updates: employee cries at feedback, coworker doesn’t want me to lift things, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. My employee cries whenever I give her feedback (#2 at the link)

I’m the letter-writer whose employee cried when receiving negative feedback. Your response and the comments were very helpful! I especially appreciated hearing from other folks who cry easily, and even the more critical comments helped me understand my colleagues’ perspective.

I ended up speaking to Mary’s other supervisors, using a lot of your language and some from the comments. I didn’t bring up gender (the VP was, frankly, a conservative old fart and I thought he might get defensive), but – inspired by a commenter – I did say “She’s asked us to ignore the crying, and that seems like a reasonable accommodation.” I also had a brainwave (so much more obvious in our current virtual/hybrid world) that my colleagues could simply give her feedback over the phone. Her crying was not audible. They chose to do that, and she later told me that on the phone, she didn’t actually cry at all. The stress that caused the crying was much more about the embarrassment of knowing she was going to cry than the negative feedback itself.

I offered to also give feedback over the phone, but she requested that I continue to give it in person, so she could practice controlling her reaction with the tips she was learning in therapy. Over a year or so, the crying got less frequent/obvious and eventually stopped entirely.

Six years later, Mary is no longer a coworker, but she’s now a close friend – I have her permission to share all of this. She still tears up at the drop of a hat, but not at work!

2. Colleague doesn’t want me to lift things but it’s my job (#2 at the link)

Your response was very helpful – as were the comments, which reassured me that my stance was reasonable (wanting to move boxes of paperwork as I’ve been trained to, without enlisting help ad hoc from other members of staff). I felt confident that if Jennifer took issue with this again, I’d have a good script for it and would know when it was appropriate to involve my supervisor Marty.

However, Jennifer has never yet brought it up again, although she has seen me moving boxes around. Some months back, a very large deposit of full boxes arrived and had to be processed within a short space of time. I did organise help with this – by asking coworkers in advance if they’d be willing to lend a hand on specific days – but also did a lot of the physical work myself. I guess that it acted as a demonstration that I am capable of organising an operation like this without injury or mishap, and that I do know when I can’t do it solo. Also, one of my coworkers (who spent the most time helping me) noticed that I’m physically quite a bit stronger than she expected, in that I could lift heavy boxes more easily than she could, and she remarked on it to me and to other colleagues. It feels a little odd to mention, but if it’s generally known that I am physically capable, that’s a helpful thing in this situation. And if coworkers were saying positive things about my non-physical skills, I’d take it as a compliment, so…

Someone in the comments wondered if Jennifer hovers over other coworkers as well, and from what I’ve seen since, she does have a slight tendency that way, even when she is not their manager. So it’s not just me. She is a kind person and very proactive – it looks like it’s just mildly misplaced helpfulness.

I never needed to raise this with Marty, but now that he’s been my supervisor for longer, it’s clear that he’s a really great boss who wouldn’t hesitate to mediate if I needed him to – and that’s so helpful to know!

3. The shirts my employer offers don’t fit me (#2 at the link)

Thanks so much for answering my letter! As an update, I followed your advice and emailed the coordinator for the leadership program with your suggested language. They apologized, asked what size I needed, and revised the online form to include an “other” option under t-shirt size. I attended the first session of the program last week and it was a great experience! I feel engaged and happy that my organization is investing in my professional development. Also, I received the shirt and it fits well! I am actually wearing it today for “spirit Friday.” I’m so pleased to be able to report that speaking up led to the best possible outcome, both for me and for future program participants who may need non-standard sizes.

4. I might become my roommate’s boss

You gave great advice and so did the commenters!

I ended up taking a better offer and my roommate is now engaged and moved out to be with her fiance. A happy ending all around. :)

{ 46 comments… read them below }

  1. Casper Lives*

    Yay happy updates!!! I enjoy these quick follow ups as well as the longer updates. It’s nice to get a resolution / see advice implemented and work.

    1. MEH Squared*

      I was just going to say that I am so pleased with these updates, too. Just the quick burst of positivity I needed today.

  2. Longtime lurker*

    As a longtime rage-crier and overwhelmed crier (who also recovers fastest when we all just move in and no one tries to get kind or talk about it) I have often wondered about an update on the LW1! I’m so pleased to hear more and that it was generally positive outcome.

    1. Anon Librarian*

      I’m so impressed with how the OP handled the crying!! Well done! This internet stranger is so happy! And happy for Mary!

      1. ferrina*

        Yes!! I am in awe. The feedback over the phone is a brilliant strategy. I love that Mary still chose to do in-person feedback with LW to help her practice. So smart, and it shows how much she trusts LW. Very impressed!

    2. Town Crier*

      I’m a Crier and yeah, it makes things so much worse if people call attention to it, because then it might get worse and they have to stop and try to console me and figure out what’s wrong and reassure me and then maybe accuse me of being purposefully manipulative…… it’s better if we just pretend it’s not happening. If we all move on I can dry my eyes and things are normal soon enough.

      1. Bryce*

        And once I’ve started crying there’s no way to say “no really it’s fine” that sounds sincere.

      2. Alpaca Bag*

        When I started my current job, I let my boss know that I cry at the drop of a hat (sometimes with joy), and that if he could just ignore it, everything would go smoothly. He did, and it did. Win!

  3. TomatoSoup*

    Thanks for sharing OP1 (and Mary). That was actually helpful for me. I’m someone who tears up easily, even when I’m not especially upset. The letter made me realize that I don’t think that happens on the phone, just when someone is looking at me.

    1. easycrier*

      That story really resonates with me as well. I don’t cry that frequently at work, but it happens very easily and the fact is a lot of the crying (for me as well as in OPs case) is due to shame around crying. Once I figured out that it’s not shameful to cry (thanks therapy), it has become so much less frequent and a lot easier to bounce back when it does happen. I’ve had a resurgence thanks to birth control and stress at work but I’m overall much better off than just a few years ago. Shout out to all the other emotionals out there!

    2. BethDH*

      My friend mentioned that she didn’t cry in her performance review for the first time ever when they did it on zoom. She was on camera even! To be fair that tends to be stress/anxiety rather than the feedback itself, but it sounds like just some physical distance or maybe being in her own space made that adrenaline surge more manageable.

    3. Avery*

      It definitely varies from person to person. I know I’ve cried, audibly, on work calls before… but that was with a boss who seemed to hit all of my buttons re: blaming me for everything and not letting me explain myself. These days, with a more understanding boss, I haven’t even come close.

  4. Still*

    Is it just me or does anyone else also experience this? Multiple times a day I get the following error:

    Web page not available
    The web page at could not be loaded because: net::ERR_NAME_NOT_RESOLVED

    It comes and goes multiple times a day and cleaning cache doesn’t help. It is only ever happens on AAM, not any other website. Is it just me?

    1. I+went+to+school+with+only+1+Jennifer*

      It’s not happening to me. When it happens, how do you eventually get to the site? Have you tried another browser?

      1. Still*

        Sometimes refreshing helps, but sometimes I just have to come back later. I’m on duck duck on android and it hasn’t bothered me enough for me to try other browsers but I suppose I should…

    2. I take tea*

      I’m on Opera and Android, and it happens to me too sometimes. More often when I try to comment.

    3. Roxaboxim*

      This is a Problem with the DNS (Domain Name System), not the website. Most likely its an interfering app on your device, a problem with the device settings, or a problem with the dns-server. Search for the error name and you’ll find multiple websites that tell you what you can do.

  5. BluntBunny*

    Great to hear that crying was resolved. I went through something similar where I struggled to retain eye contact for long periods of time (longer than minute) with new people. It wasn’t to do with the people it was a me issue, I too worked on it but what really seemed to help was the great work environment and feeling comfortable in the workplace. When I went for an interview with my current job I realised I no longer had that problem and it was like a huge weight of my shoulders.

    1. sciteacher*

      In my public school, spirit Friday is the day you where you school t-shirt and they allow you to wear jeans. I imagine it might be something similar in a corporate job? Like a casual dress day with work logo clothing.

        1. LadyVet*

          Many! Even a lot of public schools have uniforms, which are supposed to make disparities in family income less obvious, and be easier to follow than a dress code.

          1. Not Australian*

            And, to add to the confusion, a ‘public school’ in the UK is not the same as a ‘public school’ in the USA …

            1. I need a new name...*


              A State School is a public school
              And a Public School is a private school

              …the word ‘school’ has lost all meaning to me now

            2. Momma Bear*

              In the US, a number of public (as in state funded) schools require uniforms. It’s more standard at charter or private schools but the entire district next to mine went to uniforms (usually polos and dress pants and black shoes) about 6 or 7 years ago. It’s less common at a public school, but not entirely uncommon anymore.

          2. Elsajeni*

            And lots of schools have a “professional” or “business casual”-type dress code for teachers and staff, regardless of what students wear.

  6. pandq*

    Sometimes with updates I wonder if the person they are writing in about reads this column. Did Jennifer see herself in the original letter about her co-worker’s box-moving and that is what made her stop?

    1. OP with the boxes*

      Honestly I did wonder this too. After my original letter posted, I was _convinced_ the situation would be totally recognisable to all my colleagues (if they read this blog!) But nobody’s said anything.

      We had spoken about it shortly before I wrote in, and I thought I hadn’t succeeded in convincing her that I could handle it, but maybe I was wrong about that…

    2. Elenna*

      I also wonder this every time a letter says “I didn’t need to do anything, they just stopped”…

  7. PhyllisB*

    The ones who require uniforms. All the public schools in my city require uniforms: shirt in school colors plus kakai pants or skirts. (I know that’s spelled wrong, but I can’t get spell check to give the right word.) On Fridays, they’re allowed to wear jeans and on special occasions they can wear “free dress.” Sometimes it’s a school-wide thing, sometimes it’s a reward for achieving a specific goal.

  8. Parcae*

    Oh, I’m so happy for Mary that she conquered the crying response! Congratulations to her and to OP!

  9. Kate*

    I think adding “other” in #3 was such a good idea – one can vener think of ALL possibilities so even if they had widened the options with set values, there would still be chance for someone to discover that their option is not on list. Now employees can order whatever size they want and even if it was something hard to get, they will never know it. :)

    1. Momma Bear*

      I love that it’s open ended. Sometimes it goes the other way, too, that people need smaller shirts. A very tiny person who needs an XS should have the same options as a L or 3X. Glad OP spoke up. Glad also that OP feels more confident and professionally supported.

  10. yala*

    Absolutely THRILLED for Mary–as a fellow former-crier-at-work. The first time you get through a situation where you WOULD have cried and didn’t is kind of amazing.

  11. Kermit's Bookkeepers*

    I’m so happy for Mary; both that she was able to mitigate her hair-trigger tears with practice and therapy, and that she had such a supportive supervisor to help her through it. I’ve also gone through periods of rejection sensitive dysphoria where my tears come easily at entirely inappropriate times, and by far the worst thing about them is knowing I’m making everyone else uncomfortable.

  12. Judge Judy and Executioner*

    I also cry easily and it became very problematic with a specific boss. It was tough to work through her just ignoring it and giving me the needed feedback. But eventually I cried less and we figured out our way through it.

Comments are closed.