I get angry when I’m praised for doing work I don’t like

A reader writes:

Sometimes when receiving positive feedback, I feel irrationally angry about it. This is always when I’m doing a task I dislike. This, of course, causes problems at work when I’m doing a task I didn’t want to do in the first place and a supervisor tries to give me some encouragement. It’s not that I’m uncomfortable with praise. It’s that I want to tell the praise-giver, “Thanks, I hate it, please go away.”

I don’t say that, for obvious reasons. Usually I find silence is the safest response that allows me to feel like I’m being honest with my feelings. I’m not going to thank someone for giving me praise that resulted in me feeling negatively. But I don’t feel like I can politely communicate, “Thanks for trying, I know you mean well, but I don’t appreciate receiving praise right now.” Does such a script exist? Or do I just keep my mouth shut?

For what it’s worth, I’ve been like this since I was a kid. Like, if my Dad knew I hated cleaning the windows, but I did it anyways, and he’d say, “Wow! Those windows look great,” that would make me pissed off, even if I wasn’t before. If it’s a task I feel good about, or I’m neutral about, I love hearing positive feedback. But some reason I just get angry when it’s a task I don’t like and someone tries to tell me how good I am at it.

I completely understand that this is stupid, and I have no idea why I’m like this. I’ve been googling this to come up with ways of managing this emotional response, but come up with nothing. It’s like nobody else seems to have this problem.

I wrote back and asked, “Is it because you feel the person is trying to manipulate you? Patronize you? What is it that makes you feel angry?”

I think it’s that I see it as a form of control. Like, I think the person is just saying I’m doing a good job because they want me to feel good about doing things I hate. It’s as though they’re trying to change my mind or feelings about it.

Which, in a dynamic where one person has power over another, my mind and feelings are the only thing I get to keep, and now my boss is trying to take that from me as well. Which makes me want to push back and say, “Nope, I might have to do what you say, but you don’t get to positively reinforce me into feeling good about it.” Might sound stupid, but I think that’s what it is.

Well, it’s possible that people giving you positive feedback about work you dislike are indeed trying to make you feel better about doing it. But they’re probably not trying to make you like the thing you dislike. They’re probably trying to make you feel appreciated for doing it — because they do appreciate it. That’s especially true if they know you don’t like it! It’s a way of saying, “I know you’d rather not be doing this, and I appreciate that you’re doing it anyway. Thank you.” If they used those words, would it bother you as much? If it wouldn’t, then I’d try to convert whatever they say into that in your head, and see if it relieves some of your aggravation.

I also think you’re seeing this is a lot more adversarial than it is or needs to be. You’re being paid to do a job, here’s some work that needs to be done as part of that job, and we’re all better off if we have reasonably good will toward each other as part of that transaction, rather than assume anyone is trying to manipulate you or control your feelings. People just want a pleasant atmosphere at work because we’re stuck there eight hours a day. (Obviously there are exceptions to this, but if you have a boss who you genuinely think is trying to manipulate you, that’s a bigger issue than whatever positive feedback they’re tossing your way.)

As for how to handle it … you said currently you just stay silent, which might be fine in some situations but seem odd in others. And “I don’t appreciate receiving praise right now” isn’t really something that will land well in most work situations.

Frankly, I think you’re putting too much emphasis on needing an honest response. There are lots of situations at work (and in life in general) that are just about completing your side of a social ritual, rather than baring your soul. Think about “how are you?” for example — in a lot of cases an honest answer to that would be inappropriate and jarring, and it’s not what’s being sought. It’s just an “I acknowledge you” ritual. You might look at praise for something you don’t like as a similar social nicety that doesn’t require anything more from you than politely closing the loop. Exactly what that response looks like will depend on the feedback being offered, but some pretty neutral examples are:

* “Thanks.” (I know you don’t want to thank someone for praise that annoyed you, but truly this is a “how are you / fine” level of neutral response.)
* “It’s not my favorite task but it needs to be done.” (This one might satisfy your desire to be honest.)
* “I’ll be glad when it’s done!” (But you’ve got to say this cheerfully, not resentfully, and you can’t use it every time.)
* “Yeah, it’s coming along.”

I do wonder what this might be rooted in! Did you grow up in a family that demanded you put on a positive, sunshiney demeanor no matter how you were really feeling? Or that ignored your feelings when you were unhappy or wanted something to change? Or where appearances mattered more than what was really going on? Family dynamics can play out in weird ways when we’re older — you can end up stuck in a mindset that made sense for what was happening in your life decades ago but doesn’t make sense anymore, as well as seeing dynamics around you that are rooted in things from your past rather than in what’s playing out in your life currently. If that resonates with you at all, therapy is a really good place to explore that stuff, and sometimes seeing clearly where it came from can help drain whatever power it still has over you.

Otherwise, though, I’d work on seeing it as as appreciation rather than an attempt to control your feelings, and on having some go-to neutral responses to default to.

Read an update to this letter

{ 357 comments… read them below }

  1. Neon*

    Also consider “Well, if you can’t get out of it you may as well get into it” as a response.

    It makes it clear that you’d rather be doing something else while explaining why the results are still good.

    1. Bluey fan*

      Or, if you’re a Bluey fan, channel your inner Bandit & Chili with a cheerful “gotta be done!”
      [If this means nothing to you, go watch Bluey, it’s delightful for adults as well as kids]

          1. Kit*

            Could just be autocorrect (aussi is French for “also” and I know my phone is weird about when it thinks I’m writing in French and when in English)!

      1. Rapunzel Ryder*

        +1 For anytime you can add Bluey to a professional situation. Says the woman (with no kids) in her office with a Bingo plush and Bandit is on the Christmas list…

        1. Praise in place of money*

          This might have already been said somewhere down in the comments, but it sounds to me like a possibility is that people used to use praise perhaps in your family to force you to do things you didn’t want to do. Like instead of giving you a task you either enjoyed or didn’t mind, they gave you the task you hated the most and then sort of praised you for it instead of recognizing that maybe your sister should have had that task and you should have had your sister’s task. Kind of like workplaces that try to pay you with praise instead of money. Of course there’s always going to be things that have to be done that nobody wants to do. But acknowledging that and taking turns with doing them might be different than forcing someone and trying to make it okay with praise. Just one possibility that occurred to me.

      2. Jenna*

        Bluey is the best, hilarious and adorable! I have a 3-year-old who got my husband and I into, as well as his grandparents. I’ve caught my dad watching it by himself!

    2. Indigo a la mode*

      That’s a great response. I don’t have this particular pet peeve, but I do have an irrational/out of proportion immediate anger response to a thing or two, so I totally empathize. I, too, kinda want people to know when I’m miffed! And it’s tough when the feelings are valid but the thinking/behavior just isn’t, so I’m glad that OP’s kept the burner turned down thus far.

      I think Alison’s reframe (“I know you don’t like this so I appreciate you doing it”) is super helpful and that a response like you suggested, Neon, could be cathartic for OP while still being upbeat.

    3. JSPA*

      I like this. But there might even be room for OP to channel their anger productively.

      Depending on the office, it may be possible to thank the person while naming the misery (which is better than displacing the hatred of the task into the person). And frankly, “I will be resolutely chipper even in the face of the Augean stables” may be unhelpful, strategically.

      “Thanks, it turns out that loathing a task this much can be good motivation to get it done.”

      “Thanks, you probably know it makes me cringe, but it’s good to know that doesn’t immediately affect my basic competence.”

      “Thanks, I’m winning the fight this time. But seriously, is there anything I can do to get [task name] off my plate for the next couple of cycles, before my dislike of it breaks through my self control, and errors slip in?”

      (I suppose if one is speechless with anger, a little tap-of-the-virtual-cap-brim salute might also work better than a dead-eyed stare.)

      1. Green great dragon*

        I like the idea, but I wouldn’t even hint at the idea you’ll start making errors/not meeting basic competence level. LW’s clearly too annoyed to say them with a light enough tone to get away with it.

        But I agree being up front that you don’t like it can work, as long as it’s tied with the willingness to do what’s in your job description to an acceptable standard.

        I had to arrange a teambuilding day when I really didn’t want to. I did it well.
        Boss, cheerily, afterwords “Aren’t you glad you did it now?”
        Me “Nope!” [Distinct pause] “I’m glad it went well”.

        1. Warrior Princess Xena*

          As an aside, I love love love your username and am 99% sure I know where it came from!

        2. mazarin*

          I considered it a success when I had this conversation one Covid Year: Them- ” I am sorry, we can’t let you organise/go to an end of year party” me ” OK, Great!’ Them- ” I thought you would be really disappointed because you always organise it” Me: “No, Actually I hate it, Its a thankless task and whatever I do someone complains” Them: ” But you always really get into it!” Me: ” Yep, thats my job. The boss wants everyone to go to a party, and I do my job to the best of my ability. That means appearing engaged and excited. So please don’t ruin it by telling everyone I hate it!” Them: “!!!!”

          1. allathian*

            You’re a far better actor than I am. I’m sure pretty much every job involves doing tasks that you dislike, but when I have to do that, I’ll do my best not to appear too resentful, but nobody will be under any illusions that I’d be disappointed if I didn’t have to do the task the following cycle…

            1. mazarin*

              Yes, but think about life- Noone wants to go to a party that the person inviting you is unhappy about. Being upbeat about it is Part of the Task. And yes, I was pleased that my acting skills/marketing had been good enough to fool people.

              1. OneWayValve*

                I have been “tasked” with organizing class reunions for decades. Partly it fell to me because I had been class president (high school, college, sorority, grad school), and partly because I did a damn good job making them happen. But I have been increasingly resentful with each one. No one knew this,of course (gotta wear the Happy Mask!!), but I could tell it was really starting to chafe.
                Then I read BOUNDARY BOSS. Game changer! I don’t have to keep doing reunions just because I was class president. A month ago I was reminded that the XXth reunion was coming for the ABC school. I had just finished the XX reunion for the high school class. And I said no. I felt like Atlas Shrugged. Not my problem. Not my life-long job to plan reunions. “No thank you”. “No, I can’t do it this time”. “No, I’m sorry but I’m too busy”. What I thought was really telling was the fact that NO ONE ELSE has volunteered. I am not going to be tricked into doing it out of guilt. Just like you I have good acting and marketing skills, but I just can’t take it any more.

  2. KHB*

    This sounds like something to dig into with a good therapist.

    But if we’re guessing, I’ll guess: Is it possible that “Wow, those windows look really good!” was often followed up with “…so now you have to be the one to wash the windows all the time, because you’re so good at it”? Because I can see how that would make anybody angry.

    1. Ally McBeal*

      This. Especially since it has roots in LW’s childhood – I’ve had plenty of work-inappropriate reactions that I’ve been able to trace back to something in my distant past, and it’s been really helpful to work through it therapeutically.

      1. Lab Lady*

        I have similar reactions — and have come up with other non-committal responses

        I absolutely have 2 close family members that used the ‘you’re so good at it’ to get out all sorts of labour, both physical and emotional.

        Now that I’m an adult who has (and will continue) her power to let things drop (while controlling the overall negative fallout) it’s a little better. Within my family I use phrases like “Next time it’s you’re turn”, and “enjoy it, because I’m not doing this again for years and years” (and then follow through)

        1. The Real Fran Fine*

          My brother is like your family, so I always ended up doing all the chores in the house because I was just soooo much better, ugh. As an adult, if someone asks me to do something I don’t like at work, I may do it, but it’s going to be done at a basic level. I don’t go the extra mile like I would when I’m doing something I enjoy and I let my management know I won’t be doing it again, lol. It’s largely worked, too – the task is usually taken away from me.

        2. philmar*

          My grandma once asked my dad (her son-in-law) to order a pizza, “because you’re so good at it.” This has become a running joke in my family. “Can you get me a beer? Because you’re so good at it!”

    2. ferrina*

      Yeah, I was wondering how much LW displays their dislike of a task in general. While it’s normal to dislike some tasks (i.e., filing expense reports), regularly showing dislike for your work tasks can inhibit your career in certain ways. People may be less likely to ask you to do a task they think you dislike- even if it’s something that is a career boost. Or you’ll be seen as not a team player, and you won’t get the benefit of informal networks. Or your boss will be hesitant to give you feedback if they think you might snap at them. Openly disliking things that are not your job may be well worth expressing (like party planning, if you’re an accountant), but this is to be used strategically.

      It’s fine to dislike a task, just think about how you’re expressing that dislike. Is that expression helping or hindering you?

      1. Lisa Simpson*

        It’s not always a bad thing, though. There are a lot of tasks, especially coded-female tasks like birthday cards/taking notes/cleaning/organizing, that get dumped on people outside of their job. And once you get labeled as the person who does the “housekeeping” it reflects poorly on you in your main job title. You’re the “housekeeper.”

        There’s a very good reason to temper your enthusiasm when you’re doing tasks that do not advance your career. Certainly don’t openly grouch about them, but don’t cheerfully welcome them, either.

        1. Happy meal with extra happy*

          But I think this is a separate issue where I’m sure ferrina would have given advice similar to yours.

          1. ferrina*

            Yep! I definitely recommend showing distaste for tasks that aren’t your job and shouldn’t be your job, maybe even some malicious incompetence (let’s just say no one asks me to plan parties any more)

            My comment was addressing open, active dislike for things that are their job. I did that in an early job, and eventually learned that I had completely ruined my reputation that way. Now I’m more strategic in what I show dislike for- it can be a very useful tool!

      2. Smithy*

        Your point about tasks they “think you dislike” I think is really important – most of us in jobs/careers we actively enjoy and wanted to have will have critical tasks we don’t care for or actively dislike. However, exactly what about them we dislike or what part of the task we dislike – is likely a lot more unique and personally specific than our coworkers will remember.

        Generically, no – I don’t love doing expense reports. However, they’re an unavoidable part of traveling which is a task at work I both enjoy and one that is connected to career opportunities. If my irritation/frustration in doing expense reports is therefore sensed more broadly or as part of an intense/extreme dislike – that puts me at risk of getting travel opportunities out of people thinking they’re sparing me a task I hate.

        Additionally, expense reports are something I’ve been known to not complete 100% accurately the first time. So getting praise on some or part of the process – regardless of my enjoyment – is telling me that I’m doing it properly. Which helps with getting future travel approval.

      3. Ace in the Hole*

        I agree. My experience has been that openly expressing dislike for a task that’s part of your job only works out well in a few circumstances.

        First, when it’s something that everyone hates doing and expressing dislike of the task is a sort of community bonding – although this needs to be done with care to ensure you’re not going overboard and/or making an unpleasant work environment. But, for example, we have to clean out “the pit” at work, which is a disgusting, filthy, physically exhausting, smelly task. Everyone hates it. We have a strict rotation for the task, and griping/teasing about how much it sucks is part of the camaraderie that gets us through the day.

        The other time is when it’s something you’re doing a disproportionate amount of, and there’s other tasks you could spend the time on if work were redistributed. Even if hoof trimming is part of the llama groomer job, if you are doing all the hoof trimming on a team of four groomers it’s appropriate to point out you don’t like it in the context of asking to spread the task around. Sometimes it turns out a task fell to you because everyone else thought you didn’t mind (or actively liked doing it!), or it just hadn’t occurred to them that there was an issue.

    3. Endorable*

      That was my first thought too! You get some task you hate, and just want to get it over with, so you bang it out as quickly as possible and the boss goes wow it takes Sansa two days to do that and Wakeen did it in an afternoon! Guess who is going to get that task regularly :(

      1. Mockingjay*

        Totally agree! It’s the Catch-22 of most jobs.

        There are always tasks, processes, and systems (and people) you dislike that are part of any job. But you have to do/work with them anyway. “Gee, I hate editing Fred’s reports because his are full of tedious grammar errors and lack specifics, so lemme do that first, then I can work on Wakeen’s report which has truly interesting content as my ‘hidden’ reward for dealing with Fred’s crap…”

        Then the boss says, “Mockingjay, I need you to review ALL of Fred’s reports because you manage to make sense out of them. Cheryl will handle Wakeen’s reports while you whip Fred’s stuff into shape.” No more reward.

        I mean, it’s great that a boss trusts me to fix a problem and praises me for it, but we all have secret joys in work and when Boss – unknowingly – takes away a piece of that joy or compliments the task I don’t like, it’s disappointing.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I’ve made very clear to my boss that while I can handle the extremely frustrating Project A, and I’m perfectly willing to take on Project C, I get joy from Project B.

          Given that there’s currently no path to promotion, I’ve been pretty clear that if she reassigns Project B, I’ll be looking for a different position.

        2. Rake*

          Oof I hear you. This happened to me in a previous job. I struggled with a difficult sales task in my (not-supposed-to-be-sales) job. I got my much needed break by doing the rest of my admin and research work. Whenever my boss talked about getting me help it was to hire an assistant to take the admin and research off my plate. I was gone before that happened.

    4. bookworm*

      I can empathize with a bit of the OP’s visceral reaction, which in my case is definitely partly because of an upbringing that put a lot of value on me being a positive, go with the flow person and where I got messages along the lines of “being good at something and being praised for it feels good and that external validation is equivalent to or more important than your actual feelings about the thing” or “The only reason you dislike this is because you’re not good at it yet, come on, try again and you’ll grow to like it.” These messages start to get very old and very irritating after a while, and you start hearing them implicitly even when they’re not actually intended by the person complimenting you about something in the moment. Highly recommend therapy.

    5. turquoisecow*

      That’s what I was thinking. Oh shoot, they think I’m good at this task I hate, so now I’ll end up having to do it all the time. “You’re so good at the TPS reports, you should do them all the time, no need to hire a TPS specialist!” Even though that’s not your usual job, you hate it, and you’re not getting more money for taking on this task.

      1. St. Paul Ite*

        I agree. I had a job where certain higher ups expected me to jump up and fill copier paper trays simply because I was good at it (only because every time I went to the copier the paper trays were empty).

        Shortly after, a higher up female cane to me to stop what I was doing and change the toner in the printer. I told her I’d be happy to show her how to do it. She said “No, I won’t be changing toner I wear nice clothes.” My reply was that I also wear nice clothes. I also couldn’t be expected to drop my work tasks every time she needed toner changed or paper trays filled.

        She actually went to my boss, who backed me up completely. So higher up female had to find someone else to do those tasks for her on a regular basis.

        Interestingly enough she thought “someone” should call the company who sold us the equipment to have a technician come out to fill the paper trays. She was a whole lot out of touch.

        1. NeedsMoreCookies*

          “I wear nice clothes, unlike you lowly ragamuffins.” Can’t imagine why she thought that would go over well!

    6. Lacey*

      Yup. I had that at a previous job.

      “Oh you’re SO good at doing the horrible stuff, now you do it all the time and no one else will ever do it even though it’s not really part of your job.”

      Infuriating. But, because it happened to me as an adult, I was able to just know that I had this one horrible manager. I can see how if that was what my home life was like all the time, I might have a stronger reaction.

    7. JSPA*

      I have vague memories that burning, out of place anger in one or another situation is diagnostic of various flavors of attachment disorder.

      Obv. not to diagnose.

      But as OP is looking for other people who share “misplaced burning anger” reactions, adding that into search terms might pull up helpful examples (if only for compare-and-contrast purposes) and thus (one would hope) coping strategies that could be adapted.

      1. Library Penguin*

        I think you might be meaning emotional dysregulation; it’s part of a *lot* of conditions, so googling all of them at random could send you down some weird rabbit holes!

    8. Momma Bear*

      There’s something called PDA or pathological demand avoidance where people might not want to do a task because it’s been “demanded” of them. I agree that digging into it with a professional might help, regardless of reason.

      It also might not hurt (IF OP can be calm about it) to talk to the boss about OP’s tasks and if there is any kind of horse trading that can be done with another employee. Maybe someone else has something OP would prefer to do and vice versa. But if OP does this, then they need to be mindful not to turn it into the same situation.

      We all do things in life we don’t like. Most people find it more palatable if acknowledgement is given. I think if OP simply says, “Thanks” and moves on, that is sufficient in the moment. The person is unlikely to be manipulating OP and just trying to be kind.

      1. Kupo*

        This. PDA.

        A suitable response might be “It’s not fun but I’m glad it’s done ” or similar non-committing.

    9. whingedrinking*

      For me the following comment would be something like, “See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” or “How can you hate this when you’re so good at it?”
      The first one – I can understand why people say it to children, but I wish they wouldn’t, and I’m utterly gobsmacked by people who say it to adults. It’s beyond patronizing.
      As for the second, man, I don’t even know. I understand hating something because you’re bad at it, but it doesn’t follow that being good at it is going to make you like it.

      1. MM*

        If only for this, I wish I could make Center Stage required viewing for everyone. Technically excellent ballerina who hates every second of it and has an eating disorder as a result, breaking her mother’s heart by quitting: “You didn’t have the feet, Mom. I don’t have the heart.”

    10. Wendy Darling*

      I semi-intentionally tanked an entire job prospect because all the people I talked to got really excited when they discovered I’d done a lot of a particular task I hate at a previous job. That was like, I changed my entire career trajectory to stop having to do that, I am not letting you drag me back in!

    11. Flash Packet*

      My family praised me for being so much better at chores, stuffing my feelings, catering to others’ wants over my needs, etc., than my older brother. I was praised for being so good at getting less than he did (clothing, money, doctors’ visits, vacations, summer camp, food) and I internalized it. Which led to some really, really, disastrous and traumatizing relationships as an adult.

      My family also used that kind of praise as a way to show how much power they had over me. “I can make you do Thing and now you have to pretend to be grateful for my praise or else deal with my instantaneous rage.”

      I hate praise for doing things (a) I don’t like to do, and (b) the praise-er knows that I don’t like doing. I mean, a quick, “Thanks for getting that done,” is fine. But “Hey, you did a really great job on Thing I Know You Hate!” makes bile rise in my throat.

      I do, however, respond with either “You bet” in the former, or “Thanks” in the latter, but neutral, professional replies only came without an internal struggle after a decade-ish of therapy.

    12. seriously?*

      I feel like if that was the case, OP would’ve mentioned it as well, rather than focusing on the idea that folks were trying to change their feelings tho

  3. Just Your Everyday Crone*

    This reminds me a little of situations where we praise people but treat them poorly. E.g., mothers get lip service for being so important but no one actually does anything to help them, veterans are called heroes but can’t get medical treatment for service-related injuries, women get told that they get to do the crap work because they’re so much better at it, that sort of thing. I doubt that’s the employer’s intent, but I think I get where the LW is coming from.

    1. Nesprin*

      Or use praise as a cover for weaponized incompetence:
      “You should unload the dishwasher because you’re so good at it!”

    2. Green great dragon*

      Yep. I think I kinda get it – they’re saying well done in a cheerful tone as if everything’s all great, because the thing is going well and LW’s getting praise, and LW is fed up because they’re doing something they dislike, and the two things really jar. It can feel like supervisor is completely ignoring/uncaring about LWs feelings – it’s meant to be encouragement, but it feels like the opposite of empathy.

    3. Mrs. Doubtful*

      This is pretty similar to how I feel, and I think in my case it’s because I don’t want to be known as the person whose happy doing all the grunge work.
      In my case, I think I’ll use some of the suggestions that make it clear this is not what I want to be doing right now, but has to be done

    4. Ann Ominous*

      Essential workers get banners and thank yous during the pandemic but no PPE, paid sick leave, or better pay.

    5. Gabe*

      As a teacher, I feel this one!

      It’s why I’ve always hated Teacher Appreciation Week. I don’t want your “appreciation,” I want to be treated and compensated like a professional.

      1. Selina Luna*

        I don’t mind teacher appreciation week as much as I mind getting literal tools of my job wrapped up like a gift. Highlighters, dry erase markers and pens are just tools of my job. If you want to give me a gift, get me some mosaic glass. Better yet, just pay me money and I’ll get it myself.

    6. whingedrinking*

      That kind of thing also often reeks of insincerity. There are few things I hate more than being told, “Great job!” with tons of fake enthusiasm by someone who obviously doesn’t appreciate what I’ve done but has been told that they should say they did.

      1. Puggie Mom*

        I agree so very much. Another thing I loathe about Teacher Appreciation Week is that the so-called appreciation is not specific or individualized to me personally. The entire faculty is “appreciated” in the exact same way, including those faculty members who are not doing a good job, including people who do not have their contact renewed. When the “appreciation” is equal, it loses all meaning, IMO.

  4. StressedButOkay*

    Oh, OP, this sounds so draining for you! Work comes with so many tasks we don’t like and getting praise on doing a good job really isn’t (most of the time) about control or trying to make you like it. I echo the therapy portion, if only because, again, this sounds so exhausting for you.

    1. ferrina*

      I’m the person who gets tasked with getting other people to do the tasks. You know those annoying administrative tasks you don’t feel like doing? Like that satisfaction survey, or that software set-up that you’ll only use once per year? Yep, I’m the person that has to make sure that you do that.

      For me, it’s not about control. Am I trying to make you do something? Yes, but that’s just because I need to check a box, not because I want to dictate your actions. Usually, I’m just pestering you to Do The Thing because if you don’t, I’ll need to keep emailing you, and I don’t want to do that any more than you want to read my emails. Honestly, I’d rather collaborate than control- if you have ideas or can make the process go smoother, I am all for it!

      I grew up with controlling parents. I have had to fight through my own issues with control and loss of control (therapy helps). I still have some quirks around it, and I always will. Weirdly, one of the things that helps me is knowing that if I can spot the manipulation, I know how to nullify it. I can control my response, and even practice it (strongly recommend the practice- run through multiple ways to respond, and see which feels the best to you). The most powerful thing is knowing that I know how to walk away. And honestly? Most of the manipulative people I meet these days are peanuts compared to what I’ve already walked away from.

      1. Rainy*

        Yup. I grew up with passive-aggressive parents, and my response was to aggressively become a no-subtext zone (because honestly I’m very bad with that guessing game of what you said vs what you meant me to understand). You want me to know something? You have to tell me. I’m not going to guess, I’m going to listen to and respect what you actually say to me, and I expect the same of you. At work, once people realize that about me–that I mean what I say and say what I mean–everyone except the manipulative liars really appreciate it. (The manipulative liars hate me, and that’s okay–you also know me by my enemies.)

        My mother-in-law really dislikes me though. :D (Not just because of this, but I expect she’d still hate me and also be a lot happier about it if I reacted to her passive-aggressive insults.) You can actually watch her losing her cool in real time as I just “fail to understand” that she is insulting me. It’s delightful.

        1. Selina Luna*

          I have ADHD. I literally do not understand subtext or passive-aggression. I can get implications when I’m reading or watching movies, shows, etc. Often, that’s only after multiple readings, though. From regular, day-to-day interactions, please just say what you mean.

          1. Rainy*

            Ahaha I also have ADHD–I was diagnosed less than a month ago and it explains SO MUCH. I also score pretty high on those autism assessment instruments, so that is probably also part of it for me. Same for me though–I see it when I’m reading, but I’m trained in literary studies, and it’s also on the page which is easier. In real time, I just roll with what people are saying and observe reactions and speech acts that seem variant, and then later go “oh, I see, that was supposed to be an insult”.

          2. Vintage Lydia*

            I understand subtext but I choose to ignore it when dealing with certain people. Like if my BFF was trying to relay some hot gossip subtly I’m very very good at reading subtext but in most other cases I’m very “say what you mean, because I will act accordingly.”

  5. Nobby Nobbs*

    I don’t have this exact problem, but I empathize with the emotion behind it. I’m well into adulthood and still get a rush of anger when my mother phrases an instruction as “Do you want to…?” You can order me to do it, Mom, but you can’t order me to want to do it!

    1. littlehope*

      Oh man, yeah, I was just thinking this! It’s basically irrational, as it’s such a common and harmlessly-intended way of softening a request, but I Do Not Care For It. If you need me to, I will, but no, I do not want to!
      And I think this probably does come from somewhere similar; OP is *willing* to do the thing but not *happy* about it, and resents what feels like being asked to feel happy about it.

    2. Green Tea*

      When I was a kid, my mom used to say “why don’t you take a break from X chore… and start on Y chore instead.”
      No matter how many time I told her I hated that phrasing because it got my hopes up I was getting a break from chores, or that I did not consider doing Y chore a break in any way. She could never understand why I found it so irritating.

    3. Cedrus Libani*

      My go-to response for those: “Want is a strong term, but I’ll do it.” Yeah, it may need doing, and you may have every right to ask me to do it, but that doesn’t mean I actually want to!

    4. ferrina*

      My ex-MIL did this to me. I’d just look at her and say “No. Did you want me to? I don’t mind helping out if that’s what you’d like, but otherwise I’ll give it a pass.”
      Eventually she learned.

      (I also had the advantage of first meeting her when I was an adult and had already had some practice in dealing with these things; it is so much harder and more fraught when it’s a pattern from childhood!)

          1. Seventh Sister*

            Depends on the relative. Sometimes you keep your mouth shut to keep the peace; ferrina’s comment read as needlessly aggressive towards the MIL.

            1. JSPA*

              You must be imagining a much ruder delivery than I am; if it came with a wry smile, i’d find it charming. I had a brit workmate who could deliver lines like that, even deadpan, and get a chuckle.

            2. ADHSquirrelWhat*

              It doesn’t read as aggressive to me, it reads as honest. I’ve used the exact same phrasing in life and not had issues with it.

              I find when you do it in a questioning kind of “of course I don’t want to, why are you asking me to WANT to do X” it gets the point across that the phrasing is … strange.

          1. Cassandra Mortmain*

            Someone once basically said this to me:

            Me: Do you want to go through the TPS reports this morning?
            Him: I’m going to channel my four-year-old and say, no, I don’t want to. But if it needs to be done, I can do it. When do you need it?

            This is a high-risk strategy I would not recommend — it worked, but only because I was a pretty new manager, he was a very senior contributor, the reference to his kid made clear he was being a little tongue in cheek/giving me some stealth advice, and most importantly, we’d worked together for years and had a good rapport. I never forgot it and I never phrase a “I need you to do this” as a “Do you want to…?”

          2. Puggie Mom*

            I wholeheartedly agree. I also wonder if this could be regional or, maybe, generational.

            This whole conversation reminds me of the following situation from about ten years ago:

            Background information- if was extremely difficult for our high school to get substitutes because the students were so rude, disrespectful, and disruptive. Therefore, whenever a teacher was absent other faculty were “asked” to cover for the sick teacher during our breaks and planning period.

            So, you are teaching a class when your lesson is interrupted by a secretary from the front office.

            Secretary: Sorry for the interruption, Ms. Puggie Mom. Do you mind giving up your planning to cover for Mr. Absent Teacher in room B207.

            Me: No, of course not. I’ll be there.

            Secretary: Thank you. Again, sorry about the inconvenience.

            Me: no problem


            Now, obviously, I minded HUGELY. But, I always said, “yes.” It never occurred to me that I could say, “no,” even though this was ALWAYS phrased as a request.

            Imagine my surprise when our principal had to EXPLICITLY EXPLAIN in a faculty meeting that this was not, in fact, a request. It was a nicely phrased ORDER. The thing is- I always knew that. I was literally shocked when I heard that some faculty had been declining (read refusing) to do this task. All because of the way it was being asked. At first I reasoned that people were being purposely obtuse. Then, I decided it could be people who are from a different region of the country or perhaps of a different generation who did not understand.

            1. allathian*

              Yeah, this. That said, I vastly prefer clear communication as long as it’s not overtly insulting over pretty much anything else. I’d hate to get an order framed as a request, myself. Because even if I know I don’t have a choice in the matter, the framing makes it sound like I do, and that causes even more resentment for the task I don’t want to do, and incidentally for the person who “asks” me to do the task, even if they’re just the messenger.

            2. Selina Luna*

              Seriously, it would not be difficult to phrase either a request or an order to sub politely. My school’s secretary in charge of these things sends out a “would you please” if it’s genuinely a request and a “sorry for the inconvenience, but we need you to…” if it’s an order. It’s clear whether it IS a request or an order, and I never have to fret.

        1. ferrina*

          You can use a modified version in the workplace (and I have!).

          Manager: Do you want to X?
          Me: I’d actually planned on Y. What do you think? Would you rather I do X?

          Manager: Do you want to X?
          Me: I was hoping to focus on Y today, but I’m happy to jump in if the team needs me. What do you need me to be prioritizing?

          The key is to say this in an upbeat way, so it’s clear that your primary goal is helping the team (and that you’re relying on the manager to help you know how you can best help the team). If you say this with a dour tone, yeah, that won’t go well.

        2. biobotb*

          I don’t think ferrina was offering it as advice to the OP, just as a description of how they handled it when presented with this situation in their personal life.

    5. Guy*

      This is an interesting point. My boss also does this – “do you want to take on this project”? I know that they mean “do this project” but they are uncomfortable with authority or something, and it’s grating. I did once respond with “Sometimes I am not sure if you are asking me if I want to do the project, or if you would like me to do it, could you please let me know clearly if it’s optional so that I can prioritize appropriately.” but my manager didn’t seem to really get the underlying message, it’s more a verbal style with them I fear.

      But I am not sure this is what is going on for the LW, because it doesn’t sound like the boss is making it sound like LW only did the job well because they enjoyed it or something. As Alison said, it sounds like they are trying to show appreciation, and it’s totally what a manager should do. So if you’re looking for a reality check, LW, yeah, I think you have some other issues going on there which maybe you need to work on with a friend or therapist.

      1. allathian*

        Ugh, I’m glad I don’t work for a manager like that. I’d probably be asking for clarification every time.

    6. L*

      My response to that (in my personal life, not at work) is always “No, but I will anyway”. Got me in trouble for talking back as a kid, but at least I get to express my dislike for a task while still being helpful!

      1. ferrina*

        Alternate phrasing for work: “It’s not my favorite task, but I’m always willing to chip in as I can! Is this what you need me to work on right now?”
        (assuming you have bandwidth, just not interest)

      2. Filosofickle*

        Yep. In a summer job a performance review said my attitude needed improvement because I often said that. A lot of our tasks (at a public park pool) were physical / hot / gross. Who “wants” to pull 50-gallon bags of melted trash out of the barrels in 100 degree heat? Absolutely no one. But I always complied, without delay, because I understood it was a command. I was just snarky about it, because I was a teenager. I have learned it’s not in my best interests to do that.

    7. turquoisecow*

      I also hate when that phrase is used. No I don’t “want” to clean the bathroom or make dinner or fold the laundry, but someone has to do it so I will. But I’m not going to say I “want” to do it.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        My father’s sense of humor is very literal, so we would have conversations like this:
        Me: “Could you pass the salt.”
        Dad: “I could.” [Does not pass the salt]
        Me: “Pass the salt, Dad.”

        As a result, I could get away with answering “No, I don’t want to do that” until my parent rephrased it as a request.

    8. Would you be willing*

      Oh man, I feel this! My husband is practically perfect in every way (genuinely), but he has a verbal tic that drives me crazy: he almost always asks me to do something by saying, “Would you be willing to _____?” My dislike for this phrase has grown over the years into an irrational hatred. For him, it’s just an automatic phrasing that is a polite/soft way of asking. However, I feel like it verbally paints me into a corner where I seem really rude if I decline: No, I’m not willing to do that, even though it’s only mildly inconvenient and would benefit us both. In contrast, a simple “Could you _____?” feels like it gives me agency. *Shrug*

      1. Ann Ominous*

        Like it’s putting the onus on you and your desire for the task (even though your desire for the task does not exist), as if you’re doing it because YOU want to, instead of doing it due to your willingness to do something for him if he wants your help with it.

        And making it clear that it’s a task he wants you to do and that’s why you’re doing it, shifts that onus into its proper place/point of origin and makes it seem .. more transparent? Less manipulative? More clear on what’s actually happening.

        I don’t know if that makes sense, but I hope it does, and also that’s the most times I’ve ever said ‘onus’ in my life.

      2. ThatGirl*

        My 99% great husband has a tendency to state things instead of ask them, especially when he’s looking for reassurance over anxieties. For instance, instead of “can you reassure me that rabid llamas won’t bite me?” he says “Rabid llamas won’t bite me” out of the blue. I have started saying “are you asking me or telling me?”

      3. BethDH*

        Huh, I feel like I must have a different interpretation of “willing” than you do, probably because this phrase wasn’t used to manipulate me. Usually it meant “how much do you want to avoid this thing?” and the result was some sort of compromise (“no, I’m not willing to give up the car on Saturday but I am willing to drop off my sister on the way to my thing”).
        If it was something there there was only one solution, it was “please do x.”

      4. New Jack Karyn*

        This is so interesting! I take his phrasing as just fine, IF the person accepts, “No, actually I’m not willing because X-Y-Z.” Whereas “Could you ________ ” inspires the snarky answer, “Well, I COULD,” from me.

        Maybe the middle ground is “Will you please ______ ?” or “Would you please _______?”

        1. Brain the Brian*

          Nothing grinds my gears more than someone saying “please” in a question. For some reason, I personally find it aggravating — almost as if the person couldn’t be bothered to come up with a real way of asking courteously, so instead they defaulted to throwing in a “please.” I’d much rather “Can you ____________?” without the please.

          1. Sack of Benevolent Trash Marsupials*

            Yeah I think this is because somehow the ‘please’ has taken on a cultural connotation that you’ve been asked before and haven’t done it, or are balky in some way. It’s so unfortunate!

    9. kicking-k*

      I have fellow-feeling here too, and yes, it’s grounded in childhood. My mum used to complain that we were “grudging” about doing tasks we didn’t like, and I always felt it was unjust. It was bad enough having to do it without having to look happy about it. (Now that I have children, I can see that this attitude probably was a downer.) And yes, I would resent being buttered up for doing something I dislike. I don’t mind if someone comes out and acknowledges my effort in the knowledge that I don’t like it. It is different.

      I’ve never really had this problem at work though – more the opposite: people telling me that tasks I like must be a nightmare. I always feel like I sound insincere contradicting them!

      1. ferrina*

        Telling children to be happy while doing something they hate…that’s just not a recipe for anyone to be happy. Weirdly, I’ve found better results by telling kids “I know it’s not your favorite, but it needs to be done. I appreciate you suffering through it!” (said with little to no sarcasm). I’ve tried this with toddlers through teenagers, and lots of kids just feel better because they feel seen. My favorite was the group of middle schoolers who began listing things that were better than whatever I was telling them to do- that list included some very creative tortures. And they kept themselves amused while doing the original task.

        Now that I think about it, I do this with the adults I manage. “Hey guys, it’s time for us to do the worst part of the project! Are we excited for the misery?” (admittedly, I have a weird sense of humor). My team and I bond over this, because we all work hard and are willing to take our turn at the crappy tasks so we can all be successful. One guy is a particularly animated storyteller, and we love hearing his dramatic recaps of how terrible things were (it’s absolutely hilarious- he’s laughing as hard as we are). He’ll also volunteer for the crappy tasks, because “hey, someone’s got to get them done, and I’ve got time.” It’s just part of our team, I guess.

        1. Budgie Buddy*

          I grew up in a pretty Fundie household and this is very much part of the game book. Looking cheerful while obeying is as important as obedience itself. It’s very much training kids from the start to associate submission / obedience with happiness, validation, and “being good”

        2. kicking-k*

          Yeah, I don’t use this approach with my kids either. I have, however, been guilty of saying “See, once you got going, it didn’t take as long as you thought it would.” Which is not that different. But I feel like an ability to estimate how long something will take is pretty useful – I’m really poor at it myself… And I’m not asking them to alter their feelings.

      2. Irish Teacher*

        I think in childhood in particular, it can feel like a “heads they win, tails you lose” typed situation. If a child seems unhappy about doing something, they often get accused of being sulky or grudging or whatever, but if they seem happy, they often get, “see now, it wasn’t so bad,” with the implication that they didn’t even know they actually liked the task or that they were just being sulky or grudging by not wanting to do it.

        In adulthood, people are more likely to accept that no, you genuinely didn’t like it but that you are just doing it because some things need to be done.

        1. ferrina*

          YES! This resonated so hard with my childhood. I could never be right about not wanting to do something (it was always my attitude that was the supposed problem)

          I hope you really are a teacher, because I would have loved to have a teacher that understood this!

          1. allathian*

            Thankfully my parents were very reasonable about this. Yes, we had to do chores we disliked, but pretending to enjoy it was never a prerequisite. I don’t remember getting any “now that wasn’t so bad, after all, was it?” either. As a result, I at least always got to enjoy the “the distasteful chore’s done now” sensation every time, which I probably wouldn’t have done if my parents had tried to manage my feelings for me as well as my chores.

            It should be okay for kids to be sulky and grudging when they’re asked to do something they don’t want to do. Dealing with kids’ negative feelings is a part of parenting. Trying to make your kids feel differently than they feel because you’re uncomfortable with them expressing negative emotions is emotional abuse. They need to be allowed to feel their feelings, even if parents need to teach their kids the difference between feeling something and expressing it. “Yes, you can be mad at your little sister for toppling the Lego tower you spent two hours building, but that doesn’t mean you can hit her in anger. You can ban her from coming to your room for the rest of the day instead.”

        2. Danish*

          Yes, i think that is what i read in OPs annoyance: a patronizing “See! You didnt even know you actually liked it (as evidenced by your doing it well)! Arent we glad youve grown as a person by doing this task i wanted you to do?”

          I agree that its probably not at all what the office praise givers are going for, but it would rub me wrong too.

    10. Snell*

      I get that people in personal relationships might use more weaselly language (like above, with a parent trying to teach habits/work ethic while also trying—with limited success—to be a “friend”/good guy instead of the authority/bad guy) to keep the peace, but if my boss said something that started with “Do you want…” in relation to my actual job, I’d ask for more concrete instructions. At that point it’s the boss who’s not good at being the boss, if they’re not clear about their expectations for their employees.

      1. kicking-k*

        I’m reminded of the letter about the member of staff who said “I would prefer not to” when asked to do tasks which the manager didn’t consider optional. I can’t remember now if there was ever clarity about whether the phrasing of the request made the person think they were being asked to opt in…

    11. Delta Delta*

      Ooh, this one grinds my gears. I had an internship supervisor once who would assign me (and my co-intern) tasks by saying, “do you want to….” I figured out that a lot of times she’d ask us to do those things because she didn’t want to. Once it was to call someone she actively was feuding with, and was trying to avoid. So one day she said, “do you want to …” and I said “no” and she had nowhere to go with it.

      That was a bad internship.

    12. what's in a name*

      My least favorite iteration of this conversation goes like this:

      Them: Do you want to do X?
      Me: I can do that.
      Them: I know you *can* but do you *want to*?

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        It probably depends on tone, but I might hear “I can do that” as “I’m capable of doing that,” and not as a commitment to do it.

        Alternately, they might be asking if you *hate* the task, because if you do, there’s a different thing you could do and they’ll get someone else to cover the despised task.

      2. lilyp*

        I don’t know about anybody else, but if I said that it’d be because I genuinely wanted to know about your level of interest in the task — is it something you’d hold your nose and do because it’s required, or something you’d actually be interested in or excited about taking on? Maybe there’s some flexibility in who gets assigned what or whether we even do certain tasks at all, or maybe I just want to know whether your morale is taking a hit over this.

    13. Foley*

      This is so interesting. To anyone who asks, ‘do you want…’ I always say no, if I don’t want to do it. And I don’t do it. As a woman, it’s relieved so many burdens.

      Bosses go to more willing women (never men – but that’s another story). (I kind of feel bad, but not enough to do it).

      To family, it’s on them. With work, I got high praise/raises and no drudge work. With family, I’m not the favorite, but I’m not trying to win a personality contest.

      Some people have *thoughts* about this. TBH I’ve never really cared. What it eliminates is resentment. In my experience, this is always heavily laid on women. I’ve rarely seen men push back with any consequences.

    14. Nina*

      My parents did ‘do you want to do (task I know you hate)’ all the time and I haaaaated it. They knew I hated it. They knew all I wanted was ‘I need you to do (task I know you hate)’ because I said so, in words, explicitly, repeatedly, and they never did it. ‘I really don’t want to, but I’ll do it if it needs done’ was ‘sassing’ and got worse results.

      Working with reasonable people in my first job, reasonable people who heard the first ‘are you asking if I would like to be assigned the task, or are you asking me to do the task?’ and immediately started phrasing all assignments as ‘Nina, please do X’, was amazing and took me a long time to get used to.

    15. My Cabbages!*

      Ugh, my grandmother used to phrase demands as “I’ll let you do X” which is utterly rage-inducing for me.

      Gee, Grandma. Thank you SO MUCH for graciously allowing me to clean the bathroom.

    16. Sack of Benevolent Trash Marsupials*

      My mom used to say stuff like “someone should do XYZ task,” which was directed at me, and used to make me absolutely crazy. Just tell me to do XYZ! It felt so passive aggressive. So I’d get irritated (I usually intended to do XYZ thing anyway, and just hadn’t actually stood up to do it), and she never understood why. I think in her mind, she was softening the order. So I totally sympathize with not loving the “Would you like to XYZ?” construction. If you’re my mom or my boss, just let me know that I need to do whatever it is. Wish my mom were still around to give me irritating indirect orders though :-)

  6. Middle Name Danger*

    This would irk me because I don’t want to be seen as being good at the tasks I dislike. The better I am at those tasks, the more likely I’ll be assigned those same tasks in the future.

    1. Calliope*

      Kind of depends on whether it’s your core job or not. I knew a senior lawyer who would praise associates extravagantly for clerical work (“thank you SO much for fixing the caption on that brief. That was so important to the team”) and never for substantive legal work*. Like, that’s just insulting. But praising someone for doing a good job at their actual job that they just don’t happen to enjoy is different.

      * I only saw this happen with young women but he was a weird guy generally so while I’m sure it was motivated at least in part by sexism I can’t swear it didn’t also happen with junior men.

      1. ferrina*

        There’s an old AAM letter where this happened as well. IIRC, the LW would get praised for really small things, but manager wouldn’t give her responsibilitiy appropriately. He was a weird micromanager, and ended up stunting her career by not letting her work at the level she was capable of and not showcasing her work. I wish I could remember which letter this was!

      2. Greige*

        That’s what I was thinking. Things like that happened to me as a young woman, and it definitely pissed me off.

        You are not alone, OP! I get that way, too. FWIW, I do also remember having feelings prescribed for me as a kid, so that could be part of it. Think saying, “See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” before I had a chance to react to having done whatever was asked of me.

    2. ThatCameOffJaded*

      I think it’s pretty much this. I feel like it’s flattery used by people to justify pawning off tedious and/or unpleasant tasks onto others…at it pigeonholes you into this endless loop of getting the same things given to you over and over just because you take pride in your work or are conscientious with details.

    3. Velociraptor Attack*

      I had this problem at a previous job where there were some things that I was good at but didn’t enjoy so if they ended up with me because I was the team member who had capacity to pitch in at that time, I was constantly worried it would become an ongoing thing.

    4. Ann O'Nemity*

      Yes, and this is why I stopped taking notes in meetings. Being recognized for good note taking just meant getting assigned more support work.

    5. Brain the Brian*

      Yep. I actively despise an entire third of my job because of this: people discovered I was good at it despite hating it, and I’m now stuck with it forever.

  7. Elitist Semicolon*

    My version of this is being some level of irritated/offended when someone is overly effusive about something that is part of my day job and/or something that’s been standard practice for years. I’ve been doing it this way since I was hired – long before the person gushing about it arrived on the scene – so their “wow, that’s a fantastic idea, I’m so glad you thought to do that” sounds like a they don’t know what I do and are somehow surprised I’m actually passably good at my job.

    1. Siege*

      Yeah, that’s the part I’m mad about – my coworkers think that because we have a very modest social media presence and our members don’t follow us, I’m terrible at my job, but I can either build a social media following (which is a big job and still wouldn’t be our members; I don’t want to follow the social media of organizations I work for either) or I can: plan events, manage our website, manage our communications, work on our legislative and political advocacy teams, support members, fill in as our vacant operations manager role, maintain our internal and external communications items such as brochures and swag, do hiring, support two constituencies as their dedicated staffer, liaise with external coalition partners in finance and green energy, and function as my boss’s sort-of PA in the absence of the operations manager. Sorry we don’t have a super robust Facebook page, but it’s that or everything else!

    2. Lisa Simpson*

      This drives me nuts too. “Thanks for helping out today, I really appreciate it!” and all I did was show up to work during my normal working hours.

      But once I was at the job that was the worst offender of this praise, I realized that pretty much no one there was meeting the bare minimum of “show up, do assigned tasks in a timely fashion.” So reliably showing up and completing your to do list made you a superstar.

      1. ferrina*

        I once worked with someone who would get upset if management didn’t thank her for coming in to work each day. She was also not very good at her job.

      2. kicking-k*

        Maybe you can help me: I sometimes pull staff from other areas to help me with tasks that aren’t very exciting (such as photocopying). I feel like I want and need to thank them, as they’re being pulled away from their own to-do lists and being given grunt work by someone who isn’t their boss, and they are making my life much easier – but it always does come out like “Thank you for helping out today, you’re a star, I really appreciate it.” What would be better?

        If it matters, I’m usually doing the same grunt work at the time – it just halves the time I have to spend on it.

        1. Ann Ominous*

          I would feel strange about being told I’m a star for doing grunt work. It would hit me as inauthentic.

          I’m in the military. Once, when I was a junior officer, I got asked to drive a van of visiting VIPs, because the people whose additional duty it was were away (including one who faked being sick to get out of it). I was the next most junior person available, but it was pretty uncommon for an officer, even a relatively junior one, to drive a van.

          My boss handled it well. He said they needed a driver, but Specialist America and Sergeant Snuffy had both called out, there was no one else, this conference was a big deal and they needed my help. He asked if I’d be ok with that (even though I knew it didn’t actually really matter if I was or not). I said of course. He thanked me for my good attitude and apologized for me having to drive. I jokingly said something like ‘if Jesus can wash feet then I can drive a van for a couple days’. I was being a bit silly but did want to communicate to him that I didn’t consider myself ‘above’ any task. (I wouldn’t normally recommend making a religious joke). I had the sense that accepting the role cheerfully and taking it seriously/doing a good job raised his estimation of me in his eyes.

          I think the elements below were helpful in making me feel receptive:

          1, he acknowledged it was below my rank level and
          2, his decision to select me anyway made sense to me.

          In your situation, I would perhaps suggest something more like:

          “Thanks, I know you don’t report to me and this is taking you away from your to-do lists. When you combine that with the fact that photocopying 100 binders isn’t exactly very exciting, and on top of that you are being cheerful about it, it makes me feel even more appreciative of your help and the time goes by faster. You saved me at least a week of work and are helping us get these binders to the conference in time, while also saving me from a death by a thousand (paper) cuts. It may not seem like a big deal to you but it means a lot.”

          You could email it to their boss and cc them, too. And perhaps bring donuts and coffee if your organization pays for such things (you shouldn’t do it yourself, I don’t think, because this is a part of your organization’s job and not a personal favor they’re doing to you).

          1. kicking-k*

            Thank you for this – it’s very helpful. I do some of it, but will cut back on the nervous overstatement!

            I’m autistic so a lot of interactions at work are probably a little inauthentic on my part – because I’m masking. It doesn’t mean the sentiment behind it isn’t real though. I’m just awkward!

        2. Higher Ed Cube Farmer*

          kicking-k, I get a similar [irritated at effusive praise/thanks for something that’s just part of my job and not even a very exciting/demanding/enjoyable part] and for me the thanks you describe would be… okay, a little weird but okay. Better if you drop the “You’re a star” bit — grunt work isn’t really “star” worthy–or any other effusive
          Better yet, for me, if you actually name what you are thanking/appreciating, like, “Thank you for helping me with this load of tedious photocopying, I know it’s not your job but having an extra pair of hands makes it so much faster, so I really appreciate that.”

          But also, If you’re not their boss and you’re pulling them away from their actual work, make sure you’re not negatively impacting their ability to do the work assigned by their boss, or that you give them the opportunity to say, like, “Sorry I can’t help with your [grunt work], I have a high priority thing on my to-do list.”

          1. kicking-k*

            I probably should have said – I am encouraged to do this by senior management, and their bosses are on board with it. It only happens when there’s a legally mandated deadline and it’s not possible for one person (me) to do the work in the time. I just feel bad about it because it’s so tedious, and given that management *are* on board, the people actually doing the work can’t very well say no. That’s probably why I end up gushing at them. Probably I just need to tone it down a little.

        3. JSPA*

          Thank them for their kindness and good humor and for being a pair of the many hands that make short work.

        4. Lexi Vipond*

          I wouldn’t mind being told I was a star in that context, or any brief and cheerful or matter-of-fact acknowledgement – a long explanation of how it really needed to be done and how helpful I was might leave me feeling like I was back with an old coworker who couldn’t get anything done for spending hours apologising for the fact that it needed to be done and worrying about imposing on people, even when it was a perfectly ordinary thing.

          But reactions are all pretty personal, and you’re probably never going to please everyone :)

    3. yetelmen*

      This is not unlike a discussion in the comments from a couple of weeks ago where I (or one of my alter egos) tried to explain how I get annoyed by my spouse thanking me for making dinner as though I’ve done something I don’t do every freaking day. I linked it to my childhood where (as the youngest child) my parents were only interested if I was doing something truly exceptional, so any praise or gratitude expressed for something that *isn’t* exceptional just grates on me. I don’t know if it’s that I think it’s insincere, or that it requires me to expend emotional energy to pretend I receive it warmly, but it’s definitely something I need to work through in therapy.

      Also, I had a boss who was like this – very nice person, regularly praised me – for things that literally anyone in the office could do. When I did the complex job I was hired to do, he couldn’t pretend to muster any enthusiasm for it. I left after less than two years because I was going crazy being underutilized.

      1. Pam*

        My ex would thank me in lieu of actually doing anything. I hated making dinner every day and would beg him to cook just a couple days a week, but instead he thought that praising me for cooking was the same thing.

        He did the exact thing that LW is worried about- he would tell me how good I was at housework, how wonderful I was at raising the children, how hard I worked, then he wouldn’t lift a finger to help me out. He was a “Nice Guy” and would shower me with praise. But he never pulled his weight and was content to make me do everything to keep the house running. Throughout our marriage he actively got worse at housework while praising me more, all so he could avoid doing any housework. And if I got mad, he would point to how much he “appreciated” me by complimenting me- even as I was crying because I was so overwhelmed, he told me that he was doing his part by cheering me on. Um, no, this isn’t a spectator sport.

        1. Robin*

          Oh good lord that is awful! I scrolled back up to double check he is an ex, I am glad you are away from that now. I also love the phrasing of “this isn’t a spectator sport”, I am going to remember that one!

  8. Green Tea*

    I don’t have a huge amount of advice, but I have definitely been where you are. For me, a lot of the time it was when I was an admin for tasks that didn’t require a lot of skill. Like, sure I’ll make copies for you, or schedule that meeting for you, that’s my job, but please don’t say you’re asking “because I am so good at it” or tell me “what a great job” I did on [insert annoying but very easy task].

    It felt like, by accepting the compliment, I had to pretend to be that I believed the compliment. That I thought I really was just the best at making copies and not the lowest-paid person who was the best person to spend time on that and free up their time to do more valuable things. Or, if the compliment was genuine, it felt like the person was insulting me – like their bar for people in my role was so low that I impressed them by getting a coffee order correct. I knew my feelings were irrational and an overreaction but that didn’t make them magically disappear. And of course, I still smiled and said thank you, because that’s the professional response.

    Overall a lot of that bristling reflected a larger unhappiness in my role, and the way admins were treated by my org at a higher level. It all went away when I managed to transfer departments and get a promotion. So, for OP, it may be good to look at whether this is really a sign of bigger-picture unhappiness, just in case you’re feeling this way for a similar reason.

    1. Indigo a la mode*

      That last paragraph is great advice. That would make a lot of sense.

      Your experience also speaks to a general awkwardness I’ve noticed in people working with admins, including myself. I am genuinely so grateful for our admin people because the office would fall apart without them, and they do a lot of thankless tasks. I don’t want to fawn over them inappropriately, I just want them to feel seen and appreciated. And that balance can be hard to strike when the task doesn’t take a lot of skill, but wouldn’t have been done, or done as well, if this person hadn’t done it. Anyway, I really appreciated reading your perspective.

      1. Green Tea*

        For what it’s worth, I never bristled at people giving generic thanks, or people who thanked me for my time/effort, as opposed to skill.

        Also, I was genuinely grateful when people took showed their appreciation for my work in other ways like giving me opportunities for more challenging projects. Very few admin assistants (as opposed to career executive assistants) actually want to stay admins. Most of us at this specific org were hired based on a highly misleading interview process that this was a junior-level role and if you do well, there is room for advancement. Only to find that this is a junior-level role and if you do well, that’s great, we’ll keep you in this role forever because you are part of a permanent servant class.

        So when some of my colleagues bucked the org’s norms and gave me higher-level work, it was a precious opportunity to me, and I really appreciated those people – they may well be the reason I was able to be an exception to the norm and get promoted out. I try to do the same with the current admins now that I am in a position to help.

        1. Cookie*

          “if you do well, that’s great, we’ll keep you in this role forever because you are part of a permanent servant class.”

          Yes. To me, that’s what “great job getting all those postcards mailed!” says, because I’ve been in a blind corner for years and they’ve no intention of letting me out. I feel the same way as LW, but I just respond, “Thanks” and try to forget. I think the fight has just gone out of me at this point.

        2. the.kat*

          Yes! This right here, “the permanent servant class.” That’s exactly what this feels like. I’m getting praised for something because you don’t want to replace me, not because I’m doing a praiseworthy job.

          I want advancement and career growth, you don’t want to have to backfill my position.

      2. MarsJenkar*

        This isn’t my letter (I lack the visceral reaction the OP has to this type of praise), but I do have a similar requirement in terms of honesty.

        In my case, I cannot make a statement that I know to be untrue. Me attempting to say “no” when the answer is “yes” (or vice versa) is basically doomed to fail.

        For the record, my brand of honesty does not require that I bluntly state my full opinion every time. Withholding my opinion, or portions of my opinion, is a viable option where that is allowed. Thus, I do not see honesty and politeness as being (by necessity) in conflict except in a few edge cases.

        In my case, the second option delivered by Alison – “It’s not my favorite task but it needs to be done” – is perfectly acceptable to say from my point of view, were I in the OP’s situation, and a reply I can give with the necessary conviction.

      3. Curmudgeon in California*

        For administrative support tasks, I usually ask something like “Do you have time to X?” or “I need Y, can you fit it in today?” I only do this for stuff that’s in their wheelhouse. Then, when it’s done, I say “Thank you”. Sure, it may be part of their job, but to me a basic “Thank you” is always warranted as an acknowledgement that you’ve completed a request. But I don’t layer on the BS, unless they actually a) completed it before I expected, or b) do an “extra mile” job of it.

        If I need something that’s not part of their regular duties, but they are the only person available who can/are allowed to do it, then it’s “Hi. I know it’s not your regular job, but I need help with X and I hope you have the knowledge/access/time to do it.”

        If you don’t know if it’s part of their regular job, you can ask “Who is responsible for doing X?”, and be ready for the answer to be “Nobody. Everyone does their own.”

    2. ursula*

      “It felt like, by accepting the compliment, I had to pretend to be that I believed the compliment.” <— this speaks to me. I remember being a little kid made to play piano for relatives at Christmas, and one of my great-uncles making a fuss about how great I was and how someday I'd be a musician and he'd be my manager. He was just trying to be sweet, but at 8 years old I just remember thinking, "I am NOT that great and this is really phoney." Anyway, now I'm 38 and don't believe any compliments I hear unless they reflect something I already know and believe about myself, but SHRUG who knows why. In conclusion: yeah therapy.

    3. Critical Rolls*

      There are a lot of factors in all of this, but please don’t undersell the skill involved in doing admin tasks well! I’ve known plenty of people who were genuinely incompetent at them, and so I’m always sincerely appreciative of the person who prints the updated form instead of making a fifth-generation copy of two revisions ago.

        1. Critical Rolls*

          Sure I did, hence “a lot of factors.” Just responding to the “annoying but very easy task” bit specifically. *You* found the tasks easy but your predecessor or coworker might not have. That’s all. Not dismissing the rest of the complicating issues or arguing that you didn’t have good reason to be frustrated at that workplace.

          1. Green Tea*

            No. You are in the second category of people I noted. You have such a low bar for people in that role that you give insulting “praise” for admins who can successfully make a photocopy. I would have absolutely hated to work with you.

            Maybe you worked with one or two admins who hadn’t been trained properly or were so checked out of their jobs that that they didn’t put in an effort, but that doesn’t change the fact that this task doesn’t take a lot of skill.

            And if you, for whatever reason DO think it takes a lot of skill, you better be at the front lines of your organization talking with payroll about how difficult and vital this work is, to get your department’s admins better pay and opportunities every single chance you get.

            1. Critical Rolls*

              I hear a lot about how some jobs are “so easy” and take “no skill” but it’s usually from people who have never worked them and hold the people who do in contempt. I’m not sure why you are so insulted to hear that successful admins have skills that not everybody has — I didn’t say it was rocket science or whatever. I have been an admin, and I know the difference skills make in that position. I don’t effusively praise my coworkers because I’m not running a preschool, but man, the inability to just take a compliment as a moment of sincere appreciation must add some unnecessary stress to life.

  9. Ray Gillette*

    I’m like this too, so you’re not alone. For me it’s at least partially an ADHD thing. Not saying you are or aren’t, just putting it out there.

    My main piece of advice is to remember that your manager is not your dad. That sounds obvious enough to be stupid, but it’s easy to fall back on behaviors that are familiar from childhood in situations that feel similar even when they’re not the same. Your dad may very well have been trying to manage your feelings, because that’s a thing parents do both consciously and unconsciously, but a good manager is a lot less invested in your private feelings. As long as you get the task done to their standards and are reasonably pleasant about it, you can hate it as much as you want in the privacy of your own mind and they really don’t care. If they do care that much, you have a bigger problem than positive feedback on a task you dislike. But since you’ve identified this as a specific “you” thing, I’d start from the assumption that your manager cares much less about your internal feelings than your dad did.

    My other piece of advice is to try and frame the feedback you’re getting as information rather than praise. They’re not giving you a compliment by saying you did a good job on your TPS reports, they’re telling you that the TPS reports were done well so you should continue doing them to that same standard. Nobody likes doing TPS reports but they need to get done, so as long as you keep doing them like this, everything will be fine.

  10. Beth*

    I’m with you, Letter Writer! For me, I think it’s exactly the social ritual bit that Alison describes that rankles. I struggle with any situation where I can’t be honest about my feelings, particularly negative feelings (though laughing out loud in the theatre watching Titanic didn’t go down well either, even though there was a funny sound effect).

    When I’m praised for doing something I hate I seethe a bit. I want everyone to know it’s an unhappy situation and having someone act like there’s a positive aspect to it is infuriating. I did try to tell my boss seriously one time that my “Thanks, I hate it!” jokes weren’t jokes, but he just insisted that I was the best person for the task. I talked to a colleague about it and she told me to stop doing the task well – not a great option either.

    Anyway, no solution, just commiseration.

    1. Tuesday*

      Yes, I think this is spot on. Like to just say “thanks!” would be implying that I’m taking some pride in my work when really I’m dying inside. It’s like the person is complimenting me on the finished product without seeing all of the blood, sweat, and tears that go into the work itself, and to accept the compliment would imply that I’m just naturally good at it or something. I think it particularly rankles when it’s a task that everyone KNOWS is awful, and the person is only praising me because they’re just relieved they don’t have to do it themselves.

    2. ferrina*

      I think the bigger issue is this:
      he just insisted that I was the best person for the task

      Your boss is actively denying reality. He’s claiming you’re amazing at task because he wants it to be the justification for doing the task- that way he can say you are the reason why you are doing the task, not him. A good manager would either try to give you a break from the task by having someone else do it (either by making it a rotating responsibility, or by reassigning it permanently), or the manager would own that even though you don’t like it, it is part of your job and they require you to do it. Making those choices are part of being a manager, and yeah, sometimes your team will be annoyed or even angry about it (which sucks for a manager- that’s why you have to be okay with not being everyone’s friend).

      When your boss claims you have to do the task because “you’re just so good at it”, your boss gets to claim that he’s the nice guy and not making you do something you hate. i.e., dodging is own responsibilities.
      I’d guess this isn’t the only way he dodges his responsibilities

  11. Water Snake*

    I kind of feel the same way. One thing that goes along with it is that these tasks also tend to be skills that I don’t value in myself. Like, great, you think I’m good at window washing, that’s bc I am good at window washing, but I spent 10 years in school to do teapot painting, I came to this company to be a teapot painter, and it would just be really nice if I could get some teapot work and be acknowledged for that. Praising me for washing the windows just feels like ignoring the elephant in the room.

    1. The OG Sleepless*

      My MIL worked for the state government for years, and she was really, really good at patiently working her way through bureaucracy, keeping track of each person she talked to and when, and keeping documentation of everything. She was known to occasionally lament, “Why do *I* have to have a gift for paperwork? Why can’t I have a gift for, like, poetry or something?”

      1. KK*

        This is me. I don’t want to be good at things I hate doing, but I’m a perfectionist, so if I’m not doing them well, that makes me even more upset.

        I was good in science classes in school but I absolutely hated science. I was mad that I couldn’t just take that skill and be doubly good at English or Art.

        1. Katie Impact*

          This whole comment section is making me feel very fortunate that the things I’m good at match up well with the things I enjoy doing. On the other hand, I can still imagine the OP’s situation happening to me anyway: if I’m getting praised for something I hate *and* think I’m bad at, not only is there the looming spectre of getting assigned more of the hateful work, but now I’m questioning the judgement of the person who’s praising me.

      2. ferrina*

        The person who knows how to navigate the red tape is worth their weight in gold. I’m sorry your mom had to be that person, but I revere her skills (and I hope her boss and team appreciated her appropriately!).

        1. The OG Sleepless*

          Thank you! We all miss her for many reasons, but I wish she was around anytime I start dealing with insurance companies or the IRS.

    2. Anon Today*

      Even worse is when they decide that you’re so darn good at window washing that they transform your job into nothing but window washing. Yeah, that’s me … the skill that I was being praised for being good at is not needed in the job that they moved me into because “business reasons”. Yeah those “analytical skills” that I was praised for just are not needed for this role, unless you think (as a comparison only) that putting paper files into alphabetical order requires analytical skills. At least working remotely, no one sees me sobbing whenever I think about work.

    3. J*

      I’m paid a 6 figure salary for my teapot researching skills and teapot industry knowledge, which includes teapot tech and forecasting. I support a team of teapot makers but instead of me being their assistant, I more facilitate allowing them to just make teapots and being available for them to consult on how to get buy in from the rest of the business. My job is to make things so smooth that no one ever sees a disruption with production. Our team manages our own individual admin tasks with a few extras on my plate that we agreed to and in busy times.

      But grandboss likes me to file his emails or focus or filing. Those are valuable tasks to the org and in his C-suite role it does make sense for someone else to be doing it. It’s just very disappointing that rather than hire an executive assistant, he looks for someone whose work he views as “lower” and piles those tasks onto me. It’s especially awful when in an all hands meeting about our teapot industry growth, he praises me not for managing our entire teapot portfolio but because I organized some emails. I’m grateful my immediate team knows where my skills are but it’s so discouraging to have my knowledge dismissed in favor of tasks that serve him instead of the entire org.

  12. Lulu*

    Maybe it would help to reframe all of this in your mind, down to what “work” is. You can hope that you generally enjoy your work, but ultimately it’s you doing a thing in exchange for money, not you doing things you like. Can you remind yourself that nobody’s asking you to like your tasks, so you don’t need to pretend that it was “fun”? I struggle when I have staff who push back on doing something because they don’t like it; I’m not asking you to like it, I’m asking you to do it. That’s the premise of this whole arrangement. I know that sounds harsh, but work, whether the official kind or just the things you do in life because they need to get done, is about accomplishing tasks, not about deep fulfillment. It’s not inauthentic to take pride in a job well done, even if you didn’t like the job. And it’s not inauthentic to receive praise that you did a good job, even if you wouldn’t have chosen that task for your vacation.

    1. Overit*

      We do not have to and seldom do like everything about work. We DO have to perform the work for which we are paid and we DO have to interact with others in effective ways.
      Sometimes, the nature of work REQUIRES that we hide our emotions. As an example, I was ecstatic when a horrible person got fired. It would not have served me or my team well if I stood up and did a happy dance. That would be unprofessional and immature.
      If I had a staff member who showed anger when they were praised, I would not find them effective, personable, a team player, or frankly mature enough to be on my team and/or get promoted.

      1. I am Emily's failing memory*

        Sometimes, the nature of work REQUIRES that we hide our emotions.

        The textbook example of this is how flight attendants are trained to project an air of calm no matter what is happening so as not to make a bad situation worse by inducing panic among the passengers. Sure, on some level it’s “inauthentic” to pretend everything is fine when internally you’re thinking “mortality rates for planes crashing into the ocean are very high and that cushion’s ability to be a life-saving flotation device is greatly exaggerated,” but the purpose of working as a flight attendant is not to be your authentic self, it’s to provide things that an airplane full of passengers require, which includes a reassuring, calm presence that reduces the risk of an unhinged passenger somehow making the situation worse.

        This emotional labor should of course be recognized as labor and compensated, but it’s not unreasonable to expect it to be done by appropriately compensated workers who may not feel like they’re being very authentic when they perform this work.

        1. Hippo with a Hat*

          “This emotional labor should of course be recognized as labor and compensated”

          Flight attendants do get paid for their job.

          1. MsClaw*

            That is in fact the point. You’re getting paid. There can absolutely be legitimate issues around doing tasks you don’t like, but sometimes those tasks are just part of the job — they are in fact what you’re being paid to do.

    2. MsClaw*

      This is 100% correct.

      If you deeply resent a task you’re being asked to do…. it might be time to think about seeking a new job, a new field, etc. I’ve mastered becoming good at doing things that are irritating, unglamorous, etc. It has made me very successful and propelled my career.

      Now, it is totally legit to be irritated if there is scut work that only you ever seem to get assigned. But sometimes there are dumb tasks that have to get done, and your boss does appreciate you doing them even though (and perhaps even more so because) you don’t like them.

    3. Interplanet Janet*

      I used to work a job that was very “in the weeds” of data and NOT deadline driven. Some things I could automate and some HAD to be done manually, which could add easily hours to my week. Sometimes my boss (a very nice person) would sort of cringe while asking if something was feasible and I told her sure, if you don’t mind X extra hours. She’d say “oh I hate to give you all that extra work” and had trouble believing me when I would genuinely shrug and say it’s literally my job to manipulate this data however you want. If it takes me an extra week and that doesn’t bother you, it’s no sweat off my back.

      Was it nice to be able to run a script and get 1200 widgets done in a day? Sure, it felt productive and I was proud of my script. But if I had to hand-code 12 widgets in a day, I still got to go home and enjoy my family and my hobbies at 5. Work is work and I get paid either way.

  13. LawBee*

    I feel you OP! I get really irritated when I get praised for work done under duress. I have no idea why!

    I think there is a sense these days that we always need to be verbally honest about our feelings about everything, and the reality is we really really do not. The simple “thanks” doesn’t deny how much you hate the task, it’s completely neutral on the task. It’s just thanking someone for saying something nice about you. There really isn’t a work-need to elaborate on it unless there’s follow up from the other person.

    1. Jenna Webster*

      I love this take on the situation. It’s similar to when people tell me to bring my whole self to work, and I think “Whoa, nobody wants that!”

  14. Hannah L*

    I don’t have this specific issue but I have definitely encountered situationsa, where I know I’m having a weird emotional response and seeing things in an adversarial way for no reason and I don’t really know why.

    My partner used to ask “What are our plans this weekend?” Which for some reason, that phrasing made me mad. I guess because I saw it as him thinking of us as on blob of a person rather than me being an individual. When all he was doing was checking to make sure that he wasn’t forgetting anything/not double booking himself. When I made that perception switch it stopped bothering me.

    Anyway, brains are weird, I second the recommendation for therapy. That has helped a lot.

  15. Happy meal with extra happy*

    I really don’t understand the need for “honesty”. Like, I know how I feel and what I think. But if I pretend I feel another way to make work go more smoothly…100% I’ll fake it.

    (If it’s an issue of continually getting work tasks that I both don’t enjoy and are outside of my general job duties, I’ll say something if necessary. But if seldomly now and then I get a PITA task, I just suck it up.)

    1. Goldenrod*

      “Like, I know how I feel and what I think. But if I pretend I feel another way to make work go more smoothly…100% I’ll fake it.”

      Same here!

    2. bookworm*

      sometimes the problem is that you’ve spent way too much of your life faking it in a lot of different settings, and you eventually hit a breaking point where it’s impossible to keep up the effort involved anymore. Obviously, it’d be better to fake it less in other domains (like personal life) and keep that energy for polite fictions at work, but it can be hard to get to that point if your upbringing has trained you to keep that mask on.

      1. ferrina*

        Yes- at the point when Occasionally Faking It crosses the line into Constant Masking/ Erasure, responses will vary. And different people will have a different response tolerance for Faking It- both how often they will fake, how much they will fake, what reason is considered good enough to fake and to whom they will fake. It’s a complex algebraic formula of emotions and personal history.

    3. coffee*

      Saw someone (a tweet?) saying something like “At a job interview, promising to regularly cosplay as a worker in return for money” – sometimes you have to take on a role.

  16. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    OP – does your boss **know** that you hate this task? Have you told them? Does that change their approach?

    Because for things I hate to do, being told by my boss “Hey AB, we need to clean out the llama pens tomorrow. I know you hate to do it, but Fergus has a sprained wrist and Jane is at the groomer’s conference. I really appreciate you taking care of this.” makes a difference.

    1. Sloanicota*

      That does seem more honest somehow than something like, “oh Alton, you’re so good at mucking the llama pen, great job on that.”

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, I think this is important.

      There are a bunch of tasks at my job that I find extra-tedious but a) they’re inherently part of the job, and they would be in this industry no matter where I worked (so it’s not a failing of my particular workplace), and b) they’re also routine for employees at my skill level (so it’s not that they’re getting dumped on me unfairly). They’re just s**t that needs to be done, and it’s not personal or manipulative when someone comments that I do them well. Getting my hackles up about it would be both a waste of my time and energy and, frankly, out of line with the expectations of my job.

      So . . . do you really think your boss is being manipulative, or do you actually do these well and it gets under your skin for reasons that don’t necessarily have to do with the person praising you?

      1. I am Emily's failing memory*

        Exactly – there’s the question of whether you hate the task and the question of whether it’s appropriate or tenable for you to be the person doing it. The overwhelming majority of us have to suck it up and accept we have to do tasks we hate, without having an attitude about it, because they’re appropriate and part of the job. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t speak up if there’s other issues with you being asked to do those tasks – if you’re being stuck with them more than others in your same role, if they can’t humanly be done in a sane workweek, and so on. But just “I hate this” by itself isn’t to cut it. They’re paying you to do it even if you hate it. Like they say about dirty jobs – someone has to do it.

    3. Verthandi*

      That would make a difference to me. One of my first jobs was at a restaurant that had a salad bar*. Nobody liked getting assigned to salad bar duty, and the managers all knew it. Rather than making sure salad bar duty was equitably assigned, they told us that if anyone complained about working the salad bar or mentioned that they didn’t like it, they’d get assigned to it permanently.

      The worst thing was that salad bar duty was assigned to the same people, all female. I kept track.

      *Salad bar was unpopular because it was never done. As soon as you rotated the items and cleaned up the messes left by customers, the salad bar would get trashed again. You also couldn’t leave until you showed the on-duty manager that the salad bar was clean and all the containers full. This often meant getting off work late.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Side note: I worked salad bar in the college dining hall and everyone loathed it. Offerings rotated and people were always bitching when their favorite ingredients weren’t on for that day. And it was messy–you were constantly cleaning up yogurt and salad dressing. But at least there the misery was equitably distributed.

  17. Sloanicota*

    OP, I’m not sure if most people here will understand or not, but you’re not alone in this. In my case, I have this fundamentally adversarial approach to work that feeds into it. I feel very “forced” to exchange labor for income (obviously I understand this is true for almost everyone and that I’m not special!) and it results in my frequently feeling taken advantage of / exploited / resentful. This is my own maladaptive pattern of thought, and it’s something I’m trying to work on *for my own sake* because we all have to live in an economy of some type. So maybe thinking about the big picture issue will help you address this.

    1. L.H. Puttgrass*

      I get it. It’s perilous to use domestic life as an analogue for the office—but what the heck, I’ll do it anyway. There are plenty of tasks around the house that neither of us enjoy but that have to get done. If I were to heap effusive praise on my spouse for how well they clean the bathroom or take out the trash—well, I don’t think that would be well-received. To put it mildly.

        1. L.H. Puttgrass*

          True. But, “You do that menial job so well!” risks coming off patronizing and sounding like, “So you should definitely keep doing it, because I’d be so much worse at it.”

          You can appreciate that someone does a crappy unwanted job without lavishing praise on how well they do the crappy unwanted job.

          1. BubbleTea*

            Ugh yes. I have a relative (grown adult) who says that they can’t do something because it’s a “big boy job” and it makes me want to claw their face. Your CHILDREN are adults now, you have to accept that you are a grown up!

          2. Not in your timezone*

            But there are objectively better ways to do menial tasks. Some people are better than others at particular tasks, menial or not.

            My daughter is excellent at repetitive tasks that require precision because she is incredibly consistent from start to finish. This is a skill that many others don’t have. Just because society has deemed this ‘menial’ doesn’t mean it’s patronising to recognise her.

            1. metadata minion*

              Yes! Cleaning efficiently and thoroughly, for example, is an actual skill. We’ve as a society decided it’s a scut-work “unskilled labor” thing and yet also that women are magically better at it, but that doesn’t mean some people aren’t genuinely good at it.

          3. ferrina*

            Ooh, I know someone like this. He uses praise as a shield against being asked to do stuff (“but you’re so good at it, and I’m not!”). And really, there are plenty of tasks where Good Enough is just fine! Sure, one person may be particularly skilled, but that doesn’t mean that someone else can’t do the task.

            And because we care about Particularly Skilled Person, we wouldn’t condemn them to endlessly do a task they hate; we’ll take our fair turn, and still be grateful when Particularly Skilled Person is doing it. Alternatively, we’ll find a mutually agreeable way to support Particularly Skilled Person to make it worth it for them to be willing to do the task more (like the office baker who we reimburse for ingredients, or the person who can magically unjam the copier and whose own requests will we always prioritize)

  18. Generic Name*

    One thing I’ve learned through the course of therapy is that when we feel disproportionately angry or resentful of something it can be a signal that our boundaries in general are out of whack. When you’re at work you can’t necessarily pick and choose what your duties are, but you do have agency in other areas of your life to set boundaries. I echo the suggestion that this is a good thing to unpack in therapy. You can also read books about boundaries. Both have helped me tons.

      1. Justin*

        Yeah. I used to get angry at certain descriptors and I used that to go and unpack why. It led me to actually figure out my ADHD. Not diagnosing OP but it’s worth exploring the why. We have to figure out how to respond to these requests in some fashion. I try to just be fairly blank if it’s not something I enjoyed, but blank rather than cold.

        1. kicking-k*

          I’m so intrigued by the mentions of ADHD (there have been a few) as I have this problem and I’m currently seeking a diagnosis.

  19. Naomi*

    I mean, maybe they are trying to make you like the task more, but that doesn’t have to be manipulative. Maybe they’re just nice people who don’t want you to be miserable, and since you have to do the task anyway they think it’s a kindness to make it more pleasant for you. (Think of it this way: if you could change the task so you enjoyed it more, wouldn’t you prefer that to hating part of your job?) Maybe you can reframe it for yourself as “thank you for doing this task so well despite finding it unpleasant.”

  20. MicroManagered*

    OP I say this with love because your letter sounds a lot like me… Therapy.

    The fact that you went straight to “when my dad made me wash the windows” is very telling. I also think it’s very common. The authority dynamic between manager and direct-report sometimes triggers old “stuff” from the parent-child relationship for some people. (Me! It triggers stuff for me!)

    1. inko*

      Seconded hard. Hard-to-explain anger + immediate association with childhood stuff is, certainly for me, a signal that something could be very usefully worked out with a therapist. I am talking with mine currently about work stuff too.

  21. Goldenrod*

    I can really relate to this:

    “Which, in a dynamic where one person has power over another, my mind and feelings are the only thing I get to keep, and now my boss is trying to take that from me as well.”

    I’ve learned how to say what bosses (especially toxic bosses) want to hear, and it doesn’t especially bother me, for some reason. I guess because I have the ability to say something that sounds cheerful at work – even if it’s something I totally don’t believe – if saying it is going to make my life easier.

    For example, I actually told a boss who was bullying me, “I like you! I like working with you” and I 100% didn’t feel that way, but I could see her entire demeanor change and relax when I said it, and it solved the problem.

    I guess, for me, being this extremely insincere is a coping mechanism in toxic offices. I prefer to be sincere! But when my boss is awful, I just think, “you no longer deserve my sincerity.”

    This is all easier when you truly dislike your boss, but honestly, secretly nurturing contempt while performing compliance is something that has worked for me in the past.

    1. Budgie Buddy*

      I wish I had this skill – I do think it is useful for de-escalation especially in toxic situations. for me, if my real emotion is stress then even if I smile and say “You’re great! I love working here!” It won’t cause the toxic person to calm down. More likely the toxic person will snap back with “Don’t take that tone of voice with me, Punk! Do you think I’m stupid????” And I have no idea what the tone was because pissing off the angry boss was the last thing I wanted. :/

      I think just like some people can project their voices well without their throat tightening at all, some people can fake it when necessary with no tells, while others can’t.

  22. Indie*

    The other day during the morning call a colleague told me that I looked tired. In the moment I just wanted to tell them that yes, I know, thanks for pointing it out, Captain Obvious. All I said was a simple thanks. Which made everyone on the call laugh as opposed to what my internal response would generate. I have been defaulting to “thanks” in a lot of situations. Is it a compliment? Thanks with a smile. Is it a snarky comment? What a nice thing to say, thank you! Am I not sure which one? Thanks with a laugh. Deserved praise? Thanks. Undeserved praise? Thanks. I find my life got a lot easier after I stopped being brutally honest.

    1. Miss Muffet*

      And work is one of the places where brutal honesty is probably least appropriate. Not saying everything we think isn’t about not being honest or authentic, it’s being polite. And work is a place where a basic level of politeness is expected. Which is probably also why you are being thanked/praised/appreciated for doing some unpleasant task. The manager is being polite.

  23. PleaseNo*

    I’m surprised this was addressed at AAM; the additional information that her experience has been happening in her family her whole life as well indicates that this is a mental health issue, not a work issue.
    I hope she gets it addressed soon and sees the benefits in all aspects of her life.

      1. PleaseNo*

        That is not relevant to what I said. Let me clarify: work shows the symptom, which she also sees in her personal life and originates in her personal life.

        1. Eh, Steve!*

          Well, unless there’s an instant cure, OP will need to continue navigating how the symptoms affect their work, which seems like a perfectly good topic for a work advice column, just like dozens of other personal and health issues that are not “work issues” that Alison has addressed here. Not sure why this was so surprising to you.

    1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

      I thought it was nice to have scripts for work. I don’t think a little irritability is a ‘ mental health issue’

      1. Be Gneiss*

        I mean, both can be true. There are lots of topics that have been covered that *are* mental health issues and where scripting is *also* helpful.

    2. OyHiOh*

      I started therapy several years ago for grief, and have continued long past the explicit grief targeting because I gradually realized that much of my adult life could be summed up as a sort of “failure to thrive.” I had so many maladaptive coping mechanisms, many of which were frequently in conflict with each other, that I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to be the person I wanted to be for my children if I didn’t figure out how to thrive.

      This letter screams the same sort of course to me: They are not mentally ill, but they could be thriving in a whole different way, if they’re willing and able/have the means to take on the work.

    3. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      We bring our mental health to work with us, and it affects how we do our jobs and how we react to our co-workers. Also, LW identified this as “a thing that happens at work” and so they wrote to a work-advice column.

    4. Gremlins*

      The fact that the OP is self-aware doesn’t mean this isn’t a work issue! Many workplace issues are also mental health issues, and Alison capably addresses them.

  24. I should really pick a name*

    Try to look at it this way:

    They’re not trying to make you feel better. They’re just letting you know that they appreciate what you’re going.

    1. LadyByTheLake*

      Amen to this. As a manager, I often praise someone who is doing a task that is unpleasant or that I suspect they don’t like. It isn’t any kind of attempt to change their feelings about it, or send a message that they will do it more. It is just a way for me to acknowledge that I appreciate the fact that they are doing a good job on something I know (or suspect) they don’t like doing.

      1. wren*

        I second this. As a manager I don’t really know how to respond to the OP feeling angry at praise for work tasks she was hired to do. Why take or keep a job if you dislike the job duties at this level of resentment? There’s never been a better time to change jobs.

  25. Bubo Bubo*

    I think I get it on some level – I feel similarly when a client behaves in a demanding, hostile way, and then at the end of a project praises me for being so helpful and accommodating. It’s like I’m actually being praised for being a doormat, or for my ability to mask how I feel and project a sweet facade even when I’m internally fuming. Those are both things that have caused me significant hardship in life, even if they’re useful at work sometimes, so… it sets something off in me.

    I do think the likelihood of the root of this being unresolved childhood issues is high. That’s my experience at least with strong feelings that seem to not have an immediate, clear cause, and it’s definitely the root of my own stuff. I was raised by a family just like the one Alison describes (demanding a show of cheerfulness, etc.), and I do react badly when I feel someone is trying to tell me how I should feel, or force me to hide my real emotions – even when I’m in a situation where I know it’s the only appropriate response.

  26. Poppy*

    I’m the same way, OP. I do hide it well, but I’m always concerned that being good at this thing I hate means I’m going to have to do it all the time thanks to weaponized incompetence from someone else. It does stem from my childhood and got reinforced by a bad boss who would make me so something I hated, give me faint praise for barely pulling it off, and then scold me and say that I needed to work more hours if I wanted to do the thing all the time like it was my idea in the first place.

    I know everyone says to find a therapist, but it is HARD right now. I had exactly one within a 30 minute drive available when I last looked who took my insurance. She was straight up awful and dismissive and I quit after 6 weeks of being talked down to. Those online therapy apps aren’t worth much considering how many clients they have and the quality of the three I spoke to on there was pretty bad.

  27. Anita Brayke*

    Thank you, Alison! I have had that problem in the past, where I’m focused on giving an honest answer because in the moment, I think that honesty is important. Or I’m having a crappy day. Either way, though, honesty in these situations is neither necessary or helpful. I learned this from reading this blog, and it has been very helpful to me!

  28. asturdysoul*

    When I got promoted at my first grownup job after college (unexpectedly, ahead of schedule), my visceral response was to cry. I had to hold back tears and pretend I was just overwhelmed/grateful in the moment. Years later, I recognize that the truth I wouldn’t tell myself at the time was that I really didn’t want to be doing that job or building a career in that field. Some primal, subconscious part of me that didn’t WANT to get promoted, because then I felt like it would be extra irresponsible to bail on a stable corporate career at which I clearly excelled. I stayed in the field for 10 years and I wish I had trusted my instincts earlier.
    All that to say to OP that, if your anger/resentment comes from a place of being fundamentally dissatisfied with your work (not just frustrated at having to do the boring or unpleasant stuff), it might be worthwhile to stop and unpack that sooner rather than later rather than just try to fix your attitude.

    1. Anon Y Mouse*

      Yessss. I once had a boss who was very keen to build my skills and talk about what my five-year plan was, but the truth was that I’d taken that job to get experience that would be useful for a different, related job, and then found out that in a recession, that field had stopped hiring and I was stuck. The temptation to howl “I don’t wanna be doing this in five years!” was so strong. I didn’t.

      I stayed for seven miserable years, too scared to give up a stable paycheck, but eventually left without a new job to go to. I did manage to pivot back to my preferred career and am now more or less back on track. But I have regrets.

  29. Baron*

    From a manager’s perspective: I’m often very effusive with thanks and appreciation (moreso than praise) when members of my staff have to take on tasks I know they hate—like, say, working with a difficult client. It’s just, “Hey, thank you for putting your feelings aside and being professional and doing the thing.” From my perspective, I just want them to feel seen (that I know they hate the thing) and valued (that I appreciate they’re doing the thing anyway).

    To use the LW’s words, I don’t want them to “feel good about doing things [they] hate” in the sense of, “Jeez, I used to hate washing windows, but now that someone praised me, I love washing windows!” But I absolutely want them to feel good about having overcome their negative feelings and done something difficult that helped the team. They aren’t necessarily praising your window-washing, LW – they’re praising what your willingness to do it says about you.

    1. lazuli*

      Yeah, I was thinking something similar. As a manager, it would be more like, “I know you hate the thing and so it’s doubly appreciated that you did and that you did it well.” But I’d also want to make sure I didn’t keep assigning hated tasks to only one person on the team, or act otherwise unfairly, too. Saying “Thank you, I appreciate it” doesn’t magically eliminate unfairness/inequity.

      As an employee, I currently keep getting praised for stuff I know I’m good and that I don’t mind doing as part of my job but that are turning into the whole of my job. I do think the appreciation is still genuine — I am good at those things — but since I’ve talked and talked about how I want to be focusing elsewhere but similar unliked tasks keep getting added to my workload, I’m feeling less appreciated by the appreciation. I’m feeling like I need to start looking for a different role, as this one seems to be moving in directions I don’t like. So the OP might want to think about that, too — is some of the resentment coming because the job itself is a mismatch? Or are these just one-off tasks?

    2. Office Lobster DJ*

      ” It’s just, “Hey, thank you for putting your feelings aside and being professional and doing the thing.” ”

      For whatever it’s worth, as someone who can get irritated by “Thanks!” for routine or distasteful tasks, I think this reasoning might grate on me as well. It implies the existence of doubt that I would be professional and able to manage my own feelings. Ditto my boss wanting me to feel good about overcoming my negative feelings; “feelings management” feels like an overstep on a boss’s part.

      In practice, I would say it could simply come down to phrasing. “Thanks for dealing with Fergus. I know you don’t like him much, and I appreciate that you could put that aside” feels awkwardly personal in a way that “Thanks for dealing with Fergus. I know he’s a handful and I appreciate how you dealt with him” does not.

  30. Hiring Mgr*

    I think as Alison mentioned this is just a “thanks” and move on. There will always be things at work we don’t love

  31. Noelle*

    I saw someone mention ADHD upthread; I am autistic and I feel similarly to LW. Not saying it applies to them, but look up demand avoidance. The need for honesty also can be related to autism. Unfortunately, the best way to deal with this that I’ve found is what LW is already doing: keeping quiet and dealing with the discomfort, as neurotypicals would have a hard time understanding since my brain is just wired differently.

  32. ecnaseener*

    It does sound really exhausting to feel like you can only honestly say ‘thank you’ for things that made you feel good. I’ve never thought of that as a necessary condition for thanks — we thank people for the actions they take, not just for having a good effect on us.

    As a random example, if I’m waiting at a crosswalk and someone waves me on at a moment I *don’t* want to cross (because I’m in the middle of digging something out of my bag or whatever), that makes me feel stressed and annoyed. But I still wave thank-you, because they did a nice thing, even though it didn’t happen to be a thing I wanted at that moment.

    Can you reframe it that way? “Thanks” as in “thanks for saying something nice,” not “thanks for making me happy.”

  33. NeuroQueer*

    For me this is related to Autistic(/ADHD) PDA ( Pathological Demand Avoidance, or Persistent Drive for Autonomy, depending on who you ask) which causes my brain to experience demands or expectations placed upon me as literal threats. The discomfort in doing them anyway and leftover directionless adrenaline/stress response frequently turns into anger at the slightest provocation in the immediate aftermath. And yes, the feeling of rejecting someone else’s attempted ‘control’ is very central to the emotional response.

    PDA is not rational and it is not something therapy will make much of a dent in.
    If you’re someone who procrastinates even very necessary tasks (laundry, making food, going to bed) for no reason, the coping strategies autists have for dealing with PDA tendencies may be helpful to you.

    But you’re definitely not alone in this kind of emotional reaction to this kind of thing!

    1. Anon autist*

      I know you can’t link in the comments, but are there any resources you would recommend for learning these coping strategies? I’m autistic and this is sounding very familiar.

      1. Web Crawler*

        Look up the PDA society, and then click around until you get to blogs written by adult PDAers. There’s also the book “PDA by PDAers”, which is worth reading.

    2. M&M*

      Yes, another autistic here who experiences this! It’s very real LW and you’re not alone.

      I agree that, while LW may or may not be autistic, using resources that autistic people have created for themselves could really benefit them. Even just knowing I’m not alone in feeling this way helped me cope with it.

      I disagree though that therapy won’t help! You’re right that it’s irrational, but a good therapist can help you work out ways to cope with the rush of anger/adrenaline you might feel and give you tools for dealing with it in the moment. And many, many years of therapy has helped me in general to be more in touch with my emotions in a way that makes them less intense, so I definitely recommend it to the LW if they have the resources.

    3. Eh, Steve!*

      Thanks, I never heard of that, but it might be me. For example:
      Me: knowing I should apply for a better job.
      Mom: “You should apply for a better job!”
      Me: well then, eff better jobs, I’ll keep this crappy one.

      1. lazuli*

        Ha, I call this my inner three-year-old. I just picture myself as a little girl in pigtails with my arms crossed and a scowl on my face going, “NO NO NO YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!”

    4. Bucky Barnes' Metal Arm*

      Seconding NeuroQueer, as a person with another neurodivergent dx that is not Autism or ADHD but shares some features with both.

      Although for me, therapy did help. Or rather, therapy pointed me towards self-help and coping strategies which I pursued myself. EIt was helpful even just knowing that PDA is A Thing some brains do, that it sort of makes sense as part of the pattern of how my brain works even though it’s not an accurate or useful response to most situations (just because I feel attacked doesn’t mean anyone is *actually* attacking me). Once I know that, I can add a sort of mental subroutine, like
      1.Person/situation pushes my button.
      2. I feel rage/resistance/suspicion/defensive/manipulated/controlled, urge to say “No way, fck off” (but refrain from actually saying)
      3.I’m silent or say something that feels insincere at best and transparently badtempered at worst
      Now add: 2.5 I recognize the feeling is likely PDA, a threat response. 2.55 Do brief grounding techniques to release some of the adrenaline surge, and do de-escalating mental self-talk to reduce/prevent the thought distortions that threat provokes, like assuming bad motives, or catastophizing the situation, or black-white thinking. 2.75 I reinterpret the provocation in a new way, as “just something that pushed my button”, not necessarily as bad a thing as it felt like. Perhaps I can see it now the way someone else might, or the way the other person likely intended it. Then New 3, I can respond more reasonably and proportionately without feeling insincere.

      My spouse and some good friends are different flavors of neurodivergent, some ADHD, some Autistic, some other or multi dx. We have all talked about our dealing with PDA in our own versions of this way. We have varying levels of success with it. We have angrylaughed about the ironic catch-22 of how it’s harder to manage PDA if you feel like it’s something you *should* manage. PDA tells you, “no adapt, only resist!” and hijacks your biochemistry to make it feel like there’s no (rel or honest) alternative. But there is.

    5. GythaOgden*

      I can relate as autistic myself!

      I just have to tell myself that I’ll feel better once I’ve done it. I use things like computer games and TV/crafts as a reward for when the dirty stuff is out of the way. I also got some help with cleaning my house and rooms to a point where I actively wanted to keep it under control. The other night I went to my mum and dads and had a gruelling round of dinner, clear-up, shower etc etc etc, but once it was finished I could hop on Fortnite on my Switch and play to my heart’s content. It was worth so much more because I had everything done first and I wouldn’t have to be interrupted again until I decided to go to bed.

      The other thing is that routine can really help make visible improvements to something. With my teeth, I’m still playing catch up from a period of depression in my 20s. My dentist acts as my coach and being told how to do things, what I needed to do, what they should look like, and why was so helpful. That stuff matters to me because if the reasons to do it or the positive results are laid bare, the impetus to actually do it becomes clearer.

      1. Giant Kitty*

        I’m autiHD and my problem is that I DON’T feel better after I Complete The Thing! I am angry and resentful that I was forced to do it before I was “ready” by outside circumstances like not having any clean clothing or towels or coffee cups.
        These aren’t tasks that I would expect or even WANT someone else to do, and the only pressure to get them done comes from me…and STILL!

        I’m so happy to learn that this is a common ND thing lol

  34. Web Crawler*

    I have the same problem! And after a lot of work, I found a whole community of people who are dealing with the same kinds of things, and some frameworks for getting around it. This might not be your experience, and this is definitely not a diagnosis, but I thought I’d mention it in case it leads you to something useful.

    The thing I found is called PDA, which either stands for “Pathological Demand Avoidance” or “Pervasive Drive for Autonomy”. And one of the ways it can manifest is, well, getting angry at supposedly “good things” because it feels like an attempt to control you. For what it’s worth, this isn’t a family of origin thing for me- the working understanding of researchers is that it’s inborn.

  35. OP*

    OP commenting – thanks heaps Alison for the feedback, and for the constructive replies! A lot of the comments are spot on I think about why this is for me. And yes, it probably has roots in childhood (the whole “be happy or else” thing), and probably worth looking at in therapy.

    I also appreciate the scripts – my favourite is, “it’s got to be done.” Or “it’s coming along.” It feels like a good compromise.

    I’ve got a big day and this is all I have time to write, but thanks again Alison for publishing, and thanks readers for sharing your insights. I’ll admit that I thought I would be run through the gauntlet a bit, so the empathy in the comments whilst also being constructive is really quite refreshing!

    1. bookworm*

      Thank you so much for asking this question. It’s actually prompted me to reflect on some things in my life, and has also deeply resonated with some other friends I shared this letter with. Hope your day goes well!

    2. FashionablyEvil*

      Glad to hear it, OP! I always find it helpful to remember that anger is a secondary emotion—it cues us in that we’re hurt/feeling excluded/feeling some sort of negative emotion that we don’t really have good language for. Unpacking the “WHY am I so angry about this?” is a valuable exercise. All the best to you!

    3. Catwhisperer*

      Glad to hear this has been helpful! I came on to +1 the comments about you not being alone and offer my favorite response, which is “Glad to hear you appreciate the effort.”

      It feels more honest to me because it doesn’t imply that I enjoy or am proud of the task results, but it does acknowledge the intentions of the person saying thank you.

  36. “Good job”*

    Tangentially related, I internally bristle at “good job” type of praise from people whose opinion I don’t respect. Like, “Who are YOU to praise me.” For me, it’s better when phrased as an appreciation rather than praise. But I also understand the social construct of work & try to be neutral. If they’re really pushing it, I might say, “ Good job, to you, too.”

  37. Aggretsuko*

    I have a similar reaction to being wished a chipper and happy, “Good morning!” I get that you’re trying to be positive and happy by wishing that I would HAVE a good morning, but I’m a night owl, I’m exhausted and unchatty and unenergized at 8 a.m. and I don’t HAVE good mornings unless I’m home alone in bed for most of them. But people would absolutely kill me if I said anything against their “Good morning!”, so I keep my mouth shut and my rage in check. That’s all you can do.

    1. Calliope*

      “Haha. I wish. I’m not a morning person.” It’s not that hard. But also they are just using a pro forma phrase.

  38. No Name Here*

    OP, thanks for writing in. I have 13 year old son who feels the same. I always found it peculiar that he would get so angry when I thanked him for doing chores. Now I see it from his perspective.

    1. Catwhisperer*

      I’m really curious about whether he’d respond better if you said, “thanks for doing this task even though you don’t like it”! I know I would’ve had a more positive response at that age if my parents had acknowledged that I disliked something but did it anyway.

      1. Katy*

        That still leaves the potential feeling of “Don’t thank me for something that wasn’t my choice.”

        That wouldn’t bother me personally, but I do have a slightly related point of irritation/discomfort. I tend to work in places that do land acknowledgements, and it always bothers me when the land acknowledgement includes words like “thanks” or “gratitude,” because you can’t steal something and then say thank you. If we’re acknowledging that this is stolen land, that means the land is not a gift and we do not have the right to thank anyone for it.

        1. Allonge*

          I don’t know* – if I only get a thank you for things that I 100% choose to do, I would never get a thanks at work (because ultimately I only do it as I am paid) or for a chore (who chooses to take out the trash, really). That’s a bit extreme. If I do something because someone is suddenly sick and there is no alternative, I better get a thanks.

          *This is in general, not about the land thing.

  39. Nonny*

    I feel the same, anon! I feel similarly when my therapist tells me I did something right. Most positive feedback feels patronizing and makes my skin crawl.

    At work I especially resent positive feedback from my crappy boss. Everything feels like, “if this is such good work, pay me more, dumbass!”

  40. NeedRain47*

    I get why LW doesn’t like this-It’s very Huck Finn whitewashing the fence. It feels like a trick, especially if the praise is more than just “thanks for getting that fence done.”

    1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      FYI it was Tom Sawyer who tricked everyone into whitewashing the fence. He was such a scamp! (lol)

  41. Chilipepper Attitude*

    Oh OP, I feel you and totally recognize what you are saying!

    Honestly, praise is not good or better than criticism, both are a way of judging others. I highly recommend the book Punished by Rewards. It is about kids but I think it all goes back to childhood. Praising someone really means, I have evaluated you and found you did this well. Criticism means I have also evaluated you and found you did not do well.

    You don’t feel cognitive dissonance when the praise is for something you like or feel neutral about because you are being judged for doing something that fits with your self-image. But being judged for something that does not fit your self-image and there is a clash. And I understand the anger this causes.

    I feel it when I get praised for something I don’t value. I don’t have to hate it, but if I don’t value it, I react strongly (inside).

    1. Anon Y Mouse*

      Have you come across the idea of “the four tendencies”? I find it useful sometimes (the writer Gretchen Rubin came up with it). What you’re describing sounds SO like what she says about “the rebel tendency” – having someone praise you makes you NOT want to do it, and you can often only motivate yourself by saying “this aligns with my values/self-image”.

      (The other “tendencies” are motivated by different things, such as meeting their own pre-set goals or others’ expectations.)

      1. J*

        I actually thought of Gretchen Rubin as well. In real life I’m a questioner and I function best when I can act in that role at work, which I do. Unfortunately, I tend to work with people who expect me to be an obliger. I can’t tell if it’s the misalignment or actual obliger rebellion but it does not end well.

  42. I'm just here for the cats!*

    I also wonder, does the person who complimented you know that you dislike this task? That makes a big difference, and could help you reframe your thoughts from “you’re trying to manipulate me” to “This person is complimenting me on a task.”

    1. oranges*

      If I had to guess, OP isn’t hiding their disdain for the task at hand very well. (In fact, they seem overly adversarial about it all.)

      Their boss may just be trying to rebalance the tone of the interaction by offering thanks and praise for a thing OP clearly hates. Especially if the task is within the scope of OP’s job. OP still has to do it, but at least the boss is trying to be pleasant about it so things aren’t uncomfortable.

      1. I'm just here for the cats!*

        I was thinking more of the lines of OP’s boss told her to clip llama nails, which she dislikes, and the coworker who trims llama tails saw they do good job and told them, not knowing they dislike nails so much

  43. Moths*

    Like many other commentors, I get where you’re coming from. That specific situation isn’t one that gets to me, but for me it’s when I bang my elbow or trip on something or some other situation that results in my exclamation of “Ouch!” Inevitably, someone asks, “Are you alright?” Logically, I know that this is a social nicety that needs nothing more than a polite non-response. But I often can’t help but the annoyance that builds up in me enough and results in a snappy, “No, I’m not actually. That’s why I said ouch.” And I know this is the wrong response! And I try to stop myself. There are some things that seem to be so deeply rooted in us that logic and reason can’t hold us back when they get triggered. It’s definitely something to keep working on (for both OP and me), but I definitely get it.

    1. Ann Ominous*

      I’m curious if you have a sense of what kind of response would actually feel helpful.

      Would something like “Yikes, that sounded like it hurt, do you need anything?” or “Ouch? What happened?” feel more welcome?

      1. Tara R.*

        I also have a rage response to someone saying “Are you okay?” or “What happened?” immediately after I hurt myself, and as far as I can tell it’s because pain triggers a sort of adrenaline response that I need a few moments to come down from before I can handle social niceties. When someone asks a question that dictates a response, it just feels totally overstimulating– like there’s an OW, and then there’s someone demanding that I perform conversation while my brain is still very much wrapped up in the OW and the base instinctual side is trying to decide if the pain is due to an immediate threat.

        My personal preference is to give me 5-10 seconds of silence to suppress that response before saying anything at all, and that’s what I’ve asked from my closest loved ones when these situations come up. If there isn’t blood spurting everywhere, there’s nothing a bystander can do that can’t wait 10 seconds. My good friends and family just let me break the silence, once I’ve recovered myself enough to say “Ouch, that one hurt!” or “I’m all good, just tripped over a branch”. But I fully acknowledge that that isn’t the societal script and that the reason people say something right away is to express concern and caring! My calm rational brain knows that. I try really hard to grit out a “Fine” or “Give me a sec” and not give away the misplaced Hulk moment I have when someone does it.

        Your first script would be the easiest for me, since “Do you need anything?” can be answered with a headshake and there’s no nuance to it that you have to think through. “What happened?” is the absolute worst for me– it’s fine when the moment has passed, but when I’m still in that first surge of pain it’s like “Why are you asking me to describe and articulate a chain of events that I haven’t even processed yet to sate your curiosity while I’m still trying not to scream curse words???!!!” “Are you okay?” is better, but still frustrating because there’s nuance to it and it can’t be answered without some amount of consideration of what just happened and the current state of your body.

        1. Bucky Barnes' Metal Arm*

          Tara R., this is such a coherent explanation of something I experienced, but struggled to articulate. Thank you! Bookmarking to show my people who need an explanation.

    2. ThatGirl*

      Honestly, sometimes I say “ow” when things don’t really hurt. Or, more likely, it hurts for a second and then I’m fine. So it’s not totally illogical that a minor bump is not a big deal, even though you said ouch.

    3. Octagon*

      I think this is another case where you have to mentally reframe the standard question. “Are you okay?” doesn’t mean, “were you just saying ouch for fun?”
      It means, “I noticed you indicated physical harm, which I care about because you’re a fellow human. Will it pass momentarily, or do you need assistance / a bandage / an ambulance?”

    4. Curmudgeon in California*

      My response to “Are you all right?” is often, “No, but I will be once the pain fades away.” The meaning being “Yes, I hurt myself and it still stings, but it will fade shortly so it’s not an emergency.” Generally the person is asking so they know if they need to a) do nothing, b) get an icepack or bandaid, or c) call 911*.

      * Substitute your country’s emergency number for 911.

    5. New Jack Karyn*

      I have actually replied, “No, I stubbed my toe and if f***ing hurts!” at home. This led to a discussion of how to approach me in those moments.

  44. Zorak*

    “Thanks” can be short for, “Thanks [for saying so]”, “Thanks [for being polite to me]”, etc. Whatever the unspoken part you want to put there, it’s still a polite and collaborative response. You’re not literally expressing huge gratitude that they acknowledged your work.

    This does seem like a really unusual perspective that you’ve grown into, though, which therapy might help with.

    I almost wonder if what’s making you mad is that someone praising your work on a task you dislike makes it harder to dislike the task? Normally people consider that good thing, though. Like if you hate washing dishes, but you have to do it anyway, often you start to derive internal satisfaction from things like improving your skill and efficiency, growing your own work ethic, or being able to provide clean dishes for others – things that make you happy even if you still think the act of washing dishes is a bore and a pain. That’s a really rewarding and enjoyable part of maturing.

    But if your emotional investment is in feeling “It’s BS that I have to wash these dishes!” and you feel like if your sour opinion softens that that’s tantamount to being manipulated… well, that sounds really unhealthy and unpleasant, both to be around and for yourself. You should want to derive internal satisfaction from your skills and work ethic, and if people are praising you, you will be happier if you’re able to enjoy ether having your skill/accuracy praised, or having it acknowledged that you’re taking on something unfun for the greater good.

    1. Anon Y Mouse*

      “You should want to derive internal satisfaction from your skills and work ethic”

      Without diagnosing the OP specifically with anything, I’m going to say that this may not be a realistic goal for everyone. If you suffer from executive dysfunction as many autistic or ADHD people do, you don’t get that nice slug of dopamine (internal satisfaction) from getting through a task you didn’t want to do in the first place. Cultivating a more positive attitude still won’t make you feel that. Clinical depression may mean you don’t feel that satisfaction from _anything_.

      And yes, these don’t apply to everyone, but in our current climate more and more people are finding that any kind of internal reward is hard to come by.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        Yeah, this. I have ADHD. I’m never going to find internal satisfaction from filing my taxes or washing the dishes. In fact, I slightly resent the concept of maturity being linked to ‘learning to like it’.

      2. KoiFeeder*

        My executives are malfunctioning more than dysfunctioning, in that I can do the equivalent of smacking my brain with a wrench a few times and make them work, but I’m still in full agreement. There will never be internal satisfaction from completing my tasks if I don’t already enjoy them. My reward is that I watch videos from the all-japan koi show when I complete my tasks well, not pride or satisfaction in my skills and work ethics. My brain strongly prioritizes fish videos on youtube over things like pride.

        1. GythaOgden*

          My go-to (at home at least, and anywhere I can take my Switch and connect online) is Fortnite. Games are unpredictable in length and you can’t escape online sessions easily without being treated like a rage-quitter, so I can only start them when I have an open-ended period of time. This makes it a good reward for getting everything else timely done: it means I can legit enjoy myself without anything hanging over my head undone.

          1. Anon Y Mouse*

            My problem with that kind of reward is I may never have a big enough open-ended timeslot to make it happen.

            1. KoiFeeder*

              Whereas I just don’t like multiplayer games! There’s no one-size-fits all for external rewards, just what works best for the person in question. For me, koi. For Gytha, fortnite. For you, something else. And they’re all good options because they work for us individually.

    2. Anon Y Mouse*

      Have you come across the idea of “the four tendencies”? I find it useful sometimes (the writer Gretchen Rubin came up with it). What you’re describing sounds SO like what she says about “the rebel tendency” – having someone praise you makes you NOT want to do it, and you can often only motivate yourself by saying “this aligns with my values/self-image”.

      (The other “tendencies” are motivated by different things, such as meeting their own pre-set goals or others’ expectations.)

  45. Michelle Smith*

    Oh god, be really careful with “Thanks” because if said in a negative tone it can very much be interpreted as “screw you.” If you go that route, practice it first!

  46. Young Business*

    I can relate to this, OP! I get trapped doing irrelevant and often undesirable work in my current role and it has irked me when someone offers praise or good feedback.

    I had a supervisor acknowledge a particular project wasn’t at all in my description of duties but was talking about how important it was to the wider team.

    I basically began to parrot back their verbiage, saying I understood the importance of the project but simultaneously talking about how I felt out of my comfort zone. I guess I sugarcoated things, but found it was a fair compromise to still feel a bit authentic. If it came up in a one-on-one, I would sort of go through my parroted statement and my goal was to move on from it quickly and onto the next agenda item or question.

  47. Anonymouse*

    My first thought when I read this was “same hat!” Being thanked for doing something I dislike doesn’t feel appreciative to me, it feels manipulative, and it makes me angry.

    When I dug into this feeling a little bit, though, I realized it’s not praise for doing things I don’t enjoy doing in general that pisses me off and makes me feel like I’m being used–it’s praise for doing things I felt *forced* into doing *specifically when they shouldn’t have been my job in the first place* (and also, specifically when the praise is coming from the person who put me in that situation in the first place). If I didn’t want to do this thing and it wasn’t my responsibility to do it, but you created a situation where I had to do it anyway, thanking me for it feels like you’re trying to put a veneer of legitimacy/normality on the whole thing. Or trying to get me to say “you’re welcome,” or “no problem” or “happy to help”, instead of letting me have the space to be unhappy about the experience.

      1. Anonymouse*

        Nope. If it’s part of my job (but it sucks), I’m probably more open to commiseration (about it sucking) than thanks or praise for doing it at all, but I don’t feel that specific resentment over it.

  48. Lynn+Marie*

    “Frankly, I think you’re putting too much emphasis on needing an honest response. There are lots of situations at work (and in life in general) that are just about completing your side of a social ritual, rather than baring your soul.”

    Can’t emphasize what an ah-hah moment it was for me when I finally realized this. It is so freeing to realize honesty is not demanded in every work or social situation. Save it for the big, important stuff!

  49. Play-Doh*

    You know what, this happens to me too. Like many amongst the commentariat it seems, it’s mostly about tasks that aren’t really supposed to be part of my job — maybe something I’ve taken on to help someone out or just because someone needed to do it. For me it’s definitely a frustration thing; like, “Well shit, now they’re going to come to me every time this needs to be done.” And also a little bit of fear that if I excel in this area, and continue to be given projects based on my aptitude at the task, that I’m basically stuck doing it forever if I want to advance. Not entirely rational, but a fear that can cause bitterness at well-intentioned praise nonetheless.

  50. Warrior Princess Xena*

    I really, truly don’t like being praised or thanked for small things, because if I’m given the same level of thanks for little things as I am for the large things to me it feels as if the big contributions I’ve made are worth no more than the smallest things I’ve done. It doesn’t help that I am terrible at assessing how difficult tasks are for me relative to how difficult they are to other people so for me some things that are reasonably difficult seem very easy and vice versa.

    The only solution I’ve been able to find is to assume good intent from people unless definitively proven otherwise, thank them for their compliment, and then force myself to not dwell on it.

  51. KatKatKatKatKat*

    I don’t know if you work in the type of office where this would be acceptable, but you can always respond with an imitation of Larry the Cable Guy:

    “Git ‘er dunnnnn”

    May evoke a laugh. May evoke horror. Proceed with caution.

  52. hellohello*

    Reading the example you gave of your dad also made my blood pressure jump up, if that’s any consolation. I think it’s something unfortunately common that adults do with children, as if the kid only doesn’t like doing a thing because they haven’t learned better yet, and the adult can make them realize actually this thing they hate is great if they just say so cheerfully enough.

    In this case, I think it would probably be helpful to but some time into mentally separating what your parents (and other adults, probably) did you you as a child and what your boss is doing now. Your boss doesn’t think you’re a child, and isn’t trying to build character or teach you an important life lesson or whatever it is adults think they’re doing when they treat kids this way. Your boss just, correctly, believes that giving positive feedback is an important part of management, and would give you similar positive feedback for any task you do well. (I know “change your thinking” is easier said than done, but putting some work into reframing this now will hopefully make your work day much less stressful as time moves on.)

    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      In fairness to parents, there’s a lot of things we have to do as kids that we don’t like doing (most chores, homework, you name it) that we still should do and that they will praise us for doing well. Still very irritating.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this. But it really helps if the kid is allowed to express their dislike for a task. Expecting and making kids do things they don’t want to do is a normal part of parenting. Expecting them to like it, and particularly punishing them for daring to show their dislike, is emotional abuse. In some fundie circles it’s intentional, but it’s nevetheless abuse.

  53. Von non*

    Truly bringing this up because the OP says they are trying to find a root cause, and mentions that possibly it stems from a fear of being controlled. OP you might want to research Oppositional Defiant Disorder–I’m not in any way, shape or form trying to say you have this (not trying to armchair diagnose) but you might find some similarities in your responses that help you further get to the root of your feelings.

    1. Redaktorin*

      Yes, this. OP’s reaction here sounds exactly like my kid with ODD. Exactly. It doesn’t have to be a problem in your childhood or family of origin, or something you have to “get to the bottom of” with a therapist. It could also just be a cognitive/developmental issue for which the best solution is to find some coping skills.

  54. H.Regalis*

    I feel you on this, LW. I have weird stuff from childhood (and, honestly, adulthood too) that makes me irrationally angry. I think reframing and/or therapy are the way to go.

    My own: When I was angry about something, Crappy Person would do silly things to make me laugh, like if “I can make you laugh then you can’t be angry with me.” I HATED it. It was so manipulative.

  55. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

    One thing I haven’t seen yet in the comments in having a conversation with your boss about this. Obviously it would depend greatly on your relationship and context, but I absolutely could say something like this to my boss, if needed: “I know this task needs to be done, and I know that I’m the best person to do it right now. However, I do not enjoy this task because (it’s not a good use of my skills/it’s boring/the way we do it is inefficient and I hate that/etc.) and hearing your encouragement just makes me more grumpy about doing it. I’d like to ask you to hold the encouragement, and just provide some gratitude when I submit the finished task to you”. YMMV! It could also open up a conversation about task allocation (if there are others who could share these tasks), or at least help you understand why they’re being allocated to you.

    All this said, I think that therapy is probably the best way to figure out and address the root problem. That is hard and can take a while, so in the meantime, my approach would be calculating how much money you make per (minor aspect of said task) and interally celebrate making money ask you finish each unit. We’re all in this for the money, so if you can redirect your anger toward math, it could help :)

    1. Lalala*

      I have had success, actually, in being transparent with my manager about tasks I dislike. In my case it was event organizing — I was on top of the project but very vocal about my frustrations to my manager. She was good at framing feedback as “I know you hate this and thanks for sticking to it.” The project wasn’t going away, but having my feelings acknowledged helped make it feel more manageable.

  56. JustALurker*

    I love this letter writer so so much. I can relate to this. You’re not alone! And I think, though it seems impossible, you can work toward what I’ve worked toward: eeking out a slight smile and muttering “thanks” in a flat tone, which is the best I can do but presents as socially acceptable better than silence does. And for me it’s also a control thing stemming from my childhood. Maybe your dad only praised you when he was coercing you to do something you hated? Good luck! :)

  57. Annoyed*

    I am not the letter writer, but I am. I hate to spend even another second thinking about the parts of my job that I hate. Please don’t compliment me on them – I’m competent, they’re done well – it will infuriate me.

    I also really, really don’t want to hear that you know this other thing you assigned me isn’t my job – not only is it not in my job description, your boss has explicitly told you that it’s not my job, but you need me to do it. That will make me apoplectic. I will probably cry and tell you that it is making me reconsider my position.

    Ask me how I know.

  58. Dr. Hyphem*

    As others have suggested, do they know you hate the part of work you’re discussing? That would explain the feelings of manipulations.

    Other thoughts–Is it the part of the job that *everyone* hates? Because I think that would also make the thanks condescending.

    Is it tedious, super easy facets of the work? Because personally, I welcome praise on the parts of jobs that challenge me and that show off my skills, if someone were to say “great job sending that email” or whatever the easiest part of the job is, that would also feel condescending.

    I guess what I’m saying is look to see if there is a link between why you hate the work and the issue with the praise?

  59. Sunshine Lady*

    I totally get this. I had a mini blow up recently, not at my mom, but after she once again talked about how important my job is, how everyone she tells about it says it’s such an important job and… I just don’t care! I don’t care about it. How wonderful everyone else thinks it’s super important, I don’t care. I don’t care it’s important, that I’m good at it, please just stop!

  60. Redaktorin*

    OP, this is not stupid and I promise other people deal with it. My daughter has this EXACT issue, and more and more research is being done into conditions like ODD in which this sort of reaction is very typical.

  61. bamcheeks*

    Years ago, me and my boss were bitching about a task we both hated doing, and he said, “ugh, my grandad worked down the mine! I always try and remember when I’m pissed off that this is why they pay me to do it!”

    “And this is why they pay us to do it!” is something I still use to snap myself out of work anger and resentment towards a particular task. Obviously, hating 80% or 100% of your job is shitty and nobody wants that unless they have to. And it doesn’t make safety violations or boundary pushing ok. But 85% of your job is fine or even good, but 15% of it is filling in the goddamn stupid spreadsheet that management insists on even though they never even goddamn look at it? Say it with me: this is why they pay me to do it.

    So OP, depending on your relationship with your boss and whether or not you can speak without gritting your teeth and grimacing, but I would recommend, “thanks! I get paid for it!” You can say the last bit in your head if it’s not going to go down well out loud. But sometimes it helps to remember things aren’t supposed to be 100% Stuff You like all the time, and that’s ok. We get paid for it!

  62. A. Person*

    I used to hate it when my mother thanked me for doing something she’d forced me into. It’s never bothered me at work though because work is transactional.

    I bet hinting at a raise every time you get a thank you or compliment will tone down those comments pretty quick.

    1. Ah Yes*

      It’ll tone down the compliments, but it will also make it much less likely that you’re going to get a raise or a promotion and make you “that person” at work who always seems bitter and angry about being asked to do their job.

  63. Chidi Anna Kendrick*

    You aren’t alone. I feel this too. My brain wants to yell, “Fork you for making me do it in the first place!” So, as a manager myself, when I have to ask someone to do something I know they don’t want to do, I acknowledge the crappiness of the task and focus on thanks instead of praise.

  64. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

    Man, this sounds familiar. I had this with my parents when I was growing up. To me it always felt like, “First you make me do the thing I don’t want to do, then you add insult to injury by rubbing in that you have the power to do that.” I think because the “praise” always felt very needling, like it was meant to prod me into being cheerful and upbeat about something I hated. A lot of times I minded unpleasant tasks much less than I minded being told to smile all the time. I have a good work ethic! I just don’t like emotional manipulation.

    For whatever reason, this dynamic never carried over into work. Probably because I’ve always felt far more in control at work. Of course I have to do unpleasant tasks, but I chose this job, you don’t control my entire life, I can leave if I want to, and the unhealthy dynamic of always being told to smile isn’t there. And also I think because I feel like part of a team: we all choose to pitch in to do things and help each other out, it isn’t an authority that I can’t escape from that rules my entire life.

    If your work dynamic feels like your parental dynamic, LW, it might be worth looking into the similarities and seeing if your work dynamic might be unhealthy in some way. If your work dynamic is actually much better, then it might be worth bringing your brain’s attention to the ways in which you’ve successfully escaped from that unhealthy childhood dynamic and retraining your responses!

    1. allathian*

      Thank heaven my parents never tried to manage my emotions for me when I had to do a chore I particularly hated. To me, that sort of behavior sounds like emotional abuse, and it probably is, because the effects of it carry over into adulthood. Calling it PTSD-c might be an exaggeration, but it’s something similar.

      1. inko*

        I think a LOT of us have baggage from unhealthy childhood stuff that impacts us in adulthood but isn’t really comparable to complex PTSD. I mean, those are your formative years. Stuff gets in and some of it is dysfunctional. (That’s in no way intended to minimise, I am in long term therapy to work on said childhood stuff myself.)

  65. judyjudyjudy*

    Genuinely, LW, do you think silence in this case is honest? You are choosing not to communicate. Your supervisor almost certainly knows that you are upset, but not necessarily why. I’m not sure that I’d ever guess “my employee hates that I praised them for completing this task.” So, if you think there might be a productive conversation to be had, maybe talk to your supervisor about this hated task. Or find a bland, truthful response — “I’m glad it’s done,” or similar — there are lots of great ideas in the comments. And I hope you can go to therapy.

    1. allathian*

      I hope you don’t praise your employees for completing tasks you know they dislike. By all means, thank them for doing so, but praise is taking it a step too far for most adults.

      1. judyjudyjudy*

        I don’t. I’m saying that I’m not sure I could have guessed at the source of my employee’s anger if their response is total silence. I’m not a mind reader, and neither is LW’s boss.

      2. Samwise*

        Why not? If I have to do a task I despise, but my boss assigns it to me (for whatever reason — nobody likes it and it’s my turn, it needs to get done asap and no one else is free, or whatever), and I do a good job at it — praise seems in order.

        Thank you, Samwise, you did a great job on those TPS reports! Best reports I’ve seen in a long time.

        There’s nothing in the praise that is mean, nasty, aggressive, meant to say “hahahahaha, you had to do TPS reports neener neener”. I did a good job, I got recognized for it.

        This idea that adults don’t need praise — ok, some of us do not need or don’t need much of it. I’m one of those people, in fact. That doesn’t mean that when I get praise, the praise-r is treating me like a child or going overboard.

        The correct response to praise, whether I feel I want/deserve it or not, is “thank you.” That’s what an adult does.

        1. judyjudyjudy*

          You know, Samwise, you make such a good point. I don’t think offering praise to employees for completing a task is necessarily bad, even if it’s a task that person dislikes. If my employee completes a report and I say, “excellent, thank you,” is that “excellent” insulting, infantilizing, or manipulative? I don’t think so. I think we are too prescriptive in this comment section sometimes.

  66. Handheld Analog Calculator*

    The pleasantries Alison referred to as “closing the loop” are also known as phatic expressions (there’s a great Tom Scott video on the topic). Phatic expressions are very “we live in a society” but we’ve collectively decided they’re necessary.

  67. EngineeringFun*

    2×4 Rule. Repeat 2×4 Rule. “The person isn’t doing it 2 you. They are doing it 4 themselves.”They assign you the task because it needs to get done. And then encouraging you to make themselves feel better because they know you hate it. Repeating This helps me calm down!

  68. Carp*

    This seems like….a really big over reaction.

    If you are in a work place where you are working with genuine snakes who truly are manipulative, then I think that’s a fair reaction. And you probably need to think about moving on if the problems are bigger than what’s in your letter.

    If not, then you will need to reframe this in your head. If your boss gets wind of this attitude they are going to start forming opinions on you that may impact your ability to develop/get promoted. This reaction sounds very childish, and that’s an impression you really don’t want to give people.

  69. SJ (they/them)*

    Nothing to add here except that this is such a compassionate response to someone who is struggling (and struggling in a way that may seem unreasonable or difficult at a glance), it actually is making me tear up a little. oof!

  70. Samwise*

    “thank you” is always correct. Silence in this situation is rude.

    I don’t know why it makes you angry, or what you can do about that — lots of suggetions above.

    But you need to not take it out on your colleagues, who are almost certainly either just making a pleasant gesture, or who are genuinely pleased. It’s unlikely that they are being complimentary to be nasty.

    If you don’t care that you’re offending your colleagues for their sake, then consider your own interest here — eventually people are not going to say anything nice to you at all for any reason ever, even when YOU would want them to, because you will have a reputation for responding badly/rudely. They may avoid you more generally, too. Give some consideration to your reputation here.

    1. GythaOgden*

      Yeah. This is why appreciate Hanlon’s Razor (never attribute to malice what you can attribute to stupidity). It means your own mistakes will be treated with the same benefit of the doubt that you give others — and everyone makes them.

  71. Risha*

    I get where you’re coming from, I really do. My parents/extended family were abusive to me, they teased me (like how kids tease other kids), they bullied me, they didn’t care if I liked/hated something. So there are things that people at work do now that truly bother me and bring back flashbacks of how horrible my family was to me when I was a child. To these people, it seems so innocent (and it is innocent to those without my background) but it’s triggering to me.

    I don’t think your coworkers/manager are doing it to be malicious, but you can’t help the way you feel. Those who didn’t have a certain type of childhood won’t understand or will think you’re being dramatic. I like Alison’s answer…you can just say “thanks” without any further comments. Sometimes, saying thanks is really like asking someone how is their day, it’s just to be polite but you don’t have to mean it. Just try to keep in mind they don’t know your history, and of course you do not need to tell them! Try to reframe it as the manager really does appreciate the tasks you’re doing and is trying to express that appreciation.

    And if you’re able/willing to do this, I suggest therapy. Talking it out isn’t for everyone, but it may help you separate those negative feelings/memories from the work setting.

  72. Sindy*

    I have been in this situation LW, I say “Thank you for your kind words/thank you for the compliment” and let that be my standard response. Usually these situations are not malicious so I try to acknowledge the feeling behind the praise even if I don’t feel like I can accept it for reasons similar to yours.

  73. Ah Yes*

    “I also think you’re seeing this is a lot more adversarial than it is or needs to be. You’re being paid to do a job, here’s some work that needs to be done as part of that job, and we’re all better off if we have reasonably good will toward each other as part of that transaction, rather than assume anyone is trying to manipulate you or control your feelings. People just want a pleasant atmosphere at work because we’re stuck there eight hours a day.”

    THIS. I’ve said this before, but as a people manager we’re told to build up our team, and recognize their contributions, but then there are a ton of people like OP who take any kind of praise or appreciation as some kind of affront. Yes, yes, I hear all of your “pay people more” but I, like many other managers at large companies, have NO SAY in how much people get paid. I’m asked to show up and make sure the team is aligned on our goals, that we’re meeting expectations, and that I put out any fires that come up along the way. I also want to make sure I’m showing up and supporting my team wherever I can, but when you’re criticized both for appreciating and not appreciating enough there seems to be literally no right answer.

    You can’t please everyone, for sure, but DAMN. I’m not trying to manipulate people when I praise their work, I’m trying to show that I appreciate them and what they’re doing.

    As others have said, when you have big feelings like this, it’s important to do some introspection and see why those feelings are coming up. Based on your letter (your reference to your childhood and just the fact that this all seems to hold so much pent up resentment that stems from something that is not specifically your boss), this definitely seems to be a YOU problem and not a management problem.

  74. dixieczyk*

    I understand and relate to this 100000%. The reason is because it feels like they are trying to train me, like a dog or a toddler– or, in the parlance of some 90s-era relationship manuals, like a man– by praising me for something that they know I didn’t want to do, so that I’ll feel motivated to do it again.

  75. Van Wilder*

    Similar issue – I’m a “rebel” in Gretchen Ruben’s The Four Tendencies, and I would basically rather burn my career to the ground than let someone else have the satisfaction of “holding me accountable” with check-ins, internal deadlines, etc. It’s a problem I’m always fighting against.

    1. Giant Kitty*

      Oooh boy! “You can’t make me, and neither can I” yep, that’s me, that is for the rec I’m going to be looking further into this.

  76. SalaryTransparency*

    For me, it was mowing the lawn. “Wow, you’re so good at it even tho you hate it!” made me feel like I had to do it just because I was the kid. My parent equally hated it, and was equally good at it, but because they *could* make it one of my chores, they did. And then they tried to act like I was being such a helpful kid by following orders. It was that saying of bad leadership–don’t make others do something you wouldn’t do yourself. I wonder if OP is feeling the same. Their boss could just as easily do the task, but because they *can* pass it off to a subordinate, they are. And then they praise OP to make themselves feel better about their decision to kick the can.

  77. A Pound of Obscure*

    “I’m not going to thank someone for giving me praise that resulted in me feeling negatively.” You don’t have to thank them. You only have to accept the compliment, because that’s essentially what they are giving you. Think of, say, the staff who bus dirty dishes off tables at a restaurants. I’ll bet most of them don’t love the job. Imagine how rude it would look if you thanked them and they got mad about it and refused to acknowledge your appreciation! Their fondness for the task is irrelevant. So is yours.

    Compliments make many of us feel awkward and uncomfortable, and most of us had to learn how to accept them and say thank you. I get the sense you’re young (?); if that’s true, I’m afraid you’re going to have a tough time in life if you can’t learn to accept thanks and praise in the spirit in which they were intended. Do the best job you can. Take pride in it. Take pride in yourself. You’re worth it.

    1. Nom*

      I like this – I see thanks as accepting the compliment, not thanking for the praise. Maybe OP can try to reframe how they see “thanks”.

  78. yala*

    I’m legit baffled at folks agreeing that being thanked for doing something they dislike feels manipulative. I thought it was polite to thank someone for putting themselves out?

    1. Rainy*

      It’s not the thanks, it’s the effusive praise aspect of it. Some managers try to manage your feelings instead of your work, and that’s awkward at the best of times and deeply unpleasant in general. Assign me a task! You are paying me for my time. Don’t tell me what you want my face to look like while I do the task, and then assess my performance based on what my face looks like.

    2. Rainy*

      And for the record, I’m not the LW, nor do I react like this at work or in my professional life, but I do feel like I understand the impulse, and I’m just trying to explain where I see it as coming from.

      I’ve also had managers who tried to manage my emotions about my work rather than manage my work, and they have been uniformly terrible managers.

    3. J*

      You can thank me for my time or even be generic with thanks. Thanking me for something unpleasant like I just invented cheese is weird and it makes me think you’re trying to manage or manipulate me.

      We both know filing papers that stacked up isn’t turning water into wine and a sincere praise isn’t “you do such a great job filing!” it’s more of a “hey, I know that stack got out of control during busy season and it wasn’t your job to cover for us but thanks for taking the time to do that.” Or in a previous role I had to play event planner because ours didn’t like traveling off-site, so praise about how I did great felt like an insult because the org wouldn’t support me, so I appreciated actual support or advocacy for me rather than praise for me having to step up yet again when others let me down.

  79. Janeric*

    I want Allison to do a “managing outsized emotions in response to work” post every month. This was very helpful!

  80. EnnaB*

    “There are lots of situations at work (and in life in general) that are just about completing your side of a social ritual, rather than baring your soul.” I love this phrasing. OP, you are taking this too personally. This isn’t your parents trying to manipulate you into doing chores. The person saying this is just being polite and your job is to be polite back. We all do things we don’t like at work. And it’s not dishonest to not say whatever you are actually thinking, it’s just being socially aware.

  81. my other car is a terrible, howling void*

    I don’t have any additional advice, but I do want to let you know that you’re not alone in this experience. It happened to me quite a lot when I was a kid and still pretty frequently in adulthood. I resent attempts to change my feelings about my own experience, even ones that come from my loved ones.

    For example, I have issues with executive functioning and hated cleaning my room as a kid, and so it would get really, disastrously messy, which bothered my mom a lot. So whenever she’d had enough of looking at my messy room and told me to buckle down and clean it, and then come by after I was done cleaning to say “now doesn’t that look and feel way better?” I’d have the same reaction you describe. The answer is no, not really. I find the task unpleasant, and even though it must be done, that won’t change how I feel about it. For people who insist I should “try to change my outlook,” or “be more positive” logically I know they mean to be helpful, but it usually just feels invalidating.

    The rule is no armchair diagnoses here, and I know nothing about you other than what’s written in your letter, so I won’t make any assumptions about what the cause of this experience is for you. But for me, personally, the cause is something called persistent drive for autonomy, otherwise known as “pathological demand avoidance” or just PDA for short. (Many neurodivergent folks take issue with the latter term, as it pathologizes part of our experience.) It’s a fairly common thing experienced by autistic people, people with ADHD, or people with both. It also occurs in non-neurodivergent people, just not as often or as intensely. I have both ADHD and Autism and I can name at least three times in the past week that my PDA has flared up; it tends to happen more when I’m stressed.

    Again, not saying that’s the cause here. I just thought maybe it would be reassuring to know you’re not the only human who has this particular reaction to things, regardless of what the cause of that reaction may be.

    1. Giant Kitty*

      “So whenever she’d had enough of looking at my messy room and told me to buckle down and clean it, and then come by after I was done cleaning to say “now doesn’t that look and feel way better?” I’d have the same reaction you describe. The answer is no, not really. I find the task unpleasant, and even though it must be done, that won’t change how I feel about it.”

      I’m autiHD and this is EXACTLY me, and why it’s so hard for me to get unpleasant tasks done, even if the only person telling me to buckle down & do the unpleasant thing is *me*. It’s so validating yo know this is an established ND thing!

  82. Nom*

    I relate to this a lot! It depends on the person for me, but it can come across as manipulative or thoughtless. As other commenters have mentioned, it can also lead to situations where people (especially women and minorities) are stuck doing office housekeeping because they’re “so good at it.”

  83. Suggester*

    This person may benefit from reading about Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies – they sound like they may be a Rebel and learning about that could help.

  84. Anonybus*

    I feel where the OP is coming from on a deep level, and I can also say that failure to regulate expressions of annoyance can be costly.

    In my case, the anger was more about the fear of being slowly pulled off of tasks or projects I really did enjoy because other people wanted them too, and the effusive praise felt like it was intended to “make up” for the eventual pigeonholing.

    Being very firm (but positive!) about where my interests and goals actually are has helped a bit to stave off the anger-reaction.

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