              In this case, the LW might have been. Alice definitely was. We shouldn’t really ignore that.

              1. Tracy Flick*

                If you’re arguing that “There’s no magical way to be a woman who isn’t subjected to sexism in the workplace,” then you can’t argue that “LW might have been” subjected to sexism in the workplace. She definitely has been; it’s baked into her status and her experience.

                The rest of your comment doesn’t really seem relevant to anything I said. What in my comment makes you think I don’t believe that Alice is subjected to sexism? Or that this is about some zero-sum awarding of sexist harm to Alice or LW?

                People in this comments thread are straight-up arguing that LW has not experienced sexism, is wrong to believe she has, is wrong to care that she has, is wrong to consider fatphobia as well, is clearly totally devoid of/disinterested in professional skills because she does, and may want to consider alternative explanations for her lack of professional success like ‘you’re unkempt’ and ‘you smell.’

                1. Calliope*

                  Everyone is subjected to sexism but we don’t know that she didn’t get the promotion for sexist reasons. For all we know Alice got the promotion in spite of sexism directed against her for her appearance. It’s a lot more complicated than we can assess from a distance. Excusing a pretty nasty comment that explicitly plays into sexist tropes even if it wasn’t intended because the LW was subjected to sexism isn’t acceptable. And that’s what your comments seem like they’re doing to me.

                  I get you think people are being too harsh and maybe they are. I don’t know the LW and I’ve certainly made nasty comments when I was upset and didn’t realize how bad they would sound in retrospect. It’s sucks but it happens. But given that she wrote into an advice column about it I think it’s fair to give advice and that can include addressing some underlying stuff that may or may not be in play. And that can include changing your presentation to fit work place norms and therapy if this kind of stuff is an ongoing issue. Or not. Again we don’t know her. But none of those suggestions are per se crazy and I’d say they’re ones I’ve implemented myself and found extremely helpful professional and personally. Doesn’t make fatphobia not exist but can help you carve out a good life in spite of it, recognize which environments are especially toxic and which aren’t, and to direct your anger at the right targets.

                1. starfox*

                  I’ll quote you:

                  “the LW isn’t wrong that appearance is creating an unfair disadvantage.”

                  You are agreeing that Alice got the job because of her appearance.

              1. Tracy Flick*

                No, I’m not – I’m agreeing with LW that appearance is a factor in her professional life, in general, and that it may well affect her opportunities for professional advancement at this company. I think that this is more likely than not – just as it is certainly true that gender is a factor in her professional life, in general, and that it may well affect her opportunities for professional advancement at this company. That is not the same as arguing that Alice isn’t qualified or that Alice got the promotion based on looks. Just as I am not arguing that LW’s big boss is unqualified, or that he got his position based on gender.

            2. Avril Ludgateaux*

              This comment is immensely toxic and unhelpful. I feared people would fall back on “fatphobia” in this thread, and I was relieved when the commentariat broadly recognized that LW is falling back on that excuse when in fact she, herself, was an instigator evidently lacking the necessary maturity and tact for management. It is both unhelpful and dismissive of LW’s bad behavior, whereas “LW needs to recognize her insecurity and work on factors she can control, like her attitude and confidence” is actually helpful, actionable advice. Softening that with “give LW a pass because fat women have it hard” – as if she didn’t discriminate against and spread a damaging, classically misogynistic rumor about Alice on the basis of her being (allegedly) a conventionally attractive woman! – is in no way going to help her succeed in the workplace, nor is it going to advance the causes of women nor specifically fat women in the workplace.

        2. starfox*

          This comment is incredibly sexist. Just like LW, you have no idea what role, if any, Alice’s appearance played in her getting the promotion.

          1. Tracy Flick*

            No, it isn’t. I think that the kneejerk sexism and lookism on display here – for example, did you notice that the comment right below this one recommends that LW focus on her appearance? – is a pretty good indication that sexism and lookism impact LW pretty much all the time, including at work. Alice’s appearance doesn’t enter in.

            I am also bemused by the number of people here who seem to work in office jobs, even in supervisory roles, who haven’t ever attended a basic workplace bias training.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              You’re bemused at the number of people who haven’t attended workplace bias training? What kind of bubble do you live in? It’s clear from the kind of letters Alison publishes that very few workplaces offer this kind of training.
              Here in France the number of people I know that have attended this kind of course is a big fat zero.

        3. ErinWV*

          I think that OP can be subject to bias beyond her control about her physical presentation, and I think that she can also be more paralyzingly aware of her physical presentation than anybody else has any need to be, due to personal insecurities. They’re not mutually exclusive.

          Also, other people may have done so, but I have not commented anywhere that OP should fix herself up a bit more. Makeovers don’t cure insecurity, introspection does.

      2. Smithy*

        I agree with this a lot.

        I’ve never worn make up at work, I am not a classic size/shape, and I also know that earlier in my career I struggled to find a style that worked for me and my sector. In a large macro sense, I’m sure some of that impacted my professional progress.

        However, in the more immediate and concrete sense – the most significant impacts that those dynamics had on my career were times when I was most insecure and least confident. When I felt the most fat/ugly/badly dressed, I was the most nervous, anxious and insecure. I’d interview more awkwardly or talk myself out of seeking opportunities I should have pursued. It wasn’t until I was in a place where I could show up to an interview in shoes I thought were black and were actually navy and laugh it off as no big deal, that I wasn’t part of the battles I had to fight.

      3. The Rules are Made Up*

        Definitely. Because “We all know how she got…” well apparently they all DON’T know because nobody’s mind jumped to that except LW.

        People do tend to have unconscious biases toward markers of “beauty” (which often overlap with markers of class and race) and there’s been many studies of fat people, darker people, people with acne, people with crooked teeth etc being less likely to be hired, promoted etc. All of that can be true, and what OP said would still be an unkind thing to say about a coworker and that coworker could still have been a better fit for that job. The stats don’t mean “The conventionally attractive person is always less qualified and solely gets hired for their looks in all situations”

    4. DontTellMyBoss*

      Yeah, I think the lesson here isn’t “oh no my mean-spirited spite got misconstrued” it’s “I should not say mean-spirited things about my colleagues unless it’s venting to friends, NOT at work”

      1. Warrior Princess xena*

        Or just “I should not say mean-spirited things”. I’ve never found that sort of venting helpful for anything but winding me up more.

      2. GammaGirl1908*

        Too true. LW meant for the comment to be petty and spiteful at about a 7/10, and is upset that it caught fire and is now raging out of her control at a 9.5/10. LW gambled and lost by making a comment as ugly as 7/10 to colleagues in the first place.

        Alice likely got the promotion because she is easier to work with, while LW is the sort of employee who … starts the chain of events that happened in this letter.

    5. Clisby*

      +100. This was a terrible thing to say to (or about) a co-worker no matter what LW meant. I mean … someone with that little judgment should definitely not be in management. I might not be surprised if a 16-year-old retail worker said something like this (although she should be corrected, as well), but LW apparently has worked at this company for 10 years? How would it even occur to her to say something like this (aloud, at work)?

      1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        …”someone with that little judgment should definitely not be in management.”

        I’m a bit torn about this and would be interested to hear others’ take on it. Of course, this was a Not Good thought and even worse thought to speak out loud. There’s some work around reframing that could be helpful and healthful to anyone who thinks like this.

        On the other hand, we all screw up and I don’t support a system where we’re judged by our worst moments. And, as terrible as the comment was (given all the systemic sexism women and sexual minorities are faced with every moment of every day), I don’t think it’s enough to brand OP as having a pattern of terrible judgement. What do others think?

        1. Viki*

          I can’t have that person as a manager. I can’t have someone who attributes someone’s else success as related only because that is person is more (pretty/thin/smart/young/etc) and not because of the qualifications that they might not think are important.

          I can’t trust them to let their reports shine and not cut them down because they’re (pretty/thin/smart/young/etc) and let good talent get shuttered away because their manager doesn’t like them/their success for stupid reasons.

          1. Marvel*

            This this this this.

            This kind of comment would give me a lot of pause, even from someone in a fairly low-level position WITHOUT any power dynamics in play. As a manager, I would be on the lookout for whether or not this behavior is a pattern, and there’s no way I would ever advocate for giving them supervisory responsibilities unless I was absolutely, 100% sure it wasn’t. And that might take a long time, depending.

          2. MigraineMonth*

            We’ve seen that perspective from the LW who was insecure about managing someone more attractive than her. Unfortunately, she was eventually fired because she couldn’t treat the attractive report fairly.

        2. Just Another Zebra*

          This is a lapse in judgement that has the potential to complete derail an innocent woman’s career if it isn’t rectified.

          I’m with Viki – if I ever learned someone who did this was managing me, I’d never trust them or their word again.

        3. Eyes Kiwami*

          Of course we all screw up, no one is saying that OP will go to hell for this. But there are consequences for our actions. In this letter OP indicates that she has been thinking this way for a while, and she initiated a sexist and malicious rumor about one of her colleagues. Why should she get to be a manager and avoid the consequences of her actions and not have to change or reflect or apologize? What about attractive people she may have to manage in the future?

        4. Avril Ludgateaux*

          It might not be a full-fledged pattern, but the only *fair* way people can judge LW here and among her workplace, is by her behavior. It should not follow LW for her entire career – so long as she takes accountability, does some self-reflection, and changes her attitude going forward. This little hiccup does not say that LW is a bad person, but it does say that, right now, in this moment and with no further context, she is indeed a bad fit for management, as she quickly jumps to superficial conclusions, disparages different skill sets, and is not cautious or diplomatic in how she interacts with her colleagues. These are all things that people can work to change, but in this moment, based on demonstrated tendencies, I completely agree with the assessment that she is not ready for management.

          And I say this as somebody who was so damn salty the first time my undercooked ham got passed over for a management role – but while I may have expressed disappointment at my falling short, I never once said a nasty word about the woman who became my manager! (Who, incidentally, ended up being much more qualified than I had been at that stage, when I gave her a fair shake.)

    6. No Name Today*

      “I didn’t mean it THAT way,” does not lead to any less critical reasoning.
      “I just meant that she has better soft skills.”
      Oh, like a butt kisser.
      “No, like, people like her.”
      Oh, like sweet but stupid.
      “No, I mean…”
      Yeah, there’s no good end to that road.

      1. Observer*

        Oh, like sweet but stupid.
        “No, I mean…”

        The problem is that this is pretty much what the OP was implying – either her looks or her “always having a conversation piece handy”

        So, yes, at this point the OP needs to think about how she speaks about people.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          “having a conversation piece handy” is a weird thing to say too.
          I expect she means that Alice is a smooth conversationalist, she’s good at small talk, and manages to make comments that put people at ease or boost their confidence or otherwise generally make people feel good, lift the atmosphere etc. There are people who do this seemingly naturally, my partner is one of them. People naturally warm to him and the Alices of this world. They are nice to everyone, from the waiter to Big Boss, and this helps to oil the machinery of work. It’s especially important for managers, because it means they can get the team on board, and it means they can convince upper management too. I’ve watched my partner in action, and I just can’t do it. I’m sitting there thinking “I ought to say something” but that’s the cue for my brain to freeze and so I just sit with a stupid smile on my face, panic stricken at the thought that I should be making some bright conversation and I’m failing, I’m a failure and – oh I’ve just remembered I need to go and… whatever, but I’m out of here because I’m a failure.

          Soft skills are very important, OP. They’re not taught in a curriculum, some people pick them up naturally, others don’t. I’ve given up, and the most I can do is remember to ask people questions then let them do the talking because I am a damn good listener, and if I manage to do that, I’m very chuffed with myself.

          But no way will I be jealous of someone who makes good use of their soft skills. I’ll focus on what I’m good at, which is plugging away working on something by myself in a little corner, and getting it right.

          1. Despachito*

            Don’t forget that “butt kisser” can be very subjective too.

            If I make a mistake, refuse to own it, my boss tells me so and my coworker agrees with her, I can easily classify my coworker as butt kisser, despite her being right, because the entire situation was not convenient to me.

    7. Ellis Bell*

      Even if OP had fully explained that they were snarking against the promotion because it happened “…for the sake of her soft skills which is a shallow reason”…. they would still be really, really wrong. It’s really quite logically baffling to criticize someone for having the exact skills which make the best managers, but it’s also just basically unkind and unhelpful! I feel like I need to dig out the THINK posters they have in primary schools; is it True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary or Kind? If not, keep it to yourself. You need to have a super high EQ to be able to gossip at work (Like being able to judge if are you speaking to someone you trust to be discreet, are you speaking about something genuinely concerning or is it sour grapes etc). Such a high EQ in fact that I’m comfortable in saying pretty much no one should do it. You’ll survive without it and it keeps you out of hot water.

      1. Koli*

        This is a fascinating point. My husband is able to be candid with coworkers in a way that I wouldn’t be comfortable with, but I think you’ve hit on exactly why he’s able to manage it: he has EXTREMELY high EQ. I had never connected those dots before.

        1. Ellis Bell*

          Yeah there are dudes who want to know why they can’t hit on women while they’re in their customer service persona, or alone on public transport “because I know a guy who gets great responses doing that”. Ten to one, years ago, they met a very rare unicorn who is a dating savant who can read comfort levels brilliantly and can distinguish between politeness and interest. If you are that person, you would know.

  5. CR*

    Oof. OP, it might behoove you to care more about being on time, your appearance, and being personable. I know it sucks and it’s unfair that those things matter, but unfortunately they do.

      1. ...*

        I remember in my interview for my management roles I was asked about how I encourage an equitable work environment (or something like that) and the answer I gave included exactly this – that it was important to assess the actual need for the role vs. personal feelings. Not everyone loves to make eye contact and small talk, is that actually important to the role? Or should the department give them quiet focus space to thrive?

        Management usually benefits from being personable. I can get maintenance requests addressed same day because I’ve built a rapport with that team. It does matter.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Yep absolutely. I think if there’s an internal competition like this, there’s benefit to telling the person who did get the promotion what they could work on to be more competitive next time. Attitude is a huge one for management. Polish and presentation can be too – not being thin and conventionally attractive, but putting some effort into looking professional (this means wildly different things in different jobs). Managers set examples and project leadership to their teams, this can be an aspect of that.

      2. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        Well being on time is hard for many but at least she can improve it. Being personable is a stretch but many people can improve it, but looks… yea that’s too hard for most lolol.

        1. len*

          I don’t think the fact that these traits aren’t perfectly equitably distributed among people is unfair though (looks aside, clearly a different issue). Different jobs require different things.

          1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

            I don’t think it’s unfair per se but I think that some of those would be easier for OP to improve than others.

        2. Jennifer Strange*

          I think it’s important to keep in mind that looks don’t just mean the genetics you’ve been given; it means keeping up with personal hygiene, wearing well-fitting clothes, and generally putting some effort into things like your hair and skin (obviously that’s not an across the board fact). A person who is overweight and average looking can still look polished and put together (I say this as someone who is overweight and average looking). Not saying the OP doesn’t do those things already, but if they aren’t it’s worth considering how that could be affecting how those at work perceive them.

          1. Lab Boss*

            Yes! I’m a big fat guy, which is brutally hard to change. But I also have weird proportions, facial hair that grows in patchy and scraggly, and a skin condition that looks like the world’s worst dandruff. It takes a very small amount of effort to wear properly fitting clothes, stay shaven, and medicate my skin- I’m still big and lumpy but I look like a fat professional and not a an unkempt slob.

        3. WillowSunstar*

          Weight isn’t always the easiest thing to improve, especially if one is above a certain age. Things like how you dress, hair and make-up can be improved on for most people, but again it may depend on how much you’re being paid. Consignment shops can be useful if you can’t do full price.

          1. Em*

            Speaking as a fat woman — consignment/thrift shops are not generally useful places for me to shop for polished clothing. Plus-size stuff new is a combination of more expensive to start with AND generally lousy quality, which means it tends to get worn out rather than donated or resold. Couple that with the “life hack” of “just buy bigger clothing from thrift stores and remake it into two small dresses!” thing, and cheaper pickings are slim.

            1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

              Nod. Like it also depends on how fat. I’m a small fat ( size 18 or so) so I can get something decent on sale but if I were fatter pickings might be slim .

            2. JP*

              Agreed, the plus sized sections of thrift stores are barren and depressing places that usually comprise less than half a dozen very dated and frumpy items. I have, however, had very good luck with shopping for plus sized items on Poshmark.

        4. Boof*

          Looks go well beyond base appearance; grooming and style can often be more important. Not that I’m personally a fan of spending much time on my appearance, but i also know how to kick it up a notch if i want to

          1. Anon Supervisor*

            Not to be snarky, but I bet her appearance would be drastically improved by an attitude adjustment. People can pick up an “ugly” vibe from someone and perceive them as less attractive than they really are. I know a lot of overweight and/or average looking people (myself included) that I think are beautiful because they don’t focus on tearing down others by reducing them to their physical traits.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              I have this issue. There is a man in my office who is objectively movie-star handsome, but, after working with his pushy, rude, glory-hogging ass for years, I see every flaw in his appearance and cannot find him physically attractive. Any time new people wax poetic about his looks, I just don’t relate at all. No, thank you.

        5. Despachito*

          As to looks – if one INDEED thinks this makes such a big difference that they are losing opportunities on this, it may be worth the while to work on that, too?

          You definitely do not change the “conventionally attractive” part, but if you really think it is THAT important, you can change the way you dress, your haircut, – heck, you can even change your weight if you decide it is the only thing getting in your way to success!

          OP mentioned she does not care much for what she is wearing. I do not think this is hugely relevant, but if she indeed thinks THIS is the real problem, it would be perhaps worth the while changing it and seeing whether it works.

          (I think a lot of these are just red herrings – it is easier to think “I get skipped in promotion because I am not so much into fashion” than “I get skipped in promotion because I lack the qualities to manage people”.

      3. Ann Ominous*

        I think they can be unfair because not everyone starts on the same playing field and can get the same results even if they apply the same level of effort toward them, due to things like how much money you have to buy products and clothes, how your family taught you (or didn’t) to interact with people, whether you have physical or mental disability or illness, how well your physical appearance matches what your society expects, to name a few. Yes it should be enough for you to be reasonably clean and groomed, but the truth is that people are still treated differently based on their looks.

        1. Roland*

          > I think they can be unfair because not everyone starts on the same playing field and can get the same results even if they apply the same level of effort toward them

          The same is true for pretty much everything related to job performance though. I’m a good programmer, it comes really easily to me. A software engineer who doesn’t find it as easy still needs to get their programming up to a certain basic level to be considered for a job.

          1. one L lana*

            Right, it’s totally reasonable for jobs to judge based on outcomes rather than effort. I have ADHD, which is an asset in some areas of my job and a drawback in a lot of others. But it’s perfectly reasonable for my employer to expect me to keep track of details, be on time to meetings, submit my expense reports and performance reviews on time, etc., even though those things are much harder for me than for most people.

      4. yala*

        I mean, I think appearance shouldn’t matter all that much beyond “wearing clothes that reasonably belong in this work environment.” Unless you’re customer facing, it really shouldn’t matter at all.

        Being personable…it does feel a bit unfair if only because it comes so easily to some folks, and other folks just cannot manage navigating social situations on the fly, but at the same time, yeah, you do have to actually be someone that isn’t unpleasant to work with. That said, if someone does their work well, but mostly keeps to themselves instead of going on breaks with/chatting with coworkers, I don’t think that should effect their position.

        But the being on time thing. Like. I have a PROBLEM with being on time. My primary ADHD accommodation is essentially a 5-10 minute grace period in the mornings because time blindness is a B. But even so, like…even I know it’s *important.* And that goes double if it’s for, like, meetings or anything that involves other people. I wouldn’t consider that a soft skill anymore than I’d consider getting a piece to a client by the deadline a soft skill.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Right. It depends on what’s necessary for the role – a 5-10 minute grace period in the morning might be a reasonable accommodation for a lot of roles but might be harder to excuse if you’re consistently leaving clients waiting for 10 minutes. Lots of people with ADHD have lots of jobs but sometimes they aren’t right for things that truly require strong time management and focused task orientation. Likewise, management might not be a good fit for someone who has trouble with soft skills needed to build relationships with teams and clients and develop employees. These things can be learned, but admitting you have a problem is the first step.

        2. Observer*

          That said, if someone does their work well, but mostly keeps to themselves instead of going on breaks with/chatting with coworkers, I don’t think that should effect their position.

          That’s true – if your position is to make x number of widgets or do Y number of calculations. But when a significant part of the job is about how you deal with others, this kind of thing can make a really big difference.

          1. Andy*

            You can be very good manager without much chatting breaks. The soft skills are in fact very important, but the “a lot of time spent chatting” is not the soft skill needed.

            The needed soft skills are ability to negotiate without giving up too much and without offending others, ability to assert yourself, ability to politely criticize and praise, ability to listen and motivate, ability to compromise, ability to explain and so on.

            1. Allonge*

              Nobody was talking about a lot of time spent chatting. And most things you mention in your second paragraph can be, yes, basic skills, but the (partial) lack of an ability to negotiate well can be offset by a personal connection established previously, amongst others by chatting. These are not independent of one another!

        3. starfox*

          Same same about being on time. I don’t think people without ADHD/time blindness can understand! Like, every morning… I’ll be literally looking at the clock, counting down how much time I have left until I have to leave, and I’ll still think I can fit 30 minutes worth of tasks into 15 minutes.

    1. ...*

      I don’t dress for fashion, I don’t “gussy” up my looks from the neck up, and I interviewed remotely so my appearance from the neck down didn’t play a role.

      I moved from an IC role to a supervisory role because I was able to demonstrate in my interview that I had the understanding of the IC work enough to effectively support the team, AND I had the understanding of what it takes to be a good manager (soft-skills, big picture thinking, etc.)

      Looks are not the first thing OP needs to work on in order to move up.

      1. Kel*

        I just want to be clear that nothing the OP says implies they are dressing unprofessionally. They said they don’t dress to trends, and are overweight. Both of those things often count against people in the workplace, which is actually incredibly unfair and discriminatory. I don’t think OP needs to change the way they look.

        1. ...*

          I didn’t say that either? My point was that I didn’t get my supervisory role based on conventional attractiveness, and although it may unfairly play a factor in general, I see bigger red flags that would give me pause on a hiring committee. OP feels hurt and is looking for a bogeyman when their actions indicate there are other areas for professional growth they should probably focus on.

        2. sb51*

          Yeah, OP may need to work on soft skills, but they’re absolutely right that being overweight and not trendy (and being trendy is much harder when overweight if OP *wanted* to) will cost you in many workplaces, and it’s hard not to resent that a little.

          1. MsM*

            Define “trendy,” though. Most places I’ve worked, I feel like most people regardless of body type have stuck to staples that don’t go out of style, and always chasing what’s new to the point that even people who don’t regularly read up on what’s “in” would notice is treated more as an “Oh, well, that’s just Jane.” And even if it’s a workplace where creativity is a bit more valued, accessories can do a lot.

          2. Ellis Bell*

            I think it would have made a difference if OP had said it was “too difficult” to dress for their industry (if the industry even skews trendy), rather than they are “not interested”. I mean, no one has to be interested in trends, but most people are expected to pay attention to the nuances of how their industry dresses. Usually, that’s more “smart” than “trendy” and in a healthy workplace the look will be roughly inclusive. That’s why most (real) workplace looks are more conventional than most trends would allow, as the recent “showing your midriff is trendy so why am I trouble” letter exemplified.

          3. Anon Supervisor*

            It’s easy to be resentful, but the OP should work on not targeting people who happen to either have won the genetic lottery for looks, or where style and poise are things they have developed over time. They are not being pretty out of spite.

        3. Two Chairs, One to Go*

          Yes, this. I don’t think fashion is what made the difference here.

          OP seems bitter that she’s been in the same role for 10 years without moving up. It might be time to learn soft skills and look elsewhere. I’m not saying she needs to always have small talk lined up, but her comment about her coworkers promotion was not okay, rumor or no.

          And I’ve been there – I was in a meeting when coworkers had promotions announced and I looked horrified because I knew I was doing more work than them. My manager kindly talked to me, I 100% changed my attitude to be happy for them and not take it as a personal slight. I eventually asked for a raise and built a strong reputation – so we learn from our mistakes.

        4. Observer*

          They said they don’t dress to trends, and are overweight. Both of those things often count against people in the workplace, which is actually incredibly unfair and discriminatory.

          That’s true.

          But

          Nothing that the OP says indicates that either her weight or not being trendy are a problem. She says that Alice is “dressed well” which can mean anything from “the latest trends” to “basics that fit well and play to her strengths”.

          Which leads me to this: The OP doesn’t need to change how she looks, for sure. But from what she says, it might be that she could improve the way she dresses, rather than looking down at people who she assumes are “dressing for trends”. Maybe, maybe not. Because I also do think that if the OP meets the baseline of neat, clean and workplace appropriate, it’s highly highly unlikely that the way she dresses is the issue at hand.

      2. Kel*

        Sorry, my comment nested incorrectly; I was attempting to reply to the earlier one. I’m going to amend it now!

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Except these aren’t necessarily unfair: If being late inconveniences coworkers or clients, if your appearance (as in clothing and basic grooming, not weight/attractiveness; I’m mediocre-looking and don’t personally care about clothing trends but I’m also aware that looking threadbare or really outdated at work isn’t OK. I can wear my old stuff on my own time) affects how clients view the business, and if rough soft skills make everyone’s job more unpleasant, then being expected to work on these things isn’t unfair.

      Sometimes workplaces expect too much, but sometimes they don’t, and it’s not on them to accommodate the employee’s lower standards.

    3. Kel*

      I just want to be clear that nothing the OP says implies they are dressing unprofessionally. They said they don’t dress to trends, and are overweight. Both of those things often count against people in the workplace, which is actually incredibly unfair and discriminatory. I don’t think OP needs to change the way they look.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Except that the OP snarked on a coworker because she believe the coworker had been unfairly promoted based in part on appearance, so I’m not sure the OP is the most reliable estimator of whether or not how she dresses is professional enough for her job. I know enough people who “don’t care about trends” who also wear bombed-out T-shirts everywhere–my dad tried to wear 20-year-old nylon hiking shorts to my cousin’s wedding–to think this might need an outside opinion.

        1. StudentA*

          +100

          Also, it seems that every time someone says “I’m overweight,” we’re not supposed to say “make an effort in your appearance,” lest we’re accused of discrimination.

          I’ve known so many poised, well-dressed overweight people.

      2. AvonLady Barksdale*

        As long as “I don’t dress to trends” isn’t code for, “I don’t care about my appearance.” I’m fat, I am decidedly not trendy, but I have never been told I need to dress better to get ahead– I wear clothes that flatter me, I accessorize, and I work on my soft skills because they’re critical to my role. Somehow I doubt Alice’s clothes and body are what pushed her ahead, and I’m not suggesting it was anything untoward. It is very possible to be both fat and pleasant.

        1. Curious*

          Soft skills are VERY important, especially for more senior roles. Knowing how to accessorize, or how to select and find clothes that flatter you — that seems problematic as a requirement, outside of the fashion industry.

          Of course, it may be relevant if you’re an Avon Lady :)…

        2. Gritter*

          Yes, someone can easily not “dress to trends” but still had a well turned out and professional appearance. It’s by no means a bad thing to reject the fickle nature of seasonal fashion, but that doesn’t mean being scruffy or slovenly.

          1. ...*

            My weight fluctuates throughout the year because of my hobby (long distance running) – not drastically, but enough to affect the fit of my clothes. So I eschew trends for things that will fit my various shapes & look presentable for work without needing new clothes every 6 months – elastic waistbands, loose tops, etc. I make sure my hair is neat and my face doesn’t have dirt on it (an actual concern, ha)

            I’ve never received a complaint about my professionalism despite being in all manner of untrendy clothes! Just gotta balance it out with hygiene.

      3. ferrina*

        Agree. Being trendy and of a certain weight shouldn’t be a factor, but often it is an unconscious factor. And that’s not fair, and LW should be angry about that!

        (but doesn’t mean that soft skills don’t matter, particularly communication. But that’s another thread)

        1. Observer*

          And that’s not fair, and LW should be angry about that!

          Yes. But there is absolutely no reason to think that this is what happened here.

          The fact that the OP made this crack is clear confirmation that there is a major lack in the soft skills department – skills that are CRUCIAL in the workplace.

        2. Allonge*

          I would say OP can be (should feel allowed to be) angry about it, not that she should feel angry. Mostly because it feels like she is plenty angry already, and not aiming it in a constructive or safe way. We can be not-angry even about things that are unfair.

    4. never mind who I am*

      I’d rather be liked because I’m good at what I do, patient with people who need help, and friendly to everybody rather than because I’m the best-dressed person in the organization. Just as well–put me in a suit and I look like a Cocker spaniel in a doggie sweater.

      1. Riot Grrrl*

        I feel like this is the kind of false-choice, either-or thinking that is trapping OP.

        Nobody is putting the bar at the “best dressed person in the organization”. You can be patient, competent, friendly, and reasonably well dressed.

        1. never mind who I am*

          Sorry–I didn’t mean that it was an either-or situation, though upon re-reading that’s pretty much what I wrote. :-) Think of it as hyperbole gone wrong. What I meant was that OP doesn’t seem to value people skills as much as she should.

          1. Observer*

            What I meant was that OP doesn’t seem to value people skills as much as she should.

            Very important point.

          2. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

            This is a complete tangent, but kudos on the best apology/explanation of what you meant to say that I’ve ever seen in an internet comment! Tucking it away in my brain as a model for next time someone interprets me differently from how I intended

      2. Observer*

        I’d rather be liked because I’m good at what I do, patient with people who need help, and friendly to everybody rather than because I’m the best-dressed person in the organization.

        And what makes you think that this is not exactly what happened here? Keep in mind that the OP specifically says that Alice is “excellent at soft skills. Always on time or early, good at small talk, generally a pleasant person on a team” as well as being “good” at her job. Which, at minimum means that she has 2 of the 3 items needed for a promotion.

    5. SJ (they/them)*

      re: “being on time, your appearance, and being personable”

      oof, one of these things is not like the other!! :/ :/ :/

  6. L-squared*

    Yikes. For a manager to do this is REALLY bad. You didn’t accidentally started a rumor, you very pointedly made a comment that she didn’t deserve the promotion and were vague enough to let people make their own conclusions. Either way, not a good look. I understand you don’t like her (even though you never mentioned why that is), but really this just sounds like petty jealousy that an attractive woman got something over you, so you decided to smear her.

    Like even if it was solely how you meant it, how did you think that was good to say to a subordinate?

      1. L-squared*

        Yes, you are right. I read “my reports” apparently skipped the word annual, and took a different meaning into it.

        So the part about management can be ignored. Everything else I said still stands IMO

    1. EPLawyer*

      OP didn’t get the manager job. Which is why she is jealous. But yes, this would not be good IF she had gotten the manager job. Part of being a manager is showing good judgment, regardless of your feelings.

    2. The Real Fran Fine*

      I understand you don’t like her (even though you never mentioned why that is)

      Yeah, that part of the letter (“I don’t like Alice…) threw me at first because nothing OP said in the letter indicated Alice had done anything wrong other than be a pleasant social butterfly who’s thin and dressed well. Then I was like, “Oh – that’s it.” Unless there’s something OP didn’t include for space reasons, it sounds like insecurity to me. It reminded me of the letter from the manager who was jealous of her much better looking direct report that she ended up running off her team.

      1. Hamster Manager*

        Yeah I read it this way too.

        LW, you exhibited a sour and obviously jealous response to Alice getting the promotion, which itself is probably a prime reason you didn’t get it. Being personable and appropriate with what you say to coworkers is important as a manager; those soft skills will probably be used more in the role than the work you do now, so her numbers being worse than yours is irrelevant.

        I know it’s disappointing, I’ve lost out on promotions to people obviously worse at the actual work than me as well, but I hope you can look within and realize this is something for you to work on, not an Alice problem.

        1. Observer*

          Yes. It was so obvious that I’m not surprised at the OP’s sour grapes. I AM surprised that she actually expressed that, though.

    3. PotsPansTeapots*

      She might not be a manager, but she wants to be. It’s not like everything is under a microscope. But, if you snark about a co-worker like this, people will draw the conclusion you might not be ready for management.

  7. Meghan R*

    I *want* a manager with soft skills! It depends, but most mangers priorities should be managing, not pumping out higher numbers for themselves. OPs reaction to not getting this promotion somewhat shows why she didn’t get it.

    1. Angela Zeigler*

      That’s a good point- I’ve had my fair share of managers with different levels of soft skills. A former manager of mine made cutting, petty remarks about coworkers quite often. It developed a negative and toxic work environment, and I’d have to consciously redirect the conversation to the work itself instead of letting her gossip. It was exhausting; it was more effort on top of all the regular work duties.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, all of my managers at my current job have had good-t0-great job skills but also stellar soft skills. It makes a big difference both to those of us working under them and to their ability to advocate for us with patrons and higher-ups.

    3. not a manager*

      Yes! I don’t need my manager to give me advice on hard skills (although I appreciate it when possible), but I do need my manager to mentor me on soft skills and help me figure out interactions and how to deal with situations.

      This might point to a larger problem at this organization where people-management is the only advancement path, and there isn’t a way to keep getting promotions/raises as an individual contributor. Folks like OP (and like me) work hard and want to be appreciated, but I know I’m not management material. Luckily my company is able to recognize that and let me keep advancing on an IC path.

    4. Viki*

      My boss has absolutely no clue how I do my job really*. She’s made no pretense about that–but she’s the best manager I’ve ever had.

      Her “Soft skills”, ability to do politics, acting as barrier from hard deadlines, advocating for her team makes it easy to work.

      Would she make a good network analyst? No. But there’s a reason why she’s a manager, and it’s because of how she treats people and can navigate people.

      *She knows what we do, but if you asked her to fill it, it would not go well

    5. Constance Lloyd*

      The best manager I ever had didn’t know a thing about my day to day tasks, but she knew the overarching regulations that applied to our industry and trusted us with the minutiae of our jobs. When things went poorly or we needed to course correct, she had the soft skills necessary to keep things moving. This was especially vital when a coworker had a situation at home that was (very reasonably!) impacting her productivity at work. Manager worked with the coworker to figure out what she could handle for now and then worked with us as a team to reshuffle assigned tasks. Soft skills are vital skills.

      1. Riot Grrrl*

        I’m so glad to hear you say this.

        I have one employee a couple of levels down who has made it very clear that he thinks of management as essentially a higher level individual contributor role. He becomes very contemptuous when his manager lacks specific detailed knowledge on some (not that many!) of his day-to-day production processes.

        It’s comforting to know that that’s not typical and that some people really do understand the difference between management and production.

    6. NeonFireworks*

      My workplace has a set of 4 higher-ups of whom 3 are very competent but moderately to very deficient in the soft-skills area, and the rest is that the whole place has been slowly falling apart since 2019 and the people in charge keep thinking it’s everyone else’s fault.

    7. Eldritch Office Worker*

      And if someone is producing at a higher rate sometimes that makes them most valuable as an individual contributor. I think there should be a conversation with that person about that, and about different ways for them to get increased recognition and compensation, but management isn’t for everyone.

    8. Another happy they are not a manager*

      Soft skills, including managing people and working with people, are important to have in a manager. The better managers I’ve had have had some of those skills, including advocating for staff and our unit’s needs within our organizational structure, managing difficult personalities, and working with donors, in addition to project management. The one I had that was really good in those areas was also a micromanager, but those soft skills made it easier to work with them.

      I really miss those soft skills now, especially being an advocate for their workplace and project management. My current supervisor is lacking in those skills and it’s creating a tense work environment. We’re short staffed because they lack the ability to effectively advocate for our workplace.

    9. HotSauce*

      100%, I’d rather have a manager who I can talk to honestly with than someone who had a high output. How does that help me?

  8. Lyra Silvertongue*

    LW it might be worth examining some of the internal misogyny around how you feel about this person. Honestly, “they only promoted her because she’s pretty” isn’t a ton better or that much less sexist than “they only promoted her because she slept her way to the top.” As much as it may or may not be true in reality, it’s not cool to publicly diminish your women coworkers for reasons so closely tied to sexism in the workplace.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Just a clarification because I’m seeing a few comments like this that assume the OP meant Alice only got promoted because of her looks. She actually says that she meant Alice got promoted because of her soft skills (and possibly looks as well, but she does not focus just on those). That’s still problematic but it’s not the same as how it’s being represented in some comments here. I’m going to put a note at the top as well.

      1. L-squared*

        When OP says “for shallow reasons” that very much sounds like she is saying her looks. Maybe the letter was edited before publishing and you have more info, but that is VERY much how it sounds.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          You have the same info I do. Attractiveness was only one of the things the LW mentioned in her assessment of why Alice got the promotion: “One of the other people who applied along with me, Alice, is okay at her job but excellent at soft skills. Always on time or early, good at small talk, generally a pleasant person on a team, and also dressed well and conventionally attractive.”

          1. Roland*

            It reads to me like OP is saying that Alice’s “soft skills” including being on time, small talk, dressing well and being attractive, and that all those contributed to her promotion. Can’t be sure of course, but OP did choose to include all of those details so it does feel like they all look relevant to OP.

        2. len*

          Yeah, it really seems like a reach to think she used a snarky phrase to say that of course everyone knows Alice has great people skills and is generally a well-liked person, that’s just not how that phrase is used (particularly by someone who openly dislikes Alice!). Interpreting the comment to have “just” been about looks is about as generous a read as possible here imo.

        3. Suzie SW*

          I read it the same as you…that if she wasn’t attractive and didn’t dress a certain way, she wouldn’t have gotten the job. I felt her soft skills were only brought up to say that Alice’s only professional strength is one of little value, so the promotion could only be attributed to her looks.

      2. Lyra Silvertongue*

        Personally I think the focus on looks in the comment itself, and the acknowledgement that “I meant to imply that Alice was promoted for shallow reasons”, makes it relatively clear that the comment was meant to encapsulate appearance as part of the soft skills, even if it’s not everything. I still think that “they only promoted her because she’s nice (and pretty)” carries the same sexist implications and is coming from the same place.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I agree she’s including appearance, but it’s not the only thing that she thinks is biasing the employer toward Alice; there’s a bunch of other stuff in there (the soft skills). Focusing only on appearance and not the other stuff will miss part of the problem with the LW’s perspective on what happened (because Alice’s soft skills could actually matter, whereas her looks should not).

      3. whisky_galore*

        “It feels like a bad coming-of-age movie where the awkward fat girl loses out to the thin prom queen” is pretty clear.

        1. L-squared*

          Exactly. There were MULTIPLE lines in the letter that made it about appearance, it isn’t just commenters pulling this out of nowhere

          1. The Real Fran Fine*

            +1

            That line made me do a double take for sure and colored how I (re)read the rest of the letter.

        2. yala*

          Yeah, that was the part where the resentment jumped out at me, and kinda made me think of (not saying OP is anywhere near this bad) incels who see themselves as an underdog losing to “Chads”

        3. Team Alice*

          This x a million. Sorry, Alison, but LW absolutely made it about her looks with the “prom queen” remark. LW sounds jealous, petty, unprofessional and immature, and she obviously meant to disparage Alice to her coworker but is now in a panic because she created a terrible situation and is probably afraid of the consequences. The entire tone of this letter sounds like a typical case of a disgruntled person pissed off that they were passed over for someone they don’t like so they need to find some justification other than maybe Alice was just the better fit. Alice and the company’s leadership aren’t responsible for managing this LW’s emotions around her own physical and social insecurities. LW comes off as negative and mean and absolutely not suited for management. You don’t have to have excellent soft skills to know it’s inappropriate to make shitty comments about other people at work, especially when LW is merely making assumptions about why Alice was promoted. Women have enough problems in the work force, we don’t need other women tearing us down over this type of nonsense.

          1. Summer*

            @Team Alice
            I think you’ve pretty much nailed it here.

            The whole letter for me boils down to this – OP made a catty comment that has now spiraled out of control. The only reasonable response one could have upon learning that coworkers are now thinking OP meant Alice slept her way into a promotion, would be to SQUASH IT IMMEDIATELY. The fact that OP didn’t do that and instead wrote to Alison looking for some way out of having to own up to it and set the record straight speaks volumes.

            OP – why, when you learned of the rumor, did you not immediately shut it down?

          2. londonedit*

            Yep…when I read ‘I meant to imply she was promoted for shallow reasons’ I assumed that meant ‘I meant to imply she was promoted for her looks’. ‘Shallow’ so often goes hand-in-hand with ‘She pays too much attention to her make-up’ or ‘She likes shopping’ or ‘She’s always having her hair done’ that in my view it’s hard to take it any other way, especially with the ‘thin prom queen’ comment.

      4. Cpt Morgan*

        I would hope that if LW was this mean and bitter towards someone who they acknowledge is objectively better at soft skills, with no commentary on their appearance, you wouldn’t be so keen to call that “still problematic.”

        I would 100% take an ok worker with great soft skills over the great worker who spreads rumors about other people like this.

      5. Suzanne*

        OP said she felt like the overweight girl who lost out to the thin prom queen. OP definitely made it about her looks.

      6. Observer*

        I have to disagree – based on the letter it sounds like BOTH the “soft skills” and “being well dressed and conventionally pretty” are part of her reaction. Especially since she uses the metaphor of the “awkward fat girl loses out to the thin prom queen“.

        I’m not sure which is worse, to be honest. Because if someone really DID get promoted because they are thin and pretty, that’s actually a good reason to be very unhappy, so at least there is that. Calling actual soft skills a “shallow reason” for a promotion is way more problematic.

        1. Ellis Bell*

          To me, they both come under “performing femininity” and this might explain why the OP has missed the importance of soft skills in the workplace. Women are definitely unfairly pressured by society to be on it with their personal interaction game, as an extension of their aesthetic presentation (which includes thinness and looks). There is a however need for ALL sexes to be professionally presentable though, (which doesn’t include thinness and looks), and for manager-type people to be expert in interpersonal skills. That doesn’t mean that Alice was hired to smile and make people feel popular – but OP has gotten professional standards for all people mixed up with sexist ones for women. I wonder if OP has worked in a sexist part of an industry which allows for the “brilliant jerk” – a person let off all standards because they’re good at hard skills, and because they are a guy.

    2. Risha*

      And this is why us women have issues getting ahead but no one actually wants to say it. Yes, there are men who are sexist and hold us back from higher positions. But in my personal experience, it’s been my own gender (women) that have done things similar to what the OP did to Alice. So many women don’t want to see their fellow women succeed and I truly don’t know why.

      I’m not even conventionally attractive nor am I very social like many other women tend to be. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a female coworker start talking crap about me because I got a promotion/mentoring/invited to conferences but they didn’t. I’ve had women I worked with start rumors that I’m sleeping with the male higher ups, or that I got the promotion because of the shape of my body (which I don’t show off, I just can’t help the way my body looks). Unfortunately, I never knew where these rumors originated from to go to HR. I’ve never had a woman want to mentor me or build me up at work…ever.

      OP, that’s really not cool what you did. How else did you think others at your job would take it? Especially since it’s regarding a woman getting a promotion and we all know many people think like that anyway. You really need to set the record straight right now and work on bettering yourself instead of tearing other women down. If I were Alice and I found out you started such a rumor, I would be in HR before you could blink. It doesn’t matter what you meant by it, you said it and let people run with their own thoughts. You should really be happy that women are moving up and getting promoted, we’ve fought so hard in the workplace to be taken seriously.

      1. IEanon*

        Exactly this. My current supervisor has said some real dodo things to me (think: “you look tired” when I didn’t wear makeup), but he has been in my corner since day one, giving me stretch goals and more responsibility, mentoring me, letting me take the lead on major projects with other departments, etc.

        My female supervisor went on and on about how she wanted to mentor me, but spent most of her time tearing me down in front of others, stripping me of committee roles and work that would let me stand out, and criticizing me for being “too helpful.” She was insecure about the connections I’d made before she was hired, and didn’t like that others saw me as the go-to for our department. She was much more detrimental to my career, and she would have been the first person to say she was all about lifting other women up in the workplace.

      2. Jasmine Clark*

        Yes, yes, yes!!! Thank you! We women can’t just blame men for everything. Sometimes we are the ones hurting each other. We talk about how men objectify women and obsess over women’s looks. But there are plenty of women who have rude attitudes about other women’s looks. Thank you so much for pointing this out. Women have got to stop doing this to each other. We need to stick together and lift each other up, as cliché as it sounds. We need to stop thinking of each other as competition and start being happy for each other.

      3. Jenny*

        100% – within the first few sentences of this I got a flashback to one of my previous roles where one of the other members of staff used to make constant pointed remarks to me about how she didn’t care about fashion or clothes at all (I was “stylish”) – it was really frustrating in particular because all of my outfits were cobbled together from charity shops and I was actually worried that they weren’t quite professional enough and that I didn’t really look the part. She’d also jump on any chance to make me feel bad about either my output or standing in the office. She was really good at the work she did but her behaviour was so unkind and so obviously driven by her own insecurities that if I encountered again I would probably warn people about her.

    3. Little My*

      I think it’s really important to acknowledge that weight discrimination is a documented phenomenon that impacts fat women specifically. LW really shouldn’t have said what she said, but she is being impacted by both misogyny AND anti-fatness because her weight, statistically speaking, affects her earning power more than that of a thin woman. https://www.instyle.com/lifestyle/weight-widens-pay-gap

      1. Teagan*

        Thanks for this comment. I feel like there are a lot of people in this comments section who aren’t acknowledging this. What she said was wrong (both what she really meant and how it was interpreted), but pretending this type of discrimination isn’t something the LW does likely experience is also wrong.

      2. L-squared*

        I mean, I don’t think anyone is saying it DOESN’T happen, but that doesn’t mean it happened here. And it does her no good to assume that is the reason.

        I’m black. I don’t assume that for every job or promotion I don’t get, it had to do with my race. Is it possible? Sure. But I feel like to act like that is the only possible reason isn’t good either. Because when you do that, you never reflect on what you can do better next time. If I assume I didn’t get a job becasue I was black, then I was clearly perfect, and if not for the racist hiring manager, I’d have it, so why bother working on my interview skills?

        1. Jasmine Clark*

          Thank you soooo much for saying this. I’m a black woman. When I don’t get a job that I feel like I was qualified for, I don’t assume that I was the best person and I deserved the job. I’m not bitter that someone else got it. If a white man gets the job, or a white woman, or whoever, instead of me… okay then. Maybe they had better qualifications or a better personality fit. I don’t spend my time and energy being upset because “it’s not fair” or “I deserved that” or “It should have been me!” Because maybe that job really wasn’t right for me and the other person deserved it.

          1. Aurelia*

            As another BIPOC woman, I do want to jump in and say that this can go too far in the other direction. But at the end of the day we live in a society full of prejudices and the only person we really have control over is ourselves. Sometimes it’s really not fair, but resentful comments to fuel the gossip mill rarely lead to helpful outcomes.

            1. L-squared*

              I mean, a healthy skepticism is fine. If you constantly are applying for an internal role and you see it constantly going to a less qualified white man, sure. And if that happens, maybe this isn’t the best company to stay at

              But there comes a point where, even if you think what Jasmine said can go too far, you still have to do what puts yourself in the best mindset. I just don’t see how thinking that everyone is prejudiced against and that is why you aren’t getting jobs can actually ever do that.

      3. Someone else*

        Yes, sure she might be a victim of misogyny but the glaring example of her misogynistic attitudes are too hard to ignore. She’s internalized and now made comments about another woman getting a job because of her looks. Rather than focusing so much on her appearance or the appearances of others, she might want to consider a little compassion for herself and the person she’s now hurt. It would help with her soft skills development too.

        We can sit around and argue about how pretty women have certain experience and how not so pretty women have other experiences or how fat women and thin women differ too but you know why it’s happening? It is because we are women and we’re all experiencing a fair number of things because of some stupid notions about our gender.

        Rather than focusing on who is the bigger victim here, our letter writer might want to consider how her comments feed the very root of her victimhood (misogyny). She needs to understand how her self pity is impacting her ability to develop those critical soft skills and preventing her from being as capable as she thinks she deserves to be perceived to be.

        Shallow reasons? Please.

      4. Mac (I Wish All The Floors Were Lava)*

        Thank you! I tried commenting in another thread that when a person with more power (eg: thinner or prettier people) experiences skepticism that their accomplishments weren’t based on privilege, they just plain are not experiencing the same level of bigotry that a marginalized person experiences. I think your point is much clearer than my comment, and I appreciate it! Sending you all the imaginary upvotes!

        1. Despachito*

          This does not necessarily be true though.

          I know a girl who is very pretty, has an outgoing personality and is a very talented actress. She was selected to act in a film, and she had a LOT of problems because it triggered nasty bullying at school.

          Her being pretty was at the same time an advantage (it may have been a factor why she got the role in the film over someone equally talented but less pretty) and a horrible disadvantage (the bullying).

          I am wildly speculating here but perhaps if she were less pretty, she would not get the role but she would not be bullied.

          So I’d be very careful in my judgments who is suffering more (and anyway, this should not be a suffering contest).

        2. HQetc*

          I think it is a little bit more nuanced in this context though, because there is also the stereotype that pretty women can’t also be smart, that they are only eye-candy, that they are good at “fluff” but not actual important work. So specifically in the context of a conventionally attractive woman being promoted, I think it’s hard to do the math. Which I am not saying that being a thin, conventionally attractive woman is overall as hard as being a fat, not conventionally attractive woman, just that the specific trope of sleeping your way to the top/being promoted because you are a pretty face is typically applied to thin, “pretty” woman, so dismissing that because the OP is facing more pervasive but different biases feels off to me.

          But! This is all informed by my experience as a thin, traditionally-feminine-presenting woman in STEM and observing that people assumed I was doing “fluffy” stuff like user interface design rather than AI or some other “hard” tech stuff (using all the scare quotes to be clear that I think this is a ridiculous delineation!). My less traditionally-feminine-presenting female peers (more gothy, just jeans and t-shirts because clothes weren’t their jam, nerdy vibe, whatever) didn’t face that specific form of bias (though they faced plenty of others!). So I probably am more attuned to the “what could you possibly know about this tricky tech stuff, little lady” vibe of that particular brand of sexism.

  9. Yaz*

    No winning for women is there? Either you get ignored or passed over for your lack of conventional beauty, or others use your conventional beauty to cast doubt on your accomplishments *screams

      1. 2 Cents*

        You forgot *other women* use your conventional beauty. OP seems to be female. And the harshest bosses / critics I’ve had have all been women. The person who scoffed that I’d be getting paid maternity leave (“we’re paying you to not work!”) was our female HR director.

        1. Sloanicota*

          I think this can be true, and it’s also a symptom of the same factors; I find that women who, for example, felt like they had to stay home with their own kids are the absolute harshest on working mothers in the office. Or as in this case, a woman who feels her appearance affected the outcome of a work decision is extra brutal to the woman she perceives as more attractive.

    1. Doctors Whom*

      Yes. So terrible. The LW seems oblivious to their own internalized misogyny. She doesn’t like the (always early, conversationally adept, pleasant to work with) person on her team so assumes that they could only be successful for shallow reasons – she is literally perpetrating the exact stereotypical nonsense she assumes is being hurled at her.

      I’m hoping that after trying to stop the horrible rumor she started, she can wake up and do something productive and ask thoughtful questions of management like “what can I improve to make myself a stronger candidate next time there’s an opening?”

      But the horse may be out of the barn. If it gets back to the senior management that she started the rumor, however inadvertently, by making a really rude and ungracious comment at work about someone who was promoted over her, there might not be a path forward there due to the sheer lack of judgment involved. I hope the LW is sincere about wanting to correct the perception re Alice, but also looks to do some self reflection.

      1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

        I agree with this, it might be too late to salvage this because regardless of what was meant by the comment, it was unkind and doesn’t reflect well on OP for future leadership roles. I almost want to suggest after this is cleared up OP look for another job.

        OP, I know you’re getting a lot of harsh comments here, and I do hope you reflect on some of them, and consider working this out with a therapist. Do you want to move to a manger role for the money/title or do you really want to manage people? You’re a good worker, but management isn’t for everyone, and that’s OK! I think there’s way too much importance put in climbing the ladder to be successful, when it’s equally important to have good people doing the actual work. I wish that was valued more.

        1. ariel*

          +1 to please consider therapy, OP. I speak without thinking far too often myself, and can totally see myself in your shoes. Alice did no wrong here, and I’m glad you can see that! There are other ways to work out frustrations about work and the unfairnesses of the world, and a therapist could help. Talk therapy has helped me process emotions in less harmful ways, and it may be able to help you find release values that won’t come back to bite you too.

        2. MsM*

          Also, I feel like OP’s kinda trapped in a high school mindset with that whole “prom queen” comparison (which might also be contributing to the idea that the only way to be happy and successful is to meet rigidly defined benchmarks), and therapy would definitely help with that.

    2. anonforthis*

      As someone who has been on both ends of the “ugly pretty” spectrum, this is pretty much my insight. A pain point common to both being ugly and pretty is the demeaning comments from men. If you’re ugly, men treat you like you’re worthless. If you’re pretty, men treat you like you’re worthless other than your desirability, which counts for something I guess? But it gets old pretty fast. Either way, your humanity is removed. And the shocking thing is, women who present themselves as progressive lean into undermining pretty women as well, as we all see.

      Don’t get me wrong – being pretty has its advantages! But not as many as people imply, and somehow it’s always women – not the men who objectify women – who get vilified for it. Things like systemic racism, sexism, and classism have more material impacts on opportunities than looks, but people make a big deal about looks even for non image based industries.

  10. mcfizzle*

    Gosh, honestly, it sounds like Alice is a better pick for manager based on soft skills. To be very clear, I am truly hoping it’s not because of “conventional” beauty or weight, but her having skills necessary for being at least a decent manager.

    Being good at your current job doesn’t necessarily equate to being good at managing humans, and it sounds like your skill set is better suited for what you’re doing now. However, then adding in how you’re (not) handling the rumor situation really confirms you are not suited (at this time) for a role in management. I understand you’re disappointed, but this seems like overt jealousy to me rather than just disappointment, and that you lashed out. You need to fix this as soon as possible.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Yeah, I’m good at my IC role; I do not know if I would be a good manager. I don’t think I’d be terrible, but I also like what I do and want to keep doing it.

      And I can sympathize with feeling frumpy; my coworker who sits next to me is very thin and very stylish and I am heavy and dress neatly but wear jeans and a t-shirt most days. We’re both pretty friendly and well-liked, though!

      1. mcfizzle*

        I’m a big girl in my early 40’s who never wears makeup and wouldn’t know fashion if it hit me in the face, so I fully understand! I’m not allowed to wear jeans, but I’m clean, in non-ratty or faded clothing, pleasant demeanor, etc. I’d say I’m liked and respected, even if I’m not thin nor stylish in the least.

        1. never mind who I am*

          Hi! I’m your male counterpart. I know it’s easier for men to adopt the “yeah, so?” response when someone suggests they’re not a fashion plate (I’m not even a fashion demitasse cup); I wish it weren’t the case. And I hope nobody takes offense (or a small potting shed) if I bring Shakespeare into this discussion.

          My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
          Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
          If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
          If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
          I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
          But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
          And in some perfumes is there more delight
          Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
          I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
          That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
          I grant I never saw a goddess go;
          My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
          And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
          As any she belied with false compare.

        2. Calamity Janine*

          to add to mr never mind’s literary corner, instead of the Bard, i think there’s some key quotes from another illuminating text. specifically, one that i think can illustrate to LW why she was off the mark (and can assure those people who find themselves in success despite being frumpy, fat, and otherwise not conventionally attractive) –

          “If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until you can hardly bear to look at it.

          A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”

          it loses a little something without the illustrations, but i think roald dahl’s on to an important point there lol

    2. WellRed*

      OP you need to try and correct this and then start looking for another job. There’s no way you’ll ever move up in this company after this debacle ( though, like others, I have an eyebrow raised at your coworkers running with this rumor). And lose the chip. You’ll feel better.

      1. Sloanicota*

        It is crappy that the coworkers ran with it. They did know that OP was in the running for the same job and was no doubt disappointed; they should have taken what she said with a huge grain of salt even if she *did* mean what they thought she meant. It’s crappy that they’re all acting like it’s gospel instead of gossip.

        1. Just Another Zebra*

          I can absolutely see how this turned into a game of telephone.

          OP makes her (inappropriate) comment to coworker 1.
          CW1 tells CW2 that “OP said…”
          CW2 tells CW3 “I heard from CW1 that OP said”
          CW3 tells CW 4 and 5 at lunch “You know Alice got her promotion because of X, right? Everyone is talking about it.”

          It doesn’t really matter how it spread, or why. OP lit the match.

        2. Eldritch Office Worker*

          This is how gossip works. It could even be that the coworker repeated the story meaning to convey how bitter OP sounded, and instead the salacious part is all the receiving party heard and repeated. Terrible games of telephone.

          1. Ellis Bell*

            Yeah I’d actually be really concerned in OP’s shoes that the gossip is about *my reaction* to the promotion and claiming she’s sleeping to the top, not that people are assuming it is true. She really needs to clear it up.

        3. Lils*

          @Sloanicota I would venture to guess that the OP (subconsciously) *knew* the coworkers would run with it, and that’s why she made the nasty comment. After 10 years at a workplace, you know whether your workmates are vicious gossips. OP tried to hit Alice where it would hurt, and it worked.

          OP, you have a chance to salvage this situation *for Alice*…it will hurt your reputation and it will be difficult, but please take your medicine. Alice did not deserve this.

  11. Not Into Fashion*

    This is both disappointing (sorry about the missed promotion!) and a mess, but Allison offers good advice.

    I wanted to address the “not interested in dressing for trends” part of it, as someone who *also* hates dressing for trends / thinking about fashion / shopping generally. (For reference, I’m a cis woman.) On the one hand, dressing stylishly shouldn’t be factored into evaluations about how we do our jobs. On the other, clothes inevitably affect how other people perceive us, so it’s worth putting some thought into it.

    One thing that has worked for me is figuring out what clothes I look good in, then wearing *just* that style, as a uniform. Dark jeans are okay in my field, so I wear skinny jeans + black top + jacket, every day. Is it creative? No. But do I have to think about it? Also no. And do I appear reasonably put together? Yes.

    There’s ways to kind of do an end run around expectations that we look fashionable, without actually getting into fashion or caring about fashion. Maybe you can find some that work for you?

    1. EPLawyer*

      there’s fashionable and there is stylish. Fashionable is what is in the magazines right now. Stylish is what looks good on you. Find your style (within the dress code, of course) and build around that.

      But also, I HIGHLY doubt that your company chose Alice because she dressed fashionably. Looking put together can matter, of course. But, they looked at the overall picture. You need to consider that when preparing for higher positions.

    2. Angela Zeigler*

      Very good points on how to appear nicely put together even without the fashion skills. Simple clothes can also be dressed up with a single accent necklace and/or matching earrings. You can have 2-3 on hand and just swap them out for outfits. It takes a little work, sure, but I agree about finding something you just vary up slightly each day.

      1. Koalafied*

        Back when I worked in an office, I wore dresses most days, and at one point someone complimented me on “always looking so smart,” which caught me by surprise since the true motive behind my dress-heavy wardrobe was “I can’t be bothered to match two pieces of clothes with each other every day.”

    3. Dust Bunny*

      There is also a lot of room between “not dressing for trends”, which is vague and can include all kinds of really outdated, worn out, and/or eccentric clothing, and always being up-to-the-minute. If you’re still wearing your 1990s pleated-front pants, yeah, it’s time to retire those.

      Left to my own devices, I’m somewhere between prairie (“cottagecore” these days, I guess) and grunge with dashes of punk/metal, but I have a stash of basic dresses and jackets for work. They look fine. They’re not cutting-edge fashion but they’re not outdated, either. They’re low-maintenance. They’re comfortable. They’re not designer or expensive. I don’t have to think about what to wear in the morning. I downgrade them to weekend wear when they get stretched out of shape or really faded.

      1. Generic Name*

        Based on what I’m seeing at my son’s high school, I wouldn’t be surprised if pleated Dockers are at the forefront of fashion nowadays….

        1. Formerly Ella Vader*

          Oh please, if they come back into wide availability in my size and budget while I’m still alive, I don’t have to worry about how to fit the iPhone 17 into my pocket …

          1. Cookie*

            They definitely are in style and you should be able to find them online easily!

            I saw some at Target yesterday. Didn’t buy, as they make my short body look like a hydrant, but they are there.

        2. Cee*

          I was just going to say the same thing. I work at an art college and generally am interested in fashion. Wide leg and pleat front pants are very of the moment, but if you never stopped wearing them then happening to fall in line with a trend wont fool anyone into thinking you are suddenly fashionable.

          1. Afac*

            It’s weird when fashion happens to be what you’ve been wearing for years. Like I haven’t changed but now people are complimenting me on that sweater I bought in 2005? When Michelle Obama was known for her 3/4 sleeve cardigans I had so many college-age women commenting on my style when really I was just trying to keep warm and not wear collared shirts that needed ironing.

            And now those cardigans (and me) are out of fashion again.

        1. Bubba*

          “If you’re still wearing your 1990s pleated-front pants, yeah, it’s time to retire those.”

          Actually it’s time to pull those out of the back of your closet. Late 90s/early 00s fashions are making a comeback whether we want them too or not!

          Disclaimer: Not that I’ll be following the new/old trends. I’ve no desire for my current wardrobe to trigger bad memories of middle/high-school Lol!

        2. Bee*

          Hahaha, yes, if you’re still wearing your 90s clothes, you’re honestly kind of fashion-forward these days!

      2. Dust Bunny*

        . . . or whatever. Whatever you’ve been wearing that is now pointedly outdated.

        I’m not trendy myself, but I’m not so out-of-step that it calls attention.

      3. Ellis Bell*

        I honestly think the best thing to wear to work is something you could time travel in, to as much of the late twentieth century onwards as possible. By that I mean classics which don’t scream trend. Very few workplaces care about trends.

    4. ErinWV*

      I do want to note that when trying to look “put together,” there is a higher degree of difficulty for fat and/or disabled people. Magazines and celebrities have ingrained in us that looking sleek and slender is stylish, and that the reverse looks dumpy. Even in expensive, well-cut clothes (which not all of us can afford, of course), some of us are always going to be a little schlubbier than others.

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        This. It’s also amazing how many comments I get about my clothes when I wear, say, a flattering dress vs. slacks and a blouse. When I do more to fit norms of attractiveness and femininity, I definitely read as someone who put in more effort. But the truth is that wearing a dress is like the opposite of putting in effort for me. It’s a top and a bottom already attached and I don’t have to think about anything but shoes, really. But with slacks and a blouse, that doubles the effort I make, but I get half the credit.

        While I really like wearing dresses at times, I do get the frustration that playing into gender and society conventions of beauty is frustrating for a lot of people. Sometimes “playing the game” means that it’s harder for those who don’t or can’t fit those conventions.

        1. whingedrinking*

          It’s always kind of amused me how for a time, I was “the teacher who’s always kind of dressed up, in a skirt or a dress”. That time was…summer. When it’s not hot, I wear pants. And my school has finally given up on enforcing casual Fridays, so from September to June it’s all jeans all the time. (With a decent casual top, of course.)

        2. PotsPansTeapots*

          Yes! I’m not even a particularly busty or heavy gal, but button-ups are a no-go and even knit tops can be hit or miss.

          An A-line dress with tights always fits, though.

      2. What name did I use last time?*

        I do want to note that when trying to look “put together,” there is a higher degree of difficulty for fat and/or disabled people.

        True, but not something to whine about or use as an excuse like LW is doing. One of the fattest people I know has been executive director of not one but two major arts organizations in my not-small city. She wears big loose caftan-like dresses, there’s no hiding how big she is. Her hair is nicely styled and she wears an appropriate amount of light makeup, but she has had those jobs because of her skills, both hard and soft.

      1. LolaBugg*

        Right?? I can’t imagine thinking that I was passed over for a promotion because the other person is more punctual, and then not concluding that I myself need to be more punctual too

      2. Making up names is hard*

        Punctuality is basic but also for most jobs it is truly a soft skill. It is not an intrinsic attribute of the work task itself.

        And punctuality is really hard for some people and using “tardiness” as a mark against someone can be able-ist and a bunch of other ists depending on the details. I have ADHD and depression and being chronically late is one of the main “symptoms” that people outside my brain see. I’ve been reprimanded at jobs for being 5-10min late when it truly did not require perfect punctuality, and I even was more productive/has better work product than everyone else.

        1. Jasmine Clark*

          I am one of those people for whom punctuality is hard. I am often late to things. That’s a bad thing, and it’s my fault, and I deserve criticism I’ve received for it. It’s on me — I need to do better. It’s hard for me, but I need to keep improving and figuring out ways to improve my time management skills.

          Same goes for you. You should not be repeatedly 5-10 minutes late to your job. Sure, life happens and occasional lateness is okay. But it shouldn’t be something that happens repeatedly.

          It’s important to take responsibility for your actions — your lateness is your fault and you have to try to do better. If you’re repeatedly late, other people are justified in being frustrated with you. If you were told to show up at a certain time, you need to show up at that time.

    1. Calamity Janine*

      this is a lovely one-sentence summary that cuts to the heart of the matter in a stunning way

      and honestly

      also pulls double duty as an incredible affirmation for the LW to tack on her mirror in order to combat all the fatphobic self-loathing that has led her to lash out like this. our bodies, LW, are soft, and squishy, and not in the ways society wants us to be – but we are not unimportant. we are not undeserving of self-esteem. and we do not need to be angry with others and try to lash out at them because they are not as soft and seemingly far more important than we are. there is no need to try and drag them down to our level by making them out to be unimportant… because our level is already important! we are soft, but we are not unimportant.

      …this meaning was likely entirely unintentional but pat yourself on the back for it anyway, because that’s a darn good turn of phrase you did LolaBugg

  12. HoHumDrum*

    Hey LW, I am 100% on your side re: fatphobia and the direct, material ways in which fat people are discriminated against. That is enraging and wrong, and we all need to acknowledge that is a common reality that must be changed. Everyone reading this needs to advocate for protections against weight based discrimination, speak up when you hear it, and look inside yourself to root out the fatphobia we all tend to carry around.

    That all said…I think one of the biggest problems we have in society is that we call the skills related to building and maintaining community “soft” skills and we denigrate them as lesser than others.

    I say this as a prek teacher who’s profession often gets dismissed because people think it’s just babysitting with maybe some instruction on colors and letters, when in reality it’s teaching your child how to be a person and to be a person in relation to other people, and also the abstract concept of what colors or numbers or letters are.

    I also say this as someone who is constantly frustrated when people are promoted to managers simply because they are good at the content of their job but lack any skill in actually managing people. It’s a different and still extremely important skillset.

    Being kind but truthful, being considerate, respectful, facilitating tough conversations and bringing shared understanding to complicated issues, creating a sense of security & safety in a workplace, and understanding how to support & motivate a variety of different people are true skills that require very hard work, no matter if they’re “soft”.

    So anyways LW, I have no doubt you are right about being passed over unfairly and I am angry for you. This is just my plea to everyone to consider thinking more on the value of unseen work.

    1. Marketing Unicorn Ninja*

      I just want to say, as someone who works in an education-adjacent field, the work of Pre-K teachers is miracle-worker-level work. You have my utmost respect and praise. I have never liked a teacher so much as I liked my daughter’s Pre-K teacher, who was a friggin’ saint on earth.

      1. Miss Muffet*

        I, too, have often said (to others, and directly to the teachers) how grateful I am that there are people who are just cut out to be preschool teachers. I barely made it through PARENTING my little ones, let alone teaching them anything, and you are so right that preschool teaching is much more complex than people give it credit for. Just because they are playing doesn’t mean they are learning… that’s HOW they learn at that age!

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I suspect that soft skills often get lumped in with attractiveness/stylishness in the “conventional femininity” bucket, which might be part of the problem here. But you don’t have to be feminine or even female to have good soft skills.

      1. HoHumDrum*

        Oh absolutely, the dismissal of soft skills is tied to the way we’ve decided they are innate in women and also beneath men. People will look down on soft skills and then in the next breath talk about how their male CEO throws daily temper tantrums and they all work late so he doesn’t scream at them in meetings.

      2. Avril Ludgateaux*

        There’s also an inherent misogyny in the denigration of “feminine” skills, that LW may not even realize she has absorbed. I know plenty of women who make a point to be “not like other girls,” rejecting mainstream femininity in hopes that, if they act more masculine and go further to disparage the feminine, they will be respected as men are. A lot of women go through thus phase as we try to cope with the reality of patriarchal systems, but most of us eventually grow out of the “looking down on traditional displays of femininity” part (even if we still personally lean masculine).

    3. PsychNurse*

      100!

      I am a nurse. “Soft skills” are almost of equal importance with “hard skills” in my profession, where hard skills would be things like starting IVs. I have seen excellent nurses be talked badly about simply BECAUSE they are friendly, upbeat, and good at holding the hand of an upset patient. People assume that if you have good soft skills– and especially if they’re combined with being young and attractive– you clearly aren’t a “real” professional, and you can’t be doing anything of substance.

      1. LolaBugg*

        And honestly? Sometimes nurses have a hard time finding my vein and I would much rather have a nurse who is kind and patient in high stress medical situations than a nurse whose personality is abrasive, even if she finds the vein right away. If that makes sense lol. What I’m saying is, soft skills are important.

        1. Avril Ludgateaux*

          I listened to this podcast episode about “the worst phlebotomist in the hospital”. (Reciting from memory, so some details may be off.) At the beginning of the pandemic, a hospital… somewhere… was dangerously understaffed, so they started reallocating their human resources. This included training some of the clerical and administrative staff to draw blood. This one woman in particular, the woman they interviewed, was just the worst at it. She didn’t have a sense for it, she struggled finding veins, she often had to poke people multiple times, even if they had what other medical personnel would call good veins. (Sidenote: as a needle-phobe, this is my worst nightmare lol.) She took longer than anybody else to do a simple blood draw and was always apologizing to patients for being so clumsy, but in doing so she was being personable, treating them as human, and building rapport, such that, despite being objectively bad at this one particular duty, she had some of the highest ratings from patients because she was charming, friendly, and compassionate. Whereas the best phlebotomists, they were quick, focused, and efficient, but in doing so they were interpreted as cold.

          Now there is something to be said about if, in some contexts, the objective outcome is more important than the way customers (or in this case, patients) feel about the process, but there’s no denying that soft skills matter. The perfect phlebotomist would be the one who can find the vein and make the patient feel comfortable and human.

    4. Fiona*

      *I say this as a prek teacher who’s profession often gets dismissed because people think it’s just babysitting with maybe some instruction on colors and letters, when in reality it’s teaching your child how to be a person*

      YES YES YES. Not trying to get off topic but yes to this. It drives me nuts how our society rewards certain professions (moving numbers around on a spreadsheet) and denigrates others (caring for our next generation of human beings).

    5. My Useless 2 Cents*

      Completely agree with this with this post. Fatphobia is so ingrained in our society that a lot of people cannot see even blatant discrimination.

      Fashion/style, makeup choices, and hair style preferences are often offered up as “excuses” for discrimination. How someone looks is NEVER a valid reason for someone not getting a promotion. That applies to weight, skin, gender presentation, disability, or personal style. Grooming/Cleanliness is an entirely different matter that is not relevant to the discussion at hand because nothing was said about either party being appalling to be around yet always gets dragged into the discussion about “looks”.

      Based on the letter, it does sound like Alice’s soft skills are a better fit for management. But I 100% get the frustration of LW.

    6. BPT*

      I agree with everything you said until “I have no doubt you are right about being passed over unfairly.”

      OP’s comments and denigration of soft skills to me clearly shows that they are not ready to be a manager. I mean, can you imagine if OP was the one promoted and had to manage Alice? It seems like they would let their own biases interfere with managment. It doesn’t seem unfair to me at all.

      1. The Real Fran Fine*

        This. Especially since OP says quite clearly in the letter, “I don’t like Alice” with nothing else in the letter explaining exactly why that is. If she would be managing Alice with this promotion, can you imagine what a disaster that would be for Alice? No, OP was rightly passed over from the context provided in this letter.

    7. Tracy Flick*

      I think this is actually not something LW is necessarily doing – I think that it may be creating confusion in the response to her.

      “Soft skills” is a broad term that refers to “social skills” – your ability to get along with others, build and maintain relationships, establish rapport, fit into a group, etc.

      That can cover skills that are crucial to managing and supporting coworkers – empathy, sensitivity, diplomacy, psychological flexibility, persuasive communication.

      However, it can also cover skills that are more superficial – “I’d get a beer with that guy,” confidence, presenting well, shallow matching, small talk.

      …And it can cover skills that can be drawbacks for other people – basically, the ability to manipulate others to get what you want.

      Like, politicians often have excellent “soft skills;” that doesn’t mean that they’re good stewards, leaders, or managers. It often doesn’t mean that they’re good people.

      (It’s interesting to see commenters saying that they want a manager with excellent “soft skills” – it’s not an unalloyed good to have a manager who’s really good at making other people like them. For example, say you need to file a complaint against that manager.)

      …And of course none of this is neutral – people in underrepresented groups are held to a completely different standard.

      Based on the specific examples LW has given, I think that the LW’s reference to “soft skills” refers to that superficial layer – that they consider Alice to be superficially likable and professional, particularly because Alice is conventionally attractive, and that Alice is being promoted for these superficial reasons.

      I don’t think they’re arguing that skills like empathy and communication are trivial – just, I don’t think they’re necessarily attributing those deep interpersonal skills to Alice in the first place.

      And while their comment was an unforced error and a bad look, it’s very likely that their company does provide unfair advantages to employees (esp. women) who look nicer, in ways that are inextricable from misogyny and fatphobia, and they shouldn’t be made to feel unprofessional or unreasonable for saying so.

      And I really hope this isn’t going to become a thread about how LW can fix the problem by appeasing the bigots. LW can (maybe) blunt the effect of bias with some workarounds, but that’s not really the point and it shows a singular lack of “soft skills” to pretend otherwise.

      1. MsM*

        I dunno. All I’m gathering from OP’s stated reasons that she should’ve been promoted instead is that she thinks being the most productive is sufficient in and of itself. Even in her acknowledgment that she messed up, she’s not actually worried how Alice might be feeling about the rumor; she just thinks it’s not fair because it’s not true. So if this is a place that values empathy (which, to be fair, it might not be, given the rest of the department’s eagerness to seize on this rumor), I think OP might be better served examining why that’s at least not coming through in her communication than blaming “society.”

        1. Tracy Flick*

          The fact that LW doesn’t mention Alice’s feelings – but is rather focused on horror at accidentally starting a false rumor – isn’t a good indication that LW lacks concern for feelings in general, or even that LW can’t understand that Alice will feel bad if/when this gets back to her. Is it really helpful to engage in this kind of rationalization, especially if it leads us to dismiss some pretty uncontroversial statements from LW as unreasonable? I don’t see how that’s constructive.

          1. MsM*

            Given that I think even “horror” is a stretch when it comes to describing what comes across of OP’s reaction to the damage she’s wrought here (with the possible exception of how it might impact the VP’s perception of her, that is), I don’t see what there is to be gained from dismissing my opinion as “rationalization” rather than, well, an opinion. But then, I’ve read your comments further down the thread, and I don’t really see anything to be gained from debating with someone who’s clearly made up their mind that anyone who’s not on OP’s side is engaging in sexism, so I shan’t.

            1. Tracy Flick*

              Are gratuitous insults a demonstration of your soft skills?

              I think you’re justifying a very harsh attack on this woman based on a pretty slender pretext – she didn’t mention Alice’s feelings (when Alice might not even know, and when LW is understandably focused on the more immediate events in this unfolding professional nightmare, including her ability to fix her mistake and prevent further harm) so she lacks empathy? I call that rationalizing.

              I don’t think you’re sexist because you’re not “on OP’s side.” I’m not “on OP’s side.” I said, and I believe, that her comments were wrong. Words like that have a devastating impact even if they don’t have a strictly misogynist intent.

              I also didn’t accuse people of sexism for disagreeing with me. I said that it was unhelpful and wrong to dismiss *bias* as a factor. I think a lot of commenters are speaking about *bias* in an inaccurate way.

              Various forms of bias (lookism, fatphobia, and yes, sexism) are simply existing conditions in our society – bias is never not in play.

              There are many other factors in play at any given time, and they may be more worthy of attention in any given context. But it’s unhelpful to speak as though bias is invalidated by those other factors – as a concern or as a contributor to any given outcome.

              That limited working definition is sexist in that it majorly understates the reality and impact of sexism, but I’d characterize it more as “ignorant and counterproductive” than misogynist.

              And it is extremely unhelpful to act like some fat woman who just got passed over for a promotion – the same fat woman currently being lectured about her mental stability and basic hygiene by commenters – is displaying some deep flaw in her mindset or personality by acknowledging it. It’s real and significant and it will not go away. It is entirely likely that it was a factor here; it often is.

              We could all demonstrate our soft skills by showing empathy towards LW as someone who will have to deal with it.

              1. Allonge*

                It’s real. And OP is of course entitled to feel bad about denied a promotion in any case.

                And keeping it at this helps her not that much?

                There are aspects of this whole thing OP can control, and that is not the societal bias. So she can sit down and feel bad about this and not work on the things she can change, or she can consider figuring out how to live life with this disadvantage, as millons of others have to and have done so, with much worse.

                1. Tracy Flick*

                  I’m not “keeping it at this,” I’m objecting to a really consistent theme in this thread: that it is wrong, and indicative of some deep personal problem on LW’s part, for LW to point to discrimination as a significant factor in her professional advancement.

                  None of this is either or, and there’s a really big difference between, “Fatphobia and misogyny are definitely real and significant, and it’s fair to consider them as factors, but it might make more sense to focus on professional norms and standards” vs. “You need therapy for your self-hatred” or “You need to work on your own failings, not structural inequality,” or “If your hygiene isn’t an issue, I apologize, but just in case it helps….”

                  Like, you can advise pragmatism without treating a fat woman like she’s unhinged for noticing and feeling deep misogyny and fatphobia in her life. It’s not that hard; you just refrain from asking her if she bathes on the regular.

                2. Allonge*

                  Suggesting specific actions OP can take is not denying the impact of fatphobia though. It’s recommending things that OP can actually do to change the situation. Because fatphobia will be here to stay, but it’s not a death sentence for careers – plenty of fat women succeed.

                  And recommending therapy is NOT treating people like they are unhinged, come on.

                3. Tracy Flick*

                  Right, I’m referring to comments that specifically say that she is unreasonable to see fatphobia and sexism as important – or that assume that she must not care about anything else because she cares about fatphobia and sexism. Not to mention the comments that straight up ask if she is showering regularly, brushing her hair, wearing clothing instead of sweats or pajamas to work, etc.

                  And sorry, yeah, it absolutely is. When you tell a fat woman that she is clearly expressing unhealthy self-hatred and bitterness and needs therapy because she *sees her weight and gender as significant factors in her professional success,* you are absolutely saying that she is unhinged. You are absolutely calling her crazy for acknowledging reality, including the real harm she experiences as a fat woman in a sexist, fatphobic society. Come on yourself.

                4. Allonge*

                  Therapy would most likely help OP. Someone who worked at least 10 years and is still stuck in the high school drama mindset, someone who when disappointed, lashes out publicly and viciously towards an innocent bystander (instead of, say the person who made the decision) sounds like they could use some help.

                  To say needing help equals being unhinged is dangerous. Please don’t.

                  And people are not saying sexism and fatphobia are not important, they are saying, based on what OP says here, there are other explanations for why she did not get the promotion and Alice did.

              2. Ellis Bell*

                Hmmm… I would have been completely ready to take OP at her word that weight and performing feminity were a factor; woman gets judged by appearance shocker? Not hard to believe; happens every day! However the OP’s own account contradicts that idea before it gets off the ground. She is overly focused on her hard skill numbers, and most importantly talks smack about her female colleague, without realizing the obvious implications she’s making. I don’t know if Alice does have super duper high level interpersonal skills, or just the basic sort, but she’s not the one spreading rumors about colleagues through ignorance of what she’s saying, and ignorance of what she should say. The OP wrote in because she’s interested in learning how to avoid this situation happening again. She needs to improve her own soft skills to be a decent candidate for management, to at least a basic level. She’s no doubt been the object of sexist attention re her looks, but she also needs to be aware of the sexist judgement that attractive women get (because she’s participating in it). Once she’s a decent candidate for the role, she’ll be able to see if she’s still being passed over for no reason. Currently, there are good reasons.

        2. Observer*

          Even in her acknowledgment that she messed up, she’s not actually worried how Alice might be feeling about the rumor; she just thinks it’s not fair because it’s not true.

          I don’t think that this is a real problem, even if that’s the case. I’m not sure you are right, but honestly, this is the one thing that I think the OP got completely right – she may not like Alice nor does she need to, but she does understand that regardless it’s not ok for a false rumor to be flying around about her.

          That’s actually a very good first step, because one thing that functional adults understand is that how I feel about someone or something is not the full arbiter of what should / should not be done.

          1. Tracy Flick*

            Agreed – this is also a time-sensitive problem, so it makes sense that LW is focused on specific actions she can take ASAP.

        3. Andy*

          In all likelihood Alice has no idea. Someone coming to you saying “I think you slept your way up” is super super rare. Someone saying the same behind yout back, not so much.

        4. Librarian of SHIELD*

          All I’m gathering from OP’s stated reasons that she should’ve been promoted instead is that she thinks being the most productive is sufficient in and of itself.

          This is a really good point. If the company had wanted to promote the person who’s most productive or efficient, they would have run some stats on the number of projects each person completed in the last quarter and promoted the winner. They didn’t do that because they were looking for other qualities in their new manager, and it seems as if Alice is stronger in those qualities.

      2. Observer*

        Based on the specific examples LW has given, I think that the LW’s reference to “soft skills” refers to that superficial layer – that they consider Alice to be superficially likable and professional, particularly because Alice is conventionally attractive, and that Alice is being promoted for these superficial reasons.

        If that’s what the OP thinks they are wrong – because most of the example she gives are not “superficial”. Being on time and being easy to work with are not superficial or minor.

        On the other hand, no matter what the OP mean, the crack she made was wildly out of line. And it speaks to a lack of the most basic “soft” skills that a manager can have – The ability to monitor and appropriately control the things that come out of your mouth is probably the single most important skill any manager can have.

        1. Tracy Flick*

          Eh, I think this is partly true. LW didn’t say that Alice was “good at managing her time” or “respectful of others” or “organized” or anything more general – she specifically said that Alice shows up early to stuff.

          That’s a lot more limited. My last tech lead was consistently a few minutes late to meetings, but he also worked like a pit pony and was always, always, always ready to jump in and help. In contrast, I had a coworker who was polished and punctual and also a backbiting monster who constantly stole credit for other people’s work.

          And I appreciate that being basically friendly is an important skill, but there’s nuance there, too – people can be superficially ‘nice’ without demonstrating strong positive interpersonal values. That’s not an uncommon phenomenon in the workplace. (People can also be deeply kind/thoughtful/accountable/helpful while being horribly off-putting in social situations.)

          So I don’t think that “soft skills” are worthless – I don’t even mean to dismiss traits like punctual and pleasant. But a lot of commenters are reading LW to say that she dismisses professional values like kindness, cooperation, accountability, listening skills, responsiveness, etc. etc. I don’t think she does.

          It’s sort of like if an LW complained about interviewing for a job and then losing out to a less-skilled better-looking candidate who showed up ten minutes early, wore a suit, had a bright and confident smile, and made gracious small talk with the hiring team in contrast to their less-polished, more awkward self.

          Is that an unusual outcome? Nah. Is it entirely fair or entirely unfair for a hiring team to use these heuristics to judge someone’s professionalism? It’s complicated! Is a certain level of pragmatism warranted here? Probably!

          But would it make sense to think that LW was a frumpy, self-loathing mess who doesn’t bathe or brush her hair, or that she doesn’t place any value at all on the deeper skills that hiring teams associate with ‘interviewing well?’ Or that she doesn’t believe that anything matters besides technical skill? I don’t think so.

          I don’t think we have enough information about Alice either way, but I don’t think LW is trying to describe someone who has a wonderful professional personality. LW could be misrepresenting Alice, but LW isn’t complaining about being passed over in favor of a kind, empathetic, generous, accountable, cooperative, supportive, excellent listener and advocate. She’s complaining about being passed over in favor of someone who has a bit of professional polish. That’s different.

        2. Tracy Flick*

          And I agree that the comment was wildly out of line, and that a manager would reasonably find it cause for concern. But then again, we don’t have enough information to know whether LW has chronic foot in mouth disease or just had one really, really bad day. LW is also trying to fix her mistake, which could indicate a bunch of positive professional traits (resourceful, proactive, accountable, honest) or a bunch of other stuff.

    8. Eater of Hotdish*

      I found myself nodding through every bit of this comment.

      Yes, fatphobia and discrimination based on appearance are very real. I have no doubt that LW has been hurt by these things. I certainly have.

      At the same time, “soft skills”–which we absolutely shouldn’t be devaluing, they are *incredibly* important–include strategies for how to deal with one’s own hurt constructively. Lashing out at others when they get the prizes you long for can feel really cathartic in the moment, but it doesn’t heal your own hurt; it only creates more.

    9. Irish Teacher*

      Just wanted to comment as it was in the news here recently and is relevant both to what you said AND to soft skill, Junior Infants teachers (the Irish equivalent of kindergarten teachers) have said they would prefer preschool teachers to focus MORE on soft skills and practical skills than on academic ones, that kids are starting school already being able to count and maybe read a little and write their names but unable to zip up their coats, interact as well, etc and that there is plenty of time to learn things like reading and writing and counting at school, but that what they really want kids able to do when they arrive is to manage self-care tasks like buttons, washing their hands after the toilet and also have some interpersonal skills.

      I think the LW seems to be combining things that shouldn’t matter and can be unfair like being conventionally attractive, slim, etc with things that really DO matter, like being on time, personable, getting on well with coworkers, etc all of which really DO matter. Even small talk matters and I say that as somebody who is extremely BAD at it and who knows that that means certain roles are not a good fit for me. I would say without a doubt there ARE promotions that it would be quite the RIGHT decision to give to somebody who is not as good a teacher as I am but who is good at small talk, etc, because the role requires those skills far more than it requires a really good teacher. A year head does not have to be any better at teaching or know their subject in any more detail than an ordinary subject teacher but they DO have to be able to liaise with parents and deal with discipline issues, all of which require soft skills.

      I don’t see any reason to assume that Alice got her promotion because she was conventionally attractive rather than because she models good timekeeping and treats others well. Alice sounds like a genuinely nice person who is respected by her colleagues and will model good behaviours and will be looked up to and emulated. And she sounds like that in the description given by somebody who dislikes her (no offence to the LW, but it is hard to give a positive description of somebody one dislikes, it’s easy to focus on the negative, but even here, Alice sounds pretty great). That’s not to say the LW doesn’t deserve this promotion, but…even based on the LW’s description, which is from somebody who doesn’t think Alice deserves it, it sounds to me like she does.

      I know not all of that really relates to your comment. I sort of combined what I meant to say in reply to you and what I had intended to post as its own comment because it does all fit together.

    10. Employee of the Bearimy*

      This is an excellent comment. I have one kid where I make sure to say to his teacher every year that my biggest educational goal for him is to learn to be a person in society. I’ve seen so many managers fail because they can’t do the part where they manage people in a positive, growth-oriented way.

      Also, I’m a fat woman in a management role and I’m very aware of (and infuriated by) the ways I have to work harder to be taken seriously as a leader, but I’ve had a lot of success precisely because I control the things I can control, like my “soft skills.”

      1. pie*

        These are always the goals we write for our elementary aged kids, too. The academic part will take care of itself if we can partner with their teacher to ensure they are gaining confidence, mediation skills, and respectfulness with their classmates.

      2. Lana Kane*

        Same – my son started 5th grade today. Every year during the meet and greet the week before school I tell the teacher this, and that I want to hear from her if we need to work on his soft skills in any way (I say her because all his teachers have been she/her as far as I know). We missed the meet & greet this year but I’m still sending his teacher an email about this. I want teachers to know they can approach me and that this is important to us.

    11. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      “That all said…I think one of the biggest problems we have in society is that we call the skills related to building and maintaining community “soft” skills and we denigrate them as lesser than others.”

      PREACH. I have mostly relationship-oriented strengths. My boss has mostly task-oriented strengths. Up until a month ago, she called my strengths “fluff” and “fru-fru” regularly, sometimes even using the word “special” (but not in a complimentary way) to describe them.

      I say “up until a month ago” because I finally called her on it, pointing out she was repeatedly saying my strengths were unimportant, silly, and ridiculous. After I told her how gravely she’d been offending me, she’s since stopped although she still doesn’t respect that my skills are important in the overall scheme of things. Yet she wonders why my great-grandboss calls me directly for help…instead of asking her.

    12. whingedrinking*

      Agreeing with the people above. I’m always shocked when someone thinks “kindergarten teacher” is an insult. Early childhood educators are made of an alloy of cast iron and sunshine.

    13. Observer*

      So anyways LW, I have no doubt you are right about being passed over unfairly and I am angry for you.

      Given what the OP says, I disagree with this. I’m not disagreeing with the reality of fatphobia. But in this case, the OP makes it clear that 1. They don’t value soft skills 2. Alice has soft skills and 3. The OP not only lacks soft skills, but has a streak of nastiness and failure to think about the potential effects of what they say.

  13. Morgan Proctor*

    Well, LW, if you are the type of person to say something like this in the workplace, you didn’t deserve this promotion. If you are the type of person to judge a woman by her appearance, you didn’t deserve this promotion. If you are the type of person to use your own appearance as an excuse for your shortcomings, you didn’t deserve this promotion. Honestly, you sound like a socially dangerous person to be around, and that might be contributing to your coworkers’ reactions to you, up to and including passing you over for promotions. I think that is something you need to work on, preferably NOT around this poor woman that you’ve harmed pretty irreparably here.

    1. Yaz*

      Agree and disagree. I think it’s very likely that OP’s appearance factors into the professional consideration she receives, and it’s not wrong to acknowledge that injustice and protest it. Fatphobia is pervasive. It is one of the many wretched heads of misogyny.

      1. President Porpoise*

        Is it though? How many times have you seen folks passed over for workplace or social opportunities because they seem to spend a lot of time hanging out with the office gossip, the drama monger, or the guy with terrible judgement? I can think offhand of a handful of folks who I personally know who professionally suffered because they chose to semi-closely associate with people who caused their management team major headaches (you know, things like implying their new manager slept her way to the top. Which, really, is a super sexist thing to imply. Sexism, racism, and other forms of bigotry all fall into this category). Most of those people were at least pretty good at their jobs. A few were , quantifiably, actually phenomenal. None of them ever managed to completely overcome their manager’s perceptions of them, unfortunately, and lost out big time.

        Socially dangerous is a very real thing, and this – the implied sexism – absolutely qualifies.

      2. Nobby Nobbs*

        I certainly wouldn’t want to be a woman in OP’s workplace. Or worse, have to report to her! She’s already tanked one rival’s reputation by “accident.”

    2. Avril Ludgateaux*

      If you are the type of person to judge a woman by her appearance, you didn’t deserve this promotion. If you are the type of person to use your own appearance as an excuse for your shortcomings, you didn’t deserve this promotion.

      100% this – and the lack of self awareness that she’s engaging in the exact same (misogynistic) behavior she claims she is victim to is Not A Good Look.

      People are questioning your “socially dangerous” characterization and it did cock my eyebrow, too. But thinking on it, if I worked with LW during this fiasco, I would start keeping my distance. As a woman who, while not being terribly attractive, nonetheless puts effort into my appearance and fitness, and who also understands the importance of charisma and various soft skills (even if I hate perfunctory office socialization, I still know how to work a room), I would be on edge around LW and probably keep my distance to stay off her radar. Unless she takes contrite corrective action, I would expect that when time came for my hard-earned promotion, she would spread nasty rumors about me, as well. To that end, “socially dangerous,” while harsh, seems fitting.

  14. Marketing Unicorn Ninja*

    OP, I mean this gently, but you seem to think that work product is all that matters, but…it’s not.

    Those soft skills you mention?

    Alice is on time or early = Alice shows respect for other people’s time.

    Alice is good at small talk – Alice puts people at ease.

    Alice is generally a pleasant person on a team = Alice is pleasant! People like pleasant people! People do not like curmudgeons.

    I understand that it’s frustrating to feel like someone being ‘conventionally attractive’ means they have an edge over you, but I really think you’re skipping over the meaningful soft skills Alice brings to the job. Reading between the lines of your letter, it seems like you don’t value those things the same way, which is your choice, but….people *do* value other people being on time and being pleasant and being congenial.

      1. Just Another Zebra*

        *based on OP’s interpretation. Which could be valid, but also could be colored by other opinions of Alice.

      2. ALLCAPSRESUME*

        From how LW described the structure of the department, I don’t even think they really grasp the role if they think Alice’s looks are the reason why they received the job. It doesn’t even sound like a “manager” job – it sounds like a “team lead” role – after all, they said the department is made of 4 teams of 6 people each, meaning that not only does this role need to be able to work under the VP, they need to work with the 3 other manager/team leads. It sounds like LW has a very myopic world view and is competitive in ways that would not be advantageous to a role like this. Us vs them mindsets are not helpful in general, but extra not helpful when you have multiple teams in a department that are not competing with each other.

        The “Alice Principle” is perhaps the best strategy you can take to staff a job like this. It’s the only way to avoid the Peter Principle (people being promoted into management based on success in work product generating or performance based roles can eventually end up in a role requiring very different skills than personally doing the thing) and the Dilbert Principle (people being promoted into management to get them out of work product generating or performance based roles can eventually end up in a position where they can cause catastrophic damage because they don’t understand what the company does or what personally doing the thing entails). Alice sounds like she does good enough work that she absolutely does understand what the team does and can pitch in as necessary, but is in a better position to be participating at the next stage up where she’s collaborating with the other team leads putting the work product together into the bigger picture and advocating for her team.

    1. pie*

      How many of the letters here have been from people whose supervisors were promoted because they were very good at their IC role, but lacked soft skills to manage people, and the ensuing results were disastrous?

      Signed, someone who used to work in healthcare, where every department head was just really good/the most senior at X job and given the management position with no training on how to manage people

      1. Sloanicota*

        Taking away the appearance part – the managers of this new position were probably trying to envision managing Alice, who is pleasant to deal with and puts people at ease, versus OP, who by her own admission is awkward and as evidenced in this letter blurts out the wrong thing at the wrong moment. Alice is going to seem like an easier person to supervise. OP will need a lot more coaching and hand-holding to become a good manager.

    2. Former Young Lady*

      This. I caught a very strong “I’m not like other girls” vibe from this letter. The subtext of which is that more feminine-presenting women (polished appearance, friendly demeanor) should reap the traditionally-low rewards of femininity. Meanwhile, less-feminine-presenting women are more “like the guys,” which we are to interpret as “inherently more competent, more deserving of promotions and raises, and therefore exempt from learning girly soft skills.”

      All of which is hogwash, of course. Soft skills aren’t something less-privileged groups “owe” to more-privileged ones.

      1. Tracy Flick*

        …I think you forgot to carry the two here, and wound up committing the same fallacy.

        Gender non-conforming women are not privileged with respect to conventionally-feminine women, period.

        When “less-feminine-presenting-women” complain about these sexist expectations, they are not saying that they should be exempt from being pleasant to others. They also aren’t arguing that the basic sexist double standard is fair to women in general. They are pointing out that they are held to an additional sexist double standard: because they look “unfeminine,” they are judged to be less nice/pleasant/professional/kind than women who look more conventionally feminine, so they AS a less-privileged group “owe” EXTRA social and interpersonal effort.

        1. Former Young Lady*

          Oh, I agree that gender non-confirming women actually aren’t privileged over femme women in society, but in this case OP clearly perceives herself as more competent in *ways that matter* than her relatively-more-femme colleague.

          “Soft skills are beneath my dignity” is a common misconception in the business world, as is “being less feminine equates to being more competent”. You’re quite right that men tend to be accommodated and even rewarded for this attitude, while women who adopt it are more often penalized.

          But OP is just learning this.

      2. Temperance*

        I think it’s more like OP is punished for not conforming to gendered expectations of beauty and behavior, not that she finds herself to be superior to women who are conventionally attractive.

        I don’t think OP sees herself as superior or more competent because she’s not feminine, but that her quality work is overlooked because it doesn’t come in a package that is appealing to men.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Except that it might not be: Maybe her job wants to keep her in this position because she’s good at it. But also, as others have said, Job and Manager are often not the same skillsets–OP has the Job skillset but seems to not quite have the Manager skillset.

          (For the record, I have my Job skillset nailed but would be a disaster as a manager.)

        2. MsM*

          Except that in the movie that’s apparently playing in OP’s head, the pretty prom queen is supposed to get her comeuppance and the awkward nerd deserves a happily ever after. There’s a definite value judgment going on there, and I don’t think it can entirely be pinned on being overlooked by men. Especially when if we reversed the genders, I think we’d be a lot more likely to see the appearance factor as a red herring compared to the possibility that OP has conflated “people should accept me for who I am” with “I shouldn’t ever have to make any changes I don’t want to make for any reason.”

    3. Miss Muffet*

      The “HOW” of a job should (in most cases, probably) be considered as much as the “WHAT”. Just being good at churning out widgets is fine as long as you work on a factory line. But in most professions, you have to work with others in a team. The How is what encompasses allllll of that.

  15. Kel*

    Just a small plea to Alison to keep an eye on people being fatphobic in the comments. I can only imagine where this will end up.

    1. L-squared*

      I don’t think people are being fatphobic. I think they are rightfully calling her out for her harsh judgments on this other woman

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        I don’t think Kel was saying anyone was being fatphobic right now, just that this letter had the potential to lead to fatphobic comments.

    2. Meep*

      It is sad that OP resorted to body-shaming and I get that means she is more likely to be body-shamed herself, but I think most (reasonable) people realize OP is passing on her insecurities to Alice.

    3. Oryx*

      As a longtime reader, one of the things I like best about AAM is the comments are rarely fatphobic and when one slips in other commenters are quick to call it out.

    4. Avril Ludgateaux*

      Can we not poison the well? There have not been any fatphobic comments here – there almost never are among this commentariat – and yet in spite of that, there are plenty of implicit accusations of fatphobia, as well as using fatphobia as a shield for LW’s objectively bad behavior. Comments like this, however well-intended, are softly stirring the pot while also signaling that valid criticism of LW should be tempered lest it is dismissed as fatphobic, just because she happened to self-identify as fat.

  16. Baron*

    Yeah, it doesn’t matter a bit if your work product is better – management positions aren’t, can’t be, a gold star given to the person who’s best at their current job. They require skills of their own – mostly soft skills.

    I know what it’s like to be discriminated against for appearance-related things you can’t help. It’s not fun, and I understand the desire to lash out. It’s very human. You have my sympathy. But you mis-stepped here for sure.

    1. Green great dragon*

      Yes, this is nicely put. ‘Deserve’ stood out to me in the letter – you deserve a promotion by being the person who would do best in the new role, not by being best in the current role.

      Maybe OP would be the best person! And yeh, discrimination happens. But OP isn’t showing a good grasp of what management does in the letter, so it’s not hard to believe she isn’t showing her managers she’s ready for that step up.

    2. ferrina*

      Yes, and I’m going to add that not getting a promotion you feel you deserve sucks, but it’s never okay to lash out like this. I once lost out on a promotion due to clear cut nepotism- the person that got the job had both lower productivity and no soft skills, and didn’t understand the fundamentals of how to do the promoted job. Was I furious? Absolutely. But no one at work ever knew- in fact, the person that got promoted over me ended up thinking I was her biggest supporter. But lashing out will always make things worse. You comment on soft skills- well, grace under pressure and disappointment is a soft skill that managers need.

  17. CeCe*

    How you feel internally can affect how to treat people externally, so maybe take a look at how you talk about yourself and view others. My manager is good at his job but bad at soft skills. I would rather a manager who is just okay at their job (and isn’t bad) but has excelled soft skills. Managers are about their team, not just themselves–maybe try that. You don’t have to be bubbly, peppy, or whatever cutesy term women are referred to as, but being friendly brings you a long way.

    Also, the phrasing you used usually means what your coworkers assumed you meant. I find it hard to believe you’d be surprised they took it that way.

    1. Pyjamas*

      Re: phrasing: I can’t imagine hearing that comment and thinking, oh it’s Alice’s timeliness and people skills.

      That said, OP ‘s colleague must have had some reaction in the moment. If OP missed that (rather than choosing to ignore it) they need to figure out “how to read the room”. Even if your social skills aren’t optimal, you can train yourself to recognize body language etc. Bur first, you have to accept that this silk is important! I don’t think OP is there yet.

      Fwiw I don’t think Alice will be irreparably damaged by the rumor. In her shows I’d confidently laugh it off (whatever I felt privately). I’m less sanguine about OP’s prospects

    2. Isabel Archer*

      Yeah, the phrasing is clutch: “We all know HOW she got the job” usually means one thing. “We all know WHY” would have left a lot more room for plausible deniability. Still a lousy thing for OP to have said, regardless.

  18. Hiring Mgr*

    If OP has been there for ten years and there haven’t been any other issues they can probably overcome this with the advice AAM gives. But this wasn’t just a simple misunderstanding…even what OP “meant” to say was pretty bad. Also I think there’s an assumption in the letter that it’s taken for granted Alice didn’t deserve the promotion… You’ve got to reframe some of this OP or it will come back to bite you again.. Take this as a wake up call!

  19. Cataclysm*

    Not gonna lie, I’m kind of horrified that this workplace is a location where an ambiguous remark like that immediately gets interpreted as “I can credibly say Alice must be having an affair” — even with a disgruntled tone of voice, there would be multiple possible explanations — and I have to wonder if there’s a bigger cultural problem that someone else immediately jumped to a sexist trope as the “obvious” reason

    1. lobsterbot*

      yeah, that was me also. in a healthy place, the original remark would be challenged or ignored, not taken as important gossip that must be shared.

      1. eatstacos*

        My guess is either OP said more than they’re letting on, or someone else independently said the same thing. A single vague comment to one person doesn’t seem like it could turn into everyone believing something this shocking.

        1. Esmeralda*

          You’d be surprised. It depends on who you said it to.

          For sure that remark almost always implies: sexual favors in return for promotion/good review/plum assignment/blind eye turned to errors, etc.

          The person OP said it to could have called her on it. Either that person passed on OP’s remark, or someone else heard it and passed it on. If you say it out loud at work, it’s not private.

        2. Just Another Zebra*

          Or it was said to the “right” coworker. The one who always seems to spread everything around, the gossip who can’t keep anything to themselves.

          1. Sloanicota*

            Sadly, I also thought if OP is generally a factual person and not usually one to spread unfounded gossip, the coworkers might have taken her saying this as more likely to mean it was based on real evidence. But it’s nuts to me that they didn’t consider she had just been passed over for a promotion at the time.

      2. whingedrinking*

        Yeah, if someone said to me, “Well, we all know how Susan Pevensie got that raise”, my response would be either, “Uh…we do?” or “Wait, what?!” depending on how it was said.

    2. L-squared*

      I don’t know, to me its a very clear implication.

      Maybe its just differences in personalities. But I feel like saying “you know how someone got promoted” definitely implies there was some sexual things happening. Its a sexist trope, but it also comes across as something someone says when they want plausible deniability for saying something they know is inappropriate.

      1. Temperance*

        For me, I would probably assume that the person had family connections or something with just that statement on its face. If the person was very flirty or something, I might think affair, but otherwise, connections.

    3. to varying degrees*

      Really? I think depending on the tone this is exactly what most people would assume is being implied. Women getting accused/gossiped about “sleeping their way to the top” is so very common that other assumptions seem unlikely (at least to me).

    4. Meep*

      To be fair, whenever I try to describe my ex-manager, people insist she is/was sleeping with the boss to let her get away with her horrid behavior. In reality, he didn’t want to do anything business related and left it to her because she said she would handle it. I think it is a people like to be scandalized in general thing.

    5. Caramel & Cheddar*

      That part was weird to me too. I don’t think there’s actually that many explanations for what LW said — that kind of comment almost always implies someone is sleeping with their boss — but it’s surprising to me that the coworker took that comment and thought it was factually true and not just a gross example of someone expressing their jealousy really poorly.

      1. bamcheeks*

        yes, completely agree. If someone said something like that anywhere I’ve worked, the scandal would be, “Can you believe OP implied Alice only got the job because she’s having sex with the CEO? Absolutely shocked someone would say something like that” not, “OMG, did you hear about Alice? LEMME TELL YOU!!”

      2. Despachito*

        This is what I am thinking, too.

        One thing is the OP making this remark, and another is the willingness of the coworkers to spread it. OP obviously should not have said that but it is by far not only her fault – the coworker(s) who spread the gossip, are guilty of it as well.

        Not that it makes OP’s comment better, but we are piling on her quite strongly and I would like to tell her that she definitely did make a mistake and she should work on it, but it does not make her the worst person involved. If the coworkers were decent people, they would just think “oh, OP is jealous, and is expressing it in a real tacky way” and that would be it.

        OP – what you did is not OK, but you already know this and many comments here confirm it. How you FELT is key to this, and I’d definitely explore WHY you felt that way. Are you insecure, do you suffer from an inferiority complex? Do you feel there can be real sexism/fatphobia? All of these are important things for you to work on. Everyone makes mistakes, but just the biggest persons are able to learn from them. You seem to be one of those persons. I applaud you for that, a lot of people do not get this far. Please find help to cope with the feeling “I am the unjustly wronged party”, which is, I repeat, very human to feel but can be very destructive in the long run and can poison your entire mind.

      3. different seudonym*

        most people are poor psychologists IMO, and some of this large group tend to believe outrageous gossip precisely because it lets them off the hook for empathy.

        and because they hate women too.

      4. starfox*

        Yeah, I would immediately assume that’s what she meant, too, but I also wouldn’t believe it and I certainly wouldn’t repeat it.

    6. RosyGlasses*

      I mean, I have a hard time believing that anyone could think of a reason other than that meaning. It’s been used for eons as a euphamism for that woman got the job because she slept her way there.

    7. Wisteria*

      Two people can be wrong:

      The LW for making the comment

      The listeners for spreading the comment and jumping to inappropriate explanations

      1. Cataclysm*

        I’m definitely not saying the OP was in the right to make the comment, I’m saying that there might be a larger culture problem at the job that the OP is a part of and contributing to.

    8. HufferWare*

      I don’t think it’s outrageous that OP’s comment was interpreted that way. There is a long history of women’s accomplishments being dismissed as them having “slept their way to the top”. Further, OP’s comment was sexist even if they didn’t mean to imply that Alice was having an affair- they meant to imply that she got the job entirely on her looks and feminine charm! Not great! Low self esteem is not an excuse to denigrate coworkers and start rumors. LW needs to take the L and not blame colleagues or work culture for her mistake.

    9. All Het Up About It*

      I didn’t take Cataclysm as meaning that the interpretation of Alice having an affair, but more a comment on the fact that everyone took OP at their word so easily and it spread so quickly.

      That struck me as well. I have worked at many gossipy places yet this type of rumor has NEVER flourished in any of them. I know that it happens, but the fact that’s taken root so quickly and seemingly without any proof other has me curious about what sort of work place this is to begin with.

      1. Cataclysm*

        This is definitely closer to what I was getting at — I was a bit surprised that the original coworker was so absolutely confident about the affair interpretation (I could’ve easily read it as “because everyone likes Alice better, boohoo, woe is me”) but horrified that it seemed to have caught on like wildfire for very little discernable reason. One non-specific comment from a person who just lost out to Alice in a promotion? That indicates to me either a) there’s missing context (perhaps additional remarks on the OP’s part, perhaps existing rumors about Alice) that gave the original coworker and those who have spread it more surety or b) the culture of this place leans towards gossipy and mean-spirited, which OP is contributing to.

    10. Butterfly Counter*

      I suspect that the fact that Alice is attractive plays a lot into this with everyone.

      Don’t get me wrong, I know that fatphobia is real and that a number of people benefit from “pretty privilege.” However, attractive people, especially women, have to fight the assumptions from others that they only have what they have because they’re attractive and not because they earned it.

      I suspect OP’s attitude, tone of voice, and overall negativity played into her coworkers own stereotypes about attractive people.

    11. Irish Teacher*

      Agreed. Even if the LW had straight up said “I bet she was sleeping with somebody,” which I’m sure the LW would never do, in a healthy workplace, saying that would make the SPEAKER look bad, not Alice. If one of my colleagues said or seemed to imply somebody got a promotion by sleeping with somebody, ESPECIALLY if the person saying it had also gone for the promotion, I’d be thinking they were jealous, not that the person really was having an affair. I might well think that was what the LW means, but I would assume it was said obliquely because the person speaking was just throwing out accusations at random.

  20. ceiswyn*

    Oh, OP. As an introverted ex obese person, I totally get why you feel like you’ve once again been discriminated against for not being a socially acceptable shape.

    Except… that’s not what happened. Promotion isn’t a reward for being good at your job, it’s moving into a different job. Management doesn’t require someone to look good, but it really does require strong interpersonal skills and an ability to dress in a way that others respect (I don’t like the latter either, but this is the world we currently live in). If you struggle to create interpersonal relationships or make normal conversation, how would you be able to coach your reports, support them, or have difficult conversations with them? How would you be able to effectively work with other managers to shape corporate processes or to reduce negative impacts on your own team?

    From your own description of Alice, she has the skills to do a manager’s job. From your own description of yourself – and especially from your description of this incident – YOU DON’T.

    (I don’t either. That’s why I’m not a manager and why I don’t want to be.)

    You need to let go of the idea that this is about appearance, you need to fix the mess you’ve made, and you need to take a long, hard look at what the job of manager actually entails, why you want to be a manager, and – if you really DO want to be a manager – what you need to change and improve in order to do that job well and to demonstrate that you are ready for it.

    Good luck.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      +100, from a STEM woman who has failed every time she has tried leadership roles. I never wanted them, but sometimes you don’t have a choice (not necessarily at work). (I’d also be a disaster as a parent, so I’m glad that I am not one.)

    2. MuseumChick*

      Thank you for this comment! It put into words everything I was thinking. I’m not the best person at what I do, but when I’ve held manager positions I’ve excelled and gotten very positive feedback from my own managers about how well I do. It’s sad, but the higher you go (generally speaking) the more “dressing smart” matters. More importantly interpersonal skills are critical both in getting work done and in ensuring people stay in their jobs a long time.

  21. Littorally*

    OP, was this a massive aberration on your part to say something like that? I’m not inclined to think so, because the way you described the sequence of events makes it sound like you didn’t recognize that you said anything particularly suggestive until the rumor mill got to work.

    I would say you are very far from ready to be a manager. You can pooh-pooh soft skills all you like, but a solid understanding of how your words and actions are likely to be understood by other people is really critical to leadership. In fact, I would say that this kind of social skill is much more important than having good productivity numbers. After all, you would not be getting promoted to keep cranking out your usual widgets; being a people manager is inherently a people-focused job.

    Look, I’m a big person, and I’ve seen plenty of society’s preference for thin and pretty people all my life. The halo effect is real and can be very strong. But it doesn’t follow that all conventionally attractive people are getting promoted solely on the strength of their appearance — and, in fact, a lot of what you described of Alice’s skill isn’t even just that she’s pretty, it’s that she’s good with people and attentive to detail.

    1. Observer*

      but a solid understanding of how your words and actions are likely to be understood by other people is really critical to leadership. In fact, I would say that this kind of social skill is much more important than having good productivity numbers.

      Yes, this is a really important point.

  22. kina lillet*

    OP I think a lot can be gained in most situations with a sincere, serious, and appropriate apology. I feel for you so much here—how awful that your remark got magnified so far.

    Legitimately, though, I think actually apologizing for things like this will go really far. Both toward your sense of making things right, and toward actually making it right.

    An apology being: an acknowledgment of what happened (“I made a thoughtless remark because I was upset, and it was the perfect grist for the rumor mill”); an apology (“I’m really sorry. It was wrong of me to even indicate in that direction”); and a remark about the future (“I’ve already started talking with anyone I hear this from to set the record straight, and I won’t do this again. If there’s anything else you need or want to make this right, let me know.”).

  23. Gritter*

    It’s oft stated that just because a person is an excellent worker doesn’t not mean they will be an excellent manager. That your numbers may be superior to Alice’s doesn’t mean that you deserved the promotion over her.

    Also soft skills matter. In fact in management roles the soft skills are usually more important than the hard ones.

  24. Pyjamas*

    This seems to be another example of how a dysfunctional workplace can mess with your mind. In an ideal world, OP’s comment would be met with a look of astonishment (or at least with a request for clarification). Instead OP’s colleague jumped to conclusions and seized the chance to spread a salacious and damaging rumor. Is this kind of backbiting a one-off or is it typical chit-chat? If the latter, OP needs to evaluate whether this workplace is a good fit. Spending your days feeling unappreciated seems really dreary. (Also whether or not OP fixes this rumor, if-when it gets out OP is the source, their chance of future promotion is nil)

    1. The Real Fran Fine*

      Yeah, and if this is indicative of the type of environment the OP works in, that cattiness is probably what contributed to the overly negative opinion of Alice in the first place from OP’s perspective. Nothing in the letter sounds like a reason to not like this woman, yet OP admits she doesn’t. I want to believe it’s because the workplace is toxic and negative in general, OP spent 10 years in it, and that negativity has seeped into her, but once she leaves and goes to a more healthy environment, OP will unlearn these toxic behaviors.

  25. The Original K.*

    OP doesn’t want to be judged on her appearance but that’s exactly what she’s doing to Alice.

    1. Meep*

      That is what gets me. I know there is a psychology behind it where pretty people are more outgoing because they are treated with general kindness a whole lot more than “ugly” people, but OP literally body-shamed someone and then perpetuated the stereotype that pretty people are incompetent and only get promotions for their looks. (Whether she intended the sleeping with her boss part or not.)

      The sad part is, I suggested therapy and I was told you cannot “out-therapy bigotry”. No, but you can help with your own bigotry!

  26. whisky_galore*

    Words matter, OP. Instead of “Well, I guess we all know HOW she got this promotion”, you could have said “Well, I guess we all know WHY she got this promotion.” See the difference?

    You implied that her actions were responsible, not her looks/wardrobe/demeanor, which is appalling. Anyone who says something like this doesn’t belong in management.

      1. whisky_galore*

        HOW implies exactly what the rumormongers in her workplace assumed it to be; WHY covers her coworker’s appearance, soft skills, etc.

        One is a sexist trope that should have never escaped OP’s brain via her mouth, and the other — while also problematic — refrains from calling the pretty girl a slut. Minor distinction, but telling.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          How did she get the promotion? By sleeping with someone.
          Why did she get the promotion? Because she was sleeping with someone.

        2. Lyra Silvertongue*

          This is such a subtle semantic distinction that it wouldn’t really be perceivable. People would think it was the sexist reason either way. Why would you even make a snarky comment like that if you were solely trying to refer to someone’s soft skills?

      2. Ann Ominous*

        Me neither.

        HOW did she get it? By sleeping with the VP.

        WHY did she get it? Because she slept with the VP.

        Same thing.

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        I was wondering if there were more than I could see, so I’m glad that others are not seeing the difference either.

    1. HufferWare*

      Both of these statements are mean-spirited and sexist untruths meant to cast doubt on Alice’s promotion because she is an attractive woman. OP’s comment, regardless of intent, was born of sour grapes and her sense of inferiority. The comment should never have been said regardless of wording.

    2. Baron*

      I just wanted to chime in to say that, while I don’t think “why” is a *lot* better than “how” in this situation, I do absolutely see the distinction you’re making.

      1. Bubba*

        The distinction may make sense once it is explained by several supporting paragraphs but, the co-worker that hears “we know how/why she got that job” will probably not make this distinction.

        1. Katiekins*

          If I overheard someone say “we know how she got the promotion,” I would think “that speaker is saying someone slept her way into the promotion.”

          If I overheard “we know why she got the promotion,” I would be more puzzled about what they meant, because there are a lot more options with why.

      2. whisky_galore*

        Score one for the writers here on this forum. Apparently, not everyone is accustomed to splitting linguistic hairs. :)

        1. I should really pick a name*

          What we’re saying is that gossip goes for the most salacious interpretation and doesn’t worry about that kind of detail.

        2. Lyra Silvertongue*

          I’m a writer and an editor. Context and initial impression matters as much, if not more, than linguistic precision when you are talking about how comprehensible something is without further explanation.

        3. Raw Cookie Dough*

          Whiskey, you’re assuming OP reported this word-for-word with perfect recollection. This is not worth splitting hairs, because there’s no way to know what the OP actually said in the moment.

    3. Allonge*

      I think this is not something that comes across in live speech. Maybe in writing, but with this kind of emotion behind a statement, people don’t parse your specific words.

  27. Susan Calvin*

    I’m surprised that the ‘I “accidentally” insulted my boss’ daugher’ letter isn’t in the You May Also Like – feels highly relevant!

  28. yup*

    Ah yes, once again an attractive woman can only have slept her way into her position. And OP come on now, you know very well what your coworker was going to think when you said that. Best of luck to you making this right; it’s going to be a delicate process.

    1. Bubba*

      I am a woman in a male dominated profession for the record and I don’t understand how anyone sensitive to the issue of sexism in the workplace couldn’t reasonably forsee that saying “WE know how SHE got THAT job” wouldn’t be interpreted as “she slept her way to the top”. I wish this wouldn’t be the automatic assumption of course and in any case such a rumor should never be repeated but sadly, that’s not the reality in many workplaces. I trust the OP didn’t mean this (we have all said dumb things without thinking) but, in my opinion it shows poor judgement that the rumor even had to start spreading before the OP realized “Wait, that sounded really bad!” and clarified what they meant to the other co-worker. I don’t think the OP understands enough about workplace politics or diplomacy to be a good manager at this point in their career.

  29. Office Lobster DJ*

    OP, I want to underscore the point that you’ll need to do more than go to the original person who heard your comment. They will have their own embarrassment about the situation, which they should, because they spread unkind gossip. Still, they can also rationalize it as a “simple misunderstanding” on their part, and therefore “not their fault” the whole offices thinks Alice is sleeping with the VP. So, there’s a decent chance this person will be motivated to downplay or ignore the situation, rather than help you put out the fire.

  30. higeredadmin*

    As something proactive that OP can do – speak to your manager/hiring committee and see if they have any constructive feedback for you on what you can work on in order to become a manager. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same “soft skills” discussed by other commenters will come into it. Management isn’t about being the best at a task, it is understanding people and how to motivate them to do their job well.

  31. Tesuji*

    OP’s comment obviously wasn’t great, but honestly, I’m surprised at the leap to her needing to take ownership of the gossip and fix it.

    OP expressed a derogatory opinion about someone. She expressed the thought that someone didn’t deserve their promotion, and vaguely suggested there were other reasons she was promoted.

    What she *didn’t* do was convey false information or even imply that she had some special source of information that no one else was privy to. In fact, she kind of implied the exact opposite, that the ‘true’ reason for the promotion was public knowledge.

    If the coworker then lied while repeating that conversation (e.g., “OP told me that she knows they’re sleeping together!”) then, yeah, OP needs to fix that, though I think the fix is going to the coworker and making it clear that *they* need to correct the record with everyone they told.

    To me, this sounds like a general atmosphere of cutting down a coworker, and OP was just adding to the crab bucket, as opposed to creating it out of whole cloth. I completely agree that this isn’t a great look for OP, kind of confirms that management made the right decision in not promoting her, and should probably be cause for self-reflection.

    … but telling her that she needs to take ownership of a toxic work environment and take upon herself the blame of a misogynistic rumor that someone else created feels like it’s *way* out of line with her actual offense.

    I also think there’s too little thought being given to how this ends, because honestly, if OP *did* start a rumor about a promoted coworker sleeping her way to the top, that sounds fireable to me and maybe even permanently career-affecting, so I’d be *really* leery of accepting that framing.

    1. Just Another Zebra*

      OP saying “we know how Alice got that promotion” is a pretty classic call-out to women sleeping their way to the top. Suggesting otherwise is disingenuous. And even if OP didn’t mean to slut-shame her coworker, she meant to say that Alice received the promotion because she’s pretty and has a good handle on personal presentation. That’s really no better.

      I agree that this is a fireable offense – OP slandered a coworker because she didn’t get a promotion. Not a good look, and not someone I’d want to work with.

    2. Despachito*

      Yes!

      I was thinking this – in an ideal world, it would indeed be nice if Op “owned” her mistake.

      BUt: given that, and how quickly, the rumor spread, this may not only not be ideal environment but a pretty toxic one. OP did make the remark thoughtlessly but says she did not mean “she slept her way up”. It may be a common shorthand for that but she may not have realized that, and it would not be just to blame her for spreading the rumor.

      What OP did say was one remark, which was definitely unkind, thoughtless and bitter, but it was NOT insinuating any affair. If OP “owns” it, she may turn into a scapegoat for those who spread the rumou, and end up as you are suggesting in your last paragraph. I do not think she deserves it.

    3. Mme. Briet’s Antelope*

      OP needs to take ownership of the gossip and fix it because if she doesn’t, an innocent woman is going to be stepping into a situation where all of her subordinates think she slept her way into her new role, with no idea that they think this or why. I trust I don’t need to explain to you why that would be bad.

      I agree with Just Another Zebra that claiming the other coworker made up “Alice slept her way to the top” out of whole cloth as opposed to leaping to the conclusion OP’s comment strongly implied is disingenuous at best, and the fact that it’s so disingenuous is ALSO why OP needs to take ownership and fix this. The coworker isn’t going to. The coworker doesn’t think they did anything wrong, aside from passing on a rumor that they heard from someone else. The coworker DEFINITELY doesn’t think they made the rumor up themselves.

      OP might be fired for fixing this, yes. I quite frankly think she deserves to be fired if she DOESN’T fix it.

      1. Despachito*

        BUt to be fair, OP did NOT start a rumor that “Alice is sleeping with the VP”. The coworker did not hear it from OP, it was them or somebody along the chain who added this juicy detail.

        Don’t let OP throw herself under the bus for something she did not do.

        1. Observer*

          No, this was not “added”. What the OP said is that Alice got her job either through nepotism or through sleeping with the “right” person. Her not meaning that is akin to an English speaker saying something in French that they thought meant something else.

          She started a rumor. She may not have intended to do so, but she did.

          1. Despachito*

            No, this is what you (and a lot of other people) would assume, but there is no way these are the only possible explanations.

            It would certainly imply that Alice’s promotion was not fair, but depending on the context, I can think of X other explanations (Alice can be friends with any bigwig’s, not just VP’s, wife/date their son/be a member of the same golf club/be a former schoolmate … do I have to continue?

            OP says she did not mean specifically that “Alice is sleeping with the VP) and as per the rules, we should believe her (I do).

            So I’d argue that the specifics – Alice is sleeping with someone, and this someone is just VP- were indeed added by another employee. OP did not mention either any affair or VP at all.

            Still wrong and undermining Alice… but it is just not as clear as a lot of you think it is.

            1. Lusara*

              I agree with you. She didn’t start the rumor and she didn’t spread it. She has no reason to start groveling about it. Yes, she was 100% wrong in saying the comment, but the person she said it to is (apparently) the one who told everyone Alice is sleeping with the VP.

        2. Just Another Zebra*

          She did start the rumor.

          OP may not have breathed life and color and details into it, but she started it. “We know how Alice got promoted.” Even if this doesn’t imply that Alice slept with the VP, it’s clearly stating Alice didn’t get promoted on her own merit – like using those shallow soft skills or being a generally pleasant person. /s

          Impact over intent; Alison and commenters say that frequently on this site. Though OP may not have intended to start a rumor that Alice slept her way to a promotion, the impact was just that.

        3. Mme. Briet’s Antelope*

          I mean, if the VP is the one making the hiring decisions*, that’s not someone else “adding a juicy detail,” so much as it is, once again, someone leaping to the conclusion that OP was STRONGLY implying.

          *Given that OP concluded that this rumor was her fault as soon as she heard people talking about Alice and the VP, I think we can pretty safely conclude that the VP is in fact the one making the hiring decisions. If nothing else, given OP’s general take on Alice, I think she would have been all too happy to believe the rumor herself if there was any chance she HADN’T started it.

    4. Delphine*

      She created the misogynistic rumor, even if that wasn’t her alleged intention. The potential damage to Alice’s reputation here is really difficult to understate. This is the kind of rumor that follows women everywhere, forever. I do think LW needs to own up to it.

    5. Observer*

      I also think there’s too little thought being given to how this ends, because honestly, if OP *did* start a rumor about a promoted coworker sleeping her way to the top, that sounds fireable to me and maybe even permanently career-affecting, so I’d be *really* leery of accepting that framing.</I.

      To be honest, this is the best way to avoid getting fired. Because if someone figures out that the OP is the source of the rumor, she's toast. At that point no one is going to believe that she did not mean it that way. If she is proactive, then that's strong evidence that she really didn't mean it.

      It will still probably have extremely negative effects on her chances of promotion, but it is less likely to get her fired.

    6. The Real Fran Fine*

      What she *didn’t* do was convey false information

      She insinuated something false – she has no idea why Alice was promoted over her. All she has are assumptions based in her own jealousy. OP should have said nothing at all. I don’t know when we got to the point as a culture where people think that every damn thought that passes their mind needs to also pass their lips, but we have, and now OP is seeing in real time the disastrous results of this.

    7. Eyes Kiwami*

      But she DID start a rumor about a coworker sleeping her way to the top!

      If we got a letter from Alice, or if you were Alice’s HR/manager, what would you think would be just punishment for OP?

      Absolutely that would be job- and possibly career-affecting. OP owning up to it is the only way to honorably fix the situation. Saying “well they shouldn’t have believed what I said” is such immoral nonsense, that doesn’t clear OP of wrongdoing.

      1. londonedit*

        I agree. Even if the ‘rumour’ was people going around saying ‘Did you hear what OP said about Alice? She said “Well, we all know how she got that promotion” – can you believe it?’ that’s still really damaging because it means people are talking about Alice in those terms, and it’s easy to see how it could put the idea in people’s heads, in a ‘no smoke without fire’ sort of way. In a gossipy office it could easily turn into ‘Did you hear OP said Alice slept her way into her promotion?’ within a few retellings.

  32. LaDiDa*

    Every single time I have heard “Well, I guess we all know how she got this promotion.” about a woman it was always with the implication they got it because of their relationship with someone higher up. And by “relationship”, I mean, sexual relationship. #metoo was started by all the women Weinstein coerced into having sex.

    I think if you say something like it, it shows your bitterness and lack of self-awareness. If someone said that to me I would call them out on it and let them know they should be more careful about what they say about another person.

    By making such a comment and even comments about their “soft skills and looks” they are completely diminishing the person’s accomplishments and potential that has been identified by leaders.

    I think the OP is an unreliable narrator.

    1. Just Another Zebra*

      I had similar thoughts. OP so clearly has feelings about this, and what she said implies a whole host of unseemly things. I think OP suggesting she didn’t realize her words could be construed this way is ignorant at best, but more likely denial.

    2. Dr. Rebecca*

      Just to note: #MeToo was started by activist Tarana Burke, who had nothing to do with hollywood or Weinstein.

    3. All Het Up About It*

      I think the OP is an unreliable narrator.

      I’ve been having this reaction as well, and trying to figure out why because I want to believe this individual. But I realized it’s because everything she provides as proof just… doesn’t mesh up. Someone who’s numbers are “okay” but has stellar soft skills sounds like the perfect manager to me. They will understand the process and the work, and have unrealistic expectations that everyone can perform at their high level, they’ll be able to advocate for themselves and their team and have critical conversations with direct reports. Alice sounds great for a manager role. Her appearance seems secondary.

      Someone being promoted for appearance only seems like an individual who struggles with her work, expects her team to cover for her, takes credit for other peoples successes and is charming to those outside the team, but her team doesn’t really like her. The OP wasn’t able to give us any concrete examples of why they deserved this role more than Alice, other than their numbers are better..

      Instead I see an individual so caught up in appearance themselves, that they aren’t able to have serious self-reflection. (Also – I’m personally bothered by the implication that fat people can’t be pretty even if they don’t follow fashion trends, but that’s me projecting.) There is also the dissonance they say they meant to imply that Alice was promoted for shallow reasons… but soft skills are NOT shallow, especially at the manager level.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I agree with everything you say here. It doesn’t sound like Alison is bad at her job, it sounds like she’s meeting expectations output wise AND has all of these bonus traits that make her sound like a stellar candidate. If there were interviews for this position she probably also interviewed very well. Meanwhile OP sounds like she felt entitled to the role and could only have been “passed over” (hate that phrase, rant for another time) for superficial reasons. That doesn’t sound like someone with the objectivity for a management role. Strong individual contributors are incredibly valuable, but the reward for that is not necessarily a completely different job that requires a new skillset.

    4. MurpMaureep*

      Thank you for articulating the unreliable narrator concept (one of my favorite tropes in fiction, but not something with which one wants to deal in real life!).

      I don’t get how an “unintended interpretation” of LW’s comment spreads like wildfire unless there was more than that one comment or flames were fanned independently.

      Realistically how do you say something like “we all know how she got the job” in a vacuum? Wouldn’t any normal human question it? I am trying to think of a scenario in which the person hearing it doesn’t question it or ask for clarification but goes on to spread awful rumors. If I were discussing a coworkers promotion and someone said that to me I’d be horrified and ask them to explain their meaning. Who wouldn’t?

      So did LW actually say/imply more and then only belated realize that she’d started a rumor? Did she pick someone else who resented Alice as the audience for this comment? Even more concerning, what’s up with an office where this sort of gossip happens and isn’t shut down by management (or other decent human beings).

      There’s so much that doesn’t sync up.

    5. PotsPansTeapots*

      Yes. I really want to be kind to OP because I’ve been in very similar positions before. Maybe not starting a rumor like this, but believing that I deserved a role and was being unfairly shafted when in hindsight, I was not the best person (and that generally involved my soft skills not being up to par, too!).

      Or maybe that’s *why* I think she’s being an unreliable narrator.

    6. Imakesigns*

      Agreed on this. Giving OP as much grace as I can, I find it hard to believe that she didn’t know, or intend what the meaning of “we know how she got this promotion” before or after saying it. I feel like that phrase is common enough (which is sad and gross) that you would be hard pressed to find someone that didn’t understand the implication. I do find a few of the other details unreliable as well. It reminds me of the letter from some years ago where the OP was bullying a “pretty” subordinate and I believe ended up getting fired and then did some deep personal work to move on and realize the impact of their behavior. I think some similar work could really benefit the OP here.

  33. cardigarden*

    Someone mentioned above that we do a disservice to soft skills by calling them that because of the inference that “soft” = “not as important”. Calling them interpersonal skills– which is what they are– does a far better job at conveying importance. And for a manager? Interpersonal skills are critical.

    Being passed over for a promotion is a really crummy feeling. That’s not at issue here. But OP instigated an incredibly reputation-harming conflict, and that does NOT demonstrate the interpersonal skills needed in a manager.

  34. KatEnigma*

    LW: It’s really easy to blame other forces on why you didn’t get a promotion. That doesn’t really serve you, since even if you’re correct, that won’t improve the situation. Look at what you can improve, going forward. And if you think the skill set she has isn’t even worth considering or improving, then perhaps you are in the wrong line of work because you are actively belittling skills the management is promoting for.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Cosigned. It’s normal to have bad feelings, but you need to work through them and handle situations like this with more grace a self-reflection.

  35. bamcheeks*

    Firstly, OP, I hope you can find a way to make it clear to people that that’s not what you meant.

    But secondly, as others have said– what you did mean isn’t much better. I would take this as an opportunity to look at yourself, your organisation, and what you want, and have some really critical conversations with yourself about whether they match up.

    You’ve got several assumptions here:

    1. Alice’s organisational skills, presentational skills and communication skills come easy to her in a way they don’t to you.
    2. Alice’s organisational skills, presentation skills and communication skills are what gives her the edge over you in a promotion.
    3. It’s not fair that organisational skills, presentation skills and communication skills are factors in this promotion, and Alice therefore got the job for unfair reasons.

    It’s possible that your perception of these things isn’t accurate:

    1. Alice may have worked just as hard on her conversational skills, looking smart/put together and being punctual/organised together as you have on what you perceive as the “real” skills for the role. None of those things may be “natural” or easy for her, but the result of hard work and time spent learning and focussing on them.
    2. Those things may not be what got her the job– there may have been other factors that you’re not aware of.
    3. If they are what got her the job, that may not have been “unfair”– there may be completely legitimate reasons why these things matter in a management role.

    I think it’s important to recognise that appearance, organisational/executive function and communication/social skills ARE all used in unfair ways in the workplace to advantage some groups and disadvantage others. The line between “this is a skill which is clearly needed in this role to lead to better outcomes for all” and “using X as a criteria means we overwhelmingly give preferment people from privileged groups” isn’t a clean and bright one, unfortunately.

    But given that, how do you want to move forward? Even if Alice was promoted for bad reasons, staying mad and looking for ways to undermine her because it feels like high school is just going to be so bad and miserable for you. If you want to take something useful from this, then I would start by testing the assumption that Alice was promoted for good reasons, and have a conversation with your manager or a mentor and find out whether punctuality, organisational skills, presentation and social skills (individually, don’t lump them all in together as “things I can’t possibly do”) are important to that role. And if it turns out they are, ask yourself how and where you can develop. You don’t have to have a makeover that turns you into Miss Perky Blonde Always On Time, but things like punctuality, small talk, dressing a bit smarter etc are not binary situations where you’re simply born with the natural talent and if you’re not you can never learn it. They are things that you can put more or less energy into, and you can decide how much energy they are worth to you if the pay-off is progressing to manager roles.

    And if you conclude that they are important to progressing in your organisation or your sector, but that these simply aren’t demands that you can meet, start looking for other ways to use your skills.

    1. EmmaPoet*

      I was thinking of the letter from the woman who didn’t get a job because of how she bullied someone she’d previously been friends with in high school who was now a rock star at that company. She said that Rock Star appeared very polished now, but had been somewhat socially inept in school, never wore makeup, etc. It sounds like Rock Start taught herself or found mentors to get better at social skills, appearance, and so on, and applied those skills as she rose up the ladder.

      So for all we know, Alice also had to learn all those soft skills the hard way.

  36. PsychNurse*

    Fat-phobia is everywhere in our society, unfortunately. Except that in THIS situation, the OP hasn’t given any evidence that it was at play. I think the other commenter was suggesting therapy so that the OP can separate the very real problem of fat-phobia from everyday disappointments where it isn’t relevant.

  37. ceiswyn*

    It is absolutely true that fatness is consistently discriminated against, and actually probably more than even fat people are aware of (based on quite how much easier my life got when I lost weight).

    However, Meep is not entirely wrong when they say that LW is harming Alice’s career because Alice is conventionally attractive. That is a pattern of thinking LW probably does want to deal with, possibly via therapy. This LW illustrates quite how badly wrong judging others because they are more attractive than you can go: https://www.askamanager.org/2017/05/update-im-jealous-of-my-employee-and-its-impacting-how-i-treat-her.html

    1. Meep*

      The one thing I strongly disagree with Allison on is that OP did not judge Alice entirely on her looks. Why put such a focus on it if it wasn’t a thing? And I am not saying fatphobia is lesser than skinny phobia or pretty phobia. It is certainly not! Just that OP blamed fatphobia while exerting her own bigotry as well.

    1. KatEnigma*

      Speaking as someone who is morbidly ohese- it’s harder to properly learn those soft skills and be successful at them, especially if you always were obese. There is legitimate resistance to obese people to overcome. But it’s also easy to fall into negative self fulfilling patterns like LW seems to have.

  38. The one who wears too much black*

    This may be way off base and you may have a lot of reasons for not wanting to, but have you thought about looking for a new job at a company that focuses more on the “hard skills” that you have, LW? In the past, when I have started to take business decisions personally, it’s a “soft sign” that it’s time for me to look for a greener pasture.

    As other commentariat have pointed out, there is value in having people who intra-office network well in managerial positions, and you’re probably taking it personally that this office values those skills more than you do.

    1. kiki*

      Yes. I think LW may need to start considering another company that has more room for promotion into advanced technical roles, not just management.

      1. KatEnigma*

        The one thing my husband loves about his current company that he didn’t love about the last two companies is that there IS a technical track, instead of just a management track. He recognizes where his strengths don’t lie.

  39. OOPS*

    LW needs to do as Alison suggested… and start looking for another job. This is such a bad scene that no one will want her to be on their team. Hard lesson.

  40. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

    I worked for a manager once who was an expert in her work, and promoted primarily because she threatened to quit if they didn’t make her a manager and they didn’t want to lose her institutional knowledge and skill set. She had zero soft skills, was given no coaching on how to develop them, and was universally despised by everyone who worked for her including myself. I worked for her for 5 years and it was miserable every single day.

    OPs letter is pretty ripe with resentment and dissatisfaction, and if those things are coming across to people I don’t think it’s a mystery why she wasn’t promoted to mange people over someone who is pleasant, positive and prompt. Gossiping about colleagues and denigrating their accomplishments is also a terrible look for someone who wants to be promoted.

    If I were Alice and found out about who started this rumor and why, I’d consider it a burned bridge for the entirety of my career. I’d probably also be tempted to request disciplinary action against OP in some form, so that it would be clear how unacceptable her actions were.

    1. Kara*

      Yes, this exactly.

      My first job out of college I worked for a woman who had been promoted to the head of the department (I was her secretary). She was in her 40s when I worked for her and she’d been working there since she was 18. She was an encyclopedia of institutional knowledge. She knew the history of every widget we’d ever made and could lay her hands on a file from 20 years earlier in a heartbeat. She was considered the go-to resource for almost any question regarding our department.

      But she had NO soft skills. She was rude, abrasive, played favorites, pitted her direct reports against each other, spread rumors, and on and on and on. It was the most miserable 3 years of my life and I wound up quitting without another job lined up because I couldn’t take it any more.

      A couple of years after I left, half the department had quit (citing her as a primary reason) and they finally moved her from a people management position to more of a data management role. She had an assistant, but she didn’t have a full team reporting to her, so it cut down on the backbiting and drama. And as far as I know, she thrived in the role until she retired many years later.

      Some people are EXCELLENT at what they do, but should not ever manage people. OP may be one of those people and might want to think about their long term career goals in that context.

    2. Hiring Mgr*

      I was just thinking if this were Alice writing in, the advice would probably be “Talk to HR at once”.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Agreed. And Alice may very well do this if OP talks to her or if she hears otherwise where this rumor orginated, which OP should be prepared for.

  41. Ari*

    OP, please do what you can to fix this situation before this woman’s reputation is irreparably damaged. I’ve been managed by people who should never be managers, and I’ve been managed by excellent people. The excellent managers find something relatable in everyone around them, even people who they might otherwise not like. In other words, they have strong soft skills, in addition to other knowledge and skills. If you can’t hide your dislike of this peer (and you’ve listed no reasons for this dislike), then how would you manage someone who you dislike? Because it happens. I’ve been a manager, and you have to be able to put those feelings aside and treat everyone with respect.

  42. calvin blick*

    I would disagree with Alison here. Assuming there is nothing behind this rumor (which it sounds like there isn’t), eventually this will die off for lack of fuel. If LW tries to “improve” the situation, it’s just going to add fuel to the fire and increase the odds of this rumor getting back to Alice, AND clearly pinpoint the LW as the source. Even in the best case, people will assume there is some fire behind this smoke, and worst case, this will give the rumor even more legs, especially given that LW is making a very fine distinction between “Alice is having an affair with the VP” and “the VP finds Alice attractive and promoted her based on that.” If I was either Alice or the VP, I probably wouldn’t find much difference between “flirted her way to the top” and “slept her way to the top.”

    Given how badly LW messed this up originally, the best bet is just to lay low and hope that it goes away on its own. I can’t imagine Alice could feel comfortable working with LW if she knew about all this.

    1. mcfizzle*

      Hard disagree. Put yourself in Alice’s position – would you want that terrible rumor cleared up or not? Even if people stop talking about it, do they forget? What if Alice gets another promotion / award / honor? You don’t think the whispers start up again and again?

      Doesn’t matter if Alice knows at this point about the rumor; OP has to do the right thing and fix this.

    2. Doctors Whom*

      Those rumors don’t die off unless all the people repeating them leave the organization. I watched a peer be the subject of those and it was so ugly she wound up in HR. There were disciplinary actions against several people spreading those rumors (not strong enough ones, but there were actions taken).

    3. Eldritch Office Worker*

      These things follow women for their whole careers. There’s no reason to think it will blow over. Even if it stays a whisper it could change how she’s looked at forever, definitely at this organization and possibly elsewhere depending on her connections. This is the kind of rumor that ruins people.

    4. Sparkles McFadden*

      I think the response depends on what the LW wants to accomplish. If it’s “Keep a job at all costs” then “lie low and hope that it goes away” might be the answer. If it’s “Accept responsibility for what I did and try to be a better person” then the LW needs to try to undo the damage done.

      There’s a personal risk in either set of actions but I think the LW should err on the side of not being a terrible person.

  43. Pink Marbles*

    I truly wish we could all build each other up instead of tearing each other down. OP, I think this is a lot about personal growth. I feel that it’s a little short-sighted to say that Alice’s promotion “indicative of our society” and then turn around and speak poorly of another woman in the work world. Even though Alice’s work isn’t as high-quality as yours, soft skills require practice, hard work, and attentiveness too. And, it’s not fair to bring her looks into the conversation. It almost has the same vibes as “she’s just a pretty face.”
    That being said, I understand the comment was made out of a lot of frustration, and I think you can turn this into a moment of tremendous personal growth.

  44. Lindy's Homemade*

    “I don’t always have a conversation piece ready but boy, am I sure ready to go all Mad Men on a coworker and imply she duck-clubbed her way to the top”

    Let’s not mince words, OP–you definitely knew what you were saying and how it would come across. What the hell, lady.

    1. LolaBugg*

      She sure didn’t have any trouble coming up with a conversation piece in that situation lol. Maybe if OP took some of that bitter energy and channeled it into developing soft skills, a promotion could be achieved.

    2. Lana Kane*

      Yep. “We all know how she got that promotion” has a very specific & well-known meaning and has nothing to do with soft skills. If I were Alice and OP told me that she meant soft skills, I would not take it seriously.

  45. In defense of OP*

    I hate leaving comments but I feel compelled to here because I feel bad that the OP is going to have to read all of this negativity towards her. First of all, it seems most of the commenters are unaware that there are AMPLE good quality data showing that conventionally attractive women are more likely to be promoted (among many other work-related rewards) than their less attractive counterparts. So to suggest that it’s ridiculous for OP to see that as being at play here is just ignorant, and I think likely comes from your own biases in favor of attractive women (in this case, Alice). This is nothing against Alice, but she also likely has many of her soft skills BECAUSE she is conventionally attractive, and in our society it is more difficult to develop those things if you are less attractive and therefore receive different “soft” feedback from everyone you talk to.

    In the very first job I ever had (a grocery clerk at 18 years old), I was given all of the most desirable hours (instead of the clerks with much more seniority) because the boss “wanted me there during the day so he could look at me.” (I wasn’t a super hot 18-year-old or anything, but it was me versus middle-aged women). This kind of thing is RAMPANT. Men are gross and they base their decisions off of these things more often than not.

    Finally, and since I’m already going to get either ignored here or piled on so whatever, the OP did NOT start a rumor! Her coworker did! Whoever decided to start saying that Alice was sleeping with the VP is to blame here, and to act like the OP started saying that is so unfair. She made a vague comment and some dumbass filled in the blanks completely incorrectly. Let’s give her a little grace.

      1. In defense of OP*

        “Nah” = “I experienced sexism in one very specific way and so I am only sympathetic to women who experienced it in that exact same way and refuse to consider the complexities of different women’s experiences”

        1. Just Another Zebra*

          Nah, because experiencing sexism is not an excuse to perpetuate a different kind of sexism.

          1. KatEnigma*

            Or, more broadly speaking, just because you have had bad things happen to you, you don’t have the right to do bad things to other people.

            Otherwise, it’s that thinking that leads to people like the LW thinking she’s justified in tearing down another human being. “It’s not fair!”

        2. Polly, another victim of slept-with-boss rumors when I was sexually harassed by boss instead*

          MOOOOOMMM, she did it first!

          Nah.

    1. Baron*

      I agree with you about conventionally attractive people having an easier go of things, but otherwise, nope. She didn’t make a vague comment at all – in context, the comment was very likely to be read as “she’s sleeping with the boss”.

    2. Teacher not on summerbreak*

      Grace can not be substituted for accountability. OP did start the rumor. That phrase is well embedded into our social contract. OP didn’t mean for it to spread but she definitely meant it at the time.

    3. Kel*

      Yeah sorry, I disagree. The point here isn’t why Alice got promoted over LW, it’s about how LW handled it; which was badly. there’s no way ‘we all know how she got that promotion’ isn’t a dogwhistle for ‘slept her way to the top’.

      1. In defense of OP*

        Fair enough. I’m following the commenting rules here and assuming the OP is being honest when she says she was horrified by that interpretation, etc etc. If she is lying and that was actually how she was hoping it would be construed, I don’t defend that whatsoever.

        1. Calliope*

          You don’t have to be lying to soft pedal the implications of what you meant and the OP herself said she meant to imply Alice got the promotion for shallow reasons. Come on, nobody says “we all know how she got that promotion” to mean “because she’s excellent with people which probably happened because she fits in well as a conventional unattractive woman”. At a minimum, it means “the boss thinks she’s hot” or “she’s flirtatious with higher ups.”

          Those actually aren’t ok things to say about a woman who gets promoted either. Much like being out on a shift with a skeezy boss who likes to ogle barely legal teens isn’t a benefit of sexism either, even if you make more money in the short term. Sexism hurts women in the workplace in a myriad of ways whether they’re conventionally attractive or not and a major one is by saying women who got promoted did so because of their appearance rather than on merit.

        2. Eyes Kiwami*

          I’m sure OP was horrified, but she was still engaging in all kinds of toxic sexist thinking towards her coworker and this is what spilled out. “She is conventionally feminine and attractive and thin and kind, therefore she doesn’t deserve the promotion. I deserve it because I am not like other girls.”

      2. Despachito*

        I also assume OP was honest that she did not realize.

        Plus, once she realized the rumor went this way, she was horrified.

        She still handled it badly, she triggered the rumor but DID NOT start it or proliferate it. So I do not agree with the “dogwhistle” thing.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Even if she didn’t expect it to be taken this way, it’s still another flavor of putting down other women’s accomplishments to try to send the message OP intended to send.

          I am also fat. I know it’s exhausting and demoralizing to see society quietly pass you over. The details just don’t support that being the case here and OP did handle the situation quite badly.

        2. Observer*

          she triggered the rumor but DID NOT start it or proliferate it.

          Yes she did. She said what she said. She may actually believe that this line actually gets used for general “shallow reasons” rather than nepotism or having a relationship with the “right” person. But it doesn’t. The person who passed on the rumor did not make things up or fill in any blanks.

    4. LilPinkSock*

      LW’s comment wasn’t vague, it implied that Alice didn’t deserve to be promoted–which was then restated in her letter.

    5. Glomarization, Esq.*

      Alice can have the privilege of being conventionally good-looking and the luck to have talent at developing her soft skills, possibly giving her a slightly easier road to promotion than the LW’s path, and also the LW should not have said sexist words that were very, very reasonably interpreted as defamatory toward Alice.

      Hopefully the LW will take this incident as a learning opportunity to work with the hand they’re dealt and develop their own soft skills, which include not saying unpleasant things about their co-workers.

    6. Aepyornis*

      This. We can’t know for sure how Alice got the promotion and have no reason to think it was because of her looks so my comment isn’t about her but being conventionally beautiful is demonstrated to be a significant professional advantage. I couldn’t pinpoint one particular job or opportunity I got because of this, but if I look honestly at the last 20 years of my busy and successful career in a competitive industry, I can’t deny that it must have mattered at one point or another and also helped me mitigate the fact that I am disabled (which is a professional disadvantage even if I’m still at the moment perfectly able to work). Is it why I am where I am now? No. Did it help me? Certainly. It’s not a nice feeling to know that something like this gave me some sort of unfair advantage (against my unfair disadvantage) because like everyone I want to think my accomplishments are all due purely to my skills and dedication, but I think it is important to acknowledge these things.

    7. Despachito*

      I agree.

      OP acknowledges she messed up, and is horrified that people think that Alice slept her way up.

      This is honest, and does not deserve piling up.

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        Yeah, but even the most generous interpretation is “Alice got the job because she’s fun and cute but she still doesn’t deserve it”. That’s not great either

        1. Temperance*

          I think it’s more like “I deserved it more but am less fun and less cute so I was overlooked”. Which is a justifiable feeling.

          1. bamcheeks*

            It’s a justifiable feeling, but OP didn’t just feel it, she said it out loud. Which is pretty high on the list of “do not do” when you want to be seen as a professional and potential manager.

          2. Despachito*

            This is how I read it too. OP does acknowledge Alice’s qualities, but is bitter because she thinks “Alice is good but I am better in an aspect that should matter (technical knowledge) so I deserve it more”. It seems that the evaluators valued something more than the technical knowledge (Alice’s looks? Alice’s soft skills, or just a total picture)?

            I understand the bitter feelings (I reckon most of us would be at least disappointed), but letting them out would be unprofessional, and realistically nothing can be gained by it. Either Alice is indeed a better choice (and it would therefore be unjust to question her promotion and OP will be judged harshly for a “sour grapes” situation), OR there was indeed discrimination, and then I would seriously hesitate whether it would be meaningful to keep working in such an environment (and again, piling dirt on Alice would get me nowhere).

          3. Observer*

            Maybe. But it is NOT a justifiable comment!

            One key difference between a child and an adult is that adults don’t say everything that’s in their minds.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        I do believe that it was an offhanded comment that the OP in no way intended to mean that Alice slept her way up, but considering the wider meaning and longer-term effects of what you say before you open your mouth is another skill that shouldn’t be overlooked.

        1. Bubba*

          Exactly. A manager needs to have the interpersonal skills necessary to make reasonable predictions about how what they say and do will be perceived by others and how it could affect others. You have to know what to say, how to say it and when it’s better to just keep your mouth shut.

    8. Kara*

      ” in our society it is more difficult to develop those things if you are less attractive and therefore receive different “soft” feedback from everyone you talk to.”

      I’m a fat, 54 year old woman. I have been fat most of my adult life. Not just mildly overweight, but obese. I’m 5’4″ and at my heaviest I weighed about 280 lbs (I think; I quit weighing myself for a while). I lost a lot of weight but even after losing 100+ lbs, I’m still considered fat.

      As a fat woman, I very much disagree with the idea that fat people have a harder time learn to be polite, have a conversation with co-workers, and just generally be sociable people. In fact, I would be willing to state that many of us developed better soft skills because we know we have to be able to push past that “first impression” moment where, no matter how well we dress or present, someone is likely to think “fat slob” or “lack of self control” or whatever.

      1. Allonge*

        Thank you.

        Also it feels like an excuse for not doing anything. People: harder and impossible are waaaay far away from one another. There are plenty of things that come harder to any of us and yet we manage.

      2. Avril Ludgateaux*

        Yeah, all these comments about fat people not having the opportunity to develop social skills are wild to me. The prevailing trope/stereotype among my generation is that specifically women who grew up fat, “ugly,” weird, or otherwise not conventionally attractive are the ones who also developed good humor and interesting personalities because we had to work to attract people. Whereas women who were conventionally attractive never had to earn people’s favor, they were just given it, so they tend to be one-dimensional, lack charisma, humor, empathy, and various social graces.

        It’s all misogynistic drivel, anyway, but believe me when I say this thread is quite literally the first time I’ve seen “I’m fat, therefore I never had a chance to develop soft skills” used as an excuse for, frankly, being a bit of a jerk.

    9. kiki*

      I think most commenters are aware that conventionally attractive people are more likely to be promoted than their less attractive counterparts but also noticed LW listed some really compelling reasons for Alice to have gotten the promotion. Even though LW didn’t mean to suggest Alice slept her way to the top, insinuating that the primary reason Alice got the promotion is her looks is still not a great look, especially when the LW freely admits Alice has some skills that they don’t.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        Yup, it’s quite possible to be aware that conventionally attractive people can have unfair advantages and STILL notice that the LW, who herself admits she doesn’t like Alice and who is therefore likely to portray her at her worst, still gave a description of somebody who sounds like she may well deserve the promotion.

        While it is POSSIBLE that Alice was given preferential treatment based on her looks, it is probably more likely that she got the promotion due to better soft skills, better time-keeping, better relationships with her coworkers, etc, all of which are important in a manager.

        I don’t think those who are critical of the OP are unaware that conventionally pretty people can have an advantage. I think most people are aware of that. But..the fact that this exists doesn’t mean that every pretty person who is promoted is necessarily undeserving. And if somebody who dislikes somebody and wanted the promotion themselves gives a description of somebody that makes complete strangers think, “yeah, honestly, she sounds like she deserved that promotion,” the odds are high that she did.

    10. Fluffy Fish*

      Yes attractiveness bias is a thing. No it doesn’t occur every where all the time.

      We have ZERO info to indicate that was at play here other than OP’s comment. No examples of favoritism aside from the promotion. No examples of OP being treated poorly because of their appearance.

      -OP also downplays the importance of soft skills to the point that she dismisses Alice as being in anyway deserving of the position
      -OP also said something nasty about Alice to a colleague because she was upset

      What we do know is OP has shown some really bad judgement.

      And the fact is – it doesn’t matter. There is no justification for what OP said. It was nasty and unprofessional.

      The comment wasn’t vague. Unless one has lived under a rock, or perhaps another country, what OP said is exactly what people say to imply someone has slept their way into a position.

      OP did start the rumor. If OP didn’t say it, it wouldn’t have been spread. Blaming the coworker for repeating it is some weird mental gymnastics to absolve OP.

      OP is getting grief because of their actions.

      1. Despachito*

        EVERY ONE who is spreading a rumor is guilty of spreading it.

        EACH AND EVERY link of the gossip chain could have interrupted it by choosing not to spread it.

        So it is only fair to blame the coworker for spreading it, and it does NOT mean absolving OP.

        1. LilPinkSock*

          “EACH AND EVERY link of the gossip chain could have interrupted it by choosing not to spread it.”

          I love this concept. I work with girls and young women, and I’m adding this to my store of wisdoms for them.

    11. Dust Bunny*

      However, if you’re the people who have to work with either Alice or the OP as your manager, it kind of doesn’t matter how they got their soft skills–the end result is that either you have a manager who has them or you have one who doesn’t, and I’ll give you one guess which one most people would rather have. “Yeah, I know she’s snippy but you have to put up with it because she had it harder in life,” is how you lose good employees. The OP is an adult–she can work on those skills herself now.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yep. A lot of skills are harder for people to learn for reasons that are out of their control, unfair, and discriminatory if you get to the root of the issue. However – sometimes the skill is what matters in a certain job, regardless of where it came from.

    12. Observer*

      he OP did NOT start a rumor! Her coworker did! Whoever decided to start saying that Alice was sleeping with the VP is to blame here, and to act like the OP started saying that is so unfair. She made a vague comment and some dumbass filled in the blanks completely incorrectly.

      No, she used a well know euphemism for “she slept her way to this position”. She says she didn’t mean that, but that’s still what she said. She SAID “red” even though she meant “purple”? Don’t blame other people for hearing red. And she most definitely DID say red.

      As for the rest – I hope you don’t manage people is all I am going to say.

    13. Ha!*

      Nope. No one cares. She isn’t five years old. She doesn’t get to bully because she’s been bullied. She needs to step outside herself and understand other people have feelings no matter what they look like or what she is going through.

      OP did start the rumour. She wrote in because she did. Okay, it wasn’t intentional. If I accidentally hit you with my car, I still hit you with my car.

    14. Mac (I Wish All The Floors Were Lava)*

      You said everything in my heart, only so much more coherently than I could. Thank you so much. I usually love the vibe of the AAM comment section, but whoo, do I not feel great about the blatantly fatphobic dogpiling today.

  46. Formerly Ella Vader*

    I just wanted to use this letter as a general comment about how much I appreciate Alison’s examples of how one can walk back a problematic comment or behaviour, taking responsibility and attempting to make amends.

  47. SongbirdT*

    I won’t pile on to the OP here, because that’s been thoroughly covered in other comments.

    That said, I’m a little skeptical that this entire rumor mill started with a singular offhand comment, and I’m not sure that the blame can be laid entirely at the OP’s feet. In my experience, it takes a lot more juice to get a rumor like that started – be it an office culture that’s prone to wild speculation, or a busybody who works to spread gossip, or people already suspected it and the hint of something untoward pinged their confirmation bias, or -something-.

    None of this is intended to excuse the OP’s poorly considered comment. That was a bad move to be sure. Just not sure that the full apology tour is warranted.

    1. Despachito*

      “I’m a little skeptical that this entire rumor mill started with a singular offhand comment”.
      “None of this is intended to excuse the OP’s poorly considered comment. That was a bad move to be sure. Just not sure that the full apology tour is warranted.”

      Exactly this!

      It is definitely something OP should work on for her own good, but by far is she NOT the only one at fault.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Totally true! If someone higher up the chain was writing in I’d have strong words about the office culture they’ve cultivated.

        But the best thing OP can do is be aware of that culture and try not to be complicit in it. It’s a hard lesson learned.

  48. Feminist Killjoy*

    I’d like to gently suggest to the OP that some of this thinking about your coworker might be internalized misogyny (I believe your letter implied that you are female, if not, then it’s just a little regular misogyny). We are socialized to believe that some personality characteristics associated with femininity — kindness, politeness, being a good listener — are less valuable than characteristics such as focus or ambition, both seem as a little more masculine. However, as everyone else has already said, those soft skills are incredibly important, take effort to develop, and are worthy of being appreciated rather than denigrated. It’s similar to the way that our culture frequently scoffs at traditionally “female” interests like make-up, fiber arts, or reading fiction; whereas hobbies like watching football or reading non-fiction are considered more substantial. If you are anxious to be promoted, you’d do well to take your development of those soft skills seriously rather than focus singularly on producing a quality work product. Things like tact are extremely important when it comes to managing. I’m not trying to make you feel worse, I’m rooting for you. You’re in the same headspace that I was in when I was younger, and I think you’ll be so much happier and more successful if you can start viewing other women as something other than competition.

    1. Tracy Flick*

      If you’re a feminist, then you know that it isn’t so simple. Sexist stereotyping isn’t only about disparate expectations for behavior. It also means that identical behaviors are interpreted differently.

      Alice could very well be a more pleasant person in some objective sense, such that LW would be receiving the same treatment if she behaved in the same way.

      However, it’s much more likely that Alice is getting extra support – her coworkers are more pleasant and friendly to her, more likely to give her the benefit of the doubt, and more likely to include and respect her. It is also likely that Alice is getting extra credit – her coworkers are more likely to see her as pleasant and friendly even when her behavior is the same. This is just how stereotyping works. It’s why we’ve never had a woman president.

      This is not an excuse for LW to neglect interpersonal skills, but it’s not helpful to pin her resentment on internalized misogyny. And it’s not feminist to act like LW’s (apparent) workplace reputation for lacking soft skills is based on some objective standard! We have every reason to assume that the standard is significantly biased. If this workplace is like most workplaces, sexism (and corollary lookism, fatphobia, etc.) are definitely in play, and LW is probably being judged unfairly.

      1. Despachito*

        I think these are two different things.

        1. Fatphobia may very well be a factor (we do not know either way).
        BUT
        2. in the given situation (Alice is good at her job, is good looking and has excellent soft skills, while OP is excellent at her job, is – in her own words – less good looking and does not have as great soft skills as Alice does) it would be very difficult to blame fatphobia that Alice was selected over OP, because there were other more relevant factors – the soft skills seem much more important, and Alice has them while OP doesn’t.

        I am not sure misogyny and feminism should be mentioned here – the same could hold if OP and Alice were men, and one of them was fat and the other good-looking.

        1. Tracy Flick*

          No, I disagree.

          If you are thin and conventionally attractive, you will be given more credit for being pleasant, professional, and skilled; you will also be given more positive treatment that will in turn affect your interpersonal relationships and outcomes. You can’t separate them.

          And while fatphobia and lookism do impact men (although that impact is also affected by gender) they are also related to specifically sexist expectations laid on women.

          Fat women aren’t just seen as less good in some global way – they’re specifically seen to be lacking professional skills, and social/interpersonal skills associated with femininity. It’s more likely than not that LW is being held to a harsher standard than Alice, and that they cannot simply get the same treatment by acting like Alice.

          This is not an excuse for LW’s behavior, but this is a real thing and a likely factor here. Like, if they were complaining about being passed over in favor of “Alex,” a professional and personable man, it would not be fair to LW to say that Alex’s gender did not create an unfair advantage. Or that this advantage could be nullified by some actual skill Alex might or might not have.

          1. Despachito*

            OK but this would be “all things being equal”.

            OP here acknowledges that Alice has better soft skills.

            And I think that we should be very careful to distinguish whether the member of the “more privileged” category (more attractive, male) was promoted just because of this privilege, or because of other, more objective factors.

            If I understand your last paragraph correctly, you’d assume that if the more attractive person (or a male over female) was promoted, it is always due to unfair advantage irrespective of the actual skills of the promoted person, is this correct? Because if so, I’d think it extremely unjust (this would mean that the woman or the less attractive person should be always the one to be promoted…?)