update: a “thought experiment” is causing a cold war in my office

Remember the letter-writer who worked in an office where a lunchtime “thought experiment” had caused a cold war? Here’s the update.

Thank you for answering my question. I want to update you, because even though it was difficult, after reflection I did see your point about previous disinclination toward Carrie before the thought experiment conversation. At first I was very resistant to that idea but I tried to be objective in thinking about it. I’m an introvert myself even though I enjoy group lunches and am friends with several of my coworkers, so I didn’t really think anything of Carrie not being the most sociable person in the office, but I do think it bothered some of my coworkers on some level.

When Carrie started about a year ago, several people invited her to join us at lunch or for after-work dinner or drinks, and she always declined. The invitations naturally stopped after a while but there wasn’t much commentary about it. I didn’t think much about it except that Carrie’s personality/work style is more aligned with our bosses’ than anyone else in the office. They are very much “no fuss, lunch at their desks, do the job and leave it there” people. (There is no cause or opportunity for taking work home physically here, and very little overtime, so I mean Carrie is similar to them in terms of not socializing much with coworkers during the workday or after.) After I read your answer, I considered that maybe some people saw Carrie as deliberately trying to emulate that style rather than it just being her personality. Like maybe people saw her as trying to stand out from the crowd and carry herself as more of a manager than a peer? I never saw it that way but this is my best guess as far as why people were so quick to turn on her after the Shakespeare conversation.

I have to admit it was hard to read such a harsh view of Steve in the comments, when I know he isn’t the person he may have seemed like from the events stemming from this conversation. I was so upset in part because he was the first to publicly, vocally disparage Carrie for her answer the day after the initial conversation. He is normally a thoughtful, fair, kind person, so it was out of character. I did feel his comment was the catalyst for the discussions at lunch that followed, even if other co-workers had already started to treat Carrie differently without his input. I just want to make it clear that Steve did not encourage anyone to immediately start being cold to Carrie, or indeed at all. He never said anything like that. He is an unofficial leader in our office, so it’s possible he had the bigger obligation to not comment on her answer after the conversation was over, but he isn’t a bully or a “devil’s advocate” guy. I realize I may be coming off as very defensive here but I just feel protective of him after reading the comments. I had spoken to him about this once after his comment the day after the Shakespeare conversation, and told him he seemed okay with Carrie’s response in the moment and it seemed harsh to criticize it after the fact. He immediately said his comment about being glad the IT update was over so Carrie could entertain herself at lunch was meant as a lighthearted joke and was clearly a poor one since I took it badly, and that was on him.

The day after I read your response I thought really discussing the situation with Steve would be a good start. We usually walk from the office to our cars together so I asked him if he thought the continued focus on Carrie’s answer to the thought experiment was strange or mean. He said he did think it was weird it kept coming up but that he hadn’t really noticed anyone treating Carrie differently. He is one of only two people in the office besides our bosses that has an office rather than a cubicle, so he hasn’t been physically present for much of the cold shouldering. I told him about the general coldness people have been treating her with and he said that wasn’t okay and if I’d like to address it the next time it came up he’d back me up.

The next day when someone inevitably mentioned Carrie, I said “Hey, I actually think Carrie is just kind of quiet and it might’ve been hard for her to join in the discussion. It was hypothetical so she took it that way. It doesn’t have to be a big deal forever.” Steve nodded and said “Jane’s (me) right, and I really don’t want her to be uncomfortable! Let’s knock it off.” I wasn’t happy with the implication that my being uncomfortable was a better reason to stop the behavior than because it was cruel to Carrie, but it was better than nothing. The only pushback was from another coworker who said “Carrie took that WAY too seriously. She could’ve read the room” (a point that has been made ad nauseam in the month since). Steve responded that the discussion could have been serious or not; Carrie’s interpretation was valid. Everyone kind of shrugged and moved on.

The only other negative talk I have overheard since are a couple of uses of an extremely stupid nickname a small number of coworkers had started using for Carrie, “the robot.” The first time I heard it after asking the Carrie bashing to stop I just said, “Guys, really?” and things moved on. The next time, one coworker said “Does the robot never check her email? I needed something from her like two hours ago.” I responded, “If you mean *Carrie*, why don’t you walk over and just talk to her?” I haven’t heard anything personally since.

My relationship with Carrie is the same as it has always been. I do and will continue to try to make a point to stop by her desk now and then to ask how her weekend was or if she’d like something if I’m going on a coffee run. Steve makes a point of leaving his office to approach her in person if he needs something from her (which to be fair isn’t often in his role, but he never changed his approach to her like others did). Yesterday one of our bosses spent about an hour at Carrie’s desk working on something with her and from what I overheard (small office! I wasn’t intentionally eavesdropping) it was a very friendly conversation, with the two of them chuckling often and joking a bit about a new and laborious process the new software entails. I think that, more than anything, will help things get back to normal.

Thank you again for your thoughtful response.

{ 322 comments… read them below }

  1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    OP and Steve at least have the capacity for self-reflection.

    Some of the rest of their coworkers, however…

    1. ariel*

      Group think like this is poisonous. Thanks for working with Steve to defend her, OP, and for treating her like a person this whole time.

      1. Wintertime*

        You’re 1000% correct. I work on a team like this, led by a VP who encourages a “mean girl” mentality. They are outwardly professional when dealing with others and talk crap behind their backs; everyone knows, and nobody trusts them. I spoke up once and have paid the price ever since. My supervisor is great with me, but because they are best friends (literally) with the VP, they’ll never go against them.

        Instead, I started making sure I was nurturing the positive relationships I have outside my immediate team. I love what I do, so I’m finding a way to carve out my own path, independent of the clique.

        1. OrdinaryJoe*

          Staying independent of the clique is the best way to remove their power :-) I’ve handled things the same way and got secret pleasure out of watching them turn on each other when they ran out of outside victims … because … what’s the fun of being in a clique if you can’t make fun of others and feel superior?? .

    2. Ellen N.*

      I disagree. They are still judging Carrie’s valid viewpoint.

      Saying she’s an introvert so we should back off doesn’t address that Steve asked a question knowing that he and others would isolate and bully anyone who answered differently than he would answer.

      1. Elle*

        I also call BS. Steve’s halfhearted “cmon guys, cut it out” approach to cleaning up the mess he created isn’t very convincing.

        1. redflagday701*

          I dunno, I certainly don’t think Steve is perfect here, but I do think “c’mon guys, cut it out” is a valid approach to something like this if you’re only an unofficial leader. He can’t actually tell other employees what to talk about or not talk about, and coming down harder than “cut it out” seems to me like it would keep the drama alive.

          1. DrSalty*

            Agree. “Cut it out” is a good and appropriate response here, and it seems to have worked

              1. The Shenanigans*

                Well, they don’t do it where the OP and Steve can hear. That’s not the same thing as not doing it at all. OP and/or Steve should have a quiet word with Carrie in a few days to see if it has REALLY stopped. If not, this is now a performance problem. The boss should tell the mean group to stop it or else. If the boss won’t, they need to go to the boss’s boss or HR. If I were Carrie, I would be job searching 24/7 to get away from this BS.

        2. LifeBeforeCorona*

          Yes, especially since they turned to a mean nickname for this person. Calling her “the robot” is straight out bullying. It’s a mean inside joke that could catch on with new hires and is very unfair to Carrie.

          1. The Shenanigans*

            That is grounds for a serious talk that includes the phrase, “and if this continues, we need to reevaluate your employment here.”

      2. MnM*

        Saying that he *knew* others would bully someone who answered differently is a stretch, I think. Presumably people have answered his thought experiments in the past with different opinions (because that is the point of them), but this hasn’t happened to anyone but Carrie. And to your initial sentence, Steve did say that her interpretation of the question was valid.

      3. Happily Retired*

        He did what he did; maybe he’s on a journey here. Maybe focus more on what he did do and less on what he didn’t right then and there.

        “The enemy of a good plan is the dream of a perfect plan.” Few of us are prepared to react in the most perfect way possible when stuff hits the fan.

        Is there a trajectory arc of progress? If so, rejoice; keep people’s toes to the fire, and keep moving on.

      4. anarkea*

        Exactly this. Steve is not the “good guy” the LW wants us so desperately to believe. He deliberately started (starts) “debates” *at work* that are designed to pit people against each other and then when that happens, he can’t fully open it, placing the resulting fallout on someone else’s shoulders (the LW’s discomfort). And these office mates are truly awful. That kind of initial reaction to Carrie’s response was so breathtakingly over the top, petty, and cruel. Poor Carrie. She needs to get out of there.

        1. The Shenanigans*

          Yes, I mean, I will take OP’s word for it that this is out of character. Okay. But that doesn’t give him a pass here. This really should change OP’s opinion of Steve as a person, frankly. He didn’t stand up for Carrie. He didn’t say, “Her view is valid, you are immature and mean for calling names, and you need to knock it off immediately. Carrie, will you forgive me for starting this?” He threw OP under the bus instead. He made it HER problem instead of acknowledging he did wrong. Saying that someone unrelated but more well-liked is uncomfortable with bullying is a time-honored get-out-of-jail-free card for bullies. It makes them look like they were doing something helpful while really taking no responsibility at all and making someone else a target.

          1. Princess Sparklepony*

            I wasn’t sure who he was referring to when he said don’t make her uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure if it was the OP or if he was referring to Carrie.

            But the fact that they all piled on Carrie was really wrong and should have been shut down in minutes not days or weeks.

    3. B*

      It’s disappointing (and I wish I could say surprising) that a bunch of adults not only would act this way, but would think they are somehow the heroes of their own story for acting this way. Like how can you not see you’re the asshole here?

      1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

        I think the average age of the group has to be taken into account.

        My kids are 27 and 21. My 27YO has had the capacity for independent thought since she was old enough to speak (to the point teachers praised her rare-for-a-teenager IDGAF-ness in conferences throughout middle and high school). My 21YO, who is HANDS DOWN the more empathetic of the two, would absolutely get swept up in the groupthink in this situation because he’s young. Does the 20-30YO group skew more 20s or more 30s? It matters.

        1. LlamaDuck*

          Mm, age may be a factor, but there are definitely highly cliquish older people and more-or-less freethinking young adults. Factors like culture, personal history, personal values, and neuro-divergence might be more significant factors than age.

          Sometimes groupthink is incentivized in ways we don’t consciously recognize by our local culture or even our subconscious fears.

        2. Joron Twiner*

          I don’t think age has anything to do with it. As you say one of your kids has been independent since they were young, and the other still isn’t. So clearly it’s not age, it’s individual personality. There are always more individual differences than there are generalizations we can make.

      2. Insert Clever Name Here*

        LW and Steve both appear to have reflected on the situation and taken steps to stop the group’s continued targeting of Carrie. Short of inventing a time machine and making the whole thing never happen or publicly giving themselves 50 lashes, what exactly are you looking for them to do?

  2. Erika*

    I’ve been a Carrie. A lot.

    Please keep sticking up for her if people are cruel. She doesn’t deserve to be mocked and your office mates are being really mean and immature.

    “The robot.”


    1. CityMouse*

      I’d explicitly call that out.

      “That’s really about unacceptable way to refer to someone else.”

      1. Cherries Jubilee*

        Yeah that calls for a “Seriously? Is this middle school?” type response, every time.

      2. WFH Robot*

        As someone who’s been called Robot in multiple jobs, including one WFM, I really don’t understand a lot of the comments here that seem to apply a blanket negativity to the term as “dehumanizing” or “bullying” (or how WFH might help). That seems like an overreaction to me.

        To be clear, the term as applied to Carrie wasn’t good. It’s not acceptable. It definitely wasn’t like my situation where it was a friendly, teasing compliment because I get things done quickly and efficiently, and am super logical (although even in a nickname-common environment, I guess now I’m questioning how friendly it was, so thanks for that doubt).

        However, the immaturity seems to be a manifestation of jealousy (Carrie getting along with bosses, which isn’t terribly robot-like) mixed with people not wanting to admit they were wrong (continuing to grumble).

        What am I missing?

        1. Willow Pillow*

          Calling someone a robot is literally dehumanizing. I’ve been called robotic because of a lack of intonation or other generally awkward things that are a part of my being autistic. I won’t say there’s zero room for teasing, but there’s a strength of relationship/social contract behind it that wasn’t present for Carrie and Steve, or any of the times it’s been said to me. People often use humour to excuse saying unkind things.

    2. Momma Bear*

      Why in the world would Carrie want to socialize more with people who give her childish nicknames? Glad someone stood up for her but can you imagine how she probably felt for the past few weeks? I’d have my shields up extra high after dealing with that high school-level nonsense. Maybe she’s more like the managers because she’s not prone to things like gossip at work and is a professional.

      1. D*

        Yeah, I noticed the person she was apparently socializing with was one of the bosses, not one of the people who’d been acting like a jerk.

      2. Jade*

        Yes. This group is extra mean. The damage is done. This office is out of control. Carrie was targeted almost immediately. They are not heroes because they decide to act like decent humans.

    3. danmei kid*

      I certainly don’t wonder why Carrie doesn’t want to socialize with these people…….

      1. digitalnative-ish*

        It really does. I’m an ADHDer so I generally don’t get robot comments, but I really feel for people who do. I would not feel comfortable around anyone who said or repeated it.

      2. Butterfly Counter*

        I just read “The Maid” which is a book whose main character (who works as a maid) is likely on the spectrum. Her mean coworkers’ nickname for her is “Roomba,” and I immediately thought of that when I read the above. It’s literally dehumanizing.

        1. Cthulhu's Librarian*



          OP, I want to give you and Steve credit – you for doing reflection and calling out the behavior to start, and Steve for at least not getting defensive about it. And for calling out that slur when you noticed it.

          But in the future, please play hardball with your responses. That sort of language is no different than if your coworkers had been calling her “the cow” “the model” “the bog” or anything else (yes, I’ve regretfully heard all of those applied to other humans in a work context). It is meant to make it easier for the speaker and those they are talking to hate her – to feel that they are righteous in their disdain and scorn of another person.

        2. rivkah12*

          That is an excellent book, and I really appreciated the neurodiverse protagonist. The upshot of the novel is that her unique take on the world gave her the ability to problem-solve in a situation where others couldn’t.

        3. Happily Retired*

          Is this the one by Nita Prose? (There’s another one with the same title before the colon. thanks

      3. Autistic Employee*

        Same. Whether or not Carrie is autistic or not isn’t relevant, and we shouldn’t speculate, but this is an extremely hateful and dehumanizing thing to say about someone else. I would feel like I was in an extremely hostile work environment (in the true meaning of the phrase) if I overheard something like this.

        I guarantee you that the people calling her “the robot” spent their high school years bullying the autistic kids at their school. And probably have never grown out of this sort of behavior.

    4. Allornone*

      I, too, have been a Carrie. Heck, I think I still am one. I am not rude or anything, and I genuinely like most of the people I work with, but my social awkwardness and the relatively solitaire nature of my position don’t pave the way for work friendships. Fortunately, one woman in my 4-person department is very much the same and we’ve even bonded a bit over that. Unfortunately, the other two (including my boss) are social butterflies. My boss is a professional and remains cordial to all, but the other woman practically ignores me and their conversations (thin walls, and all our offices are next to each other) have me admittedly a bit jealous because I will never have that same dynamic with my boss. I will always be the quiet one. And really, I’ve always been.

      1. I'm fabulous!*

        Same. I’m an anxious person and I still have scars from hearing and seeing people make fun of me at work. A longtime boss once called me a weirdo and didn’t want to hold a send off for me when I left. I think that’s why I prefer freelancing. At least I can feel comfortable working with others behind a computer screen.

    5. She of Many Hats*

      I’d go for “what an unkind thing to say about someone.” in as neutral voice possible and if there’s any protestations or defending the name-calling just look at them either very blandly or with that ‘mom isn’t angry, just disappointed’ face. Just calling behavior as unkind is apt to stop it because most people think of themselves as nice, good, kind, and models of their Faith.

    6. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yeah I wouldn’t have enjoyed being on OP’s team. But also, with the age and seniority on my side, I would’ve spoken up. Sadly I have to admit that past me of 20+ years ago wouldn’t have. Thank you so much OP for continuing to stand up to Carrie.

      (My previous job had a Carrie. Our Carrie was a middle-aged man, of many flaws, and I’ll be honest, I didn’t like our Carrie, for many reasons, not the least of them being that Carrie had bragged to me about how his kids are afraid of him because he yells at them when they make him angry – the kids were 3 and 5 and Carrie was a 250 pound man. (Barf.) I stood up for him once and I don’t know if he ever found out, but I didn’t care, I just wanted to nip one instance of extreme bullying in the bud. I did notice that the “in” group, that I’d been a part of until then, started cooling off towards me at around that time, don’t know if it was related – that was 10+ years ago and I have no contact with any of them now. They are still FB friends with each other and still get together from what I hear, I’m just not a part of it and I am more than fine with that. Oddly, our Carrie, after leaving for another job and working there for a year or two, went back. His old bullies are all gone from that company and I hope Carrie enjoys peace and quiet now.)

      1. Lily*

        “bragged to me about how his kids are afraid of him because he yells at them when they make him angry – the kids were 3 and 5 and Carrie was a 250 pound man”

        How absolutely disgusting! Those poor kids.
        This will be visited back on him one day though. When our horrible father died (he thought it was funny to publicly humiliate children), he was missed by none of us.

    7. E*

      I am such a Carrie that I honestly thought the original letter was about me, until I got to the actual “thought experiment” part. I’m very introverted and generally enjoy going into the office 2x a week (my whole office does this on the same days) if just to be around people but not really interact with them socially. My entire department eats lunch together in the conference room and I do not join them and it’s been a Sore Point more than once. To the point where when we were broken down into groups for a small project to talk about the company’s new core values, the others in my group pointededly used my skipping group lunches in their part of the presentation. (The value was “equity and justice” and their logic was that “joining in on group lunches can be a great way to learn things about your colleagues so you treat them with more equity than if you didn’t know!” which ……)

      Anyway, sorry for the ramble. Carrie is not being treated fairly in the office, and I don’t even love the language of the update; it still seems like although OP realises the treatment is unfair, there’s still this bias against Carrie for being Carrie.

      1. Aldabra*

        That’s such a bummer. One of my former coworkers, now retired, never ate lunch with the rest of us. And no one cared, it was just his thing. He was a wonderful human but a very private person. Now we all eat lunch together, but everyone can join in the banter or watch videos on their phone or step out and call their spouse. I always make a point to tell new hires that they can eat with us or not, it’s no big deal either way. I love eating with my coworkers because I’m an introvert and it gives me the socialization I need in the amount I need (I actually have my read-AAM time for the first bit of lunch and join the conversation as it develops later). It boggles me when folks don’t understand that other people have other personal preferences.

        1. A single pillow of shredded wheat, some steamed toast, and a Dodo egg*

          I work in an office with several other different departments.
          The nature of my job involves being on the phone doing intake until 12:30pm, so whilst everyone else in the office is in the staffroom having lunch, often I am still at my desk trying to decompress.
          At work or at home I usually dont have lunch til 1pm anyway, which others regard as late-ish.
          Ive been frequently commended for my sunny, bubbly and friendly disposition. But a few staff thought I didn’t like them cause I didnt always join them for lunch, which is not the case at all!
          Im just a sociable introvert who needs to decompress after 123294734895 phone calls!

      2. Lily*

        Ah yes, the famous “equity and justice” practice of attempting to shame people who are different.

    8. anarkea*

      These office mates are terrible, Steve included. I don’t blame Carrie one iota for not wanting to socialize with these horrible people. I hope she is only biding her time until she gets to move to an office where she is respected at last.

    9. Czhorat*

      Yes. “clever” nicknames like this are SO VERY toxic .

      Even if the person doesn’t hear it, it changes how you think about them. It’s not how adults should be talking about other adults in a professional context.

  3. Sockster*

    Good for OP for bringing this up with Steve and for pushing back against her coworkers’ comments! It’s often so much easier to just not say anything, so I’m impressed that they took action and stood up for Carrie.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      Absolutely. You’re doing a lot to make your workplace better, OP, and you should feel proud of that!

      1. Sparky McDragon*

        This is actually a reall good example of how little it takes to pushback on these kinds of toxic group dynamics. As soon as one person disagrees suddenly it costs social capital to keep shit talking and its less fun for them.

  4. Sick of Workplace Bullshit (she/her)*

    Poor Carrie. She’s still being bullied, it’s just more underground now. I’m glad you spoke up, OP, but if I were you, I’d clue in your managers.

    I’ve been bullied like this, and it’s reprehensible. Someone in authority needs to know about it, make it plain it’s not acceptable, and put a stop to it.

    1. Skylight*

      I agree. It may have stopped around OP but chances are high that the co-workers still talk this way amongst themselves. And they may be hiding this from Steve too.

      Younger me identifies with Carrie, especially after reading about her interaction with one of the bosses. I could talk a lot and be friendly when it was about a specific subject, task, etc., but small talk and socializing was hard.

      In addition to befriending Carrie, you could also ask her directly if others in the office make things uncomfortable for her—since you’ve observed that others are freezing her out, you can talk about it in a general way, without bringing up the thought experiment. Perhaps say: “I noticed others are less friendly with you, do they ever say or do anything to make you feel unwelcome?”

      And loop in the managers, as SoWB recommends.

      1. Tio*

        I said this below, but if two separate people are using the nickname in public, guarantee more of them are using it in private as separate lunch/happy hour/group chats. I hope OP keeps sticking up for her until she gets a better job, and I hope Steve stops his stupid thought experiments.

        1. FallingSlowly*

          I totally agree. I felt kind of sick by the end of the update because of exactly this.

      2. Kwebbel*

        And sadly, it’s not unlikely that they now have nicknames for LW as well. With Steve’s “it’s making Jane uncomfortable, so cut it out” comment, he kinda placed a target on LW’s back, which might be why she’s not hearing the nicknames for Carrie anymore.

        1. Rainy*

          Yup. I’ve worked in places with this kind of toxic, juvenile, Mean Girl environment, and I don’t see it getting better. My experience of places like this suggests that LW is going to start getting the splashback from the bullying of Carrie, and when Carrie leaves for a better job, LW is going to inherit the bullying.

          It’s sort of sadly ironic that LW felt so protective of Steve, because Steve is 100% a problem, and she’s definitely going to be blindsided when their relationship goes bad.

    2. Pennyworth*

      The ‘robot’ comment from the co-worker who was waiting for an email response suggests that some people are avoiding personal interactions with Carrie.Exclusion is a form of bullying that can fly under the radar, especially if Carrie doesn’t socialize.

  5. ElizabethJane*

    Glad to see Steve doesn’t suck (I was probably one of the ones with opinions on his “thought experiments”). But wow the rest of your office sucks and you won’t convince me otherwise.

    1. Jake*

      He may not suck generally, but all the data from this story still points to him sucking. Telling people to knock it off was a bare minimum thing to do after it was brought to his attention.

      The overall defense of Steve in the follow up comes off very strangely to me. Then again, I didn’t browse comments a ton on that letter, so maybe the commentariat was more brutal than I realize.

      1. Expelliarmus*

        It was pretty brutal; he was definitely painted as an edgelord of sorts. I imagine OP is also protective because when it comes to outsiders (in this case, us the commenters) perceiving people you know, they tend to do it in a black and white way that isn’t always apt. I try my best to keep that in mind, but I know I’ve been guilty of that too.

        1. Weiner Mom*

          Yeah. I’m the one who pointed out that we were doing to Steve what the office was doing to Carrie and people got immediately super defensive. Bullying is rarely caused by a single, villainous person, but we cling to that narrative to avoid having to look at ourselves and what we do (or don’t do) in our own lives to stand up for group outliers.

          Making Steve into Troll from Revenge of the Nerds is a great way to feel morally superior without ever considering the fact that literally most people are a Steve or the rest of the office but most people consider themselves a Carrie.

          1. Smithy*

            100% this.

            In addition to that dynamic of “dogs who are hit, bite” – where people who are bullied or without power in one situation will then bully or assert their power in another situation – I do think there are so many cases where people are encouraged to not see this kind of behavior. So the fact that Steve has his own office, can make it easier to avoid seeing the repetition of behavior as moving from a little snarky and unadvisable, to a pattern of cruelty. And to be quite honest, people are rarely rewarded for noticing that type of behavior and calling it out.

            In no way is this to excuse a pattern of exclusionary or cruel behavior at work, but I also think that it’s quite normal to get frustrated with colleagues for really normal work related things. Such as slow responses to email. Being around venting about those frustrations is beyond normal. But that element of “quantity can have a quality of its own” – noticing when that changes to problematic behavior isn’t immediate for everyone.

        2. Fluffy Fish*

          “I imagine OP is also protective because when it comes to outsiders (in this case, us the commenters) perceiving people you know, they tend to do it in a black and white way that isn’t always apt.”

          Valid, but equally valid is our bias for people we like often can make us excuse behavior that really is pretty awful. Humans are complicated, we are both good and bad. And Steve was bad in this incident – OP’s feedback doesn’t really change my perception of Steve’s handling of the situation.

          While I don’t think Steve is evil, he didn’t exactly speak up. When someone is looked upon as a leader – informal or not – there’s a responsibility to set a tone. And when it comes to bullying – no one gets a pass for normally being a great person.

          1. Lydia*

            Except he did when it was pointed out. I’m not saying he’s a hero, but most of us sometimes don’t realize when we can do better until someone makes an effort to point it out.

        3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          We have just one piece of information about Steve, whereas OP has more to go on, so she could be right.
          My take is that Steve is a charismatic Dorian Gray who can get away with stuff that other people can’t, and who is automatically forgiven when he messes up. Such people tend to be pretty narcissistic, but with a veneer of niceness so people don’t realise. When he said “knock it off because it makes OP uncomfortable” people did just that, thinking “how considerate Steve is of OP”. OP rightly identifies that they should knock it off for Carrie’s sake not hers, but still gives Steve the benefit of the doubt.

      2. Momma Bear*

        Right, and he make a joke that was in poor taste and only considered that it might be so when his friend/coworker said they didn’t like it. There was no thinking before speaking first. I think he owes Carrie a direct and sincere apology for being the ringleader here.

        1. Aquamarine*

          I don’t know – I relate to Carrie in this story, and an apology like that would make me incredibly uncomfortable. I think it would be better to just try to make things better for her in the future.

          If people have stopped talking about the thought experiment incident, I wouldn’t bring it up again, even to apologize.

          1. Don'tbeadork*

            And I, also a Carrie, would still never quite trust you again. If anything, this would drive me to distance myself even more from this group. Not only did they completely grab the wrong end of the stick when I tried to join the conversation, but then, after making my life hell for a while, no one bothered to apologize.

            Really, I’d be looking for another job just to get away from these people.

        2. Ingemma*

          Honestly this is a strange argument to me – seems pretty normal to not realize your judgement is off until someone points out to you that you’re on the wrong side of something!

        3. jasmine*

          One off-hand comment doesn’t make him the ringleader. I think some of the comments are putting the majority of responsibility for this on Steve’s shoulders when that’s not warranted. The other coworkers weren’t led by Steve into a frenzy, Steve did an unkind thing that exasperated everyone else’s unkindness. And now he’s trying to be kind instead.

          I can see why you’re saying he should apologize, but apologizing would mean explaining the whole conversation that happened about Carrie behind her back. Sounds more hurtful than helpful.

      3. Dark Macadamia*

        And he still put OP in the position of having to bring it up first. I’m still extremely unimpressed with Steve and the general vibe at this workplace but I’m glad OP spoke up.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          He apologized for it…to OP. He spoke to the group about how it was uncalled for and upsetting…to OP. He told people not to call her names (!!!) because OP pointed out it not nice.
          He goes out of his way to be nice to Carrie now.
          He walks over to talk to her about work instead of emailing.
          OP, I know you like your office and you respect this natural born leader, but he is not being a stand up guy. He’s being a stand back guy and letting you clean up his mess.

          1. Office Lobster DJ*

            All of this. My original comment was something like “keep an eye out for Steve,” and I’m sticking with it.

          2. Elle*

            All of this. Steve has shown himself to be not only a person who is okay with punching down, but a person who can’t take responsibility. I would not trust him.

          3. Budgie Buddy*

            This is a good point. It’s sort of like even after OP spoke up, Carrie isn’t quite a real person in the eyes of Steve and the coworkers in general. The apology is more “Oh Dear while flinging mud at Carrie we accidentally splattered Jane a bit. Sorry Jane we were sloppy.”

            Carrie is the one who was hurt but Steve’s efforts are focused on OP. It’s an immature mindset and a subtle undermining of OP’s message of “Oi, y’all are being ducks to Carrie who doesn’t deserve that.”

          4. KatieP*

            This. Steve’s behavior is still a problem.

            And the ones calling Carrie a, “Robot,” may not be the grand marshalls of the red flag parade, but they’re on the same float.

          5. jasmine*

            I think the name-calling started after and he never stopped walking over to Carrie, so I don’t think those have to do with OP.

            As for the rest of it, the way he phrased it to the group wasn’t great (“it makes OP uncomfortable”) but other than that, I’m not sure what he could have done differently after OP pointed out his mistake. Apologizing to Carrie would not be a kindness to her, it would require rehashing what people said about her.

        2. oirishgal*

          yup..I think OP might need to re-examine and possibly recalibrate their beliefs about what a decent person as Steve is definitely showing some yellow flags e.g., threw OP under the bus and took no responsibility at all

          1. duinath*

            maybe steve is great, maybe he’s not, but his behaviour is ringing some bad bells for me and i hope op keeps an eye on him without too much of a blinder on because “he’s always nice to me”. that may be fair, it may not, but a guy who’s an unofficial leader in the office, a guy who started the inciting conversation, a guy who started the bad mouthing, and a guy whose reasoning, out loud to coworkers, to stop bad behaviour to one person is it makes this other person uncomfortable? i’m sorry, i know op wants to defend him and feels he’s been misjudged, but i feel less inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt the more i hear about him. hopefully i’m wrong and this is never going to turn out to be any kind of pattern.

            1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

              with the added twist that he is, in OP’s word, “making an effort” with Carrie by going to her desk and talking to her about work. It’s more of a “want her like me/not be mad at ME” about what others are doing. More stepping back from responsibility.

      4. Myrin*

        It’s pretty natural to become defensive when someone you know personally and maybe even quite well gets presented in a bad light by people who know literally one thing about them. It comes up here all the time and I’ve personally experienced it in open threads and let me tell you, it can become incredibly frustrating incredibly fast.

        1. jasmine*


          It’s the same reason why you carefully choose who you share relationship problems with. Some people get blinders on after hearing a bad thing about someone they don’t know well.

      5. Paulina*

        I think Steve is a leader in the group, but he’s insecure about this. Hence why he referred to not wanting OP to be uncomfortable, when he told the others to knock it off — he didn’t want to take it on himself, tell the others that how they were behaving was actually wrong, or actually stand up for Carrie.

        But given the pile-on of the others, and the hypocrisy of one of the coworkers blaming *Carrie* for having taken the question “too seriously”, there may be basis for him feeling insecure.

      6. Cat Tree*

        Yeah, he said he was “just joking”. He then admitted he was wrong but just … did nothing? I mean, it’s better than doubling down but just barely. He could have brought it up proactively, or Bern the first to start defending her. But he waited for OP to take the lead before finally saying something, even after he recognized that he was wrong.

        Steve is neutral at best.

      7. Hannah Lee*

        “He may not suck generally, but all the data from this story still points to him sucking. Telling people to knock it off was a bare minimum thing to do after it was brought to his attention.

        The overall defense of Steve in the follow up comes off very strangely to me.””


        The update from LW actually led me to think *less* of Steve than I already did.

        The fact that he’s “an unofficial leader in (the) office” means that he’s got a lot of influence there. Which makes his frequent launching of these “thought experiments” sketchier than I originally thought. Even if he is not the manager and even if he’s friendly with his co-workers, it seems he’s got a strong influence on the mood and tone of interactions in this workplace.

        If someone is the informal leader/influencer AND they often are driving topics of conversation in the lunchroom AND doing so in a way that stirs debate over unsolvable ethical issues … that’s kind of a lot. It’s not like a true peer or someone more junior doing it, where others could say “you know what Steve, can’t we just eat our tuna sandwiches and Snack Packs and shoot the breeze about Barbenheimer today instead of wrestling with thorny ethical questions?” Even people who might not be interested in those discussions probably feel pressure to engage on Steve’s terms, and to come down on the “right” side of those questions, for fear of falling out of favor with the “in crowd” (and those fears would not be out of place, given what’s gone on with Carrie)

        And then given OP raising the issue, one which Steve should have picked up on his own, and him agreeing that it’s a problem, he STILL didn’t deal with it head on, instead of hiding behind OP and her comfort level vs stating clearly that Carrie – as a co-worker and fellow human being – deserves to be treated professionally and with basic courtesy.

        Aside from Steve, any co-workers who are comfortable repeatedly referring to a colleague as a robot – one who has done absolutely nothing wrong or rude – and laughing about it are a nasty immature bunch. If I were OP, I’d be looking to spend a lot less of my lunch breaks and other personal time in their company…. because who needs to be a part of a such a childish clique. Especially if they are keeping it up in the shadows after it was pointed out how mean they were being.

      8. Melody Powers*

        The defense seems very natural to me. I’ve stopped discussing problems with friends or coworkers with any group I’m in because I always end up feeling like I have to spend more time clearing up assumptions they’re making about the person than I get to spend on actual support for the problem. I only talk about these things one on one now. It’s just less frustrating than with a big group building on each other’s assumptions and listening more to each other than me, the person who actually knows the one being discussed.

        1. Aquamarine*

          Agreed. I think people can be too quick to make a lot of really strong conclusions based on very little information.

        2. Susie Sunshine*

          This is me talking to my BFF about my partner. She actually really likes him, but whenever I tell her about things that bother me, she takes it way farther than it needs to go and starts psychoanalyzing him (she’s a teacher). So I’ve just stopped. I talk only talk about the good things with her and save the other stuff for other friends and my therapist. It’s too exhausting and I’m tired of her bringing things back up from years ago as if they are evidence in a court argument.

        3. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

          The OP wrote to an advice column, though, and read the comments. They can disregard everyone’s comments if they like, but commenters are only going on the information OP chose to include in the letter. People are considering that information then giving their personal opinions, as is the purpose of this space.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      This is how I feel as well. I’m glad that OP and Steve are now standing up for her, but I also hope that OP will let their manager(s) know what’s going on. Carrie should not have to put up with this pack mentality.

      1. MsM*

        I almost wonder if word has gotten back to the managers and they’re making a point of being friendly with Carrie despite their own usual no-nonsense temperament to send a message. But yeah, I’d personally report the “robot” stuff whether it’s still happening behind OP’s back or not, because that is in no way, shape, or form okay.

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          And while, if this is true, I hope things end up well for Carrie – with a promotion, or at least a glowing reference – it sounds like the kind of workplace where being on good terms with management gets one branded a “suck up” or kisser of rear ends. I hope things don’t get worse for Carrie because of this.

        1. Pink Candyfloss*

          Yeah, I’m not really reading Steve as the shining hero here for phoning in the minimum required backup for someone else addressing the problem he started.

          1. Expelliarmus*

            He’s not a shining hero by any means; he’s just proven that he’s not as repugnant as all the other coworkers involved.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              This, and, as someone in a prior thread mentioned, the tactic of using the horrid coworkers not wanting to make OP uncomfortable is not a terrible move considering how much they clearly do not care about Carrie’s feelings. I can’t tell if it’s a good people-skills move to motivate the right results faster or if it’s something he’d only do because of OP’s concerns, and I try to give people the benefit of the doubt.

              No one here is a shining hero. If they were, there wouldn’t have been a need for the AAM letter in the first place.

        2. SeluciaMD*

          It’s interesting – because what I came here to post was that I thought that the OP may have misinterpreted Steve’s “I don’t want to make her uncomfortable”. Her interpretation was that comment was about her, the OP. I think it’s entirely possible Steve meant “I don’t want to make Carrie uncomfortable.”

    2. Pippa K*

      Yeah, even with this update, it still sounds like a remarkably poisonous workplace. I think OP might not agree, given for example her characterization of Steve as a good guy who is behaving appropriately now after an initial inadvertent joke gone awry. But several points in the update gave me pause. It sounds like Steve really is a tone-setter with some implied status (separate office when most are in cubicles), and his responses remind me of things I’ve heard from people who are secure in their own position and can afford to be casual about disparagement directed toward others. Sure, he agrees when asked that this isn’t ok – and then says if OP wants to speak up, he’ll back her up. If I thought a comment of mine landed so badly that someone was a bullying target as a result, I’d rush to speak up *myself.*

      The “robot” sneer is just beyond the pale. And things like this can persist – or subside only to a level of plausible deniability but still be awful for the target – when people minimise it or give soft responses designed to avoid conflict. I’d bet Carrie notices every aspect of this.

    3. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Honestly, it kind of made me think of the beer run letter, where the outlier who didn’t fit in and was older was being bullied on snapchat and left behind when everyone else was hanging out and such.

    4. anon24*

      As someone who is incredibly socially awkward and who just avoids socializing with co-workers, I think it’s more that Carrie may be just ignoring the situation because she knows that anything she does isn’t going to help. It’s on those co-workers, not her. I had a co-worker who was actually one of my few work friends but who would start mocking things about me when she felt she needed social points or was feeling insecure and I would just internally sigh and walk away. What am I going to do, start public drama over the fact that she doesn’t like the way I did my hair that day?

    5. House On The Rock*

      It’s also worth noting that Carrie seems to get along with management quite well. This Mean People clique should beware of alienating her. If the bosses get wind of the icing out and name calling, it could go especially badly for them if Carrie is well liked and respected by higher ups.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        I’m rooting for a pay rise for Carrie! Not promotion to manager because nobody will want to take orders from her, but maybe promotion as a subject matter expert.

        1. Polly Hedron*

          I want her to become the manager and have the staff refuse to take orders from her so she could fire them all for insubordination.

  6. Critical Rolls*

    “The robot”? Freakin’ yikes. That is some grade school nonsense. I’m glad you and Steve are doing the right thing here! But I agree with others that the persistence and nastiness of this means that the managers need to know. I really like your scripts and I’m glad you’re getting results, but this needs someone with authority to tell these yahoos to grow up, knock it off, and scrape together some professionalism if they can’t locate any kindness.

      1. Cherries Jubilee*

        Also, for mean nicknames to stick around, usually they have to be at least a little bit clever or punchy. Obviously besides the point of how cruel and immature it is, but who would even find “the robot” funny? Are these people deeply uncreative, as well as petty and immature?

    1. Self Employed Employee*

      “The Robot” is so incredibly dehumanizing. So incredibly dehumanizing.

  7. Melissa*

    As someone who does not socialize with their coworkers for all kinds of reasons, this workplace sounds frustrating. i don’t think it’s a moral failing to just want to work and then go home…

    1. MigraineMonth*

      It’s also the culture that is being modeled by all of management. Creating a separate culture for lower levels could make the transition to management harder.

      Not that whichever of OP’s coworkers are using the derogatory “robot” nickname sound like management material.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        I wonder if that’s part of the problem, that the coworkers feel Carrie is coming across as somebody who will more easily transition to management and therefore, they feel threatened by her, fearing (perhaps even subconsciously) that she will be more likely than them to be promoted. A bit like the way the kid whose a bit more mature than most of the class or the smartest kid in the class will sometimes get bullied because the other kids feel less mature and intelligent by comparison and being kids, don’t recognise it is their own insecurity talking and think the other kid is looking down on them. Though LW’s coworkers are adults, I wouldn’t be surprised if they are reacting in a similar way.

      2. GreyjoyGardens*

        Yes, agreed, and it also makes an “us against you” “cool kids vs. suck ups” atmosphere. That doesn’t help workplace morale or the transition to management. (Someone at this place would get promoted and then go “but now I don’t haaaave any work frieeends because I have to supervise them! Waah!”)

    2. Chairman of the Bored*

      It’s not a moral failing, but it will tend to cause people to not like a person as much as they do their more friendly/interactive co-workers.

      1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

        I don’t see the relevance of this comment to the situation. There is a huge difference between being “meh” about someone and name-calling. Socializing didn’t help Carrie much. And people who are quiet and less social really don’t need to be educated about this.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          Not to mention just because someone is quite/less social doesn’t mean they aren’t friendly. I’ve had many co-workers who I didn’t interact with on a social level much, but when I spoke with them on a professional level they were very pleasant.

        2. Chairman of the Bored*

          Apparently somebody needs to be educated about it, because they’re confused about whether it’s perceived as a “moral failing” to never socialize and just do work and leave.

          It’s not a moral thing, it’s a “humans are social mammals and generally respond well to others who reciprocate friendly interactions” thing.

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            Carrie came to lunch and volunteered a good-faith answer to their game, and look what happened. The people who need to be educated about how to treat coworkers are the rest of the staff.

          2. Student*

            That’s a very in-crowd response and not nearly as universal as you seem to think.

            For some of us, socializing at work is not something that people “generally respond well” to. Some of us are too different from our co-workers for that to go well. That does not mean either party is somehow wrong, or having a moral failing – it means we’re different and don’t actually gel well as friends. We can still be perfectly good co-workers!

            An example. I had a group of co-workers in one job who were intensely into sports. When my co-workers make small talk, it was generally about sports. They liked baseball, basket ball, football, soccer in particular. They’d go see games together or talk about matches they’d watched or teams they favored.

            However, I don’t know much about those sports, and I’m not especially interested in learning more about them. I like rock climbing a lot. I like (easy) hiking as well. My co-workers were just as uninterested in rock climbing and hiking as I was in baseball, etc.

            We’d try to talk to each other about sports, but the more I tried talking about what I liked, the more alien I came off. They found rock climbing vaguely horrifying and hiking too nature-oriented. The more I tried to learn a bit about the sports they liked, the more alien I came off, because I didn’t know basic rules they consider “normal” and had trouble remembering the team name – sport – location associations correctly. I didn’t know the relevant sports trivia or sports history. They we equally uninterested in rock climbing trivia or history.

            The more we tried to socialize, the less I liked them and the more they thought I was a weirdo. So I stopped socializing, just did my work and left. And that was better for us all! We have different interests. Their interests are valid. Mine are valid. But we don’t gel, and none of us are interested in transforming our personalities to gel better about non-work social stuff.

            1. ADidgeridooForYou*

              This is so interesting – and just goes to show how wildly different various office environments and cultures can be! Living in California, EVERYONE seems to be into rock climbing and hiking (including me). The people I work with are far more interested in those things than baseball or football. I always just kind of assumed those were the “cool kid” activities everywhere, but I guess not. You’re right, though – everyone’s interests are valid (provided they’re not actively harming others). A mature office setting would understand that and give everyone space at the table, but there are definitely some that don’t.

            2. Irish Teacher*

              Yes, I have a couple of colleagues who don’t really socialise much and you know what? They tend to be the people who I really listen to when they raise an issue at a staff meeting because I know they don’t speak up unless they have something important to say.

              Yeah, I guess I am less likely to offer to cover a class for them or something because I would be less likely to know if they were busy or had something going on in their life outside work and it would probably be harder for them to ask me as we don’t hang out together, but I would be perfectly happy to do it if they asked. Perhaps especially so as they so rarely ask anything of anybody.

              There is some truth to it that people who are quiet and don’t socialise much risk being overlooked and are therefore less likely to be offered help or for people to support them if they are say going through a bereavement or something, but it’s not at all true that it makes reasonable people dislike them.

          3. Irish Teacher*

            I don’t see any indication that she is confused at all. She made a hyperbolic comment about how ridiculous Carrie’s coworkers were, that they were treating her as somebody who’d done something morally wrong when she was simply quiet.

            I’m pretty sure Melissa is well aware it’s not a moral failing.

            And no, it’s not normal to treat somebody badly because they never socialize and just do work and leave. I have a few colleagues like this and while, yeah, I wouldn’t count them among my work friends, nor do I dislike them. In fact, in one or two cases, I like them a lot and would like to get to know them better but respect that they want a more professional relationship and that’s fine. I like them better than some of the coworkers who do socialise a lot and generally, they appear pretty well-liked. At least, I’ve never heard anybody say anything bad about them.

            I think this is the norm, that people tend to be neutral-to-blandly positive about people who don’t socialise a lot. Melissa is quite right that the way Carrie’s coworkers are behaving is completely different and would only be even anything approaching appropriate if she was guilty of some major moral failing.

          4. metadata minion*

            There’s a huge difference between not being friends, or not being willing to go out on a limb for someone professionally because you don’t really know them socially and maybe don’t work closely with them and calling them a robot. I have plenty of coworkers who are less social, or who socialize in ways that I don’t, and they get put in the “inoffensive person who I don’t particularly know” category, not the “inhuman automaton” category.

            1. metadata minion*

              And there are also coworkers who, as far as my internal model of them is concerned, appear from the ether every morning to be an absolute wizard at oatmeal sorting, then vanish at 4pm in a swirl of fairy dust. It’s possible to have positive interactions with someone that are entirely work-related.

      2. Observer*

        but it will tend to cause people to not like a person as much as they do their more friendly/interactive co-workers.

        Which is relevant to this situation, how?

        I mean, by the time one reaches age 10 or so, they should have started to understand that being likeable is not necessary for being a decent human being. And even more importantly, that being a decent human being requires treating people reasonably even if you don’t like them much.

        Trying to defend this kind of behavior because Carrie is “not so likeable” is not really convincing.

      3. Helen of What*

        You can decide you don’t want to be friends with someone without actively bullying them.
        I’m kind of a Carrie at work, and it does mean I don’t get invited to lunch and things much. But I’ve never been bullied like this at work, because my colleagues have not been cruel children.

    3. Anonymask*


      I go to work to be paid. That’s it. Full stop. I’m not here to socialize, I’m here to support my lifestyle (which mainly involves playing DnD and buying things for my cats).

  8. Plebeian Aristocracy*

    I have also been called “The Robot” in a variety of contexts. In my own head I’m quite expressive, but to most it doesn’t come across. Please keep sticking up for her.

    1. Melissa*

      Agreed. I tend to be pretty contemplative and introverted. I would be crushed if my coworkers talked about me like this.

    2. Jake*

      As a monotone speaker who is introverted myself, I’ll agree… I don’t sound monotone to myself. Even recordings of my voice don’t sound monotone to me. I just accept that I must be because everybody in my life has informed me that I am.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      My older child does a dead-on Marvin the pessimistic robot (RIP Alan Rickman) from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, unless you get him talking about something he’s really, really interested in. When I read letters like this, I worry so much about what’s going to happen to his sweet, kind soul when he runs into these sorts of people in the working world. Despite the monotone, he’s an incredibly caring and sensitive kind and calling him The Robot would be very hurtful.

    4. dryakumo*

      Same. I don’t know if I’ve ever been called a robot, but I’m definitely quite awkward in social situations and I overanalyze everything I say/every facial expression I made afterward. I do better when I’m talking about something I have expertise in.

      One thing I learned from my time in the military: some people make good friends but not coworkers and some people make good coworkers but not friends. The best kind are both, but the worst kind are neither.

    1. Michelle*

      Right?? I’m about to leave a job that is super great in a lot of ways, WFH being number one, but it’s been a lot of years here and I’m burned out so I’m about to bounce with nothing else lined up. However, today’s AAM has me pretty convinced I’m making the worst mistake of my life because imagine landing in this place or the “I play Jesus music all the time and I don’t understand why one of my coworkers is pretty not into it” place. I am AFRAID. It’s like that @solomonmissouri thread on Twitter… “you don’t want to be out here. You think you wanna be out here cause you not out here. When you get out here… You ain’t gonna want to be out here no more.” He was talking about dating, not the job market, but LISTEN.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        Kindly, you might want to step away from the blog for a little bit if it’s having that impact on you. It might be warping your perspective. Generally speaking, people who are writing into an advice column are doing so because they have a particularly sticky problem. The vast majority of people who are having a great (or at least not write-into-column-level terrible) experience in their workplaces aren’t going to be writing in. Try not to let stories of toxicity and the worst of the worst impact your decision-making to that degree.

      2. Hlao-roo*

        Seconding Michelle Smith’s advice. I prefer working in an office to working at home. All the offices I’ve worked in have had a few annoyances (as can be expected when sharing space with other people) but on the whole were pleasant places to me. I’ve never written into AAM because… there’s never been a problem worth writing about. There are good companies/managers/offices/coworkers out there.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          This, 100%. People who are happy with their employer, coworkers, and boss aren’t writing into AAM (or Hax or Amy or Miss Manners or whomever else you read). The only reason most AAM letters are YIKES is because they’re the ones that need advice.

      3. ADidgeridooForYou*

        This blog has a lot of excellent advice, but I would take the comments (and entries) with a grain of salt. Like Michelle said, people writing in are doing so because they have a weird outlier of a problem that needs an expert’s outlook. Sure, there’s a lot of sucky work places, but there are tons more that have competent and kind people who don’t blast Jesus music or use insulting nicknames for their coworkers. Also, I’ve found that this comment section trends…not antisocial, because that sounds pejorative and I don’t mean for it to be, but maybe towards the more extreme end of introversion. I can’t think of the right word for it. Either way, there are lots of pros to working in an office, and many many people do enjoy the ones they work with! I WFH now, but some of my best friends have come from work. One was a bridesmaid in my wedding (and I was one in hers). Sure, all offices have annoyances, but WFH can be detrimental in some ways, too.

        1. Boss Scaggs*

          I agree with all that – I’m talking about this letter, not in general. I think if I were Carrie wfh might be a nice option :)

          1. music*

            I think if this team/Carrie were WFH, the isolation and bullying would be even worse. I’m speaking from experience in a somewhat similar event(not nearly to this extent).

      4. Nancy*

        That’s because all the people who like their jobs and/or are doing fine dating don’t go online looking for advice or to complain.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Can we not? I get what you mean but saying stuff like this just implies that everyone whose job can’t be done from home is supposed to, what, just suck it up? It’s a great argument for people growing up and not acting like they’re twelve.

      1. Boss Scaggs*

        I’m not exactly sure what you mean, but I don’t think anyone would want to be around nonsense like this in a workplace if they don’t have to. Like you said, they’re acting like twelve year olds

        1. DashDash*

          Which if anything is an argument *against* WFH as employees with such poor judgment often require more supervision than adults who know better than to act like a middle schooler.

          1. MsM*

            Yeah, I’d rather be able to walk over and get the answer I need from someone trying to ignore my existence than have to deal with chasing them down via chat/email/phone and debating at what point I need to start ccing higher ups.

          2. GreyjoyGardens*

            Yes, these people sound like the “give them an inch and they take a mile” types, the kind who make bosses NOT want their staff working from home because they get nothing done.

        2. Ahnon4Thisss*

          I have to agree with Dust Bunny. This isn’t an argument for WFH, this is an argument for people learning to respect one another even if they don’t mesh well socially.

          My job cannot be done from home. I have coworkers I do not like. I am friendly to them even though I am not a big fan of theirs, not wishing I could WFH because I dislike them.

          1. Ahnon4Thisss*

            Forgot to put this in my paragraph: This is also an argument for better management so bullying in the workplace doesn’t occur.

          2. Boss Scaggs*

            If I were Carrie, it’s an argument for myself working from home – who wants to deal with bs junior high drama? These people are supposed to be adults.

      2. goducks*

        Not to mention bullying, ostracizing and name calling are all things that can and do happen in remote workplaces too.

    3. connie*

      Being in person allows the opportunity to respond as LW has, though, in ways that might not be possible in WFH. At least here people’s attitudes are being confronted in the moment.

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      3+ years of fulltime WFH and office politics is alive and well here. I agree it does make some office situations not possible (there’s no way for the whole team to go out on a brewery run and leave one person behind to cover for them all, nobody cares if you’re eating a “sad desk lunch” etc). But people like LW’s teammates will always find a way to be… whatever they are being.

  9. ENFP in Texas*

    I’m really glad you and Steve spoke up and tried to shut down the harrassment. Taking the time to do some introspection and change as a result is very commendable!

    One note: “Jane’s (me) right, and I really don’t want her to be uncomfortable! Let’s knock it off” – I took the “don’t want her to be uncomfortable” as him meaning he didn’t want CARRIE to be uncomfortable.

    1. Frank Doyle*

      Okay but you’re reading what Jane has written, presumably Jane knows what Steve meant in the moment because she was there.

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        Yes, we don’t know if that was an exact quote. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t.

        I did read it the same way as ENFP and Just Here did. (Plus, people really are notoriously bad at interpreting what others mean or are thinking.)

  10. Eternal Cynic*

    Good on OP for standing up for Carrie and telling people to knock it off. But yikes, the bullying that’s going on here sounds bad, that “the robot” comment sent shivers down my spine. I got bullied like this when I was at high school (people calling me ‘it’ and running away) and it was so damaging and dehumanising. This sounds very similar, I hope Carrie is ok.

  11. Tio*

    If two people have independently used that nickname in public, guarantee they’re using that name between themselves at lunch/happy hour/group chat. Please keep an eye out and try to help Carrie, OP. Sounds like a lot of your coworkers are jerks.

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      What Tio said!

      I think you did a great job with this OP, but it also sounds like the rest of the coworkers are still bullying Carrie.

  12. JP*

    Some of these coworkers are ridiculous, and I agree with others that I doubt the bullying has stopped. OP just isn’t hearing it anymore, or may have become a target as well for standing up for Carrie. Workplace dynamics like this are an excellent argument for Carrie not wanting to socialize with her coworkers.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      This. Now they know that the OP isn’t really on their team any more so they won’t let her in on it, but it hasn’t stopped.

  13. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    I wouldn’t have given this response to the question, but often behave in rational ways that seem cold to others. Give me the actual trolley problem, and I immediately jump to “kill the one guy, do the best for the most people.”

    My SIL is kind of like these workplace bullies. My wife gets sick a lot and has had several surgeries, so I don’t take off of work for them any more except what’s absolutely necessary for picking wife up and taking care of the basics. To clarify, I don’t abandon anyone. If she’s in the hospital, I bring things she needs and ask whether she’s getting good care.

    But what is the actual point of being off of work to sit around a hospital or doctor? I do not need the services, and would lose money if I also went. She’s an adult, the ratios and quality of care are good here. It’s best for our family for me to continue working and earn money. What good is emotional support if you can’t afford to live next month?

    Because of this, SIL thinks I don’t care. She doesn’t seem to grasp that there are reasons why I decided this. Trust me, my wife would be MORE upset if I didn’t have any money for us than if I was sitting around holding her hand the whole time.

    1. Mad Harry Crewe*

      I hope that your wife is on board with this?

      As long as she’s 100% on the same page, then you’re absolutely correct.

      If you’re making a unilateral decision without accounting for her needs, then I’d invite you to revisit and make a decision that both of you have input in and feel comfortable with.

      I’d also encourage you to keep checking in. Her emotional state is not fixed. There may be appointments or surgeries where she needs extra care from you, even though it’s not an every-time thing.

      1. Junior Dev*

        I don’t think this is the place for advice on that; it’s an example, not a request for people to weigh in on their marriage. I absolutely get the point overcaffinatedandqueer is making and it doesn’t require getting into the weeds of what is clearly a very complex and difficult situation.

  14. *kalypso*

    > “Jane’s (me) right, and I really don’t want her to be uncomfortable! Let’s knock it off.” I wasn’t happy with the implication that my being uncomfortable was a better reason to stop the behavior than because it was cruel to Carrie

    I see the ambiguity but I would have heard/read that as ‘Jane’s right and I really don’t want her [Carrie] to be uncomfortable!’ because Carrie is the subject of the discussion and what Jane is saying, so if LW took it the other way then maybe there was something about Steve’s delivery or the way the conversation went either side that made it more clear it was about Jane. However, sometimes you do need to make it about something else for people to feel like it’s worth their time to be nice, and ‘let’s not make Jane uncomfortable’ may have been a part of a strategy like that if telling people to knock it off was unsuccessful. It needs to come with a strong enough disincentive that it doesn’t just stop in front of Jane though, which is why those arguments are often part of larger social conditioning strategies than solutions.

  15. Goldenrod*

    Personally, I like robots! I mean it – I find people who are excessively logical at work to be refreshing, and a nice change from co-workers who respond emotionally to everything. For me, this kind of energy feels calming and grounding.

    But anyway! I really came here to thank OP (and Steve) for their actions. It’s heroic to stand up for someone when you don’t have to. Seems like a small thing, but really, it’s not – so many otherwise caring people just watch and fail to intervene when they witness bullying at work. I’m happy that there are people out there who will risk putting their own neck out to help someone else.

  16. anomnom*

    So, the group was asked to stop bullying, and someone…*pushed* *back*??? And then they made up an unimaginative, basic, just dumb nickname? No one had a kid they could turn to for a nickname that was at least interesting? /s

    This group is as dull as they are mean. And likely none of them realize that Carrie’s behavior is far more likely to lead to professional success than their own (exceptions for toxic cultures notwithstanding).

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      The group was asked to stop bullying, and someone…*pushed* *back*?
      I mean, I think that response is more typical of social primates than Steve’s reflection followed by deliberate change in what he’s doing.

    2. Be Gneiss*

      For real, right? I remember once when she was like 10, my kid came home upset because someone on the bus said her glasses were stupid. She felt better when I pointed out that if that was the best insult this kid could come up with, that was pretty sad.

      1. Be Gneiss*

        Which is not to say that makes it okay to call Carrie names, obviously. Just that the office is filled with 12-year-0lds with no imagination.

    3. Irish Teacher*

      I’m guessing they do realise Carrie’s behaviour is far more likely to lead to professional success than their own and instead of modelling their own on her, are acting out of resentment and twisting it around in their own heads to “she’s looking down on us/she thinks she’s entitled to more professional success than us.”

      As I said above, it reminds me a bit of the kids who pick on the smart kid or the most mature and sensible kid in the class because they see those kids doing better than them and resent it.

      1. RVA Cat*

        It also reminds me of relatives getting jealous/angry at a person “getting above their raising” if they are better educated and higher earning than their family of origin.

    4. RagingADHD*

      Well, it apparently didn’t even occur to LW that they could or should stick up for Carrie at all until Alison said so, so it sounds like the rest of the staff are operating business as usual.

      I’d be willing to bet Carrie is not the only one getting bullied in this office, just the one LW happened to notice this time because it was so clearly tied to a particular incident.

      1. Observer*

        Well, it apparently didn’t even occur to LW that they could or should stick up for Carrie at all until Alison said so,

        Yes, but they *asked*. Because they did understand that this was a problem and they did not know what they could do. I don’t think it’s fair to dump on them for that.

        1. Gathering Moss*

          Yeah, agreed. That’s a pretty uncharitable take; many people are uncomfortable with unfairness, but don’t know how to effectively speak up against it.

        2. RagingADHD*

          I think you missed my point. I’m relating the need to ask to the fact that the rest of the staff pushed back and tried to argue that it was okay or justified to bully Carrie!

          I think that’s a strong indication that there is likely a lot more bullying flying under LW’s radar. The staff believe it’s normal.

  17. arcya*

    I would really encourage OP to loop in their manager(s) at this point, since it’s escalated to blaming Carrie for the way they’re treating her and dehumanizing nicknames. I’m willing to bet it’s way worse than OP is seeing at this point, and has only stopped in the OPs hearing.

    1. e271828*

      Dollars to doughnuts there’s some ugly crap going on in a group chat LW doesn’t know about.

    2. DisneyChannelThis*

      Yup. “Hey Manager, when you have a couple minutes can we talk in private?” then a short “Steve’s been doing lunchtime ethics problems, carrie answered one differently than most a couple weeks ago and since then there’s been a bullying situation with XYZ calling her a robot. I wanted to loop you in case it escalates”.

  18. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    Experiencing this dynamic with my SIL. She thinks that I do not care about my wife’s health or issues that come up.

    The plain truth is, there have been many health issues, and I’m burnt out and also can’t afford to be there all the time at every appointment and hospital stay. I do needed transport and bring things my wife needs, but she’s an adult, she doesn’t need me there. The rational thing for me to do is work as much as possible even when health things come up. Frankly, I think the Mrs. would be more mad about us being homeless or having stuff repossessed than me not being there to hold her hand.

  19. SuprisinglyADHD*

    People calling Carrie “the robot” is really shitty. If you have any rapport with any of the higher-ups, maybe you can alert them? It sounds like something is VERY wrong in the office, and management can’t address it if they’re not aware. Maybe I’m overreacting but hearing a coworker use dehumanizing names for someone sets off all kinds of alarms.

    1. Vio*

      Definitely really bad. It’s one thing to give somebody a nickname that they are aware of and happy to answer to but quite another to use a clearly judgemental nickname behind their back. It probably feels like just a minor thing to the person saying it, but it’s really more than that. This is clear bullying. Just because it’s behind their back doesn’t make it any less bullying or hurtful, it’s sending a clear message to everyone else on how to think of and treat her and is almost certainly making others feel more comfortable in emulating such behaviour.

      1. Mad Harry Crewe*

        I sincerely doubt it’s a minor thing to the person saying it. “Robot” is a super dehumanizing thing to say about another person. A robot doesn’t have any capacity to feel hurt, so seeing someone as a robot is a very real first step to hurting them (emotionally, socially, physically).

        It’s thrown at people with a subdued emotional affect (frequently including autistic people and other neurodiverse folks) for a reason.

        1. SuprisinglyADHD*

          You’re definitely right, Mad Harry Crewe. Particularly “a robot doesn’t have any capacity to feel hurt” being used as an excuse to justify some truly atrocious behavior.

          And the fact that Carrie withdrew even more from the group (after she made one attempt to join and was soundly told off/punished for it), is now perceived as an insult to the group.

        2. littlehope*

          Yeah, having the people you have to spend the majority of your waking hours around insisting on repeatedly pointing out that they think you seem *literally not human* is not actually a minor thing. It sounds petty and grade-school, sure, but it’s actually…pretty seriously bad.
          And Carrie probably does know about it.

          1. Vio*

            I didn’t mean to imply that it is a minor thing, it really is not. All I meant is that the person saying it is probably thinking it’s a minor kind of bullying because the victim is unaware of it and so their conscience is unaffected. It’s the kind of self-denial that allows people to take part in horrible behaviour without considering themselves as doing anything really all that bad.
            However it IS denial because it IS bad. I absolutely did not mean to downplay how bad the behaviour is.

            1. littlehope*

              Just to be clear, Vio, I didn’t think you meant to be dismissive! Hope that didn’t feel like a pile-on. You’re right, I think, that it’s the kind of thing that people can easily persuade themselves is okay to do because it’s ‘no big deal,’ but it really is if you think through the implications.

              1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

                yes, because Carrie might overhear them one day, and even if she doesn’t, calling her a robot behind her back does reinforce the bullying.

                A more positive example of reinforcement: I remember reading about a guy who was frustrated at having to change his password every month. Someone suggested he simply write a long motto that would be easy to remember. He wrote something like “I must be kinder to my wife” and found that the mere fact of writing that meant that he was indeed kinder to her on a daily basis. The next month he put “I must call my mother more often” and this led to him fixing two days in the week when he would call his mother. Etc.

        3. Observer*

          I sincerely doubt it’s a minor thing to the person saying it. “Robot” is a super dehumanizing thing to say about another person. A robot doesn’t have any capacity to feel hurt,

          Yes. This is on point. OP, please push back. And yes, to loop management in.

    2. dryakumo*

      OP, please bring this up with your manager if you haven’t already. I would be horrified if one of our employees were getting treated like this and I didn’t know about it.

  20. Post Morbus*

    I’m proud of you OP for sticking up for Carrie. It can be difficult to go up against an ingrained work culture.

  21. Salsa Your Face*

    Poor Carrie. Guaranteed the co-workers aren’t going to stop mocking her, they’re just going to avoid doing it in front of Jane and Steve.

    1. Ex-prof*

      Yes. I think Jane should talk to the boss. Particularly about the “robot” thing.

  22. Falling Diphthong*

    I wasn’t happy with the implication that my being uncomfortable was a better reason to stop the behavior than because it was cruel to Carrie, but it was better than nothing.

    I think this is where Steve having the instincts of a social leader comes in. People will respond one way to “You are being cruel to a person you dislike” and another to “You are making things awkward and uncomfortable for a person you like.” Even if both the initial behavior and the desired change are exactly the same in each situation.

    1. Pink Candyfloss*

      Steve a “leader” in the office crowd let OP start the conversation about Carrie and then did the minimum possibly required to back up OP instead of being a real leader. Not reading Steve as the hero here, but proud of OP for stepping up and making an effort to be mature by example.

    2. Myrin*

      Yeah, I’ve definitely used that tactic before even while recognising that I shouldn’t have needed to go this weird roundabout way – but at that moment, I cared about the results and I knew I was far more likely to get those if I talked about the impact on [well-liked person]. That was years ago and I think I wouldn’t actually do it that same way nowadays but I honestly don’t know.

    3. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      Sometimes the goal is simply to change a behaviour. Sometimes getting people to understand why what they’re doing is so unacceptable is really important. I would say this is verging into the latter. You shouldn’t have bullying at work, for thousands of reasons. It shouldn’t be about “Jane is uncomfortable”, I don’t think that gets them where they need to be.

  23. Noelle*

    Good for you OP, sticking up for Carrie! As an introvert and an autistic person who was bullied a lot when I was younger in similar ways, I wish there were more people like you. “Robot” is especially harmful to people who have difficulty with social interactions and potentially ableist language (regardless of whether or not Carrie has a disability), so keep shutting that down.

  24. MCMonkeyBean*

    “Carrie took that WAY too seriously” says the person still talking about her answer a month later!!! Jeez.

    OP, I just want to say I think you handled this very thoughtfully and that it’s very nice that you would go out of your way to try to stop your coworkers from treating Carrie so badly even though you aren’t exactly friends with her. Thanks for stepping up!

    Honestly I still don’t think Steve comes off *great* here. It is good that he was willing to back you up and I’m glad that he followed through on that after he told you he would. But let’s not lower the bar for him too much–it’s still not great that he was only willing to be backup and not take any initiative himself even though he kind of started the whole backlash, and it’s *really* not great to pull the “oh it was just a joke” card. It was a joke where Carrie was the punchline and it wasn’t cool.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      He doesn’t, but let’s remember how it feels to be called out on our bad behavior. It doesn’t feel good at all, and there is often an inclination to try and save face. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t privately feel badly that he started this mess.

    2. A New CV*

      If Steve wants to accept the benefits of being the social leader of the group, he needs to also shoulder some of the responsibility of leading the group in a positive way. He started this mess and he should take on a more active role in ending it. It’s all fun and games until someone is being called bullying nicknames, ugh.

    3. SJ*

      Hard agree! I’m a little confused by the comments praising Steve, this all seems pretty bare minimum to me!

  25. mcm*

    I think it was a great idea to bring Steve on board with this, and not one I would have necessarily thought of personally! But making sure you privately get a social leader on board makes pushing back much more effective. Good for you, OP!

  26. Irish Teacher*

    It’s sounds like the thought experiment wasn’t really the cause here, just an excuse and that whatever Carrie answered would have been a problem. If she’d given the same answer as everybody else, I’m guessing they’d have laughed at her for being unoriginal and it would possibly have played into the “robot” idea.

    It sounds like a number of your colleagues just don’t like her, possibly because they are afraid that her having a style more like the bosses’ means that she could be favoured by them and therefore they feel threatened by her or possibly they are really insecure and feel that her not having lunch with them or socialising much means she doesn’t like them and they have to make her out to be “the baddie” there because otherwise they’ll start wondering what is wrong with them that she doesn’t like them.

    It’s definitely possible they see her as behaving more like a manager and “trying to stand out from the crowd” but if they do, the issue is with them and their insecurities.

    I do still think it was problematic of Steve to pose a question and then object to people taking the opposite side to him. That does feel like a sort of “gotcha.” The point of such questions is that both options should be equivalent.

    But it does sound like he realised the treatment of Carrie was wrong and did his best to put a stop to it (even if it sounds like he is more worried about the LW being upset than about Carrie) and as if he isn’t the kind of guy who sets stuff up intentionally to catch people out.

  27. Michelle Smith*

    This update made me a bit emotional. I definitely think some of these coworkers are still talking badly about Carrie behind her back, but I think you’ve done as much as you can – you called out the behavior any time you observed it, you enlisted a trusted person in the office to reinforce it, and you continued being kind and professional to Carrie. My heart hurts for her, but I think as long as you keep calling out the bullying when you observe it, you’re doing the best you can to have her back (with the caveat that what you observe doesn’t rise to the level of needing to report it to a manager or HR).

  28. Peanut Hamper*

    You shouldn’t have to read the room before responding to a thought experiment.

    This whole group is still in middle school. Steve might be a sophomore, but still…

    1. Budgie Buddy*

      Exactly – What if she did read the room and thought “Interesting. They all think this but I think something different so I will share my thoughts for variety.”

      Reading the room and choosing to conform are two different things.

    2. goducks*

      By definition a thought experiment doesn’t have a clear right answer and is morally complex. The one that the LW described is a great example of this. If you have even a basic understanding of Shakespeare, you understand the massive impact he’s had on the English language, on literature and on western culture. To consider whether the impact of his work is equal to or greater than another human life is a reasonable question for this type of exercise. Carrie seems to be the only one who understood this.

    3. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      Yes, exactly.

      OP, we get that Steve isn’t a total monster (hopefully no one said this) but it’s really irritating to me that he leads everyone in thought experiments but doesn’t seem to have a problem with people jumping on someone for actually engaging in them properly. Does he… know what a thought experiment is?!

  29. Vio*

    Sometimes we need an outsiders perspective. It’s good to hear that you and Steve have been able to learn from that perspective and try to improve the situation.

  30. Cherries Jubilee*

    Notice how the coworkers are content to be deeply contradictory and their critiques of Carrie. How could she be “taking the prompt too seriously” if she was willing to give an unpopular take? Assigning a moral failing to answer in a hypothetical in a way that involves human death is what’s taking it too seriously.

    And how is she robotic if she’s willing to go against the grain so much? That takes strength and originality, the opposite of a robot.

    It’s all just so bad faith.

    1. Pink Candyfloss*

      Carrie is doomed to fail no matter what, as these people have already decided.

    2. SuprisinglyADHD*

      I suspect the robot insult is coming from the fact that she doesn’t share everyone’s enthusiastic attitude toward communal lunch hour. Often, wanting a private lunch break in a place like that is seen as somehow “shunning” the rest of the office. Which is associated with being cold, emotionless, and “robotic”. It’s unfair but I’ve seen it happen before…

    3. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      Spot on, Cherries Jubilee. You’ve put your finger on why the comments along the lines of “maybe they see Carrie as sucking up to the bosses” “she should read the room” don’t quite fit the story for me. Even the ones that don’t blame her for how she was treated seem to credit the coworkers with way too much good faith.

  31. Vice Principal Jessica Day*

    I am very quiet but friendly. The quiet thing leads so many people to make assumptions about me, including the robot thing. I guess I don’t have a super expressive face (I think I do but?) and I am very low-key/low-energy so people also think I am being sarcastic when I am being 100% sincere.

    Being misread is super annoying. I encourage people not to “fill in the blanks” or make assumptions about someone who’s quiet or introverted, you really don’t know them and these assumptions are annoying and like in this case, sometimes mean-spirited as well. I often find myself defending myself against perceived slights because my quietness leads people to think I don’t like them, or because I “don’t seem excited enough” about things.

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      One of the most common things I heard at work was “You’re nothing like I thought you would be” because people made up their own little stories about me because I didn’t like gossip or even idle chatter. I kept to myself but spoke my mind when asked (in a polite, professional way) so I was considered to be a snob, or mean, or uncaring or…whatever. The fact that I heard some of this and ignored it added to the robot-type comments, I’m sure.

  32. Allé*

    The robot??? Carrie, please get out of there or at least move up to an office.

    Good on OP for continuing to stand up for her, but I won’t be giving Steve any points. Helping to diffuse things is the bare minimum when it’s his own court that caused this. But more importantly, he’s doing this for OP. Not for Carrie or because he realised how toxic this is.

    OP I know you feel protective of Steve but I must be honest that the way you describe things makes this even more on him and more suspicious. Consider this: if you know he’s the unofficial leader, then *he* knows that too! He knows his pull. He knows what he’s doing when he’s the first to vocally disparage her, a whole day later when he could’ve moved on to another experiment. He knows what he’s doing with his IT joke. He knows the effect that might have. I’m not saying he’s the devil, but watch yourself around this dear friend.

    One more thing, OP. Sometimes, bosses see a lot more than you know so making sure your rep is clean and you’re distanced from that behaviour is good for you too.

    1. Pink Candyfloss*

      Totally agree about Steve. Stop giving Steve a pass because he’s nice and likeable … so he gets away with the bare minimum effort? Meh.

    2. Skylight*

      Yes, I understand we’re only dealing with a single data point and OP feels a need to defend Steve, but even friendly, wonderful people can behave like jerks sometimes. It can be a one-off or overall character flaw that is overshadowed by their good traits. An empathetic jokester makes fun of themselves, overall situations, or common flaws we all have without making negative statements about another person or people group. For ex., joking about passengers’ annoying behaviors on flights but not describing their appearance at all. We laugh because we identify with the situation (and might have done those behaviors ourselves!), but we’re not laughing at a particular demographic or a specific person.

      Steve’s “joke” was really insensitive and not funny at all precisely because it made fun of Carrie. I would prefer that Steve regreted the joke because he recognized that, not because OP took it badly.

      Truely wonderful people are kind to everyone, even the ones that have very different personalities from them. One of my classmates was like this. Even in middle and high school, she transcended all cliques and was friends with everyone. She made everyone feel like they mattered—and loved to joke and laugh. On the other hand, my relative, who is overall kind and generous, has a habit of making “jokes” about their spouse that are on the edge between gentle ribbing and mean—they come across as veiled criticisms. I’ve started calling them out and defending the spouse because spouse isn’t laughing along.

      OP, it’s good that you addressed this with Steve and the group. I hope you can understand why some commenters question Steve’s behavior.

  33. Just a girl*

    This whole thing just reminds me of my high school experience in a nutshell. I was Carrie, constantly surrounded by immature people doing stupid, immature things. I was always painted as the cold, uptight, prudish one; arrogant and thinks I’m better than everyone else. In reality it was just as simple as, I don’t want to drink means I don’t want to drink. Not I think I’m better than you.

    At least OP and Steve sound like they’re making an effort. But people in group think are ignorant animals.

    1. Ex-prof*

      For me it was 5th grade.

      By high school my classmates had decided to accept me but I was no longer interested in their acceptance.

      1. allathian*

        My experience was remarkably similar. I did find my friend group in middle school eventually, but not in my own class. Most of my friends were a year or two younger (I was a bit late in maturing socially, mainly because I was *very* shy in my early teens).

        Things improved in high school, mainly because the worst bullies went to a vocational rather than my academic school. By then I’d found my friends and wasn’t at all interested in making friends with the popular clique anymore. I settled for having a “professional” relationship with them in the sense that I could do group assignments with whichever group the teachers assigned me to. Sometimes this meant me doing most of the work while the others gossiped around me, though…

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      More like empty shells, I think. That’s why they take any contrary opinion as a personal insult. They don’t actually know what they’re talking about, so they don’t have any way to defend their position. Therefore, anyone taking a contrary position is rejecting them or attacking them, or, at the very least, trying to “show them up” by having a real discussion.

  34. Chrisssss*

    That is an amazing update! Thankyou for being the person willing to stick up for someone else.

  35. Ellen N.*

    It is telling that nobody in the office or in the comments here defended Carrie’s viewpoint.

    I’m not a fan of Shakespeare, but if his writing was replaced with Rembrandt’s art, Einstein’s theories, etc. my answer would be the same as Carrie’s.

    We don’t know if a child will turn into Jane Godall or Jason Aldean. We do know the effect people have had.

    Not everyone believes that human life is the most important thing. It’s okay to think differently.

    1. Myrin*

      Huh? Plenty of commenters in the original thread “defended” Carrie’s position/said that they’d have given the same answer. Am I misreading your first sentence somehow?

    2. Hlao-roo*

      There were some commenters on the original thread who said they agreed with Carrie, and a few who didn’t outright say they agreed but defended Carrie’s choice as a utilitarian one. I’ll link in a follow-up comment.

    3. Observer*

      It is telling that nobody in the office or in the comments here defended Carrie’s viewpoint.

      Why? Why is there any need to defend (or attack) her viewpoint? The issue not that she was “right”. But that she provided a reasonable response to a question and a bunch of people decided to use that as an excuse to bully her. Would it be ok if she gave an objectively “wrong” answer?

      It does happen to be the case that a number of comments on the original post *did* defend Carrie’s viewpoint, but I think that it’s beside the point.

      1. Aquamarine*

        Right – there’s no need to debate the original question here in the comments. The point is that no one should have been ostracized because of their answer.

    4. Bob's your uncle*

      I definitely agree with Carrie’s answer. I also love her point about what Shakespeare teaching us about humanity. It was a particularly well-reasoned point in my opinion. I just think it doesn’t have much relevance for this update.

  36. Falling Diphthong*

    Can I float a thought experiment about the pile-on in the office and the pile-on in the comments?

    1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      What “pile on in the comments”? How do you define “pile on”? Lots of commentators having a similar view about Steve? Maybe that’s just… because a lot of people agree about him? Maybe there’s a reason? I don’t see a “pile on”, just commentators, who have been asked for their opinions, giving their opinions. People have been fairly polite, but very honest.

  37. It's Fine*

    I’m so angry on Carrie’s behalf. “The robot” is such a cruel nickname, and if I heard someone call me that in my office even once I would start job searching immediately.

    I won’t go into a tangent about neurodivergence and dehumanizing language, but like. That’s a thing. It doesn’t even matter if Carrie herself is ND, because this kind of ostracization happens because people don’t get checked when they ridicule someone for not conforming to their idea of normal – or having “always been off.” Gag.

    OP speculates about the reaction to Carrie being because she carries herself as “a manager more than a peer” but it sounds more like she’s just good at her job and trusted by leadership. You’re ascribing all of these negative traits onto a lady who just prefers to eat lunch alone! Who is quiet! Those are completely unremarkable traits to have!

    Anyone in the group who continues to be clique-ish about this needs to be talked to *directly* about professionalism. Not just given in-the-moment corrections.

    (not totally related, but I sure would be annoyed if group lunch hour was commonly taken up with thought experiments. IMO, they’re mostly pointless, especially in this context. But I’m also quite grumpy right now and am also the type who prefers to lunch somewhere quiet so YMMV.)

    1. SuprisinglyADHD*

      You’ve said everything I couldn’t articulate about why this bothered me so much!

    2. Bob's your uncle*

      Completely agree. It reeks of a particular kind of privileged young man who thinks he is particularly intelligent and that anyone not interested in being a part of this doesn’t appreciate intellectual conversations. In reality, he is mining the same ground all the rest of us mined in our adolescence.

  38. HotSauce*

    All I can say is that I am glad that while my coworkers may not be the most mature bunch, I’ve never heard them call each other names.

  39. E*

    Poor Carrie. She knows. Being bullied at work is brutal.
    The people calling her a robot should be given written warnings.

  40. Llama doctor*

    Steve is still a horrible person and this update confirms this. OP needs to be careful as defending/associating with Carrie is the right thing to do but puts a target on OP’s back.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      This is a little much. Steve is just a guy with flaws. He doesn’t come off well in this instance, but that doesn’t make him a ‘horrible person’.

  41. Ex-prof*

    LW, I congratulate you on doing the right thing when it was hard and continuing to do the right thing.

    Your co-workers sound very immature. I hope Carrie finds another job.

  42. GreyjoyGardens*

    Thank you for your update, OP. And thank you for standing up for Carrie.

    Here are my take-aways: One, the office is like some of the ones I’ve been around in the past, where there are a lot of rank-and-file workers who have a culture of goof-off and socializing more than working, and then there are the Management, the unfun wet blankets who enforce policies. This creates a very “middle school” atmosphere, where the workers tend towards wanting to “push the envelope” as much as they can, and goof around and socialize and in general see how much they can get away with. They flock together in one or more tight cliques, show disdain for their supervisors AND customers/clients, and anyone like Carrie, more introverted and taking the job seriously, is seen as a “suck up.” It’s a very us-vs.-them attitude towards management (and also clients). So anyone who models themselves on management is not a smart person who wants to move up, they are teacher’s pets, suck-ups, and working for The Man. Alison has written how such a viewpoint becomes toxic, especially if words like “tattling” are used.

    Carrie is now the suck-up teacher’s pet and the Popular Kids are going to ostracize her. Never mind that she is getting her job done and will likely be promoted before them! (And, I hope she DOES! I want to see Carrie become a supervisor!) The vivacious goof-offs can’t see how THEY are never going to be promoted with that attitude. But, as I said, it’s one of those oppositional, school mentality of Workers vs. Management.

    It might be worth it to address this further. Carrie won’t be the only one who gets on the wrong side of the wanna-be too cool for school kids. They need to realize they are NOT Ponyboy and his friends, or Rizzo and hers, and they look mean, petty, and small, not hip and cool and aspirational. Also if management is aloof and mostly gives out “demerits” that is something to look at; yes, managers must manage, but they and workers need to see one another as people. Is that lacking at your organization?

    Steve, Steve, Steve. He’s like the guy who thinks he’s hot stuff just for making a bottle and changing a diaper. Or filling and running the dishwasher. Yeah, he stepped up. AFTER being prodded. And he did kind of the minimum. Is he part of the problem in that he’s kind of a long term Cool Kid who has been there years but will never be promoted?

    It’s really hard to tell, and I know some of this is fanfic, but, I’ve seen these patterns at other workplaces. I’ve seen them especially at ones where whole groups of young people right out of college are hired at once, and trained as a group, and their tasks are mostly rote data-entry and/or customer service, with management mostly being The Baddies who hand out discipline, and not a lot of people stay to get promoted, so there’s no clear ladder on how to move up.

    Anyhow, Carrie, a whole lot of us here sympathize with you and are pulling for you.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      Point of order: Ponyboy Curtis was not hip or cool. He was a greaser, looked down on by just about all the soc’s.

    2. Polly Hedron*

      My fantasy is that Carrie gets promoted to supervisor and immediately fires them all.

      But the reality is almost as good: I think that those “Cool Kids” failed in school and will keep failing in their jobs and their lives, and that, even if “suck up” Carrie may be suffering now, we should not cry for her: Carrie did better in school and will eventually have a better career (probably somewhere else) and a better life. I was once Carrie, and that’s how my life has turned out.

  43. Doctor Fun*

    OP, I guarantee you the bullying has not stopped. They’re just not doing it around you anymore because you’ve called it out. But it is absolutely still happening.

  44. Exhausted*

    What is the point of asking a probing question if only one answer is “right?” I’ve never been much for group think (I immediately want to be different – which is it’s own negative trait) so perhaps I just don’t get the inclination, but this is so weird and toxic. It’s nice that the LW likes her colleagues enough to defend them, but sometimes you’re just too close to the situation to see it with clear eyes. The behavior was weird, the reaction was weirder, and I wouldn’t blame Carrie if she moved on to a job where she could work with other adults.

  45. Reed Weird*

    This one hurt a bit. I’m neurodivergent (ADHD and autism) and sometimes refer to myself as a robot when I miss a social cue or a symptom starts kicking off. It helps me remember to take care of myself when I have very different needs than what most of society would see as normal. I would be devastated if I found out other people were calling me “the robot” behind my back. Me using it as a coping mechanism for feeling other is not the same as someone else using it to other me.
    I hope Carrie is able to work somewhere that her coworkers don’t call her dehumanizing nicknames behind her back.

  46. macaroni*

    In this and the original post I’ve seen a number of comments along the lines of “I’ve been a Carrie/in Carrie’s position”–and I’m sure folks have. I also think that, realistically, a lot of us have probably also been Steve, or been part of the crowd. I think that’s harder to admit and something we’re probably not proud of–especially when we have also had the experience of being an outcast and may a) be hesitant to rock the boat and speak up for someone and/or b) feel like it’s not a big deal because what happened to us was worse/we know *real* ostracization.

    But ultimately, the value of letters like to people besides the OP is what we learn from them and take into our own lives. Empathizing with Carrie in the letter is great. Empathizing with the Carries in our own offices is even better–and sometimes even harder.

    When we read letters like this, it can be really obvious who we’re supposed to empathize with. Removed as we are from the situation, it’s easy to make Carrie whoever we want–she’s us, she’s our friend, she’s a character from a book or a show we recognize. But in our actual workplace, when the person everyone ignores is actually down the hall from us and maybe we got a weird vibe from them… suddenly, in the midst of our emotions, it might be harder to see who is the Carrie and who is the Steve.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      A lot of us have probably also been Steve, or been part of the crowd.
      And if that were pointed out to us, would probably respond “Oh no I’m not! This is all justified by Carrie being weird! And (800 justifications).”

      Steve’s actual response of “Hmm, that’s a good point, I’m going to reflect on it… Okay, I see that you are right, and now I shall take action toward changing this dynamic that has arisen” is much more rare. And I give great kudos to OP and Steve for using their words, thinking over the feedback they got, reflecting on the contribution of their own actions, assuming the other’s good intentions, etc.

      The last paragraph is also an excellent point about how these things resonate based on our own experience.

    2. New Jack Karyn*

      Thank you! It’s easy for us, behind our keyboards, to identify the hero, the villain, the scapegoat. It can be harder to think critically about our own social milieus, and the role we play in them.

      We’ve all done bad things; it doesn’t make us bad people.

    3. Irish Teacher*

      I think it’s a bit like those studies that show that if you ask each partner in a couple how much of the housework, etc they do, it will always add up to more 100%, because we notice what we do and not so much what the other person does.

      Similarly, we notice the times we were bullied or ill-treated or excluded (and I do think that if we include all kinds of bullying – from parents, teachers, classmates, workmates, partners, etc – there are probably far more people who have been bullied than who haven’t), but we are less likely to notice the times we just laughed along with the bully or felt uncomfortable but didn’t want to set ourselves up as the new target or thought the person a bit odd and bringing it on themselves anyway.

      In some ways, the person I identify most with in this situation is the LW, seeing somebody treated badly and not sure how to respond, especially when you know some of those treating her badly well and this seems out of character for them, which makes you wonder if perhaps, there is something you are missing.

      And I can’t say I’d have the courage to speak up as clearly as the LW did.

      1. macaroni*

        Yes, I find myself identifying with the LW too. It can be a difficult thing to go against the crowd of bullies in a case like this. When I read these stories I always think and hope I would do the right thing, but somewhere in the back of my mind is the worry that I wouldn’t, or (maybe even worse) wouldn’t be willing to accept that the crowd were being bullies.

    4. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      Yep, there was a Carrie in my last job. Did I stand up for him? Nope, not at all. Took me a while to even be uncomfortable with how we were treating him. You see, he was a greasy-haired, fat nerd with lousy social skills and the working speed of a sloth. If you were teamed up with him, you ended up doing 2/3s of the work, at least. And he shat himself at work, multiple times, which was gross. So I didn’t like him either. He wasn’t very likeable. And I didn’t defend him. I’m not proud of it. He didn’t deserve to be treated the way he was.

      I don’t have the right to judge Steve, because at least Steve made things better for his Carrie.

    5. Budgie Buddy*

      I’m like ye-es reading this but then I’m also like, Pretty sure I’ve never made up a mocking nickname for a coworker or gossiped constantly about someone’s minor faux pas for months.

      We’ve all been in different social positions (but eh I do think people tend to drift toward the same roles) but realistically not all of us have behaved like the people in this particular incident.

      It’s good if someone reads this and goes “Oh no I’ve totally been a Steve” but not ever Carrie has been a Steve in a different context and saying so kind of minimizes the harm done.

      I agree with the point that we should all be more aware what role we are falling into, but when I hear “Who among us has not been a bully too?” I’m like “Actually a good chunk of people have not. Uh, speak for yourself?”

      1. macaroni*

        “when I hear “Who among us has not been a bully too?” I’m like “Actually a good chunk of people have not. Uh, speak for yourself?””

        I’m sorry that my comment suggested this and I want to say that it is not at all my intention to excuse the behavior of Steve or the crowd in this letter–but I also understand that intention =/= impact, and I appreciate you bringing up the potentially sinister/minimizing side to my comment.

        I guess my experience has been that plenty of people I have known to be bullies would answer that no, they have never bullied anyone. And they probably think that’s true. Because (I’m guessing) they think that their behavior was justified by XYZ bad things about the person.

        I, too, have never made up mocking nicknames or gossiped constantly about someone’s minor faux pas for months. But, like Elspeth McGillicuddy above, I had a coworker who (from my perspective and that of many of my coworkers) was fairly unpleasant–didn’t do his share of the work and spent his days whining and watching TV–but that doesn’t justify our coldness towards him. And sure, I could make excuses about how nothing we did was as bad as what these people did to Carrie, or about how his behavior was worse than hers, but that doesn’t really seem useful. Ultimately, as I said in my initial post, I don’t think there’s much value in reading these letters unless they cause me to be better to my own coworkers. I think it’s less a case of “who among us has not been a bully too?” and more a case of “how good are we at recognizing bullying and exclusion that isn’t this overt, especially when it happens in our own workplace with all the messy realities of a workplace?” But perhaps that’s not really an appropriate question either.

        I hope this doesn’t all sound too much like an excuse. As I said, I do appreciate you calling me out/in in your comment!

      2. macaroni*

        Sorry, coming back to comment once more because I realize a more concise way to sum this up:
        Carrie, as far as we all know, is a perfectly lovely person who deserves empathy and kindness. But ultimately, there are also lots of other people in our own offices who may or may not be similarly lovely, hardworking, etc who also deserve empathy and kindness regardless.

        I think workplaces can get into this circular thing of “so-and-so is not a team player so we don’t treat them as part of the team.” Which just ends of being self-reinforcing. I see elements of that in this letter and in others on AAM over the years. I’ve seen elements of it at work (from both sides). And we can tie ourselves in knots trying to justify things or figure out if so-and-so really is acting like a team player… or we can be kind and empathetic and treat them as part of the team. And yeah, sometimes those people will not be Carrie. Sometimes they will actually really suck, but that doesn’t mean they should be treated in sucky ways.

  47. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    Good on you, OP, for sitting with the discomfort of the comments, thinking carefully, and taking action to make things better. And good on Steve for being open to this feedback, too, and making some changes. You two may have made a real difference for Carrie and her experience at work.

  48. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    Good for you, OP! It sounds as if you too are a leader – in spirit and in fact, if not in job title. Clearly, your word DOES carry weight in your office, since what you said got results.

    Even the best leader can’t totally undo a “middle school mean kids” mentality, however, and I’m curious to know whether management is aware of this situation and taking active steps to curb it. They really should be; once a toxic situation gets rolling in an office, it can grow, reach out and engulf people who never thought that THEY would be the next victims. My late mother made a very wise observation: Almost anything is easier to start than to stop.

  49. fhqwhgads*

    Ugh. I’m definitely not OP’s coworker, but I have been called a robot by a coworker – to my face – who clearly thought it was a compliment but it stung like hell and I still remember that moment over 10 years later.
    These coworkers suck.

    1. allathian*

      Ugh, how awful, I’m so sorry that happened to you. I can’t really imagine any circumstances where calling someone a robot would be complimentary. I suppose if you’re calmly working in a totally chaotic open office where everyone else’s having a hard time trying to focus someone might admire your unruffled calm, but even then “unflappable” would be better.

  50. Kate*

    Good job Carrie and Steve for shutting this bullying behaviour down!

    I do think that if either you or Steve hear again people using the nickname “robot” for her, you need to report it to your bosses. Reading between the lines here, without trying to diagnose anyone over the internet, there is a possible chance that Carrie is neurodivergent, and bullying like this could come under the ADA for a protected characteristic, so the bosses should want to fully shut that down forever.

  51. Midwest Carrie*

    This update really got to me emotionally! Thank you for sticking up for Carrie and trying to make a difference for her.

    I’m the Carrie of my office (I was this way throughout school too, you’d think I’d be used to this by now). Thing is, generally I’m just busy and have a lot of work that takes focus! I’m a friendly person! I like connecting with other people! I have hobby stuff all over my desk (neatly and culturally acceptably) that are easy talking points. I always stop what I’m doing and speak to people if they need something, or even if they just stop and say hi or that they like a particular POP vinyl, etc. It’s completely within our (very casual) office culture to have an earbud in, be watching videos or listening to podcasts/music while working, and I always take my earbud out if someone is speaking to me.

    And yet! I’ve been called: too quiet, painfully shy, a machine, on another planet, OCD (I actually do have OCD, but I’m sure folks here understand how coworkers are invoking it), and much more, just because I’m not particularly chatty most days. I get all my work done on time or early, prefer to pack lunch and just eat at my desk and read or watch a video instead of driving anywhere during the day (especially during the horrible heatwave we’re getting where I am), respond to requests for help promptly, leave work at work, and that behavior apparently equals Robot to some of my coworkers. (Not all, some are kind like you, OP, and I appreciate those people more than they probably know). With such an emphasis being put on “bringing your whole self to work” lately by so many offices, it’s become abundantly clear that they only mean “if you’re a textbook extrovert and only prioritize work and nothing else.” (No shade to extroverts, you do you.)

    All that said, this is such a lesson in kindness. OP, your behavior in this story would impact me in such a majorly positive way. If you can let your higher-ups know what was/is going on (and trust them with the info), I think that would be good for the whole situation, even just so they are aware.

    Thanks for being a kind person, OP.

  52. Twill*

    I really believe the OP is trying really hard to be fair and kind to everyone and I applaud her for trying to right the situation. But honestly that sounds like a group of not-so-nice people. What a nightmare to end up working someplace like that and the person the deem to be “off”. And honestly nothing offered in defense of Steve made him look any better.

    1. MEH Squared*

      This is where I end up. I think OP did the right thing and was trying to be supportive of Carrie. She did a stand-up job in tryiing to shut down her coworkers, but it’s gone beyond anything she can do. I do think she should bring it up to their managers because it still seems to be going on.

      I don’t think Steve was as sympathetic because if he truly was a leader, he would have been proactive about apologizing to Carrie and talking to the rest of the group. I don’t think he’s a bad guy, per se, however. The rest of the group, though, they are collectively a piece of work.

  53. JSC*

    being referred to as a “robot” is something autistic people experience a lot, so that part made me wince. i’m not saying Carrie is autistic, obviously, but i cringe at the idea of a workplace where it would be ok to call someone that for any reason, because it’s a label that seems disproportionately applied to certain kinds of neurodivergence.

  54. Js*

    op, there’s nothing wrong with people going to work to work and get things done.

    Work isn’t life and if she wants to clear her plate before the end of the day without joining in the office gossip, more power to her.

    Also, it was you all that started that question chain. Not her. Perhaps consider the possible responses to something like that in the future. c
    Common sense, people.

    IMO it’s a little inappropriate for the workplace and should be reserved for casual conversations over drinks.

  55. judyjudyjudy*

    ‘The Robot’ is really upsetting. I think if you hear it again, you should try to address it more directly. I think you could say, “Her name is Carrie, and it’s shockingly unprofessional to call her by a demeaning nickname. You need to stop.”

    Also, I still think you are giving Steve too much of a pass. I think his frankly tepid response to the information you shared with him shows that. He might be a nice guy (to Carrie’s face) but I’m not sure he’s as good a guy as you or he thinks he is.

    1. Another Commenter*

      Tepid is right. OP obviously has a blind spot (probably admittedly, since she states some of the comments rubbed her the wrong way) when it comes to Steve, he is no hero and isn’t a nice person. His response only came after being prompted by OP. This is highly cliquey behavior, let Carrie be. She has a different work style, that means she deserved to be called a robot? I hope the big boss takes notice and promotes her.

  56. nodramalama*

    I thought this office was weird in the first instance and I still think its weird with this update. Why ask a thought experiment if you think there is such a clear cut answer where if you choose one of the options you’re branded as a freak? Its not like someone asked “would you rather take a nap or murder someone?”

    And for this to keep going and the coworkers give Carrie a robot? Seriously, is this a workplace or high school? your coworkers clearly need detention. But good job for continuing to push back against them. I’m a bit agnostic on Simon’s role- on one hand feels like he should have know off the bat that his response was utterly bizarre, on the other hand, navigating a group of colleagues as a ‘leader’ is probably awkward.

    1. arjumand*

      Exactly what I was going to say, because this has so much Mean Girls flavour to me.

  57. Green Mug*

    OP, you are a wonderful human being. Reading your first letter left me with a knot in my stomach for you and for Carrie. I’m happy you wrote in with your solution. You are so brave!

  58. Sagegreen is my favorite color.*

    I still think the people in this office suck, and op, sorry, you too a bit, but only because you are thinking it’s not going on because you don’t see it. Your coworkers aren’t being professional grownups, they are being “mean girls”, and Steve isn’t a leader. If he is, he’s not a good one.

    1. arjumand*

      I wish OP had submitted this to AITA because my response would have been ESH (except Carrie – as someone as socially awkward as Carrie I would have thought the same thing, maybe not said it out loud).

      This whole story has such a high school atmosphere to it I can practically taste it. Someone needs to step in, because OP is clearly blinded by Steve’s awesomeness.

      OP’s first reaction to the comments was to defend Steve because there is absolutely no way he had malicious intent, no way no how.
      – he always brings up the thought experiments
      – he debated it with Carrie instead of ‘bean dipping’ the answer
      – the next day he expressed relief that she would stay way
      – he ‘never noticed’ any bullying
      – he seemed to word it like ‘this bothers Jane so it must stop’.

      The rest of the office is just following his lead, and I can guarantee OP that the bullying is still going on, only where Jane can’t see it. And ultimately, if OP really wanted to address it, she would take the hit and apologize to Carrie, asking her what she wants to happen. Please don’t imagine Carrie doesn’t know. She knows.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        I don’t even think there’s any particular evidence Carrie is socially awkward. To me, it seems like it’s some of the other coworkers that are socially awkward. Carrie’s behaviour seems normal and appropriate. Calling somebody a “robot” on the other hand, or being shocked when somebody gives a different answer than you do to a thought experiment indicate very poor social skills.

        Preferring to keep work and social life separate and certainly, not wanting to spend time with people so immature that they use nicknames like “robot” doesn’t make me think the person is socially awkward. The fact that she has dealt with this without being rude to them in response makes me think her social skills are particularly good. I don’t think most people would manage to be as socially appropriate in this situation.

        I’d even wonder if that is part of the problem, that some of the colleagues can see she is more socially adept, more professional and more confident and self-assured than they are and they resent it.

  59. Ellis Bell*

    OP sounds like a nice person, but they may want to consider if this place is warping their norms of what collegiate behaviour looks like. Steve comes off well in comparison to some very nasty coworkers, but he wouldn’t stand out as being particularly thoughtful anywhere else. So, he listens when you complain and responds in a fairly tepid way? This is the best behaviour in the company is it? It doesn’t merit demonising him, or writing him off, but I’m not sure that it merits a particularly passionate defence either! Meantime the ongoing insulting of Carrie is described with words like “only” and “stupid”. This stuff is breathtakingly unprofessional and wrong; while I’m glad the higher ups aren’t actively participating in the bullying (I guess?!), they aren’t shutting it down with the severity something like this actually requires. Even if Carrie is ignorant of the name-calling (from adults, professional adults, remember) and reasonably comfortable, this kind of thing wouldn’t happen in a healthy company because it wouldn’t go unchecked. Particularly with ableist language like “robot” and using phrases like “read the room” to imply that if you can’t, you are unlikeable. There are definitely some autistic people at this company being shown exactly how unsafe it would be to come out, and that they need to mask at max level. People can be ignorant and cruel without being evil, but it’s still not okay and I would recommend that OP try not to silence their disquiet with this.

  60. Indigo234*

    I have been Carrie before so finding out people just did not like Carrie and this thought experiment answer was just an excuse is no surprise.

    I do not think Steve deserves any pats on the back. He reminds me of some people that makes comments and when called out revert to I was just just joking to avoid responsibility. He claims OP took his joke wrong but clearly she wasn’t the only one considering when he said it other people piped up in agreement. So he knew it had not been taken as a joke. He could have spoke up then instead if letting it devolve into an opening to jump on Carrie. Saying that the bad behavior towards Carrie made OP uncomfortable instead of just acknowledging it was wrong also didn’t help. Too many things OP said in defense of Steve just sent my hackles up as I have dealt with Steve’s before and it was not good.

    Overall this is a toxic workplace and managment needs to be made aware.

  61. HugeTractsofLand*

    Just wanted to chime in that involving Steve was a good idea. I think most people feel nervous correcting a whole group, but knowing at least one other person will back you up makes it a lot less daunting. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s someone people look to at the office.

    Calling Carrie “the robot” is so awful for so little reason (A 2 hour wait? Really??), that I have to assume those coworkers are petty, unkind people. I really appreciate your efforts to correct them and to acknowledge Carrie like you would anyone else. If they start being unkind to you in turn, that’s a Them problem and I hope you escalate it.

  62. Jules the 3rd*

    OP, thank you and Steve for working on this. How ‘unofficial leadership’ treats people really matters in the overall office behavior.

  63. MellowGold*

    Good for you for overcoming your inclination to be introverted and actually say something! Your coworkers sound really obnoxious though–the robot nickname is incredibly immature, and it sounds like they’re thriving on having a black sheep in the midst in order to create group connection. I’ve been in work environments like that before, and as soon as that person leaves, another person to tease or belittle always pops up. I’ve been weary of how close or friendly this group actually seems, but that sounds highly dysfunctional.

  64. ElsaBug*

    I have been the “teachers pet” – even called that to my face. And then I was promoted over them all. I’m now the boss of my own shop and they are still there. Sometimes it’s good to not to be seen as part of the pack. Team Carrie.

  65. Tea Time*

    Carrie’s crime wasn’t the particular answer she gave. It was *taking the question seriously at all.* Acceptable answers were anti-intellectual jokes that deliberately missed the point. This is an essential part of the too-cool-for-school game. Whoever is the most earnest loses.

    I don’t blame Carrie for not wanting to join the group lunches. The conversation sounds so vapid, she’d probably want to chew her own hind leg off to get out of there.

  66. Somehow_I_Manage*

    It can be really hard to square how to handle a relationships with people that are kind to you, but selectively unkind to others. OP has outgrown these friends,and would benefit from some more professional distance, starting with less frequent attendance at lunch.

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

    The OP (and their coworkers also but I don’t see that happening bc from this, they don’t seem too capable of self-reflection) REALLY needs to look up something called relational bullying, because that is exactly the dynamic at work here.

    OP, your coworkers have always been a little put off by Carrie. Some of them even seem to have been waiting for her to make a big enough “mistake” that they’d be justified in making fun of her for it. (Justified in their own minds, anyway, because this is in no way justified.)

    It doesn’t matter the reason; no one should be treated like this when they haven’t done anything wrong. But it’s worth at least mentioning that many autistic people experience this exact kind of bullying from non-autistic people in social situations. We are excluded from activities, not invited to things, and disparaged by our peers when we’re not in the room. People say stuff about us like “they’re just weird, this is why no one wants to be around them.” And being called “robotic” is also a common insult directed at autistic people.

    Now, I’m absolutely *not* making judgments about whether anyone in this situation is autistic or not. But being autistic myself, this story feels sadly familiar. I could tell you terrible stories about similar interactions with my peers when I was younger – being asked a question seemingly in earnest, and giving an earnest answer in turn, only to be mocked, both behind my back and to my face, for the “weird” answer I gave. This looks a heck of a lot like a different iteration of that. It’s entirely possible I’m projecting, but when you live your whole life as “the weird kid” you learn to spot these patterns really quickly.

    Again, their treatment of Carrie is horrible, full stop. It would be just as horrible whether she is or isn’t autistic. And depending on whether she has noticed, it could be creating a very negative work environment for her. Even if she doesn’t seem bothered, you never know what’s going on in someone’s head. For all you know, she *has* noticed and finds it hurtful but doesn’t show it or bring it up with anyone – I know if it were me in Carrie’s position, I would find it hard to trust anyone in a workplace like this, even someone who seems well-meaning.

  68. Pogo*

    I can’t et over Carrie being accused of taking the hypothetical too seriously when she answered it as if it was hypothetical and as a result everyone got all offended???? Sounds like the rest of the group are the ones who took it too seriously????

  69. anonymous1*

    OP, it’s kind of you to defend Carrie and treat her the same as always. But I don’t trust Steve based on what you have told us. As the unspoken leader, he could’ve and should’ve been the one to speak out against the bully instead of waiting for you to do it first and only lending his support. I hope Carrie finds a better team of people to work with.

  70. toadflax4*

    As someone who was once the “get work done and leave” person because of family issues and who often took solo breaks because it was the only chance I had all day to be alone, I really appreciate your update OP.

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