my boss saw me sneaking out early, coworker insists he’s “crystal clear” when he’s not, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My boss saw me sneaking out early

After a week of absolute hell (I seriously damaged my brand new car, my home was burgled and my babysitter quit all in the same week) and work has been the busiest it has ever been with little chance for breaks, I made a horrible mistake. I needed to urgently get in contact with the garage to check on my car before it closed at 5 pm (I had no chance to do it at lunchtime) and my colleagues suggested I leave 15 minutes early so I could still make it in time to call. So after putting my coat on and handbag in hand, I walked right into my manager who looks at me and looks at my bag and says, “Oh, are you leaving early?” In a complete panic, I lied and said no, but that I needed to make a call to the garage urgently before it closed. I then had to sheepishly walk past him again to my office, take my coat off and switch my laptop back on. It’s safe to say, I was completely mortified!

I’m really hoping he will notice that I was in early that day (8:30 instead of 9 am) but I know that is besides the point. How should I proceed? Should I address it or pretend it never happened?

You’re a normal human who was having a horrible week and came in early that day — this is not a big deal! In fact, you worked more “extra” time in the morning than the amount you would have subtracted by leaving early. This isn’t a horrible mistake or anything you need to be mortified about. To be clear, your response to your boss wasn’t great — it would have been better to just own it and say, “Yes, I have to make an urgent call before 5 but I came in at 8:30 because of it” — but it’s not the end of the world.

Are you normally a good, reliable worker who isn’t ducking out early all the time? If so, you can just let this go and don’t need to think of or mention it again. If that’s not the case … well, then this a wake-up call to fix that so that you have grace available when you need it. Or if your boss is normally a stickler about people leaving early, it might bring you peace of mind to say to him, “This is bugging me so I wanted to mention that when you saw me heading out to make a call toward the end of the day last week, I’d come in early. I didn’t want you to worry I’m cutting my hours short.” But it shouldn’t be a big deal.

2. My boss promoted his boyfriend to the job I wanted

I have been on my team for almost six years and was one of the three original members when the team was formed.

We hired a guy who seemed to pick up on the job fast but was always complaining, Javier. His boyfriend, George, who also works for the company, decided to apply for the manager role to oversee our team in hopes of tackling some of these issues. Once George was hired, HR learned that he and his boyfriend were on the same team and lived together. HR told them they couldn’t work on the same team, given their relationship. A few days went by and they decided to break it off and find separate apartments next door to one another. Since they had separate addresses, HR said it would be okay.

George picked up the job quickly and everything was going well until I inquired about a senior position on our team since we were growing. I kept hearing that the new position needed to be approved by HR. It took a year before we had the go-ahead. However, the position was open to anyone on the team who wanted to apply. Nobody on the team except Javier received a full outline of the job description until a few weeks before we would be notified if we would be considered. In a meeting with George, he told me that I was not considered this time and told me, for the first time, the things I needed to work on in order to be considered in the future. What has me fuming is that Javier got the position, and I feel it’s because they are extremely close. They travel together and hang out regularly and constantly discuss work issues. I feel this is unfair to me and the rest of the team, as we do not have that close relationship with George. He is not available to us 24/7, nor did he tell us what we needed to do in order to advance. He gave his boyfriend many more opportunities, projects, and information, ultimately giving him the skills and qualifications needed to fill the position.

Should I go to HR about this or just wait for the next senior position to become available? I am confident I will be considered the next time, but feel I should have been considered all along. I just don’t like the feeling of resentment this entire scenario has left me with.

Your whole team should have gone to HR a long time ago, because under no circumstances should George be permitted to manage his boyfriend (let alone promote him over others). If HR really believes the conflict of interest ended simply because George and Javier moved next door to each other (and apparently changed nothing else about the relationship?), that’s bizarrely off-base. Separate addresses don’t solve the problem — in fact, even breaking up wouldn’t solved the problem, since that would just mean George was managing his very recent ex, which also isn’t okay.

So yes, HR. And not just about this recent hiring process — although that should be part of the concern you relay — but about the situation in its entirety. Spell out that they’re still dating and use the words “appearance of favoritism and special access.”

3. Coworker insists he’s “crystal clear” when he’s not

I work with our in-house attorney (Cecil), although he is not my manager. He is often unclear with his requests. When I’ve said to him, “I’m sorry, I’m not clear on what you are asking,” his response has been, “I was crystal clear.” How do I respond to that? I’m not going to try to interpret his meaning just to be told I performed the work wrong.

I’m not the only one who has issues with him. He is arrogant and demanding. His boss is aware of his personality “challenges” and, in my opinion, has done a good job in coaching him.

His boss hasn’t done that good of a job coaching him if Cecil still thinks this is an acceptable way to talk to coworkers!

Ideally you’d talk to either your boss or Cecil’s boss and ask them to tell Cecil he needs to stop saying this; if someone asks him for clarification, he needs to attempt to provide it, not insist he doesn’t need to.

But if that’s not an option or doesn’t work, then when Cecil tells you he was “crystal clear,” you should say, “It’s not clear to me, so I’ll need you to clarify before I can work on this request. Are you looking for X or Y or something else?”

4. Coworkers think it’s okay to comment on my body because I’m pregnant

I am into the second trimester of pregnancy and am obviously showing. My workplace is pretty laid back and most of us joke around with each other, which could be why they feel comfortable with this issue. I have had many comments about how large my belly is; I’m assuming they think it’s okay because I’m pregnant since they don’t say anything about other people’s weight. I’ve heard jokes that I’m actually pregnant with twins, I’ve been in actual arguments about whether or not I’m pregnant with twins, and just the other day someone said, “Wow, you’ve really gained weight!” I am not a confrontational person. All of this commentary has really made me self-conscious about my size. How do I politely shut this down? I still have a few months to go before maternity leave, and I know the comments will increase as my belly does.

Yep, people inexplicably think it’s okay to do this to pregnant people when they wouldn’t do it otherwise. It’s not!

Some options, depending on what you’re comfortable with:

* “Whoa, please don’t comment on my body anymore.”
* “I know you don’t mean anything by it, but I’m not comfortable with people commenting on my body and want everyone to stop. Thanks.”
* “Could y’all stop? I’m not sure why people think my body is up for discussion just because I’m pregnant but it’s really weird.”
* “Did you really just say that to me?
* “I’m going to do us all the favor of pretending you didn’t just say that.”

5. How do I get out of staffing an event for health reasons?

I occasionally go to external events on behalf of my organization. Last year, foolishly, I agreed to hold a stand at an event which was very far from my place of work, on a weekend day in the middle of my workplace’s busiest time of year. My colleague had to bail at the last second, so I spent 10 hours in a field manning a stall alone and spoke to 10 people. It wasn’t worth it for my organization strategically or financially, so my manager and I agreed we wouldn’t go again.

My boss’s boss (who helps organize the event, which supports a charity he is trustee of) didn’t consider that a good enough reason to not attend this year.

Meanwhile, my health circumstances have changed drastically since last year, and it is now no longer ideal for me to be on my own a long distance from home, unable to pack up and leave if I need to — which I might need to very quickly, if I become unwell. (Migraines! The worst!) I hadn’t disclosed these problems to him before but he demanded a “real reason” I didn’t intend to go, so I didn’t feel I had a choice.

Well, the event went well for his charity (I was ill, so wouldn’t have been able to go anyway), and now he’s talking about next year’s event as if I should be attending. I asked to discuss it privately later. I’m at my wit’s end. Can you give me a script to help me navigate this? My boss sits silently in these discussions and is supportive of me privately but doesn’t like to disagree with his boss.

“My health situation has changed since the year I did it, and my doctor says it’s no longer possible for me. I can provide support ahead of time like X and Y if someone else goes, but I can’t be the person staffing the event.”

Better yet, say this to your boss and ask him to handle it with his boss for you.

{ 314 comments… read them below }

  1. Pink Shoe Laces*

    Omg I’m here for #3!! I need help on this too, my boss is like this, but every time I try to get clarity or specifics out of him, he either talks in circles or will be like, “is that what you think we should do?” Always trying to deflect responsibility to others.

    1. JayNay*

      Does restating the question work? As in „I was actually hoping to get clarification from you“, with an emphasis on the „you“ part.

    2. Charlotte Lucas*

      My boss can be like this. Even worse, he only listens to/absorbs about half of what is said to him. I have had the same basic conversation with him so many times. (It made me start questioning my own communication skills. Then other people started asking me about his poor communication. And I realized that I was not the problem.)

      I am now looking for a new job.

      1. Srsly, let me off this ride*

        My boss is like this, except he half-listens to anything you say and fills in the rest with what he *assumes* the rest of it is, regardless of what it actually is. He does the same thing with emails. And his perception of what is “crystal clear” and what is confusing seems to be the exact opposite of mine.

        For example:

        Boss: “Llama #1 is super complicated, okay? It needs to have stripes on one side, and dots on the other side. Have you got that? Stripes on one side. Dots on the other side. This side had stripes, and this side has dots. Even though the other side had stripes, this side will have dots. Okay? *Stripes* on *this* side, and *dots* on the *other* side. (He says all this while scribbling a diagram of a llama that looks like it was drawn by a five year old who was just given espresso) Also, llama #2 will be covered in stripeydots.”

        Me: “Wait, what? What do you mean by stripeydots?”

        Boss: “Okay, I’m sorry, I know this is confusing. The first llama has *striiipes* on *oooone* side. *Doooooots* on the *oooooother* side. (continues scribbling on his llama diagram which now no longer resembles an animal of any sort). I know, it’s a really weird llama. It’s got two different patterns, on the same llama. One llama, two different patterns. Stripes, and dots. ”

        Me: “right, I got that. But llama #2, you said you want stripeydots? What are those?”

        Boss: “you know, stripeydots. The same ones we do every single week.”

        Me: “I have literally never heard the word stripeydots before.”

        Boss: “yes you have, we do them all the time. You know, dots, but in a stripe. Stripeydots.”

        Me: (losing the will to live) “you mean a dotted line?”

        Boss: “no, no, no, I don’t mean polka dots. Why would you think I said polka dots? Pay attention. I mean stripeydots. Dots in a stripe. Like, uh, a dotted line.”

        Me: (somebody please let me off this ride) “Right, got it.”

        Boss: “okay now, but remember, that first llama…” (repeats the whole lecture again and scribbles on the llama diagram some more)

        Me: (OH MY EFFING GOD) (clenched teeth) “Stripes on one side and dots on the other, I got it.”

        1. Plate of Wings*

          My heart rate went up just reading this, that sounds so so so frustrating (but you’re a captivating writer).

        2. Charlotte Lucas*

          We might have the same boss. Except mine uses terms that are familiar to me. But he uses them incorrectly. (I work in government, so there are a lot of acronyms, but – spoiler alert – they are not randomly interchangeable.)

        3. Cardboard Marmalade*

          Omg, I’m getting flashbacks to my old boss! I’m so sorry you’re living through this madness!

    3. It couldn't be clearer! (yes it could)*

      In jobs where tasks came to me from other people (rather than standard on-going responsibilities), if someone gave me an unclear work request I just kept asking very specific questions about every detail until (1) I felt clear about it and (2) they agreed with my very explicit summary of what I needed to provide. I can’t stand working with people who haven’t thought through what they’re asking for.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Yeah, in these cases, you’ve got to give them something to respond to. “OK, it sounds like you’re looking for X, so I’m going to X, Y, and Z. Is that what you’re looking for?” Then they can say yes or no, and hopefully clarify.

        1. Pizza Rat*

          Yes. I’ve learned that from requirements gathering. “If I understand you correctly, you’r asking for .”

          Cecil needs to be taught some basic communications skills. If someone doesn’t understand you, then it’s your job to help them do so if you want your message understood.

          1. It couldn't be clearer! (yes it could)*

            You would think so, but for Cecil, all of this not-understanding is the other person’s fault and also their problem. Not his fault, not his problem to fix. If no Higher Power is leaning on Cecil over this, he will not change.

            I’m thinking about people I’ve worked with who just knew they were in the right about whatever it was, or maybe even about everything. It’s an unshakeable mindset IME.

        2. tangerineRose*

          “Yeah, in these cases, you’ve got to give them something to respond to.” This!

          Unclear people have no idea what is unclear to you, so if you make a start at what you think they want, they can respond to that.

      2. SharkTentacles*

        In some jobs, thinking through the details is part of the employee’s responsibility. In my line of work, team members are expected to contribute to the thinking, not just the doing.

        Of course the delegator should respond helpfully to clarifying questions. It just would reflect negatively on the employee if they resented having to ask those questions.

    4. Mark This Confidential and Leave It Laying Around*

      The only thing that has worked with our office Cecil is replying that until it’s clarified it won’t be worked on. (This is not my boss, obvs) He tends to send his clarification at 4:55, expecting me to stay late to work on it. I reply, “Thanks! I’ll tackle this in the morning.” I really hope he’s job hunting.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I’ve been training myself to respond to requests with a timeframe, instead of just doing it right away. “Okay, I’ll do this tomorrow” or “let me know if you need an answer before Friday” have worked very well for me.

        1. not nice, don't care*

          Same. My work involves other people’s (self-created) emergencies and I used to drive myself into panic attacks trying to solve them immediately. Now I just fold them into my normal workload and update the instigator on progress as needed.

    5. Smithy*

      Particularly with a boss, but I think anyone with more seniority and who’s only so open to further pushback – I do think following up in writing can be really helpful. Particularly if your meeting has a hard stop time, you can follow up that meeting with an email saying, “when our meeting ended, I understood your request around further Llama Grooming Research to include the following steps:…….. Please confirm if this is correct, and after I receive your confirmation, I’ll get started.”

      If they don’t like how you’ve summarized their asks – they have a chance to correct them – and you can continue that in writing or with more meetings. If they say that’s correct, and then later don’t like it – you can show the email saying they said that was correct. And if they don’t respond, depending on how deferential you need to be to the person (i.e. your boss….) you can follow up in a few days to make sure they’ve seen it.

      1. Ama*

        I will warn that a previous boss I had I did everything you’ve described — and he’d still change his mind about what he meant after I did all the work and make me redo it. But at least having it in email meant when he started into a temper tantrum about “why was this done this way” I could send him the email where *he* told me to do it that exact way, he was at least capable of owning it was his fault at that point.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          My current boss commented that I do excellent documentation. I don’t think he realizes how much of it is CYA behavior learned at a previous job.

          “Wait, why is there no button?”
          “Because you specifically asked in this email from 7/15 that I remove the button.”

        2. LilPinkSock*

          And here’s the part where I realize my previous boss was a gaslighting (I hope I’m using that right–it’s thrown away so often) abuser: pages and pages of written discussion, multiple written confirmations that she wanted me to do X in Y manner. She would still deny that that’s what she had told me to do, and tell me I was a liar and incompetent. “Oh dear, you seem to have misunderstood my very clear instructions again. I would never ask you to do that and I don’t know why you’re pretending I did. It seems that this job is far too difficult for you.”

      2. Pink Shoe Laces*

        Even in writing, my boss won’t step in and correct me, or will blame me if I move forward with incorrect info then I’m still the one blamed by him even thought he’s been in the loop.

        I applied to about 7 jobs yesterday.

      3. zuzu*

        I had a boss who would give me assignments over voicemail. Very clear instructions, but so long that they’d take up my entire voicemail. I’d get started, complete the work, hand it in, and she’d have forgotten what she asked me to do (she was brilliant, but a hot mess) and insist she hadn’t asked me to do *that.* Meanwhile, since she’d filled up my voicemail inbox, I’d have deleted her message.

        My officemate suggested I email her immediately after getting one of these with a recap of the assignment and a statement that if it wasn’t what she wanted, she should tell me right away. I did so, but with a couple of adjustments: because she didn’t read emails, I also sent her a hard copy and cc’d her secretary. So the next time I turned in an assignment and she pulled this crap on me, I called out to Peggy to pull up her email from X date (Peggy printed out all my boss’s emails for her to read on the train every evening) and she confirmed I’d sent the email. It worked! Peggy also had the hard copy in my boss’s file, with an acknowledgement that she’d received it.

        Not for nothing, but Peggy and I were drinking buddies, and spent a lot of time managing our boss and her “quirks.”

    6. Lacey*

      I’ve had so many coworkers (& a few bosses!) like this.

      Sometimes I can figure it out just by asking a clarifying question.
      “So you didn’t include the name of this event, do you want to call it Pumpkin Pie Day?”

      Then I get a reply along the lines of, “No, the name of the event is Pumpkin-Palooza, please make sure all the sponsor logos [never mentioned before] are included on the graphics”

      But for other coworkers I just have to throw together a crappy version of the thing they need because when I ask they’ll say, “Sure sounds good” and then when I turn it in they’ll have 10 revisions to it with information they had and just refused to give me.

    7. Just a Minion*

      Some people just cannot point blank state what they want. I like the suggestions to repeat back what you think they want. Then they can reply accordingly.

      With a previous boss, if he sent and email with direction, you HAD to clarify it via conversation. He never understood why we all did that. In talking through it and asking questions, we were able to work it out.

      I once worked as a draftsperson. At this company a, person outside the dept directed how to construct things. This person was COMPLETELY incapable of telling us what he wanted until he reviewed a full completed set of drawings. Then he would change things around. Honestly, it seemed like he would change things just because he could and for job security.

    8. Just a Minion*

      I’ve had luck with my toddlers by asking what I know is NOT what they want:
      Me: So you wanted grapes?
      Kid: No, not grapes. Apples.

  2. Coin Purse*

    Re#1: I worked for a boss who was fanatical about everyone working to closing time or later every day. It never got any better nor did many years of perfect attendance increase her trust in us. This was a salaried licensed professional job. Expectations were for a 50-60 hour work week.

    People started trying to duck out early to pick up kids, Dr. appts, etc. We’d then have a meeting about this and people would rein it in for a month or so. It didn’t matter how early you came in or how many weekend hours you worked, it was butts in the seats until closing.

    It wasn’t until I retired that I realized how unbelievably stressful this was. It made a huge deal out of nothing. Work was done, crises were handled. I think saying “I need to leave early today” should be a reasonable expectation for any employee as long as it isn’t abused.

    1. SarahKay*

      Many years ago, in my first salaried position, I asked my then-manager if it was okay to leave 20 minutes early so I could get to an appointment.
      “No, SarahKay!” he said firmly.
      ‘Eep’, thought I.
      But…. he then went on to say “You don’t ask me, you just tell me that’s what you’re doing. I know you get all your work done and usually do more than your hours; I trust you to make your own decisions about leaving early.”
      It was a real eye-opener for me about what a good manager of a salaried position looked like and I’ve been similarly lucky with good managers ever since. And of course it does go both ways – they get (and recognise that I am) a good employee, I get a good manager who trusts me to make my reasonable decisions about my hours.

      1. Lizzie*

        While I’ve never had a boss say that to me, I have, over the years, as I got older, and more comfortable, for lack of a better word, stopped asking, and just nicely telling my boss(es) that I will need to leave early, come in late, WFH for half a day, etc. I was always so worried about needing to do these things and not being “allowed” to. Now? As long as I don’t do it when its busy, or we have something important going on, never an issue.

        1. HeyIt'sMeStan*

          I used to be very comfortable telling my bosses what I needed, pretty matter-of-factly, or just doing what I needed to do. Unfortunately my current boss is a stickler for time (insists that everyone does what she’s asking me to do, even though I know that’s not true), so even if I get all my work done and have an appointment in the middle of the day (teleheatlh), I need to make up every minute of it. It’s stupid and demoralizing. Let adults be adults.

          1. Totally Minnie*

            In a past job where half the staff were exempt from overtime but still required to submit timesheets, my friend and her boss had a serious argument about sick leave. My friend had worked a 10 hour day early in the pay period because someone had called out sick and my friend offered to cover. Then, a few days later she got a migraine and called out sick herself. When she submitted her timesheet, she only included 6 hours of sick leave because of the two extra hours she had worked. Her boss insisted she had to put 8 since she had missed 8 hours of work and it didn’t matter if that put her over 80 hours for the pay period because she was exempt. It was so petty and ridiculous and would have cost the manager nothing to keep the good will of her employee, but being right and being obeyed seemed to be more important to her.

        2. Alexander Graham Yell*

          I honestly just realized that lately I haven’t even been telling them. I just put a personal appointment on my calendar and call it a day. If they ask, I’ll tell them (like if they want to schedule a team meeting during that time I’ll tell them either I can’t or I can dial in but will be in X location and won’t be able to talk much), but that’s it. I also just say when I’m taking off, and if I need to be available for a major deadline during then, I bring my laptop.

          In exchange for the flexibility, they get a lot of dedication and good work, so everybody’s happy.

      2. Oryx*

        My current manager is like this and it’s been great. When she started at the beginning of the year I caught myself over-explaining whenever I needed to leave early or something and she has said she knows I get my work done and that I meet deadlines, so beyond that she doesn’t care. We now have a shared calendar where all of us on the team can just pop our OOO days on it so we all know.

    2. Two Pop Tarts*

      I once worked for a company that installed software at company sites. They had people who travelled all over the country.

      At one mid-west company, they had a bell (like a school bell) that signaled when the day was over. At the end of the day, the employees would pack their things, put their coat on, and then stand in their cubicles waiting for the bell to ring. When it rang, then and only then, would they leave their cubicles and go home.

      This was not a foactory, it was a professional office environment. Most of the employees probably had degrees in either accounting or insurance related subjects. It was strange.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        My first job (not in the US) had that, but you were allowed to leave your desk before the bell – just not go out the front door. And, like in your story, people were lined up by the front door every day waiting for the bell to ring. It was certainly not productive.

    3. Miette*

      Ugh, I worked at this kind of place once as well. The CEO seemed convinced that everyone was trying to pull one over on him–salaried people, mind you, all of us were salaried. There were daily “bed checks”, where he’d stroll around the office at about 9:05 to see who was at their desk vs. not vs. lingering over a cup of coffee in the break room. There were emailed reminders that about lunch hours if he spotted anyone leaving/returning at non-standard hours. These emails would come from his chief enforcer, the HR manager, whose other responsibilities included engaging with people on job search boards to see if they were being disloyal (by daring to search for a job). Once, an entire project team was called out for showing up to work late–after having worked the night before until 3:00 am to finish a build for a client and daring to come into the office at 10:oo the next morning! He was a real sh%t stain.

      I think his entire head would’ve blown off with Covid wfh, though I’m sure by now he’s retired or dead or something.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I hope for everyone’s sake that the turnover rate at that place was through the roof. No one deserves to work in these conditions.

    4. The Person from the Resume*

      I view this as a job where you need to work until closing time … maybe not later. Don’t ever bother coming in early to leave early since it is not allowed. Just accept the reality of the position’s hours.

      IDK, I am salaried, non-exempt from OT and have very fixed hours (80 over the course of 2 weeks) that I must be in the office. That’s just the way it is. And I take leave if I need to leave even half an hour early for an appointment or something after work because flexing is not allowed.

      1. Lily Potter*

        I was surprised that Allison didn’t have a caveat in her answer about “knowing your workplace”. Not all positions can be flexed – coming in early so that you can leave early can be a logistical issue for management at times. Coverage is A Thing in some places whether line staff think this is so, or not.

        Maybe a way to look at it – if you asked your manager if you could leave early and s/he is sure to say “no”, don’t leave early. Take PTO if it’s available to you so that there’s no issue with your manager.

    5. ThatGirl*

      I am so grateful that in all of my office jobs, I’ve been able to leave a few minutes early or come in a bit late because Life was Happening. My current department has a lot of parents and pet parents and things happen! It’s totally fine! You just have to let someone know.

    6. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Coin Purse, I had one of those bosses too. The one time I knew I had to leave early, I came in early to cover that time, got her approval to leave early, and she still gave me static when I let her know I was leaving for my appointment: Don’t make a habit of this, SheLooksFamiliar, I’m only doing this once, you need to be in the office during business hours, I can’t have people coming and going as they please, and so on.

      Yeah, she was a special kind of difficult. Thankfully, I’ve worked for more reasonable and secure managers since then.

    7. Office Lobster DJ*

      LW1, it sounds like your boss might be a stickler, so I would suggest following up and saying it was bugging you. Unfortunately, “But don’t worry, I made up the time” might not go over well in all situations or with all stickler bosses, in which case I’d structure it as “That had to be handled during work hours, so I got in early to account for the time. Should I handle that differently next time? Is that something you’d like me to run by you first?”

      Your boss might say something reassuring (it’s fine), offer clarity (it’s fine, but let me know your plans ahead of time so I’m not looking for you), or say something unreasonable (it’s not fine, next time you need to use your PTO or lunch or breaks for this). If you are worried about this, any of those options are probably preferable to free floating anxiety.

      1. Office Lobster DJ*

        Okay, I’d like to amend “unreasonable” to “unfavorable.” There are jobs where it would be reasonable to worry about coverage.

  3. EA*

    OP4: Is there a chatty or even gossipy coworker? Eat lunch one day together and have a heart to heart where you tell this one person how much you hate all the comments about your pregnant body, or even directly ask them to spread the word to others to stop commenting on your weight. I think this will work better than the scripts, because (for better or for worse) it’s pretty normal to comment on pregnant bellies so the “did you just say that to me” line might not work or might seem strangely combative.

    1. misspiggy*

      Where I am, it’s not normal to comment on pregnant anything. I believe somebody’d get their ass kicked for saying something like that.

      1. SLH*

        It actually is, and, for many people it will be a hard habit to break. Sort of like touching pregnant bellies. i never have, bu there is a weird, biologically driven, desire to do so. And I don’t like babies and have never had children!

        1. MaiJai*

          Is it really biological? I’ve literally never had the slightest urge to touch a pregnant woman’s belly, and have always found it extremely perplexing why others do.

          1. Le Sigh*

            I haven’t been pregnant but joke if I ever was, I would carry a ruler or whiffle ball bat and whack people on the hands if they tried to touch my belly.

        2. AbruptPenguin*

          Why would this be a biological drive? I’ve been pregnant and never had the urge to touch someone else’s pregnant belly. I find pregnant bellies a little bit creepy tbh (including my own).

    2. Constance Lloyd*

      I think “Did you just say that to me?” and “I’m going to do us both a favor and pretend you didn’t just say that,” we’re included because LW mentioned people actually arguing to insist she’s pregnant with twins. Those people are being combative and these responses pair well with their actions.

    3. LegoGirl*

      I AM pregnant with twins and the extent of the comments has been I went from looking not pregnant to very pregnant quickly! And that was at the office baby shower, where I feel like it wasn’t totally inappropriate for people to say they noticed.

    4. Disgruntled Pelican*

      The way for it to stop being normal—and it shouldn’t be normal!—is to make it uncomfortable for people to say these things. The comments (and arguments?! actual arguments?!?!?) are gross and she is well within her rights to set firmer boundaries. I hate to think what else these assholes are gonna feel entitled to say to her, not just when she’s pregnant but once she has the baby. It rarely stops with the weight/size comments.

    5. Observer*

      I think this will work better than the scripts, because (for better or for worse) it’s pretty normal to comment on pregnant bellies so the “did you just say that to me” line might not work or might seem strangely combative.

      It’s not THAT normal – especially the more over-the-top or rude ones. Comments like “OMG, you look like you are about to pop!” or “Are you SURE you’re not having twins?!” etc. are not as rare as they should be. But they are rude and anyone with any sense will recognize that. If it makes someone think before they just let anything pop out of their mouth, that’s a net goo to the world. And no one watching that is going to have an issue with it, if they are at all reasonable people.

    6. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      The ONLY thing you should say to a pregnant person is “You look great!” and even then, not unless you know the person and can make a reasonable guess that this comment would be welcome.

      If the person brings up their own pregnancy, you can express good wishes for their health and that of the baby. If they are a personal friend as well as a colleague, you can ask if they need any help or support (such as taking an older kid for a weekend afternoon so they can rest).

      1. Nix*

        I feel like even that comment can be unwelcome. I had a small belly for my second pregnancy and people kept telling me how good I looked; my baby wasn’t growing like she should and I had low fluid, so it wasn’t nice to be congratulated on my smaller-than-average belly size

        1. Yoyoyo*

          Yup, I would stay away from any comments on appearance. I was very self-conscious about not looking pregnant (I have a large belly to begin with) and even had someone tell me I didn’t look pregnant 4 days before I gave birth. It was not a welcome comment, even if they meant nothing by it. My go-to for pregnant people is to ask how they are feeling. That’s it.

    7. Pink Candyfloss*

      Mmm, no, this can backfire. It can become “Well you know how sensitive she is about her weight” which elicits eye rolls or unkind further comments behind your back, rather than sympathy or any other mature response. The “office gossip” is usually someone who likes to overdramatize things for the attention it brings them (the human equivalent of clickbait). I would not go this route: ever. If you sincerely want clear and specific messaging around this issue, the best way to deliver it is in person.

    8. Beth*

      I came here to say the same thing! This is the exact kind of scenario that I LOVE an office gossip for. Have coffee or lunch with whoever is the least likely to keep your secrets, spill the beans about how unexpectedly rough all the pregnancy body talk has been, mention how you usually love the jokey culture here but that it’s making you hesitant to shut down the body talk, and see what happens.

      You can always go to Alison’s scripts as a back up plan. They’re clear and fair. But pregnant bellies are common enough to comment on (not saying it’s right, just that our society treat this as normal) that a strong objection might come off as a shock, and that might create its own hassle that you really shouldn’t have to deal with. Recruiting a chatty coworker is an easy way to to spread the word softly.

    9. christy7h*

      This is such a tough one. I have a 6 month old, and had a ton of people doing the “is it twins” thing… and at the time I’d gained 2 lbs. Or people told horror stories about when they gained 100lbs during pregnancy and how hard it was to take off, so I found myself constantly deflecting that too. Honestly, I couldn’t figure out how to stop it, so I would change the subject, and just move on. I didn’t want to be overly combative with it, and that is a hard needle to thread.
      Good news – once I had the baby, the talk about it stopped entirely. So at least there’s an end date to it. It isn’t ok to discuss other bodies in any circumstance, but people are nutty when its pregnancy related.

    10. PregnantNotWithTwins*

      LW4 here. What if the office gossip is one who argued with me on having twins? She has never even been pregnant and has an insane amount of comments and “advice.”

      1. Alsodidnothavetwins*

        I am convinced that a lot of people have no idea just how big a 9 month pregnant belly can get, and I blame TV. They always have someone who looks about 6 mos pregnant but is supposed to be full term when their water breaks. I started getting the “are you sure it’s not twins” and “you look about to pop” comments like 2 months before I actually h gave birth (to one large, but well within normal ranges, baby).
        I know some people just naturally don’t get that large with pregnancy, but it is seriously all you see on tv.

      2. EA*

        My suggestion doesn’t apply then!! Sorry you have to deal with that. I have been visibly pregnant twice and while I think it’s great some commenters are at offices where people don’t comment on pregnant bellies, my experience has been that a TON of people do. I got the twins comment a lot near the end and like, “wow, should I take you to the hospital right now?” (Ugh) I hope you can find a script that works! I’d probably just say something honest like, “Sorry, but I’m so sick of pregnancy talk, can we avoid it from here on out” or “Wow, that makes me feel awful!” (to the twins comment specifically) but that might not be diplomatic enough.

      3. Joron Twiner*

        You could still try to enlist her help against a nebulous other. “Everyone is giving me so much advice and comments that’s stressing me out, could you help me steer conversations away from pregnancy from now on? Thanks!”

        Then later when she is the first to break the rule, “Like I said, let’s talk about anything else! I really appreciate your help in enforcing this rule, thank you!”

  4. TG*

    LW1 – as long as your work is done I’d just simply request to leave a little early next time you need to. I’d let us go – you had a tough week so good luck!!
    LW 4 – yeah his shut it down asap – but it’s a strange thing when women are pregnant – I feel like social norms fly out the window. I had an older coworker tell me I needed to quit my job when I had my baby and so on – was crazy!

  5. Gemstones*

    LW1–Agree with the others, asking to leave early doesn’t seem like that big a deal. But if you just had to call the garage, couldn’t you have done that from the office at any time, without leaving early?

    1. rudster*

      Also wondering the same. I can see some kinds of jobs where that isn’t possible, but a job where you have a desk and a laptop?

      1. Annie*

        Just because you have a desk and a laptop doesn’t mean you will be able to “sneak” personal calls in during the workday. Reasons can range from lack of privacy to workload being just that high to call center or similar environment where you can get in Big Big Trouble for being off-task for even a few minutes or being even a little slow to respond to the next incoming call or work item.

    2. Goody*

      LW1 probably had to wait until almost 5 because the garage was still working on the car and that’s when they were told to check in. And my guess is they were leaving early to make the call because the office lis not conducive to (or they are prohibited from) making personal calls.

        1. Just Say No To AAM Fanfic*

          Yes but we are asked to take LWs at their word and offer helpful advice and comments. She says she had to duck out early to make the call and that caused this issue (boss’s reaction, her panicked response). If she’d been comfortable calling from work this wouldn’t have happened and there would be no letter. Telling her, after the fact, “just call from work” doesn’t address the current issue.

          1. Gemstones*

            But she did tell her boss she wasn’t leaving but was stepping out to make a call. So it doesn’t sound like stepping out to make a call was so horrible, if she could tell her boss she needed to do it. I’m just confused why she didn’t actually do that then. She needed to make the call and she told her boss she was stepping away to do it when he saw her…then she went back into her office. I’m just not understanding why she couldn’t have just followed through and made the call after she told her boss that’s what she was doing.

            1. Myrin*

              I personally didn’t quite follow that, either, but I’m guessing that OP really means it when she says she was “in a complete panic”. At boss’s surprise appearance, she simply blurted out what came to her mind and then did the next best thing (turn around and walk back to office) without actually thinking about/internalising it.

              The letter leaves out the most crucial information, namely what OP’s boss (and their workplace in general) is like regarding flexibility vs. butt-in-seats and what her relationship to her boss is like, so it’s hard to tell whether OP overreacted illogically simply because she’s inexperienced/timid and felt like she was doing something “forbidden” even though boss would’ve been totally fine with it or whether OP reacted appropriately (if illogically) because she knew boss would berate her for two hours afterwards if she actually left.

              1. Heidi*

                I was also puzzled by this and hoping that there would be some sort of clarification. I gather there was some reason the OP couldn’t step out to make the call earlier in the day. Nor would it have been okay to just leave early even if she arrived early. I’m guessing that when the OP ran into the manager, she decided to admit to the lesser crime and say she was temporarily leaving, thereby missing only 5 minutes of work instead of 15 minutes of work. But I can’t figure out if the OP subsequently made the call and came back, or if she pretended she had already made the call, went back to work, and didn’t find out about the car at all.

      1. Gemstones*

        But she says she could have done it at lunch but she didn’t have time, so I’m assuming it wasn’t a matter of waiting until the end of the day…

    3. Myrin*

      I assumed there’s something about the office setup more or less preventing that, like she shares a space with several people who would be disturbed or she guessed the call would be a longer one and she wanted to concentrate wholly on it or similar.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        Or her work area is a dead zone, and she has to leave it or the building to even make a call.

        I assume the OP is young (or at the least very stressed out) and the boss a bit intimidating, so she panicked in the moment.

      2. nopetopus*

        Or even “we work with sensitive information and personal phones aren’t allowed to be used in your cube/office”. I’m in one of those and yeah, we have to leave our desks to make personal calls or even check texts.

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          Oh that makes sense.

          But OP1, if I were your manager and saw you leaving early and you told me you had to make a call I would have either directed you to a conference room or said okay see you tomorrow.

          GOOD managers let their employees be adults. You know if you have one of these or not.

  6. Zarniwoop*

    I try to avoid telling people they aren’t being clear (even if I think so) since it puts the focus on me blaming them and makes them defensive.

    Instead I try to focus on extracting the information I need while apologizing for having trouble getting it. That tends to get the whole thing over with more quickly.

    1. JSPA*

      What works for me is to give two or three widely divergent restatings, pointing out that they each fit the description.

      I’ve been known to add, “The goal is crystal clear in your mind, because you are the one who’s visualizing it. But language has built-in ambiguity. Even if your words describe your goal perfectly, they can concurrently describe some other, very different goal.”

      Because the problem with people who think they have been clear when they haven’t been, Is generally that they are assessing their words against their internal vision‐‐rather than asking what a naive listener would take from the words.

      1. misspiggy*

        That’s a great articulation of the potential problem, and fascinating to me. How secure must one be to assume one’s internal vision is the same as others’?

        1. Sleve*

          People who think in that way must be utterly mystified by AI image generators. “I asked it for a picture of two white mice piloting a space ship. That’s a very clear description. Why is this absolutely nothing like what I imagined? And what’s with the slice of lemon?”

        2. JSPA*

          I tend to think its “can’t” or “can’t easily,” rather than “can’t be bothered.” People’s takes on reality (and ability to interface with reality) are way more divergent than we commonly realize.

        3. Boba Feta*

          “How secure must one be to assume one’s internal vision is the same as others’?”
          Um – just being human is enough to ensure this assumption as a starting point for all interpersonal communications UNTIL forced to, first, acknowledge the very existence of this assumption before (and only thereafter) being able to start counter-acting it.

          Source: I teach undergraduate art history and every semester run my students through training exercises designed to prove how (surprisingly!) incompetent they are at effective communication (when they assume they are so good at it!) – I make them verbally describe works of art and have listeners who can’t see the same image try to draw it based only on the verbal version – the results are so hilariously off-base it makes them realize they really WEREN’T being as clear as they thought! It’s fascinating to watch and great fun to do every semester.

          1. SarahKay*

            We had that at a corporate communications training. It’s ridiculously hard to actually put into words only (no gestures!) precise instructions to get someone to accurately replicate an image containing a circle, a triangle, a square and a couple of parallel lines.
            It was a lot of fun, both to watch and do, but even after watching other people and learning from their mistakes I couldn’t successfully describe the image well enough.

          2. Parakeet*

            When I was in elementary school, probably 7 or 8 years old, the gifted & talented program did a communication exercise where we had to give step-by-step instructions to a teacher who was playing a space alien new to Earth and taking us very literally, on how to make a peanut butter & jelly sandwich. The results were comical and produced a lot of giggling from 7 and 8 year-olds. We eventually managed to revise our instructions enough for the “space alien” to make the sandwich correctly, but it took a while.

            Of everything I learned in K-12 education this is probably in the top 5 things that have actually been relevant and useful in my work life. I’ve answered grown-up versions of the same kind of exercise in interviews. In my current job, I do a lot of writing and public speaking about highly technical things for an audience that mostly has minimal knowledge of or confidence with tech. I think about the frickin PBJ sandwich all the time.

        4. Generic Name*

          In my experience it’s not security but rather lack of empathy/imagination/theory of mind that leads people to think that what’s in their heads is the only thing that exists.

        5. Tomato Soup*

          It might also be a in party from this person being an attorney and the LW is not. We (attorneys) get trained to use specific language in a specific way. It often overlaps with words used outside of law but not in meaning. Also, we’re so used to operating in a particular framework that certain things are assumed that non attorneys wouldn’t assume.

      2. Daryush*

        In my experience, when I ask, “did you mean A or B?” people who aren’t good at communicating will just respond with “yes.”

        My go to is just restating what I hope they meant and letting them correct me if I’m wrong.

      3. ticktick*

        If you want to add a tinge of flattery to it, I’ve found that for people who are somewhat full of themselves, as Cecil in this story seems to be, you can phrase it as, “I don’t have the context and background that you do, so can you please flesh it out a bit for me?” Normally that sort of person is more than happy to explain further (albeit sometimes condescendingly) if you refocus it in their minds from “you were at fault for not being clear” to “share your knowledge with me”.

        1. wordswords*

          That can be a really useful framing, totally agreed! Given that Cecil is already condescending to coworkers, though, I might not want to reinforce that by giving him more reason to think that other people are like “oh, Cecil knows so much more than we poor ignorant doofuses working with him!” lest it make him double down on the pompous condescension. So, OP3, see how you think this tactic will interact with Cecil’s existing tendencies.

      4. ferrina*

        I do the restating trick as well. A key part of my job is to take what others are thinking and turn it into action. Most people are great to work with, but a few……yeah….

        My other trick is to create a mock of what I think they said. I find that the Clearly Unclear people (who think they are clear) do much better editing a tangible item than trying to imagine what I’m saying. I do wonder if it’s tied back to a lack of imagination- they can’t imagine anyone would picture something other than what they are imagining.

    2. Feotakahari*

      I’ve actually been on the other side of the clarity thing. I don’t know how to talk like a “normal person,” and normal people are what you’re taught about if you take English as a second language, so I have a lot of trouble communicating with people who have okay but not great knowledge of English. I try to restructure my speech, and it just doesn’t work and I don’t know how to say things. So I end up asking other people involved in the problem to do the explaining instead of me.

      1. No name*

        It is interesting to me that you bring language into the equation. Can you give us an example? (I hope it’s not derailing, I am really interested in this.)

        1. Hlao-roo*

          I’m not Feotakahari, but I have worked in a global company and noticed some things about communication between English-as-a-first-language employees and English-as-a-second-language employees. One example is idioms. I try not to use idioms when communicating with ESL employees because I have been in conference calls when US-based employees are talking about parts being “hot” as in “critical items that need to be worked on first” and the non-US-based, ESL employees thought that the temperature of the parts were hot, and there were a few minutes of productive conversation lost as they tried to understand each other. The conversation went a little like this:

          American employee: “The widgets are hot, so we need to do XYZ to get them out the door.”
          ESL employee: “We need cool the widgets down before the operators can do XYZ, so the operators don’t burn themselves.”
          American employee: “What’s the benefit of cooling the widgets down? There’s no risk that the operators will burn themselves, and it will add extra time to the process.”
          ESL employee: “But the parts are hot; that’s a burn risk for the operators.”
          American employee: *finally understanding* “Oh, my bad, by ‘hot’ I meant the customer needs the widgets right away. The widgets are at a normal temperature and there is no need for a cooling process.”

      2. JayNay*

        With a language barrier it often helps to break things down into smaller portions – use shorter sentences, simpler words and make only one point per sentence. English is a very structured language that allows for this pretty easily.
        I’m a bit confused about the „not knowing how to talk like a normal person“ point. That’s a very broad thing to say. maybe it would help you if you can zero in on what exactly you’re having trouble with (humor, sarcasm, sentence structure, sticking to your point, intonation) and working on that.

        1. doreen*

          I think the “not knowing how to talk to to a normal person” might be referring to someone who doesn’t know how to do what you mentioned. There are people who will always use a word like “lavatory” ( for example) and don’t think to say “bathroom” or “toilet” even though lots of native English speakers won’t understand them.

      3. Gan Ainm*

        I don’t think the issue is limited to communicating with “people with okay but not great knowledge of English.” As a native English speaker and an ESL teacher, I have a pretty good grasp of English, and it took me 4-5 reads before I could even understand what I *think* you’re trying to say.

        Based on the clarity issues present in your comment, I’d recommend you start by shortening and simplifying your sentences. I think part of your issue is that your descriptive clauses aren’t very clear. I think breaking up each thought, reading it through, and ensuring the idea can stand on its own, will help your clarity.

        Studies in a business environment show that ESL speakers from all different counties and native languages are excellent at understanding one other (they tend to simplify things in the same way, and use common vocabulary). However, native English speakers, especially mono-linguists, are very hard to understand, because they use a lot of idiomatic expressions, speak rapidly, don’t enunciate /connect their words (whatchadoin?), etc. In my experience mono-linguists may be worse, but there are plenty of folks who have learned another language and yet can’t apply the skills and practices that benefitted them, when speaking to other people, which I find kind of fascinating.

        1. aqua*

          My first language is english but I can hold a shaky conversation in my second language. I’ve been told quite a few times that I’m easier to understand than most native english speakers, which I’ve always attributed to my experience with what helps when communicating in a language I’m not fluent in

    3. ecnaseener*

      To be fair to LW, they’re not telling him he’s not being clear. They’re saying “I’m sorry, I’m not clear on what you are asking.” That sounds like exactly what you recommend: apologizing and framing it as your own lack of understanding. Cecil’s just (willfully or otherwise) misinterpreting it as an attack on him.

    4. DJ Abbott*

      Asking, clarifying questions works for me. When I was an analyst, my boss even mentioned this as a positive in my evaluation.
      Being an analyst and zeroing in on the exact problem. OK, do you want green or blue? Blue. OK, do you want the sky blue, or the deep indigo blue? Indigo blue. OK, now, would you like it shading to purple on the edges, or not?
      And so on. I’ve never had anyone respond badly to this. Maybe it will work for others.

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I just ask *very specific* questions about the request/what needs to be done. This MO got me in good graces with many a SME/business analyst/product owner.

    6. Zelda*

      Don’t “apologize for having trouble getting it.” This seems like the sort of person who will take that as an admission of guilt and dig in their heels that they’re explaining just fine and it’s LW3’s problem to solve, not theirs. Stay clear of the whole issue of “fault.”

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Yes this!!! Don’t give Cecil any ammunition. Especially since he’s the one being unclear in his requirements.

        1. Anna*

          Agree– I think from Cecil’s point of view, it would be frustrating to give a description that I feel is good enough and then hear LW3 wasting a bunch of time apologizing for having trouble understanding and asking me to please clarify. That’s only going to escalate the situation and make both sides more annoyed with each other– Cecil annoyed that LW3 is wasting time, and LW3 annoyed at having to apologize when s/he didn’t do anything wrong. Instead, just ask the specific questions you need to know. Don’t say “please clarify”. Say “does this need to follow the same template as the XYZ report?” or “would you like this in a table or a graph?” or whatever.

  7. Observer*

    #4 – Pregnancy comments

    You say “I’ve been in actual arguments about whether or not I’m pregnant with twins,

    You mean people have actually told you that you are having twins, and when you say that you’re not they *argue with you*?! That goes WELL beyond inappropriate comments about your body, weight etc. Allison’s scripts are fine for the run of the mill nonsense. But only the last two make any sense for people who *tell* you things about your pregnancy, much less argue with you that they know better.

    Really, for stuff like that, you just need to not engage. You may not be able to train people out of *trying* argue, but it takes two to go from informing you about things they know nothing about (something you can’t definitively stop, unfortunately) to *arguing* about it. You don’t owe them any responses. Keep a line like “That’s for me and my medical team to discuss.” and the refuse to engage any further. Not about you you’re “too big” to be carrying one, or you’re “the wrong shape” or you’re carrying too low (or too high) or whatever nonsense they have in their heads.

    But seriously, people who do this stuff make me nuts!

    1. Emmy Noether*

      I got the twin question a lot when I was pregnant. I tend to carry big and very forward (seriously, looks like I swallowed a huge watermelon whole). The only person who tried to argue with me about it was my toddler’s 4-year-old classmate, though. Don’t know where he got the notion (possibly discussed my belly with his parent? Which is fine – children are curious and deserve to discuss things they wonder about – but if the parent told him I’m probably having twins, I think that’s not great).

      1. AngryOctopus*

        He might know someone who had twins! 4 year olds will definitely translate “mom’s cousin had twins last year” to “every pregnant woman I see is having twins and you can’t tell me otherwise”.

        1. Parakeet*

          As a twin myself, yeah, I was incredibly curious about other twins when I was that age! I was far too shy to ask anyone if they were having twins, or any other questions to learn whether their child’s birth was going to resemble the stories I knew about my own (“is the baby going to be in an incubator after she’s born?”) which in retrospect was definitely for the best.

      2. 1-800-BrownCow*

        I got the twin question as well, I carried all out front. Strangers in public constantly asked if I was having twins, all 3 of my single-baby pregnancies.

        1. Unfortunate Admin*

          When my sister in law was pregnant I happened to meet someone who knew her and was making small talk and this woman kept saying how she thought SIL was secretly having twins and not telling anybody, I reassured her that I saw the sonogram but she was still skeptical (she did not have twins). At the same time, SIL #2 was also pregnant and during Thanksgiving, a relative kept asking why she was bigger than SIL #1 because she wasn’t as far along (by like a month) – family did try to get her to shut up though. I was so frustrated for them both.

          1. CommanderBanana*

            Hah! My poor mom went through this. Not a twin…I just decided that for some reason I needed a 7 pound placenta!

    2. londonedit*

      Never been pregnant myself, but I have a friend who had a very small bump when she was pregnant – her baby was a perfectly normal size, but my friend is very tall and skinny, and she was just one of those people where even at 8 months you couldn’t tell she was pregnant from the back. She just had a little bump at the front. You would not believe the comments she got. She literally had to argue with people who refused to accept it when they asked how far along she was and she said ‘7 months’ or ‘the baby’s due in three weeks’ or whatever. She had people telling her she was ‘far too small’ and expressing concern for the baby’s health (WTAF). She had people telling her she needed to eat more or the baby wouldn’t grow properly (again, WTAF). The worst thing was, she’d had a couple of losses before that pregnancy, so having people constantly questioning whether she was ‘big enough’ was awful. People are weird, and they’re even more weird when pregnancy is involved. In the end there was one woman at work who my friend just had to shut down by saying ‘Look, this is the size I am, my baby is perfectly healthy and growing normally, I don’t want to talk about this anymore’. Thankfully it worked but bloody hell it must be exhausting.

      1. Tomato Soup*

        I had those responses too but for different reasons. I had a 9.5 pound baby who had the length too match. I also found the comments distressing because I had lost 3 pregnancies before that one so I was constantly looking out for anything “abnormal”.

      2. Whomst*

        As a tall, skinny woman who is currently pregnant, my doctor literally told me to expect and be prepared for those kinds of comments. Currently 6 months pregnant, barely showing. Fortunately no one has said anything particularly rude or invasive yet. Bless my coworkers (all men) who know how to stay in their lane.

    3. Lilo*

      You can’t win. I had a colleague keep insisting I couldn’t have had a baby because he hadn’t seen me be big (I don’t know what you tell you, my son was born in January so I wore a lot of big sweaters, but I definitely had a noticeable bump.

      1. JSPA*

        And you are left wondering whether it’s supposed to be banter, or some sort of weird compliment, or whether he’s having a conspiracy theory about your pregnancy, or why exactly he assumes you’re a liar, or whether he thinks you’re the one making a joke, because he can’t believe he’s that unobservant. It’s a whole lot of unnecessary confusion and BS… and a demand to take up mental space that’s not his, to demand.

    4. But Not the Hippopotamus*

      I also had the twin thing happen. I am five foot two. I can wear the same pants as my mom, who is four inches taller than me, but I have nearly zero waist (my ribs practically hit my hip bones)… so my pregnancy belly only can go out.

      People were very insistent that they knew I was having twins, didn’t care what the sonograms said (“they can hide in there”) or whatever. Thankfully, never my coworkers, but it was almost worse because it was neighbors or other parents at preschool (after my first kid, obviously). The absolute worst was a mom of twins. It was exhausting… as of pregnancy isn’t hard enough!

      1. Ali + Nino*

        “They can hide in there” omg haha! When I was expecting my mom told me she had a dream I was having twins…when I told my OB-GYN, she said, “If twins come out ‘unexpectedly,’ then we are doing something very wrong.”

        A coworker and I were pregnant at the same time, she was about six weeks ahead of me. Unfortunately another coworker took it upon himself to comment on our respective bellies and ask, “Why is hers so much bigger?” Uh…1) she’s further along 2) we’re built completely differently 3) really now!?

        Someone did the same with a friend of mine who was due maybe a week after I was. It was my first kid and her second, so she was showing more obviously (as is common with subsequent pregnancies), and the lady serving us ice cream decided to express her incredulity that we could be at the same point in our pregnancies based on this. She was just trying to make conversation but it was super uncomfortable.

        Not surprisingly, the women on the receiving end of these questions never come out feeling *better* than before the conversation began!

        1. AngryOctopus*

          Sarah Vowell talks about how she was the ‘unexpected’ twin, because she and her twin had synced heartbeats. But she was born at the end of 1969, so there wasn’t quite as much technology available!

          OP, I might go with “sorry, are you arguing with me about the number of babies I am currently incubating?”, but that might be a little aggressive for your taste. Otherwise, I’d just walk away. Refuse to engage.

          1. Nobby Nobbs*

            Yeah, my poor grandmother’s doctors missed the second baby and harangued her for being too fat up until about month eight, but that was the sixties and also they were assholes. You’d have to be orders of magnitude more incompetent to miss twins these days.

          2. Tomato Soup*

            Yeah. Imaging has grown a lot. We can watch (and count) the chambers of a baby’s heart at work via ultrasound. I saw my kid’s valves before I saw his face.

        2. Unexpected Twin*

          As an “unexpected” twin B (I really wish I was kidding) mom was past due date 2 weeks with us, both were over 7 1/2 lbs, there are certain incompetent doctors who will keep saying it’s a big, health baby boy. Well, two big healthy baby girls showed up (the regular way, no c-section). And we were MOMO twins, so that was another curiosity to see: huge placenta.

        3. THE PANCREAS*

          Had the same experience with my SIL, who is 3 inches taller than me with a long torso. “Wow, Pancreas, you’re way bigger than SIL!” Uh, where else is the baby going to go?

          There was also the receptionist at the car dealership who argued about how far along I was, and when I assured her the doctors and I were in fact certain of gestational dates, she insisted I must have a ton of amniotic fluid, way more than I needed, because I was so big.

          People are freaking weird about this. We must band together and tell them to knock it the f*ck off.

        4. PregnantNotWithTwins*

          Oof, I was pregnant with my second and due just a week after another coworker. The comments comparing us were awful!

      2. Amy*

        “They can hide.” OMG – someone’s been watching too much “Call the Midwife.” This isn’t 1955 and if you are getting standard modern medical care, no one is hiding in 2023. I had my twins’ DNA pulled via a simple maternal blood draw by 12 weeks pregnant.

        1. Pat*

          I know! I’m constantly amazed – at myself – every time I realize that a lot of the medical “knowledge” I think I have is all from fictional TV and movies.

        2. 1-800-BrownCow*

          Haha, yes to this exactly! My grandma was a surprise triplet….born in 1924. In my great-grandmother’s case, she knew she was pregnant with multiples because the doctor heard more than 1 heartbeat. But triplets was a shocking surprise.

          Sadly though, I’ve had people ask in my great-grandmother got pregnant by IVF. When I comment “It was the 1920s…”, people still want to know if she used IVF.

          1. PhyllisB*

            My stepfather was a twin. Her doctor didn’t tell my grandmother it was twins because he didn’t want her to be “scared.”
            So you’re in labor and delivered a baby and the doctor says, “we’re not done yet” is so much better. Of course, this was in 1928.

            1. AngryOctopus*

              Now I wonder if my great grandmother knew she was having twins the second time! 1919, but she was a midwife herself.

        3. But Not the Hippopotamus*

          Sadly, this was early 2000s, so there’s no Call the Midwife excuse for them. They were just rude.

    5. Siege*

      People seem to think this kind of comment is important. An ex of mine argued with me about how old my mother is (as in, we left after the first time he met her and he turned to me and said in all seriousness “your mother is not X years old”) and another friend watched my parents, who had been divorced for 10 years at that point, walk away holding hands and announced that my parents weren’t divorced. Like, no, dude, I was there, they’re divorced.

      It’s so stunning in the moment the only thing I’ve ever managed is a flat stare, which doesn’t really get the point across.

    6. 1-800-BrownCow*

      Yes, people actually argue this stuff. During my first pregnancy with my son, I had 2 women argue that I was having a girl because of the way I was carrying. They constantly insisted I had to be pregnant with a girl. This began after I had 2 regular ultrasounds and a 3D ultrasound, so there was absolutely no doubt I was having a boy. And it didn’t matter how many times I explained all that, they wouldn’t back down on their arguing. I gave up and began ignoring them, or just responding “ok”, but that didn’t slow them down at all. They felt the need to bring this up constantly each time they saw me. Later, after he was born, the response was “Wow, we didn’t think that was possible. You were definitely carrying like you were having a girl. Are you sure he wasn’t switched at the hospital?” (Umm, I have a picture of the doctor holding him up like 3 seconds after he came out, umbilical cord still attached.).

      I really don’t know why people think this is normal or acceptable. I don’t know any woman expecting a baby who wants to hear these comments and arguments.

      1. Critical Rolls*

        I’d be tempted to ask their shoe size, and then argue with them. “Oh, no, I have an eye for these things, you’re definitely and 8 1/2.”

    7. PregnantNotWithTwins*

      LW4 here! I wish I was joking, yep, 2 coworkers for whatever reason decided my doctor and I were wrong and one was “hiding” behind the other despite having a couple ultrasounds already. I’ve tried explaining that they’re wrong, but at this point not engaging is probably my best option.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        You could ask them to bet on it – at least make a little money on their ridiculous behavior!

        But definitely the best option is just to not entertain any of the comments.

        1. Heidi*

          Yes to this. I would suggest asking them, “Would you like to bet $1000 on that?” Make them put it in writing. People might shut up if there’s money on the line.

          Congratulations on the pregnancy, by the way!

      2. Observer*

        but at this point not engaging is probably my best option.

        Yeah. You’re wasting energy on people who you can’t convince.

        I’m assuming that these are folks who don’t have the power to make decisions that affect you based on their ideas. If I’m wrong about that, you may want to loop in HR.

  8. jtr*

    Wow. I am just…gobsmacked that HR somehow felt having the same address was the BIG problem with someone managing their SO/ex-SO?!?!? What the Actual?!?!

    I agree, your whole team should have a meeting with whichever person in HR made that decision, and maybe with their manager as well.

    1. ferrina*

      Yes, the team should definitely escalate this beyond the HR they originally talked to. I’m definitely side-eyeing the HR for thinking separate addresses (right next to each other?) stops all favoritism. That’s bonkers and lazy.
      If LW or anyone else on the team has the ear of anyone senior (whether or not they’re HR), they should mention this. They don’t need to complain, just lay out the facts and say “this seems off”. This would raise major red flags with any competent manager. I know a few non-HR managers that would make sure heads would roll for this.

    2. Gerri's Jaunty Hat*

      Also, what are the odds that Javier and George actually did move next door to each other, vs. just living in the exact same place and asking their next-door neighbor to save their mail for them… I’m pretty much thinking the latter. No one’s going to double their rent just in order to work together, and if they’re dishonest enough to show this kind of favoritism, it doesn’t seem like a stretch that they’d just make it up.

      (But more to the point, who cares about the address! People can be in relationships and not live together! Yoinks!)

      1. Siege*

        I mean, how much mail do you actually get from your employer anyway? A lot of the mail I get is from our pension administrators, and I have my own relationship with my medical provider, so it would be easy to “update” it in the system and then if you get anything from your employer your neighbor will just assume it was mis-addressed. It would never be a flood of mail or anything really obvious. They never ended things and no one ever moved. I’m astonished HR thinks this is somehow fine (and has missed the incredibly obvious lie).

    3. Csethiro Ceredin*

      Maybe they’re being weird about it because it’s two men in a relationship, so they either don’t take it seriously or fear being accused of prejudice?

      It’s obviously ridiculous, though, and I bet one is just claiming the suite in their house as their address or something anyway.

      1. Juggling Plunger*

        I had this read on it as well. I’m leaning towards HR not believing/recognizing that gay relationships are real, and thinking that two men living together are just roommates. That’s the only context in which this makes any sense (not that making sense is necessarily a prerequisite for ending up in a letter here).

        This is tricky, because I don’t know how HR would react if the issue is that they’re homophobic enough to deny that two men can be in a real romantic relationship, but LW may want to think about how they put that to HR to make sure that there is absolutely no way HR can deny the nature of the relationship. If that’s what’s happening, there’s also a risk that HR would fire them for being gay rather than for inappropriate supervisory behavior.

    4. Rose*

      To be fair, LW says that they said they “broke it off” so I assume HR thought this was… a man managing his very recent ex? And two people who fully broke up but choose to live next door to one another?

      1. Random Bystander*

        And I’m also questioning the likelihood that there “just happened” to be the apartment next door opening up when one of the two “moved”. Yes, I am skeptical about whether the move took place at all. I mean, in all honesty, I have my tax paperwork e-delivered every year, I get the occasional retirement account letter, but the only things of any significance that came was when company swapped out computers/monitors/etc and mailed us all new equipment (which had to be signed for). Otherwise, my employer doesn’t send me physical mail at all.

  9. Sunny*

    OP #2 – I have to wonder if they’re actually living at separate addresses, or just told HR they are? It seems unlikely they would so easily agree to double their expenses by one of them moving out – and especially given they’re clearly still very close and now George is promoting Javier to a management role.

    I’m not sure you’d want to get involved in that level of drama/suspicion, but certainly going to HR and laying out the issues you’ve seen should get some attention. And if it doesn’t – well, you already have a lot of (not great) information about your boss, and now, potentially, about your HR. Actually, you’ve already got information about HR, given they accepted the initial “we moved out (next door!) excuse, and no one seems to have any oversight into or concerns about George hiring his (ex-) boyfriend.

    And while you’re approaching HR, start brushing up your resume. George doesn’t sound like a great boss, and I’d be wary that you’ll actually get promoted next time.

    1. Pyjamas*

      More likely the apt is a double and has two addresses, or a friend lives next door and agreed to let them use the address

    2. Green great dragon*

      Agreed. Officially, they have broken up and are living apart, and however implausible that might be I don’t think questioning it is the way to go. What you can say is that despite apparently breaking up, they are clearly very close and there seems clear favouritism.

      And yep, separately, if this is the first time in over a year you’ve got feedback on what you need to do to get promoted, I’d be looking for a better manager.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Yeah, they definitely didn’t break up. OP obviously knows this, given that they referred to Javier as the boyfriend and not the ex, but HR is pretty damn clueless (or they don’t care) if they bought this. For one, if they really *had* broken up, Javier wouldn’t have just moved “next door,” he would have moved a lot further away. I realize there are exceptions to this in a lot of cases (for instance, see a recent Boston Globe Love Letters about this very situation), but it’s rather implausible that someone would break up with their SO and just move next door.

        And maybe it’s because I’m chronically single that I feel this way, but who in their right mind would be like, “Oh, I can’t manage my bf? Ok, we’ll just break up then,” instead of just accepting a transfer to a different dept so they can stay a couple? Why did George think that applying to be Javier’s manager would be even remotely ok? Obviously the major issue here is HR not realizing or caring how very bad this situation is, but George is also getting a lot of side-eye from me.

        1. Observer*

          but who in their right mind would be like, “Oh, I can’t manage my bf? Ok, we’ll just break up then,”

          Very much this. As soon as I read that I though that they *pretended* to break up. I was pretty shocked that HR swallowed that.

          1. Phony Genius*

            And HR also knows that the promotion occurred prior to the “breakup.” Somehow, they’re letting the promotion stand.

        2. Irish Teacher*

          And I’m not sure somebody managing their ex is really less concerning than managing their boyfriend. If the break-up were acrimonious, it could lead to retaliation and if it’s not and they remain friends…well, there are issues there too. I once had a manager who broke up with her boyfriend who managed another branch of the same company and while they remained impressively professional, it still made things awkward. If one had been managing the other…yikes. Imagine having to give a warning to somebody you broke up with but were trying to remain friends with!

          I think even if it were true, there would be problems.

    3. Llama Llama*

      I don’t think they moved either. My work sends me very little through the mail so if I lied and said I was working one apartment down, it would make no difference whatsoever. Either the mail person would just put it in the right mailbox, neighbor occasionally gives me mail addressed to me but with their address or neighbor gets my mail and tosses it.

    4. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Even if it were true, they moved next door, and broke up — they still seem to be friends. Which leaving the prior relationship aside is STILL a problem. One person on the team has access no one else has to to the manager. Not just by living next door to each other but also by spending time together outside work when no one else does this.

      This would be bad no matter who it was. Two people who only knew each from work and lived across town from each other but spent every weekend together and their families went on vacation together — is still special access denied the rest of the team.

      HR sucks. I would not count on getting the next promotion either. George told you the things you need to improve on just to have an excuse to not promote you. Next time it will be something else. George will always favor Javier over you.

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I mean, they might very well be living at separate addresses (which is why they needed Javier to get that promotion), but I grew up in Soviet Russia and know a quasi-breakup or divorce when I see one. (To best of my recollection, people there did it to get around the complicated living arrangement situations, where apartments were assigned to people by their employers, one per family. E.g., grandma lives alone in her large apartment that will go to the govt when she passes, so as a way of leaving the apartment to the kids, mom and dad “divorce” and one of them moves in with grandma.)

      Think about it. How many couples do you know that chose to move NEXT DOOR TO EACH OTHER after breaking up? I’m fresh out of a new breakup. Last thing we both want is to spend money, time, and energy moving to where we can each be in each other’s face all day! How did HR even fall for this? or did they feel they had to, since the addresses are now different and they cannot prove that George and Javier are still a couple? Agree with you, OP would be much happier and more productive at work if they get away from allll that drama. Let George and Javier stay and dig their own grave career-wise (which they will, being as unprofessional as they sound to be) but you don’t have to be part of the collateral damage. I left a job once because of workplace romance happening between my boss and my teammate and affecting everybody’s work and guess what, it got worse after I left.

    6. Dona Florinda*

      Honestly, this place is full of bees. Even if they did break up (which doens’t sound like the case, since they still spend a lot of time together and everyone knows), no decent HR would allow someone to manage their ex, especially such a recent one. And they seriously fell for this cock-and-bull story that sure we broke, look at my new at my new address next door?!
      OP, your HR sounds incompetent and gullible. And Sunny is right, George is not a good boss and is very unlikely that you’ll get promoted.

  10. nodramalama*

    LW1 i’m a bit confused by this whole thing. To me, leaving 15 minutes early doesn’t seem like a big deal, but if it IS a big deal in your office, I would have either just done what you told your boss you did, which was step out to make the call rather than leave early, or just clear it with your boss ahead of time.

    LW3 you might be better served if, like in Alison’s suggested response, you’re more specific about what you’re not clear about rather than just say “i don’t understand”

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Agree that “my week’s been an entire shitshow and I need to call the shop my car is at before they close” would have been a perfectly fine answer at any job I’ve worked; especially when combined with “and I came in 30 minutes early today to make up for my leaving 15 minutes early.” (Heck, most of the bosses I’ve had would’ve been “just go, take care of your crises and make up the time later”.) I’m guessing either LW was so shaken up by everything going on that they weren’t thinking straight, or LW’s workplace was super toxic.

    2. Llama Llama*

      Right! All I would need to say was ‘I have to call the mechanic about my car’. My boss would sympathize and that be the end of it.

  11. Electric Sheep*

    OP3, perhaps try saying something like “so to recap, what you’re asking me for is ‘….’ and summarising what you think he’s saying back to him, and he’ll correct/update it? Doesn’t always work but can result in getting some answers – some people are happy to correct info but just can’t seem to get the details out of their heads proactively. It’s hard to deal with. You could also do this via email if you want documentation.

    1. office hobbit*

      I do this approach too. I usually say something like “To make sure I’m understanding, [summary of starting points I understand]. And then, when [first point of confusion], should I [interpretation a] or [interpretation b] or something else/am I missing something here?” If you’re in a synchronous conversation I’d stop here for an answer before continuing in the same vein.

    2. bamcheeks*

      Yes. This doesn’t excuse your colleague being rude af, but it might help the conversation go a bit more smoothly, and it’s also a useful skill when you’re working with less obstructive people.

      “I think I’ve got that, but can I come back to you if anything comes up once I’ve got started?” is helpful as well.

  12. Delphine*

    #4–humanity in general has a lot of work to do around women’s bodies and boundaries, but it’s still crazy to me that as soon as a woman gets pregnant—and especially when she starts showing—people decide they’re allowed to touch her and make comments about her. people you’d never expect to have to lecture about keeping their hands and their thoughts to themselves! the mind boggles.

    1. mb*

      Even if they think someone might be pregnant – I tend to carry weight in my belly and years ago I wend to a yoga class – after class an older woman came up to me and put her hand on my belly – I backed away and said “it’s fat”. She said, “no, it’s a miracle”. I responded with “no, it’s cookies”. I was overall fairly fit, just a little extra belly weight – always had a bit of a pot belly even when I was a skin and bones teenager. I mean, that’s a lot of nerve.

      1. DJ Abbott*

        She’s lucky you didn’t hit her, or scream at her, or complain to the teacher. If that happens again, please complain to the teacher or manager.

        1. AnonORama*

          My friend had an even better response to someone touching her belly (she was pregnant, but that’s still not ok for sure). She asked the stranger who rubbed her belly, “now can I grab your breast?” The woman was totally aghast and said something like “Of course not, what’s wrong with you!?!” My friend was like, “What? You just touched my body without asking…” I wouldn’t recommend this, but I was impressed with the bad-ass-ness.

  13. Sleve*

    LW3, it sounds like it could be time to pull out the old CYA email. If Cecil absolutely refuses to discuss his requests any further with you, one option is to send him emails outlining what you think he’s asking for and requesting comment if you’ve misinterpreted anything:

    “Hi Cecil,
    Based on our discussion earlier today, I understand that you want me to teach the llamas to waltz. I will be using waltz training procedure no.3, as outlined in our llama dance class manual. Please let me know if you have any further context to add. I will start teaching the llamas tomorrow.

    You’re a perfectly capable professional, doing what you understand Cecil has asked for, to the best of your ability, without holding up the llamas to wait for Cecil to decide to communicate like a normal person. You’re doing your job. If Cecil refuses to reply to tell you that he was actually imagining the fandango when he said “Teach the llamas that dance in 3/4 time, you know the one”, then that’s a problem that’s above you to solve, and you’ll be doing management a favour by documenting it.

    1. Pat*

      I would also recommend making sure your boss is aware of the situation.

      Part of my job is to create internal web pages for teams. I ask a lot of questions and show them a mock-up before I really get into it, but sometimes I find later that they haven’t given me essential background info, so what I created isn’t going to work, and I’ve wasted a lot of time and energy. Plus, I feel stupid for having gotten it so wrong.

      I would be pretty upset if this happened and my boss thought I was the one who screwed up. He’s a great boss, so he doesn’t jump to conclusions, and he’s very happy with my work, but I still like to keep him informed about what’s going on with complicated projects because I feel more comfortable having made him aware.

      (Now I ask even more questions, and if I don’t completely understand what they want and why, I keep asking.)

  14. Donut*

    #3 – It seems like rather than focusing on whether or not you are clear, which is more about labeling the situation, and not actionable in itself, you should jump right into the clarifying questions.

    I’m often delegating work, and I know on my side it’s much easier to answer something like “are you looking for a document or a slide deck or something else?” vs. “I’m not clear on what you want.” The latter does I think impede communication a bit because if forces me to guess what about the whole set of instructions might have been unclear, which is bound to cause more confusion as I guess wrong. I am not saying that this rude council’s response is at all justified, of course!

    1. Allonge*

      Yes, it’s not ideal but OP is probably better off saying something like ‘just to be sure, you want me to paint Llamas 1 to 4 bright blue by c.o.b. today, right?’. And then Mr Crystal Clear can say, uh, actually, only 1, 2 and 4 plus Camel 5 and can it be more of a turquoise.

    2. mb*

      That’s supposing that Cecil is saying something that can be interpreted to mean, “paint all the teapots blue tomorrow”. It’s possible his communication is so bad you have no idea what he wants you to do. But asking him to send you his request via email and then responding with appropriate questions would probably help – and it would document the problem.

  15. Irish Teacher*

    LW3, I always find it weird when people say stuff like “I was crystal clear” or “my comment wasn’t problematic” or “I didn’t miss the point,” because…those are not things one can judge about oneself. Everybody is clear to themself. The question is whether or not they are clear to the listener and the speaker cannot judge that.

    But my advice would be to change your wording. It might be easier on his ego if you said something like, “I didn’t quite understand x” rather than “I’m not clear.” It might not work but it sounds a bit like he is taking “I’m not clear” as “you weren’t clear” and is defensive about it.

    1. Boof*

      The language in lw’s example is already pretty soft; i’d try to go to cecil’s boss if that’s an option over verbally groveling every time there’s a question

    2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*


      And “crystal” is not a magical word that permanently absolves the speaker. The attorney is using this as a rhetorical technique to shut down discussion. Don’t let him get away with it.

      When he says “I was crystal clear”, everyone else should proceed as if he said “I think I was clear”.

    3. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I had an absolutely ridiculous argument once with a friend of a friend when we were on a trip to Maine and he said I absolutely had to try Moxie soda. Sure, I’m game. So I tried it and said it tasted like root beer and he was like, “No it doesn’t! It doesn’t taste at all like root beer!” I’m like, are you seriously questioning how a certain soda tastes to me? Sure, it doesn’t taste like root beer to you but it does to me, and also why does it matter to you either way???

      Poor guy can’t seem to hold down a job and can’t figure out why he’s single. My friend keeps talking to him (even though they dated briefly and she was totally not into it and he will once in awhile bring up that he still wants to date her) and my mind is completely boggled about that. She did say recently that she misses his dog, to which I responded, There are, you know, other dogs in the world.

      1. mystiknitter*

        Moxie was the only soda I could safely store in the breakroom refrigerator and still find hours later when I was on break! And, TBT, many minutes can be wasted at family gatherings in New England trying to describe the, uh, unique flavor of Moxie to the ‘outsiders’.

  16. Phryne*

    #1 It is not normal for people to discuss your body for any possible reason, pregnant or not, so please feel completely free to shut that down in whatever way you feel comfortable with. But more importantly, do not let this make you feel self-concious. Yes, you probably you gained some weight, so what. You are growing a whole*** human. Your body does whatever it needs to do to keep that human safe and healthy. Your body is amazing!
    You do not need to adhere to weird standards of skinnyness at any time, but the idea you should go through pregnancy and still be somehow ‘watching your figure’ is especially toxic. Don’t ever let anyone make you believe that.

    1. Clare*

      Keeping that human safe and healthy is key. You’re not just adding the weight of the baby. You’re also adding enough fat to keep you and the baby alive during the time your body is about to be out of action recovering from the physical trauma of childbirth. That’s a really important part of the whole process and a reflection of a healthy system working as it’s supposed to.

      1. Tg33*

        One of the big things is that your blood volume and fluids in general increase hugely. It makes you look bigger faster, everyone is different, and it’s impossible to change through diet.

    2. Lime green Pacer*

      I hate it when people describe pregnancy weight gain as fat. It is not fat! You could even argue argue that it isn’t *you*!

      1. bamcheeks*

        You can also argue that it is fat (at least some of it) and that’s morally neutral, regardless of whether you’re pregnant or not.

        Not that anyone should have to have any of these discussions with their colleagues, no matter what.

      2. Observer*

        It is not fat! You could even argue argue that it isn’t *you*!

        That’s actually not the case. It bugs me because this idea was behind one of the worst trends in obstetrics – the whole idea that a woman should “watch her weight” and *restrict calories* (sometime severely) because the only “necessary” weight is the baby + the placenta, so maybe 15 lb or so. Except that it turns out that this is not the case. (Aside from the fact that with some babies, 15 lb doesn’t actually cover the weight of the baby and placenta.) Women who actually put on some “extra” weight (not all of it fat, but all of it the mother) tend to do much better and *so do the babies*.

    3. I should really pick a name*

      It’s not appropriate for people to discuss your body, but sadly, it’s pretty normal.

      1. bamcheeks*

        I actually lost weight during my first pregnancy because I was so queasy for the first 16 weeks (not HG, just “normal” sickness, but it meant I never wanted to eat.) I got *tons* of compliments, especially from female colleagues, which was also weird and unappreciated.

        people: just don’t comment on people’s bodies!

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Same, but my second. No comments from coworkers thankfully, but I had my OBGYN burst out of her office during an appointment to tell the women in her waiting room about how I’d actually *lost* weight since the previous appointment, how much, and how they should all be more like me. I was half the age then that I am now and thought it was a great compliment, now I think it was gross, intrusive, and awkward for everyone involved.

          1. Ali + Nino*

            Wow. I imagine that doctor doesn’t practice anymore but talk about inappropriate (and what a HIPPA violation!).

        2. This Old House*

          I just don’t gain a ton of weight when I’m pregnant. Pregnancy #1, I’d get gushing comments like “You can’t even tell you’re pregnant!” and I’d accept the “compliment” and then go cry in a bathroom because I was so worried that something was wrong because I wasn’t gaining “enough.” Pregnancy #2 (when I was way less worried, because everything had been fine with #1), I started responding with “It’s actually a problem. You’re *supposed* to gain weight when you’re pregnant. I’ve needed extra tests to be sure the baby is growing.” That mostly shut people down. Pregnancy #3, doctors and I are really not worried, and the extra tests are baked into a “geriatric” pregnancy anyway lol. But I’m still telling people it’s a problem, even though it’s clearly just the way my body makes babies, because I would like them to think twice before making similar comments when faced with another pregnant woman who might be more similar to me back in pregnancy #1.

          It is a ridiculous indictment of our culture’s perspectives on people’s bodies that “You’re so skinny!” is considered a compliment even when someone is 8 months pregnant!

          I also get a lot of “you look great!” with just enough surprise that I suspect they mean “because you’re so small!” which is harder to respond to. I know it’s considered a safer compliment than actually commenting on someone’s size, but I seriously doubt I’d be hearing it if I were 20 lbs heavier. But it’s hard to respond directly when they’re not being as direct themselves.

          1. bamcheeks*

            In the six months after the birth, I got a lot of, “you look like you’re recovering so well!” meaning, “you’re half a stone lighter than you were before you got pregnant,” and I always wanted to say, “I can’t walk more than half a mile at a time and I’m wondering if I’ll ever be continent again hahaha!” (Note to anyone recently postpartum and terrified by the same things: all these things got better but it took a lot longer than 6-8 weeks.)

            The two women who I specifically remember saying stuff like this clearly had some serious body image issues of her own, so I never did, BUT.

    4. KGD*

      I agree, this kind of thinking is so weird and toxic. I got huge with both of my pregnancies and people’s comments were so bizarre. I had the no-it’s-not-twins argument with more than one stranger, and got at least 5 comments a day in my final trimesters, between work and family and the subway. I think most people mean well – babies are exciting and they want to feel connected so they start talking and don’t think about how it will land. I was not a fan though.

      For me personally though, it was the time in my life when I was able to really reject the whole concept of how I was supposed to look. Like, yes, this is my body. It’s bigger than it used to be because it’s doing something incredibly challenging and important. I’m not here to look at, and I don’t care what your opinion is about how I look.

    5. Observer*

      You do not need to adhere to weird standards of skinnyness at any time, but the idea you should go through pregnancy and still be somehow ‘watching your figure’ is especially toxic.

      Seriously. I mean, even without a pregnancy, being genuinely, medically, overweight is not a moral failure or something that should cause actual adults to stare of focus on. When you’re pregnant?! That’s just beyond absurd.

      Honestly, my first reaction to “Wow you sure gained a lot of weight” is a sarcastic “Oh, you noticed?” or a smug “Yup. The baby’s doing good!” perhaps while patting my belly.

      I don’t know if I would actually SAY that – Allison’s scripts are probably less incendiary. But it’s probably worth saying the second one in your head. Because that weight gain *is* feeding the baby. It’s worth reminding yourself of that when people are stupid and try to act like this is A Problem.

  17. Green great dragon*

    LW1 Just make sure in future you drop boss an email in advance saying ‘need to leave 15 mins early, but came in 30 mins early to make up’ (or possibly phrase it as asking permission if you think that’d go down better).

    For this one, how much I’d worry depends a bit on whether boss has seen you staying late/coming in early in general. If you’re usually out the door on the dot of 5 I’d be more likely to use Alison’s clarifying script. If boss knows you frequently work a bit longer than your set hours he’ll hopefully be more relaxed about the occasional early departure. Though changing your plans when ‘caught’ wasn’t a good look as you know, so definitely be super conscientious about asking permission for a while.

  18. Anonlawyer*

    As an attorney, I’m kind of gobsmacked by #3 because something that’s a pretty standard thing for attorneys is over explaining things. It’s also your job as an attorney to oversee non-attorney work that’s being done for you. If you hold the license and sign the document, you’re on the hook. This is why so many lawyers are protective of their support staff.

    It also doesn’t really matter why someone was unclear on something, if someone asks for clarification, you provide clarification. Refusing to do so is just asking for trouble.

    I agree with Alison’s suggestions and those above. Talk to his boss and document as much of his requests in writing as possible. This guy is trouble. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are a lot of big egos in law, but this guy’s approach is just awful.

  19. Johannes Bols*

    The LW who had to leave early then went back to her desk has me shaking my head. Because I would’ve done the same thing eleven years ago. Now I would’ve told the boss I needed to leave early and left it at that. Sign out for fifteen minutes less. Fear is what you should feel if you live in Kiev and the Russians bomb the air force base near your home and the ground rattles. The crap we put ourselves through for these weasley stupid jobs is insane.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      So your advice to the OP is…what? They’ve clearly had a week from hell (getting burgled causes a LOT of fear) so I honestly wouldn’t blame them for feeling fear at anything right now.

      It’s not a big issue as a one off, and from a managerial perspective if one of my staff tried to leave early and made up something and later told me they were under a lot of stress I honestly wouldn’t think more about it.

      As Alison says, the only time this gets to serious problem status is when this becomes a recurring issue.

    2. RVA Cat*

      100% this!
      Especially in the US, where employer-based healthcare turns the workplace into a hostage situation.

    3. Parakeet*

      People can fear more than one thing. I’ve been in life-threatening situations a bunch of times. I’ve been to war/conflict zones and survived a mass violence incident (terrorist attack). And yes, I feel fear (sometimes in the moment, sometimes as a delayed reaction after the fact). I also feel fear if I think my manager at a job is upset with me about something! Fear of negative evaluation (across many contexts, not just work) is a huge thing for many people. And in a US workplace in particular, losing a job could have serious material consequences, especially around healthcare.

  20. Keymaster of Gozer*

    4: I asked for advice on the open post the other week because I’m getting a lot of well-meant but still offensive comments about my body at work and wanted them to stop. People think it’s a complement to tell someone that it’s great that they’ve lost weight but not in my case (it’s a medically alarming amount without reason).

    So yeah, they thought they were being nice and friendly and showing interest in my life when I was biting back the urge to scream profanity at them.

    What worked (thank you AAM) was a combination of ‘okay, I need you to stop commenting on my body, it’s not a topic I care to discuss’ and a ‘I prefer we keep compliments as to something I actually have control over! Like how cool are my starship earrings’ (they are very cool)

    Alternatively the old fallback of ‘I’m not the right audience for that kind of comment’ *might* work.

    I hope you have a peaceful time free from unwanted comments. Your body isn’t public property to be discussed like a painting :)

    1. DJ Abbott*

      Hi Keymaster! I hope it’s nothing serious.
      I had a sudden weight loss from stress around 10 years ago. My doctor at the time said the majority of sudden weight losses are from stress. I’ve I had trouble keeping weight on ever since. I’m getting CBT therapy for anxiety and digestion, and just recently gained a few pounds. I hope yours is benign and you can gain back as much weight as you want. :)

    2. Observer*

      (it’s a medically alarming amount without reason).

      I hope they figure this out and it’s easily resolvable!

    3. Csethiro Ceredin*

      Three separate comments:

      I’m so glad that worked! And I hope any health problems are resolved soon.

      Starship earrings sound amazing!

      And re the last line: in the 70s my mum was an executive secretary in London and some VIP who came to see her boss made a point of standing in front of her, looking at her, and making all these comments that he was pretending were about a painting on the wall but were clearly about her: “oh that’s rather attractive… new since last time I was here, yes?… it does make the room look more welcoming doesn’t it?… yes… very nice shape to it….”. She’s still mad about it.

      One would like to think we’d moved farther past the ‘woman’s body = decorative and up for commentary’ point.

      1. Observer*

        some VIP who came to see her boss made a point of standing in front of her, looking at her, and making all these comments that he was pretending were about a painting on the wall but were clearly about her: “oh that’s rather attractive… new since last time I was here, yes?… it does make the room look more welcoming doesn’t it?… yes… very nice shape to it….”. She’s still mad about it.

        I can imagine she’s still mad. Making comments about her was gross to start with. Talking about her like she’s no different than some inanimate artwork *to her face*?! That was intentionally degrading. And goes well beyond even the sexism typical of the time.

        1. DJ Abbott*

          Such people are like rattlesnakes – they have the warning rattle that tells you to steer clear. Listen to it.

    4. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      Yes, rapid or unexplained weight gain or loss is at least a sign that something might be wrong. I hope yours turns out to either not be serious, or easily treatable.

      The idea that weight loss must be good is so ingrained that I had to tell a nurse who had just weighed me that no, being told I’d lost several pounds in less than two weeks was not good news. The doctor, fortunately, understood immediately why I was worried. (Mine was almost certainly an odd medication side effect, since it stopped once I finished that course of treatment. But I fretted for a couple of months.)

      1. Shan*

        Oh man, I HATE how “weight loss = cause for celebration” has become such a default way of thinking – my aunt had a severe intestinal infection caused by undiagnosed celiac disease and a lifetime of being a bread addict, and she – a nurse herself – had to argue with medical personal than her sudden unexplained weight loss was problematic.

  21. bamcheeks*

    LW, I would go back to your boss and just say, “The other day when I had to make that phone call at quarter to five– how would you like me to handle stuff like that in future? Would it have been OK if I left a bit early to get in touch with the garage and pick up the car? Are you happy for me to make that call or would you prefer I always let you know / checked in with you first?”

    In my experience, the “just make the call / check in with me / tell me but don’t ask / ask permission / nope, not ever, no matter what the emergency and no matter how often you stay late or come in early” varies quite a lot from boss to boss, job to job and sector to sector, and the *worst* thing is not knowing and living in the perpetual twilight of wondering whether this is fine or whether you’re doing something wrong. (hi, I’m an eldest sister!) With all but the very smallest minority of evil bosses, it’s totally reasonable to clarify this, and it’s OK to clarify it in retrospect.

    Hopefully you’ll find that your manager is fairly relaxed as long as you’re doing the job overall, but if they’re NOT relaxed about it, I still think it’s better to know what the expectations are rather than wonder.

  22. FashionablyEvil*

    #2–I’m giving HR and George some serious side eye. I would have considered George’s failure to disclose his relationship with Javier prior to his taking the job as automatically disqualifying. And HR just seems concerned with the address? WTF, HR?

    1. AngryOctopus*

      Yeah, HR has really fallen down on the job here. It’s very bizarre that they said “oh, separate addresses? You’re fine”. Not every couple lives together, but it can still be a conflict of interest (see: this situation, although I don’t really believe they’re not just using a neighbor’s address). Hopefully HR steps up, but given the whole past situation I might be dusting off my resume and seeing what’s out there.

  23. Richard Hershberger*

    I have both with and for Cecils. It is very tiresome. They know what they meant, and don’t recognize the unstated parts that are perfectly clear in their head. This is particularly bad for an attorney. Does he write briefs this way? If so, this is a potential liability to the company. In any case, try offering the various possible interpretations of his request and ask which, if any, is what he meant. If you are in a position to really push back, state the possible unstated parts that lead to these varying interpretations.

    1. Lilo*

      Agreed. An attorney who resists being told he needs to provide additional clarity is a bad attorney. If anything attorney work generally involves over explaining things.

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        Laughing in attorney. OP goes on to say he is arrogant. Cecil clearly sees OP as an underling and therefore not worthy of an explanation. He spaketh, she doeseth. If a judge asks to explain then he would. But no lesser authority can question him.

        1. Lilo*

          It’s weird because if my staff asks me for clarification, you bet I provide it. A couple extra minutes of work is worth avoiding a giant stupid mess later.

          1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

            The Cecils of the world never see it that way. There are some attorneys who think they are so special just because they passed the bar. So they treat everyone who didn’t like crap.

        2. Richard Hershberger*

          Unless the ship for explanations, even to a judge, has sailed. The judge may not ask for an explanation of the vague brief. And good luck explaining to the judge what that signed contract he drafted really meant.

        3. Observer*

          Cecil clearly sees OP as an underling and therefore not worthy of an explanation.

          Then he’s not just arrogant but an idiot and a bad attorney. As others noted, anything that’s going into court, could go into court, is going to a regulatory agency, or is documentation required for compliance of any sort, needs to *accurate*. It also often needs to be done in a very specific way. If you want you’re underlings to do the work for you such that you can use it and not get into trouble, you need to make sure they understand you 100%.

          I would have a much easier time understanding (not *agreeing with*, just understanding) if he were a condescending donkey talking to the OP as though they were a school child. But at least, in that case, he’d probably explain everything the OP needs.

      2. B*

        This sounds like an attorney who went in house and forgot he still has clients, even if the same company signs their paychecks. He needs a refresher!

  24. TravelR*

    Letter 2 – I once worked at a company with a guy like Cecil. He was especially rude one day, being very condescending, and said something along the lines of “Any idiot could understand what I was saying.” I pretty much let him have it and our boss overheard. He took My Cecil outside for a walk and explained to him that if I was questioning his narrative, then it’s because it wasn’t clear, and that the messaging had to be clear before it was sent to the client.

    My Cecil didn’t really talk to me much after that, but his reports were a lot clearer and he didn’t push back on my questions.

  25. Delta Delta*

    #3 – I worked with a Cecil. He was a fan of saying “all will become clear,” except that nothing was clear and it was hard to figure out what to do. Cecil doesn’t understand why he can’t keep staff.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I had a Cecil mentor me. He’d say “do this” and “do that” and when I’d ask why, or what am I doing here, Cecil would say “just trust me”. Readers, I was an entry-level programmer in my first US job and he was training me to do production support! smh

      1. I Have RBF*

        He’d say “do this” and “do that” and when I’d ask why, or what am I doing here, Cecil would say “just trust me”.


        This is bad training. IMO, when you are learning, knowing not just the what but the why helps the whole system come together in your brain.

        IMO, “just trust me” is an expression that means “fuck you”.

  26. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    > What has me fuming is that Javier got the position, and I feel it’s because they are extremely close.

    I’m pretty sure that they are still a couple amd are trying to pull the wool over HRs eyes with this technicality. And of course that is a more egregious breach than hiring a partner or ex.

  27. Random Academic Cog*

    Some great suggestions for addressing the “perfectly clear” situation were already provided. From the general perspective of improving communication, I find active voice much more useful than passive voice/concrete language. Some cultures are better at this than others, though Americans (among others) tend to take it as abrupt. I wordsmith most things I write at work (not my posts because I’m always writing them on my phone) to make sure they provide the necessary information while minimizing extra words/phrases. That’s the biggest takeaway from years of working with ESL colleagues. It’s also inclusive for neurodivergent folks and imposes exactly zero additional burden on recipients who would have no trouble parsing passive sentence construction. Don’t torture a sentence, but useful as a general guideline to improve communication.

  28. Ellis Bell*

    OP3 “Let me be extra clear myself then: What I need to know is x and y and I am going to ask follow up questions too, until I am as clear as you are. OK?”

    I would also go to his boss and say “I’m getting attitude when I ask for basic clarifications like x and y and he is condescending about follow up questions”. If it’s not even clarifications you’re asking for, but more “What on earth did you just say, you didn’t even use a verb?” then try to get examples in writing so you can say: “I am getting cryptic instructions like (example) and then a condescending attitude like “I was crystal clear” when I ask him to clarify.

  29. Someone Else's Boss*

    LW#3 – Something I do out of habit, that ultimately helps clear up any confusion on tasks, is to restate my understanding of a task I’ve been assigned. I have my team do this, as well, when I’ve assigned them a task. Something like, “I will call the vendor, ask to reschedule the time, and put together a timeline of the event based on the timeline we used for the floral charity in March. Anything else?” This way if you’ve misunderstood, the other person can see that and correct it. Often people who are bad at explaining what they want are not able to fix that even if you point it out to them. Obviously Cecil is rude and he should know better than to think that insisting he was clear will magically make it true. But this tactic may help ensure you at least know what he wants you to do.

  30. John McCullough*

    LW4: It is beyond me that people seem to think that the body of a pregnant woman is suddenly community property.

    I endorse all of the suggested responses. They will all come in handy when people inevitably (if they haven’t already) decide that they’re also entitled to touch you.

  31. Sloanicota*

    #5 – I find this is weirdly common in nonprofits. They like the idea of us staffing a certain event or what it represents that we would be there, but the leadership isn’t the one driving four hours on a Saturday just to stand around in the rain. If you figure out how to get out of it, please do let me know.

    1. Quinalla*

      Alison gave a great response here #5, I would add that it is ridiculous to expect ANYONE to staff an event for 10 hours (!). I know the original plan the year you did it was for there to be 2 people so presumably there could be breaks, etc. but why isn’t it split up between more people? Like 2 shifts of 2 people seems a hell of a lot more reasonable! Either way, stick to Alison’s script for yourself, you don’t need to be out there for 5 hours either, but seriously, this whole setup is weird.

  32. Dido*

    I’m baffled as to why LW1 needed to leave work to make a phone call, especially when she has her own office. Why didn’t she just make the call from work?

    1. Juicebox Hero*

      In some places you’re not allowed to use company phones for personal business, and cell phones aren’t permitted. If so, she’d have to leave the building to call. I get the impression that her workplace might be kind of… strict.

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        Also, it could be that her cell phone doesn’t have good reception where she works. That’s a challenge I sometimes have to deal with.

      2. Sloanicota*

        My takeaway is that this is quite a picayune office also. OP, there are other places to work that aren’t like this! I know it varies a lot by field but in a typical desk job my boss wouldn’t even care if I was leaving 15 minutes early to deal with an errand, and I wouldn’t be sneaking out.

        1. bamcheeks*

          I think it’s possible that LW’s boss doesn’t care either! It may be the case that the boss meant, “Are you LEAVING EARLY?” in a “that’s unacceptable!!!!!” way, but it’s also possible they just meant it in a, “Oh, you didn’t mention you were leaving early” way, or “it’s not like you to leave early”, and just expressed it awkwardly in a way that made OP feel singled out because they’re not used to being able to leave early. The other co-workers presumably thought it wouldn’t be a big deal. So I think it’s hard to say from this interaction whether LW’s boss really does mind people leaving early, doesn’t mind people leaving early but wants them to ask/tell about it in advance, or doesn’t mind at all and the guilt and panic came from LW herself.

        2. Observer*

          My takeaway is that this is quite a picayune office also.

          It’s really hard to tell. The OP has been going through a lot, and also did something that’s untypical for them. So it would not be surprising that they over-reacted due to being in a mode verging on panic / falling apart.

          The won’t have been the first perfectly reasonable and competent person to have done that. Being perfectly cool, collected and able to perfectly calibrate responses to stressful events when one is already extremely stressed is not all that common.

  33. CheesePlease*

    #4 – it sucks!! pregnant bodies are not somehow an invitation to talk about bodies at work and yet people are weird.

    Here are other options I like (and use):

    In response to “wow you’re getting bigger!” type comments I am just like “That’s what’s supposed to happen! It would be very bad if the baby was somehow shrinking right?”

    In response to someone making repeated comments I have said things like “Every time you see me Frank, you make some comment about my belly. I don’t see you making a comment about Henry’s body every time you see him. Please stop”

    In response to other unwelcome and dumb comments (ex: the twin thing) “I think I know what is going on with my body and I would appreciate it if we didn’t discuss this anymore”

    More broadly – “I’ve been pregnant for months, and I will hopefully stay pregnant until February. I’m going to keep getting bigger and then there will be a baby. There’s no need to keep bringing it up, ok? Did you see the baseball game last night? Our pitcher is great!”

    1. CheesePlease*

      Edit to add: sometimes the comments are maybe too snarky? But I AM annoyed? Especially when men try to mansplain something to me, I really don’t have the patience to be polite.

      I would rather my coworkers think I’m a hormonal pregnant woman with no sense of humor and a pissy attitude than hear more comments about my body.

      Anyways – good luck with the rest of your pregnancy!!

    2. Sloanicota*

      This is one of those things where YMMV. If OP doesn’t want to keep talking about this, it may be better to just go extremely earnest and direct: “You know, Dirk, I’m just really uncomfortable with everyone talking about my body. I’d like to ask you and Tom to stop bringing it up. Thanks so much.” But there are offices where being too earnest is just putting another bullseye on your back and you’d be better off with some snark and sass.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      I think the whole “that’s what’s supposed to happen” nature of getting bigger pregnancy is what drives the comments. People really think they’re talking about something as expected as the weather, or as mundane as that you would pack a nice lunch. I’d be more inclined to point out that what they’re saying is surprising and jarring. Stuff like “I really wasn’t expecting anyone to talk about my body so I have no idea what to say to that” or “Those kinds of comments make me self conscious, honestly.”

      1. CheesePlease*

        To me a coworker saying “wow you’re bigger every time I see you!” or “that growing belly is probably uncomfortable right?” is as dumb as someone saying “wow! you still have two hands like you did last month” so at least in my experience saying “yeah that’s what’s supposed to happen” is a snarky way of reinforcing the fact that they’re commenting on something obvious. But I get what you’re saying, that we often talk about the weather or lunch when we all can see it’s raining or that Steve packed a nice pasta.

        1. Ellis Bell*

          Oh I thought it was a great tactic if you are good at snark; I think depending on context it’s a coin toss between saying “yes, obviously, its pregnancy” without pronouncing the “duh” and saying “whoa that’s a pretty out there thing to say”

          1. amoeba*

            Haha, honestly, my first impulse would probably be to reply just “duh”! (Would probably not be the most diplomatic response, but depending on the colleague, I could see myself actually doing it…)

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Asked Mum about this and she said ‘this is why I’ve been fighting all your life for women to be treated as people and not public incubators’. Apparently she got into trouble at work when expecting me because people were telling her what she musn’t eat or drink or do and she lost her temper and went on a bit of a rant about how she was not just life support for a uterus.

      Really like your ‘I think I know what’s going on with my body’ retort – it’s polite but with that edge of ‘this conversation is over’. Like you I get tired of the mansplaining guys who know better than I do what’s going on with the body!

  34. Pink Candyfloss*

    “I’m happy to help with in-office support prior to the event, or in-office back-up during, for the person who will be attending this year” is a sufficient offer. I am sorry about your health – I have a chronic illness and have had to cut back on a lot of event as well – but this is my go-to response. “I can’t do X, but please let me know how I can support in-office ahead of time for the person who volunteers.” It lets my employer know I’m still engaged and supportive and is usually appreciated by whomever needs the help.

  35. Bill and Heather's Excellent Adventure*

    LW2, I don’t have much faith in your HR after they claimed George was fine to manage Javier because they were living separately, despite the romantic relationship! You might want to look at other jobs.

    1. kiki*

      Yeah, honestly, this is a HUGE red flag. It seems like they don’t understand really basic concepts of being in HR, which is worrisome.

  36. kiki*

    For letter one, I’m curious if leaving 15 minutes early is actually a big deal in the office? LW’s colleagues suggested leaving 15 minutes early and boss didn’t actually say anything negative about LW leaving early– the just asked if LW was doing so. Where I work, 15 minutes once in a while really isn’t really a big deal– our managers know we also stay 15+ minutes late whenever it’s necessary. So I’m wondering if its possible LW’s workplace would be similarly flexible– boss would just like to know before folks take off.

  37. Baron*

    #1: yeah, ideally you’d have mentioned to your boss that you needed to duck out early, but I agree, this is not a big deal.

    My first internship in college was with a local government office under the aegis of the Attorney General. This was a tiny, mostly forgotten outpost – my boss rarely bothered to attend this office, never mind his boss, never mind anyone higher on the food chain. So one day, I decided to sneak out early, and on my way out, I ran into my boss. Who was there to give a tour. To the Attorney General. Who also saw me sneaking out.

    Comparing our stories, I suspect you’re going to be fine.

  38. Kan*

    OP3 – in addition to what others have said, another approach is to 1. ask for clarification, 2. ignore their assholerly about it and repeat back what they’ve said they want, asking “have I got that right”? and then 3. Give them exactly what they asked for, watch it fail, and watch them flail. 4. Remind them that it is exactly what they asked for, and that they pushed back when you asked for more information.

    Middle road response is to shift your thinking from “they need to provide clarification” to “I’m going to ask some follow up questions” and then tell them that: “You want XYZ. I’m going to ask some follow up questions.”

    1. Gyne*

      LW3, it seems like you both have a communication mismatch – if you truly are just telling Cecil he’s “not clear” on what he’s asking and then letting him do the troubleshooting to figure out which specific things you didn’t understand, you’re probably not being clear about where you need more guidance. Just ask, with specifics,

      1. Gyne*

        Ah nesting fail!

        A possible issue with 3 is if Cecil thinks he’s communicating X, OP does Y without asking for specifics or confirmation, it’ll be the OP’s failure, not Cecil’s.

  39. DramaQ*

    I worked in academics where EVERYONE feels they need to give a dissertation to the simplest of questions. Which of course made figuring out what exactly you were supposed to do difficult.

    I started repeating back everything to a particular co-worker who was notorious for this. I would say “So you want me to do X, Y and Z correct?” This would prompt him to stop and have to confirm what I heard.

    Yeah unfortunately sometimes the answer was no and we’d relaunch into the dissertation.

    But we’d get there eventually. This helped cover my ass too because if he missed something in his monologue it wasn’t on me I was repeating back to him exactly what he told me.

    I did lose my patience once and finally told him I am a tech I am not paid to think just give me the damn instructions. I do not recommend doing this with someone higher up. :)

  40. Midwestern Communicator*

    LW #4 – I am due any day now, and let me tell you people say the most out of pocket things to pregnant women.

    For example – my best friend’s aunt told me at her bridal shower that I looked like I could go any day now (I was not even 30 weeks), and then at the wedding a month later, told me I looked great and barely pregnant.

    As for the workplace, I work remotely, and my incredibly out of touch manager has made multiple comments about how big I must be already. It can be really triggering – I’m sorry that you’re experiencing this.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      There’s a rule I use: don’t ask/talk about a person’s pregnancy unless they raise the topic FIRST and even then keep it to the same tone that they are using (if they’re happy, be happy. If they’re suffering don’t tell them it’s sunshine and roses etc.)

      NOT comparing pregnancy to a disability but it’s the same etiquette for that. Invasive questioning isn’t welcome.

    2. Observer*

      As for the workplace, I work remotely, and my incredibly out of touch manager has made multiple comments about how big I must be already.

      Oh, come on! I would want to shake this guy. It’s bad enough when someone sees you and doesn’t have enough sense to filter their reaction. It’s rude and inappropriate, but I can see how it happens. But this is not even that. Like how much time does he spend thinking about how big you must be to proactively bring it up without any visible trigger?

      Is he the kind of person you could ask that question to?

  41. Brambles are not the only fruit*

    #5 – Of course your boss’s boss will want you out there, manning their stall come hell or high water. He has a nice little thing going – all the kudos of charitable work with minimum hassle. You’ve clearly done this more than once and instead of thanks, you get pressured to keep doing it – a good deed really never goes unpunished. This is outside of work hours, you probably don’t get paid for it and now you don’t even enjoy it so time to knock it on the head. Don’t bother wracking your brains trying to think up excuses to get out of this nonsense, you don’t like it and have better things to do with your time that’s the only excuse you need. Making excuses will just reinforce for boss’s boss that this is a reasonable request which its not. Its a ridiculous imposition on your time. Want to join us in picking up litter in your lunch hour? – no thanks, I don’t want to. Want to sponsor a workmate to make a charitable cycle ride when he already cycles for fun? – no thanks, but I will sponsor you to volunteer at a care home helping elderly patients. Want to tutor my kid in maths? – sure, if you get stuck into my washing and ironing while I’m at it.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      “all the kudos of charitable work with minimum hassle”

      I feel the same way about requests for charitable donations from retail establishments. They want to be able to put out a press release about how much money is going to the charity, without actually paying for it themselves.

  42. The Person from the Resume*

    I think there’s irony in having LW#1 (caught leaving work early) and LW#3 (I’m clearly understood) in the same post because LW#1 is missing some context.

    Nothing against LW#1 as the context is clear to her, but most readers all wondering why can’t you make a personal call from the office, if you can’t make a personal call from the office, aren’t you allowed to step outside and make personal calls on your cell phone (Don’t you get breaks)?

    I will say I’m guessing she was stepping out ready to leave because she hoped the garage would say the car would be ready for pick up that afternoon.

    LW#1, the thing to do differently would be to tell the boss “yes, I’m leaving now (15 minutes early) to pick up my car before the shop closes at 5. I came in half an hour early this morning to make up for it.” Instead of hoping he had noticed that you came in early and remembered that at the end of the day. But that has passed. It sounds like that place was a toxic workplace nad I hope you can get out of there.

    1. Young Business*

      Agreed. I would never count on my boss noticing the time I entered the office, or in my remote situation, that I logged in earlier on a certain day. It may feel uncomfortable but over communicating and being matter-of-fact about you needing to leave early or be offline is your best bet.

      We’re all adults so framing it as “sneaking out” is also strange. It sounds like your boss monitors the comings and goings of folks in the office? Also, if your boss was annoyed at you leaving 15 minutes early when you actually planned your day to accommodate that and made it in 30 minutes earlier, then there is definitely something off-base with their judgement and approach.

      1. I Have RBF*

        Yeah, that is pretty weird.

        One thing I do in my remote job is say “Good morning” on our team chat when I log on. It lets people know I’m online and working, plus it helps keep us from getting wrapped up so much in our own silos. I also often say good night when I’m signing off, and yes, I mention it when I’m AFK for lunch/errands/appointments.

        The key is communication and the expectation that we’re all adults. I let my teammates know where I am in order to help them, and they do the same, including when someone has to go onsite to a data center or pick up their car, etc.

  43. HonorBox*

    OP2 – I’d only disagree with Alison’s advice related to the part where George and Javier are still dating. You don’t know for sure that they are, so I’d shy away from stating that for a fact (unless you do, of course, know that they’re still dating). I’d lean heavily into the fact that they are close, travel together and often discuss business, and that you and others feel like there’s a sense of favoritism because of their closeness. Dating doesn’t matter. Heck, if you wanted you could even say that while they were dating, one managed the other, which gives an unfair advantage, real or perceived. And whether or not they’re still dating, they still spend quite a bit of time together in and out of the workplace. The fact that you and others didn’t receive a full job description at the same time as Javier did is problematic and it makes it seem like everyone else was playing with a card or two less in their hands.

  44. el l*

    You have to be as factual and “this-is-it” as him about this – the more deferential you are, the more you’re playing his game. When asking for clarification, until such time as really gets difficult, remove “I” from your lexicon. And when that happens, I’d suggest fighting fire with fire.

    A few lines you can use, in ascending order of strength:

    “What does that mean? That’s ambiguous.”
    “That’s unclear. Describe the meaning.”
    “There are at least 2-3 possible interpretations of that statement. Let’s discuss which one it is.”
    “The sooner you lay out your thinking behind it, the sooner we can get to implementation.”
    “I don’t need to be an attorney to see that’s an ambiguous request. Re-state please.”

    Finally, make sure his boss sees this. There’s clearly still a way to go on coaching.

  45. Choggy*

    LW #2 – Ugh, why would you want to be with your partner 24/7, and managing them, hell no. This may blow up in spectacular fashion.

    1. Observer*

      This may blow up in spectacular fashion.

      Quite probably. I think that it would be to the LW’s benefit to be very far away from this pair when it happens.

  46. Fabulous*

    #3 – Don’t just say that he’s not clear (and also don’t apologize, but that’s another story!) Ask for specific clarifications, rather than a general “could you clarify?” Get rid of that general ask altogether as you’ll only get a general response in return.

    Alison’s language could be a good script, but I’d suggest adding, “Just so I understand what you’re saying, do you mean X or Y or something else?”

    Or if you have zero understanding of what he means, maybe, “Could you try explaining it in another way so I can be sure I understand what you’re asking of me?”

  47. Forrest Rhodes*

    Cecil: “I was crystal clear.”
    Me: “You keep using that term. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

  48. Ambrianne*

    I’m a bank teller and deal with a variation of #3 all day long. People only come to a teller nowadays with semi-complicated transactions, but they still expect the experience to be fast food-like.

    I slow their roll when I have to, and from time to time get treated like I’m ignorant. This doesn’t feel good. I flush, and my heart rate increases when people are annoyed. But I do it anyway because it’s important to do financial transactions correctly. The people who are grateful greatly outnumber the impatient ones, fortunately.

    LW#3 is going to be embarrassed to ask for clarification over and over, but you have to push through it to the other side. It gets easier. Your confidence in yourself and your ability to handle tough situations will grow.

  49. Alex*

    In my experience, people who refuse to clarify what they mean don’t actually really understand what they are talking about and are hiding behind vagueness.

  50. Cinderblock*

    LW4: I’m pudgy, so people occasionally ask me when I’m due. They’re *really* embarrassed when I reply “Never.”

  51. morethantired*

    #4 since you say you don’t like confrontation, if saying any of the suggested responses seems too aggressive, I would try just looking at them in the eye and remaining silent with an unhappy or unimpressed expression on your face. Sometimes just letting the rude comment hang in the air with a pointed silence can speak volumes without having to say anything.

  52. PlainJane*

    I feel like the script Cecil needs to learn is something along the line of, “What are you unclear on?” And, you know, listening to the answer. Not only will that solve the immediate problem of helping OP do what needs doing, but it will also help Cecil learn where he’s being unclear. If OP is left on their own, maybe it could be prompted (shouldn’t have to be left up to OP, but, you know… reality.)

    OP: I’m not clear one what you need me to do in the llama reports.
    Cecil: I feel I was crystal clear.
    OP: (ignores this entirely, but not obviously) When I list the grooming brush types, did you want them sorted alphabetically or by material type?

    Or, you know, whatever the unclear portion is… be prepared to give a specific thing, even if it isn’t the only thing, just because it’s easier to point to something concrete. Though, of course, ideally it would be Cecil’s boss practicing this with him, and it would be ridiculous for OP to coach a supervisor. Grr.

    If he has a general problem with arrogance, then it’s beyond this, of course.

    Why do people think it’s okay to be arrogant at work? Or anywhere? Where do they get this idea that it’s okay to be awful? As a society, we need to clamp down on the behavior in and out of the workplace.

    1. Rose*

      I’m wondering if it’s similar to a situation I had with my x boss, who would kind of pontificate on a subject for a while with no specific ask and then be like “ok, get that to me by Friday!”

      The questions I’d have to ask trying to pull off the strategy above were so absurd and embarrassing.

      “So… you’d like me to… sort the grooming brushes?”

      “Oh, no.”

      “You would like me to… buy new brushes?”

      “New brushes would be good to have.”

      And so on, until I wanted to cry.

  53. A Genuine Scientician*

    For #2: How sure are you that they’re still dating?

    This is a problem either way. No one should ever be dating an underling in their own chain of command. Even having previously dated someone in their chain of command can be a problem, because it creates at the very least an appearance of partiality. And the two of them being close enough that they vacation together outside of work is a problem even if they’re just doing it as friends and not part of a couple. But if you’re not 100% sure that they are still dating, I strongly suggest not basing the complaint to HR on the idea that they are still dating, as it could easily become a distraction if they say they’re not. Whether or not they are is not the (primary) point; the point is that they are very close outside of work and one employee is getting far more face time with and inside information from the boss than other employees have access to, and that this is affecting promotions.

  54. Raida*

    1. My boss saw me sneaking out early

    You had to leave to make a phone call? Why didn’t you call from your desk? Your work phone even?

    Anyway, you’re fine. When you’re feeling less overwhelmed tell your boss what happened – a really sh*t week, high stress, felt like a teenager caught ‘sneaking out’ and blurted a silly response! Gosh isn’t it funny how that can happen? I saw my [friend/sibling/partner] get ‘caught’ ‘sneaking’ a cookie and they looked exactly like a five year old – deer in the headlights, denying it, hahaaaa

  55. Raida*

    3. Coworker insists he’s “crystal clear” when he’s not

    Instead of “sorry what?” I’d go with “So to clarify, A, B, C, not D – is that correct?”
    and then and there they can confirm/correct the understanding.

    Personally if someone said could I say it again, with no guide as to what they don’t understand, I’d be annoyed. Then I’d be going through each part (including what I don’t need to, maybe, like processes and policies to give a basis for the need for an action) to answer them.
    I’d far prefer to be told
    “So I get the files from SFTP, place them in the POC environment S3 july_samples, and run the “Samples” workflow from remote machine EC2-7, is that right?”
    so that I could say
    “the S3 july_samples is in the DEV environment, and then you just tell Mark he can run the “Samples” workflow.”

    But if it’s actually unintelligible, then I’d go way off in my ‘guess’ to ensure that he pedantically explains in the detailed required what he needs. Ha, that’s what we’d do in the drive-thru at KFC is someone *really* mumbled. “So that was a crispy strip combo with sunkist?” ~loud exasperated sigh~ “No. I *said* [clear order]”

  56. Raida*

    “Wow, you’ve really gained weight!”


    everyone shuts up when they get responded to with that.

  57. autumnal*

    When I was about 8 months pg with my daughter 23 years ago, my boss said, “Wow, you’re really getting fat!” I looked straight at her and said, “I was fat before, THIS (pointing to my belly) is a baby!” That wasn’t my normal MO, to say something like that out loud. I don’t know if it was fatigue or the fact that for the first time in my entire adult life, I wasn’t worried about my weight and had a very good excuse for a big ol’ belly. I was pissed!

    I always remember that exchange with a smile. Now I’m 23 years older and say many, many more things out loud.

  58. CountryLass*

    #3 ‘You may feel you have been crystal clear, but to avoid any uncertainty, I want to tell you what I believe you have said, and you to confirm if I have understood you correctly.’ Or words to that effect, and keep repeating.
    I have to do something similar but the other way round, where I say that they ‘may already know this, however I am aware that just because I think somebody knows something, does not mean that they do, so to be clear, XYZABC. Does that make sense?’

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