I sounded like a know-it-all in front of my boss, seeking more lucrative offers when I don’t want to leave, and more

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

1. I sounded like a know-it-all in front of my boss

I started at a new company recently. When I started, I learned that a lot of my colleagues in the department worked together at a different company and all of them had known each other for quite some time, including my manager. They all use the phrase “internal customer,” which one of my colleagues confirmed they learned at the previous company. I understand the phrase but much prefer to use “internal stakeholder” as I was taught when completing my degree. When my colleagues or manager use the phrase, I never thought of telling them that I prefer to use a different phrase and just go along with it.

Recently I was on a call in our open plan office with an actual customer and when I dropped the call my one colleague, who is not customer-facing, said, “I wish you could talk to us like that.” (I always speak to my colleagues in a friendly and respectful manner but I do try and be a bit “nicer” when dealing with clients.) So I told him, “You never went for customer service training before because they teach you a ‘customer service voice.'” He said, “Yeah, but we are your internal customers.” In the heat of the moment, I busted out, “I studied business and I never heard of this internal customer thing.” He responded, “It’s time then for you to learn” and I said, “No, I am fine, thanks.”

My boss heard the whole conversation and I think I gave her the impression I’m the “kid who knows everything” since I am a lot younger than most of my colleagues. I also went to college, and the colleague I was speaking with and my boss did not. I would like to redeem the situation so that my boss does not think I have a sense of entitlement. I thought of waiting till she used the phrase “internal customer” again and generally asking her to explain it to me, so that she understands I am open to learning new things from her and respect the knowledge she has gathered in the industry through the years.

Whoa, there’s a lot here. First, “internal customer” is a normal and common phrase, and it’s strange to assume that it’s not just because you didn’t learn it in school. You’ll learn a ton on the job that school didn’t teach you, and if you go in with the attitude that school is the final word on things, you’re not going to learn things you need to know to succeed in your field and will also repeatedly look bad to others. Plus, different companies have different terms for things; that doesn’t make them wrong. It’s not something to dig your heels in over.

You’re overly focused on your own schooling and your colleagues’ lack of it. There are tons of jobs where degrees aren’t necessary to succeed (your boss is apparently an example of this). The best way to show your boss that you respect her and are open to learning new things is … to respect her and genuinely be open to learning new things, neither of which currently sound like you’re doing from your letter!

Don’t ask your boss to explain “internal customer” to you; that will come across oddly because it’s clear you’re already aware what it means. Just treat her and your coworkers with respect, stop putting so much value on school versus real-world experience, and assume people who have been working longer than you have probably have things to teach you.

2. Is there any point in seeking more lucrative offers if I don’t actually want to leave?

Back in 2020, you said: “You should never use an outside offer as a way to negotiate more money from your current job unless you’re 100% prepared to accept the other offer — because they may tell you to go ahead and take it.”

I’m a software engineer and am currently working in the first job in ages that I could see myself doing long term. This is, obviously, a great position to be in! However, there are lots of companies in my area hiring software engineers with my qualifications at significantly higher pay. These can be grouped loosely into VC-funded startups and tech behemoths, and for a variety of reasons I don’t really like the idea of working at either type of place. But I see the recruiter spam and LinkedIn listings and it makes me wonder whether I ought to give it a shot.

The thing is, I don’t think I can truthfully say I would be prepared to accept an offer to leave my current job. I like it here and I value quality of life immensely. The pay is more than enough for my lifestyle and I’m not all that frugal either. Do you think there is any point, then, in seeking more lucrative offers? My friends have suggested that I might be able to mention such an offer tactfully in a performance review, perhaps after rejecting it, in order to advocate for a raise. Honestly, that sounds to me like a huge risk and I would have no idea how to do it smoothly.

Part of me is inclined to think that trying to work an angle like that would end like a Greek tragedy where greed proves to be the hero’s fatal flaw — but the world doesn’t really work like that, does it?

When I talk about not using counteroffers unless you’re prepared to accept the other offer, that’s about going to your boss and saying you’ve received an offer that you plan to take unless they counter. There’s always a risk there that they’ll say, “We’ll be sorry to lose you but we can’t match that so you should take it.”

However, you can talk to your boss and say something more like, “I’m really happy here and want to stay for a long time. I’m being approached by recruiters offering $X-Y, and I want to be up-front with you that it’s tempting to talk with them when I hear numbers like that — but I really like working here and strongly prefer to stay where I am. Is there room to increase my salary to closer to market rate?”

3. I have a hard time with accents

I have a really hard time with accents. (Just, like, all of them, not any one in particular.) I have some auditory processing issues, which I think is part of it, but I can’t really say why it seems to be so bad compared to other people. I try not to ask people to repeat themselves unless it’s absolutely necessary, but it’s also obvious when I don’t really get what people are saying, or when it takes a long time for my brain to parse through the meaning of a sentence.

All of this makes me feel like a complete A-hole, especially in the workplace. As I move up in my career, I’m also starting to worry that it makes me come across as xenophobic or somehow intentionally antagonistic, like I’m feigning incomprehension to make a point. Is there a workplace-appropriate way to say “it’s not you, it’s just my brain” if I feel like my problem is becoming noticeable? Or should I just focus on, well, focusing in conversation and hope my colleagues know that it’s nothing personal?

How about: “I have some auditory processing issues so I might ask you to repeat yourself — apologies in advance.” You’re not obligated to share that, but people are less likely to be annoyed or read things into it that aren’t there if they have the same context you do.

4. I missed an email from a hiring manager and made a bad first impression

I was referred to the hiring manager of a different agency. The next day, my referrer forwarded me an email from the hiring manager which stated, “I am curious if [my name] is truly interested in this role. I emailed yesterday and have not heard back. Any advice?”

I check the spam folder; it was received 26 hours ago. I responded with an apology and explanation.

I have a phone interview next week, but I feel horrible about the bad first impression. I don’t check personal emails during work, and the job posting stated they review applicants next week. I worked late that day and arrived early the next to set up a work event at my current job and was not focused on checking for an email. Best way to move forward?

It’s not a big deal. It went to your spam folder, you explained that, done. And even with the spam snafu, it didn’t take all that long for you to respond; its not like you left them waiting for weeks.

It’s true that when you’re job searching it’s smart to check your spam folder regularly (that was the subject of my very first blog post here!). But for most people that will mean daily, not constantly. And again, this wasn’t a very long wait — we’re talking about just over a day. You could have been on vacation, sick, tied up with work, all sorts of things.

There’s nothing you need to do to move forward; you’ve already handled it and the hiring manager almost certainly isn’t dwelling on it. (If for some reason it turns out she is, that would be a red flag about her.)

{ 561 comments… read them below }

  1. ENFP in Texas*

    “I would like to redeem the situation so that my boss does not think I have a sense of entitlement.”

    The issue isn’t a “sense of entitlement”, it’s the arrogance and dismissive attitude that’s the problem.

    1. Mina, the Company Prom Queen*

      100% this. There is a relatively new person in my department who acts like this. She has a Ph.D. and is quite arrogant about it. There are others in our company with advanced degrees and they are a lot more humble. She has been stepping on toes and acting like a dismissive know-it-all since she started at our company. She made it impossible to collaborate with her because she would take over tasks and projects she was just supposed to shadow and assist us with while training, often messing things up and creating more work for us. And she would get defensive and combative when we pointed out how these things should actually be done. On top of that, she is the biggest kiss-a**, super obvious and cringeworthy. And she takes over most of our team meetings and our Teams chat. Don’t be like this person. People tolerate her, but that’s about it. Nobody wants to work with her.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Oh gods I was like that in my first job outside the labs. ‘I’ve got all these advanced degrees!’ thought I. But they simply mean I was knowledgeable about a small area of a specialist subject.

        A manager set me straight with a ‘did they teach you manners in these fancy laboratories?’. Love that guy.

        1. Relentlessly Socratic*

          Ah….I remember when I had my shiny new PhD and knew E V E R Y T H I N G. People were probably much more gracious than they should have been, lol!

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            Given that I left virology for IT where my qualifications meant naff all I really had my head up my jacksie. Ahh to the arrogance of youth!

            20 odd years on and one tries to remember that it is impossible to know everything. There’s always someone who knows something you don’t.

          2. kr*

            feeling a lil bit envious because the process of getting my humanities PhD destroyed my self-worth so thoroughly that I was (in ways that I think were also very unhelpful to my colleagues) sort of the opposite of this when I started my post-PhD employment… very underconfident and unsure. Advanced degrees, huh, they’re certainly a thing.

        2. Butterfly Counter*

          I guess I’m lucky in that the first job I got after getting my Ph.D. was a temp job. Further, it was a temp job in the exact same building I had been a temp the summer after my freshman year of university. I had graduated with a BA, gotten an MA, and worked my butt off to defend my dissertation, and I was right back where I started (making $5 more an hour than I had 11 years before).

          I wasn’t even the best temp they employed at that office! I was solidly “fine” at that job.

          Humbling experience. I have a better job now, but really, it’s just thought of as “better” and pays more for less work. I am not a better person because of it or my education.

        3. Donna Noble*

          My junior colleague is similar to this. I tried for a year but she just does not get “assume people who have been working longer than you have probably have things to teach you”. Defensive and petulant at any question, change, or standard. I am ready to quit trying to help her learn, to share information.
          I am also surprised that not one of your professors ever explained that every industry, every company or agency, and every office has its own language.

      2. WeirdChemist*

        Yeah, I have a PhD and many of my coworkers have a bachelors/masters in our field. Competency definitely doesn’t scale with degree! I mostly consider my PhD as less of an academic qualification and more of 5 years work experience in independently solving complex problems and tons of writing/presenting. Plenty of my coworkers with bachelors have that same experience from other jobs, so why would I be “better” than them? I also have a coworker with a PhD who is not only terrible at all the skills I feel like I gained from my degree, but is also an elitist jerk about it… “I refuse to do that task, it’s beneath me! Don’t you know I have a PhD!!!!!” Like we all have the same job title, get over yourself…

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          I have had to argue with engineers (yes, multiple) about which way stormwater runoff flows on our site. To the point of getting a bucket of water and dumping it on the ground to demonstrate. They did not believe that I, the uneducated laborer, knew better than them.

          One of them asked me how I could be so sure. Well… first, I’d worked their 10 years including on rainy days. Second, I was in charge of maintaining the storm drains. And finally, even without an engineering degree I am aware that, generally speaking, water flows DOWNHILL.

        2. KateM*

          LW1 actually only writes “I also went to college, and the colleague I was speaking with and my boss did not”, no mention of any kind of degree. (Not being a native speaker, I’m not sure if graduation is implied or not sure.)

          1. Mad Harry Crewe*

            It’s strongly implied, especially since people who didn’t graduate are generally less hung up on college experience.

          2. Irish Teacher.*

            I would definitely assume it meant they had a degree or diploma or some kind of qualification. Most people who go to college do. Yeah, a few drop out, (though in Ireland, the majority of those are just changing courses and do graduate from whatever course they change to, but I know that is different in the US). I would expect it to be mentioned if they meant, “I attended college but dropped out,” as it’s not really the norm.

            I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody say “I went to college and got a degree.”

      3. Eldritch Office Worker*

        We had someone recently who was like this but everyone she worked with had the exact same degrees . She thought somehow because hers was one or two years more recent it was more relevant and she was a step ahead. I think maybe she’d gotten one or two extra DEI lectures and had taken half a course on AI – all of which her coworkers had recent on the job experience with and she was not ahead of them.

        She ended up getting fired, shockingly.

        1. alh*

          I work in a field where a Masters is required, so we all have it. It’s entry level. I have a colleague who was used to being revered in another setting for having a Masters (in an unrelated field). It has taken him a long time to understand that having a Masters in our workplace is not actually impressive, and talking to us like we couldn’t possibly understand the things he can understand because he has a Masters is not a good way to win friends and influence people.

          1. don'tbeadork*

            It may not make friends, but it definitely influences people. Just not the way he’d want.

        2. Wendy Darling*

          I worked with someone whose entire identity was “I have a PhD”, which is sort of understandable because a PhD IS pretty life-consuming while you’re doing it, but still obnoxious, especially because her PhD was in a field totally unrelated to our work. She threw a fit because someone else got a role she applied for and actually cornered the person and declared, “I should have gotten your job, *I* have a PhD”.

          What she didn’t know is the person who got hired had a PhD in the relevant field. The new hire just stared at her and then walked away.

      4. B*

        And not to be a snob, but it sounds like the LW has an undergraduate degree in business, which, unlike a Ph.D, does not even ostensibly make you an expert in anything. LW needs an immediate, wholesale attitude adjustment.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Most people don’t get PhDs in business unless they plan to teach, but in places where education is a strong factor you’ll find more masters than bachelors.

          Still, the thing that really makes you an expert is experience.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            I have a masters in a field where most people have a bachelors or less. I’m not saying the degree was useless (I think it’s factored into higher salary offers), but I’d trade those two years of grad school for 2 years of working experience in a heartbeat.

            1. Freya*

              There was a point at university where I had to teach the person taking the tutorials why what they were suggesting as a solution would not work in the real world. They were getting their masters in the field; I had only worked in it for ten years. They won my respect by both being cool about me speaking up and being enthused for the information.

              (It’s been a few years, but IIRC it was something along the lines of most modern accounting software won’t let you journal to the bank account because then it doesn’t match the bank statement. There’s workarounds to be used instead, if lie about the balance in the bank account you must)

      5. Seriously?*

        Had a coworker with a PhD in a field that had zilch to do with our job. We could have had a drinking game based on the number of times she mentioned her PhD in department meetings. And she was sooooo rude to people that she didn’t think lived up to her standard. As department chair I curbed the rudeness to the best of my ability. Last I heard she quit that career and is now a real estate agent. I’m sure her PhD is super helpful!

    2. Oh sure that's not a bother at all!*

      The “you learn the customer service voice in school” really made me laugh.

      I would bet that most people got their customer service voice in actual service jobs when waitressing or working retail. Mine was finely honed before I graduated high school.

      1. Boof*

        Yeah… colleague literally asked LW1 to be nicer, and they got a really condescending response. Judging by that and that the LW thinks maybe they just need to ask their boss for “education” on a pretty clear phrase rather than, say, apologizing to the coworker, it’s quite possible they are being weirdly abrasive to their colleagues despite saying they “always speak to my colleagues in a friendly and respectful manner”.
        (I acknowledge there are scenarios where asking someone to be nicer is not reasonable – like when it becomes tone policing certain groups / a double standard – but my sense from the letter is that is not the situation)

        1. Viette*

          Right! I was surprised the answer didn’t even address “I wish you could talk to us like that.” That’s not something you say to a coworker who is routinely kind and respectful to you!

          Either this person’s coworkers want to them to be a sugary darling to them all day or they’re trying to flag that they don’t feel respect or kindness. Could be either but the rest of the letter doesn’t bode well for the situation.

          1. Snow Globe*

            Yes, this. The coworker was telling the LW something very important, which they ignored because they were focused on the “internal customer” phrase. The coworker doesn’t like how the LW speaks to them. This likely means the coworker is perceived as somewhat rude when speaking to colleagues, and that the coworker was surprised to hear them speaking in a friendly or respectful way when talking to a customer.

            1. MigraineMonth*


              LW1, it is very rare that you will receive this kind of clear, actionable feedback from a peer. Most people will just avoid you, grumble behind your back or talk to your manager. It was a gift, and you threw it back in their face.

              Go back to this colleague, sincerely apologize, and take their feedback to heart.

              1. That Coworker's Coworker*

                Totally agree with this. This coworker found a really great teachable moment to fairly gently convey “hey, we can see you know how to be nice to people, so why are you so obnoxious to your coworkers?” – and instead of hearing and absorbing and considering this, and adjusting your own behavior accordingly, you responded with more of exactly the not-niceness that the coworker was trying to correct.

              2. Jessica*

                I mean, also, can we take a moment and appreciate that “I wish that’s how you talked to us” was possibly the most humble, kind way possible to tell someone they’re being rude and condescending?

                Work on learning humility with these people, LW. They seem gentle and patient. Some of them are likely smarter than you, and it sounds like all of them are more experienced than you. This is a relatively safe environment, since you seem to have an incredibly permissive boss. (I think she failed you and her team in that she overheard you being rude and condescending to a colleague and didn’t address it, but take advantage of the relative lack of consequences to work on being a more decent human.)

                Because you will, in your career, come in contact with people who are smarter than you, more educated than you, and/or more powerful than you. It may not immediately be apparent to you who they are, but I guarantee some of them are going to have small tolerance for nonsense, and the potential consequences for being a condescending jerk to someone in power who’s disinclined to tolerate it range from a very humiliating public correction to being fired on the spot.

                Go into every meeting assuming you’re the least knowledgeable person in the room. Even if it’s not true, you’ll learn a ton more than you will if you go in assuming you’re the most knowledgeable.

                1. Dark Macadamia*

                  Yes, this was a very gracious gesture on the coworker’s part and LW seems to have completely missed it.

                2. I Have RBF*

                  Because you will, in your career, come in contact with people who are smarter than you, more educated than you, and/or more powerful than you.


                  I grew up as often the smartest person in the room. I got A’s in school without even trying. It took me a while after high school to understand that other’s were just as smart, or smarter, in a lot of different areas.

                  Now? I love it when I’m not expected to be the smartest person in the room. I like working with people who know more about a subject than I do. Then I can learn from them.

                  But it took me a while to learn this.

            1. Erin*

              Omg same. I absolutely would want to know that I’m unkind and difficult to work with, but it would be a hard pill to swallow.

            2. So they all cheap ass-rolled over and one fell out*

              A friend told me I was rude to waiters and I never got over it, even now, 15-20 years after that comment.. I definitely was never overtly rude to waitstaff or anyone else, but ever since I have tried to be extra polite and thankful to them.

              I can’t imagine if my coworkers said that to me! I would die and/or quit of embarrassment, and I definitely wouldn’t tell them it was because I was trained to be polite only to important people!

            3. MigraineMonth*

              I once had to tell a coworker that she was coming across as brusque and aggressive in emails (because emails are great at conveying tone, just not the one you intended.) She immediately called me. Not only to apologize, but to sincerely thank me for the feedback. She’d apparently been having friction with a number of colleagues and hadn’t been able to figure out why.

              OP1, you still have a chance to turn this around. Apologize sincerely to coworker and take the chance she’s given you to adjust your behavior.

              1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

                Ugh, I deal with a person who regularly tells me how to do my job in emails and that he’s doing what’s best for the agency (when …that’s an opinion? Not a fact?) and when I tell him he’s being condescending, he explains to me why he wasn’t being condescending.

            4. Regular Human Accountant*

              LW#1, I have had a lot of jobs and all but one of them came through former colleagues; as you progress your network becomes worth far more than your degree. Protect it.

              Several years ago a coworker who had been working at another location for quite a while came back to our offices and participated in some meetings with me. He came to my office afterward and said, “You seem kind of angry; you’re not the same as you used to be.”

              He was right; I was angry, things at that company were not going well. And to this day that is one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me. I made a concerted effort to change my outward demeanor, and my internal attitude shifted as well. I will always be grateful that my colleague was generous enough to talk to me directly.

              LW1, your coworker gave you a gift. Listen to them, and be nicer.

          2. hbc*

            Yeah, absent all other context, I’d probably suggest playing it off like “Hah, if you want, we can talk to each other in chirpy, cheerful customer-service speak and see who breaks first.” But when the person receiving that request has the mindset that their undereducated colleagues don’t know the Proper business terms…almost certainly a signal to treat them a little nicer.

            1. Nonanon*

              Similar; I have a “customer service voice” that shoots up several octaves (which is doubly surprising considering I am a woman with a voice on the lower end of the spectrum; one of my coworkers referred to my customer service voice as “reverse Elizabeth Holmes” and frankly now I’ve adapted it) and I tend to be more polite/considerate with customers. That’s not to say I’m rude with coworkers; but rather more likely to use gentle language with customers (“we recommend not putting your llama in a teapot”) and more direct with coworkers (“Don’t put the llama in the teapot it will poo everywhere and you’ll never be able to clean it”). I can understand my coworkers hearing a Disney princess voice with “soft” language be amusing, and wishing they could hear it more often because it’s so opposite of how I am… but in the context, this is a colleague telling the LW to take it down a notch and not be such a snob.

              1. Anna Badger*

                I’m a low alto but my phone voice is much higher, which used to fascinate my old manager in a job where I was on the phone a lot. eventually I worked out that I’d picked up the habit at the job before that because the bass was completely lost when using the internal store phones, so the only way to be understood was to pitch up.

                1. AnonORama*

                  Ha, everyone was surprised that I could sing tenor in an a cappella group when we didn’t have any male tenors, because my speaking voice is much higher. And my phone voice is higher still! But don’t give me anything to sing with high notes in it – if you value your ears, that is.

              2. Always Tired*

                My CS voice is higher and has a significant southern twang that always catches my colleagues by surprise. (I’m from northern California and sound like it, but I learned my manners from my Southern Belle of a grandmother). But while occasionally described as sassy, I have always respected my coworkers abilities and experience. No one has ever asked me to use my CS voice with them, because it has been deemed downright creepy.

                Also, not at you in particular Nonanon, but as I understand an internal customer is different from an internal stakeholder. An internal customer is the gal over in finance who files an IT ticket because her computer screen cracked. An internal stakeholder is the head of the sales team who relies on the marketing team to get the up to date branding info and draw in customer inquiries. Finance gal doesn’t really care about IT’s overall performance numbers or growth, she just wants her laptop replaced or repaired and that interaction will be the most she does with IT. Sales has a vested longterm interest in how marketing is doing, their strategy, and success.

            2. Random Dice*

              The funny thing is that I have an advanced degree in business, and guess what – it’s all made up shit. (Except finance and the time value of money.)

              Business is a placeholder degree – it’s versatile but not exactly groundbreaking.

          3. Fledge Mulholland*

            Yes! This. What stuck out to me was that OP seems worried about what her manager thinks about her acting like a know-it-all but showed no interest in asking about how to repair the relationship with her colleague.

        2. Kelly*

          OP reminds me of a woman I used to work with who was SO NICE and wonderful with our clients, but treated her coworkers and boss with cold disdain. I had the same degree as she did, but I got the same cold treatment and refusal to help when she was supposed to be training me my first week. It was really awful and worse yet she kissed up the office manager who didn’t know how awful she was until very recently. Her attitude still comes up and she quit three years ago. Our other boss mentioned she had gone through a second or third divorce and just got kind of nasty, but it’s absolutely unacceptable to treat your coworkers like over-excited puppies whenever you see them.

          1. Janeric*

            Your metaphor is great and I can see it in my mind, but I am indulging in a minute of imagining treating coworkers like I treat over-excited puppies.
            “Oh! Hello! How nice to see you! You look like you’re having a good day! I’m so glad to see you, oh my goodness! Were you waiting for me? Did you miss me?”

            1. Random Dice*

              Ha, yes, apparently it’s not universal to see over-excited puppies and BECOME an over-excited puppy? Who is this Cruella DeVille coworker?!

            2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

              I feel like “oh my goodness, you’re such a handsome boy” in a baby voice would not be a great way to interact with my co-workers.

        3. Lacey*

          Yeah, the LW missed the point and generally sounds like they are being a bit of an annoying know it all around the office.

          Though, I will say that it is also annoying when coworkers want to be treated like clients just because the work you do goes to them next, in this context it sounds like they probably just want a coworker who is a bit more pleasant to them.

        4. Antilles*

          Yeah… colleague literally asked LW1 to be nicer, and they got a really condescending response.
          I’m guessing the colleague walked away from that interaction quietly seething because of this. Especially since even mentioning it is actually doing LW a favor by passing along the hint of “you’re not coming across well to colleagues” and LW decided to double-down on it.

          1. Tammy 2*

            This interaction is so ridiculous it surpasses something I would be upset about. LW1 is setting off every single one of my “Oh, honey…no” bells.

            I hope they’re able to learn from this and shift their attitude, or professional success will elude them in spite of their school work. (It does seem odd that their degree program covered customer service voice but not being polite to coworkers.)

          2. Frankie Mermaids*

            I would really love to see a letter written from Coworker’s perspective on this same incident

          3. Dark Macadamia*

            This moment would be a point of no return for me. If I’d already been… unimpressed with someone, and this is how they reacted when I spoke up? Full-on BEC for the rest of my life lol.

        5. Heffalump*

          LW1 missed their coworker’s point: They should be civil to internal customers, external customers, you name it, on general principles.

      2. Too Stunned To Speak*

        Right. I can’t tell if LW1 is just clueless about the work world because they’ve never had to hold a job before, or they have a general difficulty in understanding social cues, but they seem confidently oblivious about workplace norms.

        And as a side note, customer and stakeholder don’t mean the same thing…I would expect someone with so much schooling to understand that nuance.

        1. Nebula*

          Right? The way I understand it is that if you are, for example, working on an IT service desk, the people you help within your organisation are internal customers, whereas internal stakeholders – well, that could be anyone internal if we’re talking ‘internal stakeholders’ in the company/organisation as a whole, or if it’s specific projects, then whoever internally is invested in that project and who you’d have to be accountable to. I could be wrong, so unlike LW I’m open to correction if anyone has better definitions.

          Anyway yeah, I am astonished that someone would respond to “It’s time for you to learn” with “No, I’m fine thanks.” Even if it was something spurious (which it isn’t), then you can always just listen along and go “Thanks so much” and ignore it afterwards (which isn’t the situation here but is one I’ve been in before).

          1. Zzzzzz*

            Stakeholders are everyone who has some sort of vested interest in your business (on any level: customers, Board members, legislative community members, etc); those are then “drilled down”/put in order of how they meet your biz strategic needs and how to message to them: where do they sit in relation to how your business can meet its needs and how can it best accomplish this. Internal customers, and staff, are a subset of stakeholders.

            1. SarahKay*

              Yep, that was my thought. All internal customers are internal stakeholders, but not all internal stakeholders are internal customers.

              1. gyratory_circus*

                Due to buyouts/acquisitions, I’ve been had 4 different employers over the last 18 years and every single one of them uses different jargon to mean the same thing. Same exact industry, just different parent companies. There’s always a few months of mentally switching to the new lingo, but it doesn’t mean one is necessarily right and the other is automatically wrong.

                1. Pet Jack*

                  Right, especially, even if they referred to them as the “unicorn support team” once you understand that “unicorn support” means that, then…that’s what you use. You don’t ask for an explanation with the sold purpose of making other people realize that they are dumber than you.

                2. Willow Pillow*

                  This! I went from a company where “associate” translated to franchise owner… To one where employees were internally, officially called associates. They’re just words. The people paying you are allowed to use them differently.

                3. Sweet 'N Low*

                  My field has the opposite but equally infuriating problem: the same jargon to mean different things. Not *wildly* different, but certainly different enough that communication is… difficult.

                4. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                  My field has the opposite but equally infuriating problem: the same jargon to mean different things. Not *wildly* different, but certainly different enough that communication is… difficult.

                  That could be my environment, except for the “wildly” part. I could have back-to-back conversations with two different internal customers and hear the same acronyms used to describe contradictory phenomenon (think PPP meaning “Pre-Processing Protocol” or “Post-Processing Protocol”).

              2. Me...Just Me*

                And, I highly prefer Internal Customer as a term when a job doesn’t have an outward facing client, directly – such as “support services” – IT, HR, etc. People in those departments very directly work “for” the other departments and should reliably view their colleagues as “customers”. One of the best places I worked had “customer service” surveys for departments that served other departments (that the other department heads filled out quarterly). It definitely helped with service delivery from those areas to know that they would be held accountable for the services they are responsible for. It was one of the very best organizations where the non-client facing departments were truly held accountable for their deliverables (just like all the other client facing departments were being held accountable). Stakeholder just doesn’t put that nuance and responsibility into the equation the same way that Customer does.

          2. ScruffyInternHerder*

            **Anyway yeah, I am astonished that someone would respond to “It’s time for you to learn” with “No, I’m fine thanks.”**

            Yeah. Had an intern try that once. He didn’t last long as that was really just a blazing red flag that was forewarning that he was NOT suited for the position he was in. (The statement was made alongside a warning that bid-shopping was not done, because its unethical, and depending on a lot of factors, could be illegal…)

            1. Dust Bunny*

              We had one of those. Apparently she assumed that whatever job she got, she would be enough rungs up the ladder that she wouldn’t need to learn that much. Our supervisor straightened her out before he had to give her a bad assessment.

          3. And the Skeletons Are… Part of It*

            “I am astonished that someone would respond to “It’s time for you to learn” with “No, I’m fine thanks.””

            +1000. OP, the yikes is coming from inside the house!

            1. Another Academic Librarian*

              I don’t understand this viewpoint, as when I imagine this conversation I cannot interpret “It’s time for you to learn” as anything except rude or perhaps very awkward. “I’m good, thanks” strikes me as an offhand way to deflect an odd comment.

              1. Ivkra*

                Normally, I think I’d feel the same, but in the context it was a direct response to “I studied business and never heard this term you all use,” which, unpacked, does really warrant that reply. If they’d just said “I’ve never learned this/that,” and the coworker had replied “Then it’s time for you to learn,” I’d think that was pretty rude, but a couple things make it pretty appropriate, I think.
                First, that this was a tangent from a comment about how this person is not nice to their coworkers(!!!), which they had rejected by pivoting to reference a skill they learned in business school, rather than accepting the feedback about being nicer.
                Second, the phrase “In the heat of the moment, I busted out” implies, IMO, that this was said in a pretty rude, angry tone of voice, not in a casual conversational voice. I think a snappier/more blunt retort is less uncalled for in that context.

                But mostly, it was a reply to a very rude statement which had already implied that this person didn’t consider this term important, or relevant, because it wasn’t from their degree. Leaving aside whether or not it IS a good term to use (even if it’s common/normal, that doesn’t actually mean it’s useful, IMO), saying “You all use this, but I never learned it in my degree (which you don’t have),” as a follow up when you’ve also said “I’m nice to customers because I learned customer service voice in my degree (which you don’t have),” does, in fact, strongly imply that this person doesn’t care about learning new things. In that context, “It’s time for you to learn [this term], [that knowledge necessary to your job exists outside of your degree], [that you need to be nicer to your coworkers]” is, IMO, quite appropriate.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          I have exactly zero schooling in business and work in a discipline where stakeholders aren’t a thing and I know the difference.

          OP1 you need to shake this attitude ASAP. I have a BA in history and actually work in a related field (archives) and my degree was almost indescribably irrelevant to my job. I cannot emphasize that enough: I literally use my experience as a veterinary assistant more than I use my degree, mostly since I work in a medical school library but also because I spent more time looking up stuff and working with clients/patrons at the vet’s office. My history degree taught me diddly-squat about archives and even if it had, it would all be outdated and useless by now.

          As stated by others: The way to appear open to learning is to be open to learning, and the first step in that is getting way, way, over your hangup about business school and who has degrees vs. who doesn’t.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            I’m a software developer, and I’m struggling to come up with a single time I’ve used my masters degree at any of my jobs. (In contrast, my creative writing hobby has developed skills that I use daily.)

          2. OrigCassandra*

            There’s a phenomenal article by Michelle Caswell aimed directly at historians, media scholars, etc. who swan around “theorizing the archive” or whatever while totally ignoring that archives is its own independent field with its own history, its own theory, and its own theory-informed praxis. Caswell does not mince words. It’s one of my favorite pieces in the archives literature.

            (I’m a librarian, not an archivist, but a lot of the issues librarians have with Clueless Patronizing Know-It-Alls are similar.)

        3. Bess*

          Seemed to me like someone who is very literal, linear, by-the-book and overly simplistic in applying concepts to the real world.

        4. Jessica*

          There’s “difficulty understanding social cues/confidently oblivious about workplace norms” and then there’s “treating your colleagues like they’re stupid.”

          Neurodivergence/difficulty with social cues/etc. doesn’t automatically turn you into a condescending, nasty asshole who can’t take feedback (hell, most of the neurodivergent people I’ve worked with were *better* than average at taking feedback as long as it was clear and explicit), so let’s not conflate it with arrogance and contempt for others.

        5. Ivkra*

          I had the same thought about the difference between customer and stakeholder. My partner, who’s far more versed in white collar work than me, says she strongly dislikes the term “internal customer,” but it certainly does have a different meaning than “internal stakeholder” (which honestly, seems redundant to me, since it seems like everyone “internal” to the company has at least some sort of stake in it?).

          But to your main point, very much yes. I think LW1 is clueless about the work world and has a quite problematic way of thinking about social norms generally. Two issues stood out to me on a second read of the letter. First, the problem they identified in the letter was that their boss, having witnessed them in a moment of anger, may now think less of them and they want to correct that impression – the problem of “I snapped at my coworker and came off like a know-it-all to THEM” does not seem to have even occurred to the LW. The idea that it only really matters if your boss thinks you have an attitude problem, not your coworkers, is really bad! Especially if they’re already saying “I wish you would be nicer to us” casually! It’s sort of… like this person seems to think that only the person with direct hierarchical power over them matters, not their relationships in the workplace overall. This, IMO, seems like one of those strange “optimize”-y perspectives where power/authority is the most important thing in a relationship, and other things like knowledge, mentorship, even friendly affection or mutual understanding and respect, do not.

          Second, the ‘solution’ they had already considered to this problem was not to apologize to the coworker (so if the boss approaches them, they can say “Oh yes, I definitely realized how rude that was, and I approached Ned to apologize yesterday”), nor to apologize to the boss, nor even to ask the boss if she has this impression and/or for some feedback, nor to consider changing their approach/behavior overall so their boss can see that they aren’t Just Like This. Instead, the solution was to essentially manipulate their boss by approaching her and trying to demonstrate the traits they imagine she wants to see (and isn’t) in them. But that is not . . . how people work. I think it would also be pretty transparent to her – and if I were in her position, I’d be thinking (and maybe saying!) “Why are you asking me this, when Ned was the one who told you you had to learn it the other day? If you’ve realized there’s a gap in your knowledge that your coworker pointed out, they’re the one you should be approaching about it.”

          1. Anax*

            On internal stakeholders – In a fairly compartmentalized business, not everyone will have a stake! My most recent job involved commission/bonuses, and outside a general desire for the company to do well, the llama wranglers don’t care much about the teacup painters’ bonus structure. Certainly, they don’t care about all the fine details, like how bonuses are divided when two people paint a teapot together.

            At that job, we typically used ‘internal customers’ to refer to the people making the rules – the Chief Teapot Painter who set rates and decided how all those weird fine details should work. They were the ones who we were fundamentally accountable to, the ones metaphorically paying our bills.

            ‘Internal stakeholders’ were anyone affected by our work – from the Chief Teapot Painter on down. So for instance, if we changed how teapot bonus reports looked, the internal stakeholders would be all teapot painters – but not the llama wranglers, because they weren’t affected. A full site outage would affect both painters and wranglers from top to bottom, so all users would be stakeholders in that case, and potentially executives or assistants who didn’t directly use our site but were affected indirectly.

            (To your main point though, I totally agree. Terminology is just fun to discuss, especially when it evolves differently in different places.)

      3. Allonge*

        And much earlier than that, a lot of people learn that “treating others with a basic level of respect / niceness” should be applied to everyone.

        There is nothing wrong with cultivating a professional customer service voice, but I really doubt that OP manages to talk to colleagues in a truly friendly and respectful manner based on the comment they quote here.

        OP, good news – it’s possible to check your attitude about this, although it takes some work. I know because I had to do it and have really good relationships now. What helped me: internalizing that I can learn something from everyone, regardless of schooling, experience or (perceived) level of intelligence.

        1. Alexander Graham Yell*

          Exactly. Being generous, maybe the OP has fallen into a trap I fell into early in my career – assuming that because we’re on the same team, we’re on the same “side” and so I don’t need to do the hand-holding/overly polite/customer service-y stuff with internal contacts. In my head I was blowing smoke, and I had to be super nice/phrase things very politically with clients and it felt like an act because it was so new. I was learning a new role to code switch to and it was exhausting and I didn’t like it, so I didn’t want to do it internally.

          It went fine for a while because I’m a generally pleasant person, but when I went through a breakup and my outside life got chaotic, I hadn’t taught myself to flip that switch with coworkers and unfortunately they got the rough end of the stick. My manager had a VERY blunt conversation with me, basically telling me what OP’s coworker said (but with way more concern for my feelings than I’d been showing others) – we’re working together, we need things from each other, internal customers and teammates should get the same courtesy external customers do.

          OP, school teaches you general concepts. The working world shows you how things are. You would learn a TON and potentially be a great teammate and worker if you apply yourself to learning the things your coworkers have to teach you – the ones out doing the actual work that leads to the case studies you looked at in school – as you did to your college classes.

          1. Pet Jack*

            I mean, I’m more casual with internal folks, but still polite, friendly and trying to build a good working relationship. This does not sound like this is what OP is doing, as police, friendly, and good working relationship don’t prompt people to speak up to ask to be spoken to better.

          2. Ivkra*

            This is what I was thinking too. There’s even a reply to the coworker’s comment that would not have been so rude but gets that across! Something like “Well, to be honest it’s fairly exhausting to switch into a customer service voice, and doesn’t feel very genuine to me, so I really prefer to be more straightforward and ‘myself’ with coworkers. But I hadn’t realized I was coming across as unfriendly/unpleasant, which definitely isn’t my intent.”

      4. Nebula*

        Haha yeah that stuck out to me too. And you know, it’s great that they do teach that to people who haven’t had to learn it on the job, but it’s hardly some extremely rarefied thing you only learn from doing a business degree.

      5. DinoGirl*

        This part jumped out to me. The way they’re speaking to colleagues. That interaction with the colleague would be a huge concern for me if I overheard it as a manager.

      6. chewingle*

        I thought the same! I learned the customer service voice from the shitty minimum wage job I worked to pay for college…which definitely didn’t teach me anything practical.

        OP — college is a *baseline* for knowledge, but will never teach you everything you need to know and can’t account for in-house rules (ask any editor). The single most important thing to take from college is how to be open to learning.

        1. DramaQ*

          Same. I learned it when working as a server. I am so good at it it freaks people out who haven’t heard me use it around them before. :) I will say I don’t use that exact tone around coworkers. BUT it is definitely a notch or two above how I would talk to people in my personal life. And I definitely take it up another notch when talking to superiors. There is that line when you are at work. The OP was being given a message by the coworker. That was what I refer to as “professional b-word” voice. They aren’t going to out right say you are being a know it all because they don’t want you running to management. BUT they are warning you that they aren’t going to tolerate your BS much longer themselves and it might come back to bite you.

          1. There You Are*

            This is me, too.

            I spent years in retail work and then decades in B2B sales. I am now an internal auditor and my internal customers are folks in accounting and finance. I quickly became known as the person you grab to talk to the “difficult” colleagues; you know, the kind who hate Audit and therefore getting required documentation out of them is like pulling teeth. . . for anyone who hasn’t manned the Customer Service desk in their region’s busiest Home Depot for two years.

            Joe in Treasury who wants to grammar-police every single request instead of just forwarding the freaking documentation is a cake walk compared to frothing-at-the-mouth, literally-screaming customers who think they were shorted $2 on a $1000 purchase.

            “Difficult co-workers” become melted butter / purring kittens / joyful puppies when I’m the one working with them. My Master’s program did not teach me that.

            Also? All of my co-workers and team members love me. They and those internal customers often drop by my manager’s office unannounced just to tell him how much they like working with me.

            OP – Your life will be easier and more enjoyable — including your personal life — if you change your worldview to “Everyone knows a ton of stuff I don’t, and therefore I can learn something new from literally everyone I encounter.”

      7. Pet Jack*

        Duuude. Yes.

        I mean, if you interact with anyone in any administrative capacity DURING school, I could see it, but that’s literally just interacting and understanding how you like to be spoken to. Which could happen…literally anywhere.

        Also, I hope this OP comes back in 10 years or so an can contribute to one of the “things I did and said when I was new” stories.

      8. Justme, The OG*

        Agree. My coworkers and I were talking about how we got our customer service voices the other week. Strangely none of us got them from school. Not even my coworker with two masters degrees.

        1. ferrina*

          Truth. I got mine through I volunteering while I was in middle school. It was honed through working retail and food service throughout my teen years. I’ve got a masters, and school never taught us how to have a customer service voice.

          Honestly, if someone said “I had to be taught how to have a customer service voice in my post-secondary school”, I’d say “What took you so long?”

        2. Curious*

          I absolutely learned how to deal with people professionally and productively in college. I learned how from dealing with the financial aid office, the bursar’s office, the registrar, the housing office …

      9. Lainey L. L-C*

        I went to college for my field…I learned the customer service voice like you did, in retail. My teen daughter knows if my phone call is work or personal based on how I speak – she says I even go from looking upbeat and bubbly while talking right back to my normal blah look the moment I hang up.

      10. Oryx*

        Seriously. It’s kind of wild to assume a “customer service voice” is something that can only be learned through education/college and not an example of on-the-job training.

      11. NotAnotherManager!*

        When I worked in BigLaw, which is just about as snotty as it gets on the academic snobbery scale, some of the supervisors I worked with would prioritize resumes based on who had food service or retail experience because, as I was told more than one time, “If you can handle the general public, you will have no problem with the lawyers.” Or the clerk’s office or the corporation commission or any number of other entities you have to solicit help for your clients from.

        My husband and I are both the children of small business owners, and we could answer the phone in “customer service voice” by the time we were 10. I have four post-secondary degrees, and not one class over all of them covered customer service at all.

        1. zuzu*

          I learned so much not from my podium classes, but from my clinics about how to do the customer-service thing with clerks. One of my clinic directors was alllll about chit-chatting with the overworked, overstretched clerks and letting them vent to him, commiserating, doing a little mild flirting, not wasting their time but giving them a boost by remembering their names, their kids’ names, etc. He didn’t always ask for anything when we stopped by the clerks’ office in the court; sometimes he just said hi. It helped so much when I got into practice and had my first encounter with an absolutely *enraged* clerk while trying to get and Order to Show Cause done. I knew it wasn’t really directed at me, so I just kept calm and let her vent it out. I got what I needed eventually (she practically threw it at me, but I got it) and got out).

          I don’t know that I would have kept calm had I not had years of working in retail under my belt at that point, aside from my clinic work. I ran the lottery machine at a supermarket for a while as part of my work in the customer service booth, so I had a lot of practice deescalating tension when there was a big jackpot.

        2. 6-year-old Office Assistant*

          @NotAnotherManager! ‘My husband and I are both the children of small business owners, and we could answer the phone in “customer service voice” by the time we were 10.’

          I had the same experience as a young child of a small business owner in the 80s! :)

          My father ran his business from our home, and we had a single phone line for business & home use. When I was around 5 or 6, I started wanting to answer the phone when it rang, which my dad allowed only once I could say “Father’sName is not available right now, could I please take a message?” in proper Customer Service Phone Voice and write down a coherent message (name, callback number, etc).

          I had no idea what a useful skill this was until many, many years later!

      12. WillowSunstar*

        I never learned the “customer service voice” in school, but my major was marketing. Still, internal customer is something we use all the time. Some companies have different cultures than others, new grads will need to get used to that and decide if the culture is really for them or not.

      13. Tio*

        I’m pretty educated and NO ONE in college taught me a customer service voice. Not a single professor even mentioned it. I have no idea where LW1 is getting this from.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Same. That’s not a thing at any college I’ve ever heard of. But it definitely is in service jobs.

        2. SometimesCharlotte*

          Maybe their “degree” is actually a certificate from a technical school. They often get more into the day-to-day, nuts-and-bolts of working in an office

      14. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Same. I definitely didn’t have an MBA course in “how to talk to adults like children so they don’t yell at you” (which is basically what a customer service voice is), I learned that in the trenches.

        1. zuzu*

          At one of my jobs in BigLaw, we had a client who acted up every now and again, and we had to call in Patty, who would literally use her Mom Voice to soothe him. They’d been doing this dance for 10 years at this point. I think the client liked it. Patty did not.

      15. dulcinea47*

        right? I got mine when I worked in call centers. (and also hearing my mom, who was a legal secretary for a long time, talk on the phone.)

    3. tamarack etc.*

      Yeah, and in addition to the excellent point Alison made, there’s also the issue that LW1’s colleagues *would like to be treated better*. LW1 may just see it as a customer service voice they put on like a shawl when needed, but the point is, their colleagues pointed out *quite rightfully* that it’s apparent LW1 treats those external customers better, and since they’re capable of a nicer and smoother communication, they should also apply the same skills to their internal customers.

      It wasn’t just the term “internal customer” but the point that LW1 *has* internal customers, who don’t want to be treated worse than external ones.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Yes, *is able to* speak more professionally (I’m calling it what it is) to colleagues but *chooses not to* is not a good look.

      2. mb*

        yes exactly. My sister used to get jobs – perform really well with customers (waitressing, retail) but the other staff would hate her, it would devolve into conflict, and she’d lose the job. As someone on the receiving end of her non-customer service communication, I knew it was bad. I told her she had to treat her coworkers just as nicely as she does customers. You can certainly be more casual – but you really should treat coworkers the same as customers overall.

        1. Totally Minnie*

          Exactly. I’m less formal with my coworkers, but there are certain customer service practices that are still in play when I’m talking to them. Things like, just because this conversation made you think of a great zinger doesn’t mean you have to say it, or the ability to keep a neutrally pleasant face when someone is proposing something you think is extremely silly. They smooth the way in my professional relationships, the same way they smooth interactions with customers who might turn unruly.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          Yeah, why you wouldn’t be just as nice to people you have to see and with whom you have to interact every day and whose work probably affects your own is entirely beyond me.

      3. learnedthehardway*

        Yeah – i think the OP missed the point entirely that treating people respectfully and with consideration is important, regardless of who they are.

    4. Elle by the sea*

      Exactly. You didn’t come across as the “kid who knows everything”, you came across as rude and dismissive. Advanced education should be a humbling experience and make you realise how much you don’t know.

      I have a PhD but every job (especially the first ones) I had to learn everything from scratch and work my way up. You can’t expect the red carpet just because you have an advanced degree. Although an advanced degree can give you some skills that people without it might not have (e.g. the ability to do very thorough, independent research, always acknowledge other people who came up with a certain idea and don’t think of it as “our idea”), there are practical skills that you can only learn on the job.

    5. Sparkles McFadden*

      Some of the comments here may seem harsh LW, but I hope you will read them with an open mind.

      College should be where you learn how to learn, LW. A college education can be a great leg up, but it doesn’t mean you jump the ladder over people who have actual experience. You are robbing yourself of a great resource because you are not open to learning from colleagues who have more experience. This is evident in your question which is, essentially: “How can I make sure my boss thinks well of me?” as if only the opinion of someone higher up is what matters. Your disdain for your coworkers (and your boss’ lack of a degree) in your letter is coming through loud and clear. I shudder to think of how you are talking to your coworkers in person.

    6. Really?*

      I agree. Over the years you will learn that senior colleagues can make your job easier or harder. When you end up with a problem that wasn’t in the textbook (and you will) they can gently guide you to the correct solution or watch you flounder and silently cheer as you crash and burn. Your attitude is an invitation to the latter approach. You asked for guidance on how to redeem yourself with your boss but you seem to have ignored the fact that you have alienated at least one of your coworkers.

    7. GreenDoor*

      I’ll never forget when I excitedly told my grandmother that I got my bachelor’s degree. She said, rather flatly, “Congratulations on your piece of paper. I know you worked hard for it.” I’m glad I got that lesson so young. A degree is a piece of paper that says you completed a required course of study. It does not mean you know it all. And it definitely doesn’t trump real life experience.

      When coworker said ‘I wish you’d talk to us like that” that should have been a clue that you sound negative in some way when you speak to colleagues. Maybe some self-reflection is in order.

    8. sulky-anne*

      Maybe I’m projecting, but I’m getting more of a sense of social awkwardness from this letter writer than arrogance. I read them as someone who was very successful in an academic environment and is struggling to pick up on the nuances of how work dynamics are different. They seem to take quite a literal and slightly defensive approach to conversations, which I empathize with.

  2. NZReb*

    LW1, if your colleagues wish you talked to them like to customers, I suspect you’re not actually talking to colleagues “in a friendly and respectful manner” – or at least not friendly and respectful enough. If I were your colleague I’d have found that “I’m good, thanks” hard to hear and I wouldn’t feel like I wanted to work collaboratively with you after that.

    I think it would be a good idea to apologize to that colleague, and to any others you’ve said things like that to, as well as to your boss, and let them know you want to do better. Apologizing would be hard but might save your working relationships.

      1. here for others drama*

        I don’t think there’s a polite way to use “I’m good, thanks” because I read/take it as a “I’ve already said no, LEAVE ME ALONE”

        1. Jackalope*

          Minor point but I’ve often heard it used as a casual response when someone asks if you want something (snacks, another helping of dinner, a blanket because it’s cold, etc.). Assuming a normal tone of voice, I wouldn’t see that as a dismissive or angry response. But if someone is saying that they wished you treated them better and you dismiss it with any version of, “I’m good, thanks,” that’s generally not going to be a good response.

          1. UKDancer*

            Yes. I would agree. I’ve used it when asked if I want another cup of tea or a second glass of wine. It tends to imply you don’t want more of whatever you’ve got and can be polite in that circumstance. I wouldn’t use it in the workplace in the circumstance the OP had because that strikes me as fairly dismissive.

          2. ScruffyInternHerder*

            This is the only circumstance I can dream up where its NOT borderline rude. It is perfectly acceptable in response to

            “Hey Scruff, want some chips or something? I’m heading down to vending”
            “Nah, I’m good, thanks”

          3. Marzipan Shepherdess*

            And HOW you say it is VERY important! Said with a smile and a warm, friendly voice, it’s a perfectly acceptable way to decline an offer of another cup of coffee or something equally neutral. But said in an abrupt, impatient way, it does indeed convey arrogance and a dismissive attitude.

            1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

              I would say that, in response to an offer to help OP come across as friendly and polite to their colleagues, even a smile and a warm friendly voice would not offset the fact that they’re being downright rude. They’re basically saying they don’t need to learn anything from their colleague.

          4. SJ*

            I think the difference there is someone is offering to do you a favor. “Would you Like a cup of tea?” / “I’m good, thanks” is totally fine. “Would you mind getting me a cup of tea?” / “I’m good, thanks” reads as rude, if not a little hostile.

          5. Jessica*

            Yes, language use is highly contextual.

            I think the context here pretty clearly makes the response dismissive.

        2. iglwif*

          Yeah. “I’m good, thanks” is a perfectly ordinary and inoffensive response to “Hey, you want another {beer / cup of coffee / box of pens / etc.}?” but it is absolutely NOT an appropriate response to “Here is a valuable piece of information about the culture of our mutual workplace”.

        3. Ace in the Hole*

          “I’m good, thanks” is a casual but perfectly polite way to turn down an offer of something small and optional. Like if someone offers you a snack or beverage but you’re not hungry, or if a coworker asks if you want a ride instead of taking the bus.

          It comes across as dismissive when it’s used for other things because you’re responding as if those things are optional favors/offers you can turn down without consequence. “You need to learn this” is not at all the same type of thing as “You should try some of Jake’s cake,” and responding as if it is will come across very badly.

      2. Queer Earthling*

        Yes. Essentially it comes across as, “Hey, could you be nicer to me?” “Hahahaha no.”

        Which, I mean, I guess answers the question but isn’t very helpful to anyone, including you, LW.

        1. ferrina*

          That’s exactly how I read it. LW completely missed some key subtext on the conversation.

          Coworker: Wow, you’re really nice to customers. Do you think you could be nicer to your teammates too?
          LW: I alone know how to be nice to customers because I learned a “customer service voice” in post-secondary school, which you did not attend.
          Coworker: Oooh-kay, I’m going to ignore that bit about the customer service voice, cuz you’re new to the work world and I’m giving you some grace. You need to be nicer to us. Think of us as internal customers so you can use your “customer service voice.”
          LW: But I use a different terminology because SCHOOOOOL, so you aren’t my customer.
          Coworker: Seriously, we need to have a talk.
          LW: No! I don’t wanna and you can’t make me!

          The learning doesn’t stop just because you leave school, and the kindness doesn’t stop at customers.

    1. Awkwardness*

      I agree. The colleague told LW that they would like to be talked to in a nicer way!
      That’s quite a lot and has nothing to do with the use of certain terms.

      I was sympathetic at the begin of the letter, because I could imagine how demoralising it can be if the rest of the team has such a solid history together. Even if you feel you do not belong, you do not solve this in putting up a “me vs them” attitude. This is your task and the people closest to you in the company. You must genuinely try to get along with them. Apologise for your behaviour and try to apply the customer service voice to them, especially to them.

        1. M. Magpie*

          It’s noon here, but I’m not awake so my brain read your comment as an instruction to OP which I thought made a good bit of sense. I saw: This is your task; be genuine and do your best to get along with your team, the closest to you in the company. Apologise to them.

      1. Ticotac*

        Yeah, people aren’t going to think the LW is an arrogant know-it-all because the LW disagreed with the term “internal client,” they are going to think the LW is an arrogant know-it-all because the LW acted like an arrogant know-it-all when they disagreed with the term “internal client”

    2. Lainey L. L-C*

      It’s funny, I just realized I use the “customer service” voice to talk to co-workers I don’t like! Co-workers I like and/or are more familiar with, get my usual way of speaking/tone.

      LW1 would get the customer service voice from me.

      1. There You Are*

        There was someone on my old team who went out of her way to be offended and affronted by the most minor of things* and I very quickly learned to communicate only in writing and use as few words as possible, similar to when you are being deposed by opposing counsel or questioned by the police (“anything you say can and will be used against you”).

        *The first thing she decided was a huge personal insult was me and another person at the same level creating an email template for a bunch of document requests that we were all about to have to send out. We two sent it to the other peers with the line, “Use, change, or ignore this template; whatever works for you.”

        She decided that I was purposefully excluding her from Very Important Work and warned me that I shouldn’t sideline her.

        I’m sorry, what? The other peer and I were just trying to make things easier for the rest of the team by taking on the boring task of writing an email template (that we told her to use, change, or ignore as she saw fit).

        I tried the customer service voice after that and she had another meltdown at our very next interaction, so I switched to “suspect being interrogated” mode with her.

    3. Lacey*

      Yeah. Responding like that means coworkers are going to stop letting you know when you’ve messed something up because they know there’s no point. Which will eventually lead to some pretty big failures.

    4. Czhorat*

      The last point – the LW should apologize to the colleague – is huge and highlights an unsavory aspect of this that we’ve not been talking about.

      The letter is only about how the *boss* might have perceived this, when LW knows that the co-worker’s feelings were hurt and was directly dismissive of said co-worker. This can read like someone who only cares about cultivating relationships with those in perceived positions of power, and doesn’t care how the treat peers or underlings.

      It could be a subconscious thing, or a clumsy way of trying to play politics. In any event, it’s not a good thing. Not only do your co-workers deserve as much dignity and respect as your boss, but in a purely selfish perspective you never know when someone who seems unimportant now will be very much important later. Perhaps the colleague gets a promotion and becomes LW’s boss. Perhaps their kid goes to the same school as the director and they chat at PTA meetings. Perhaps they’re the CEO’s secret daughter. You never know.

      The point should be, of course, to be kind and respectful for its own sake. Even failing that though, do it for yourse.

      1. Sweet Summer Child*

        Alison DOES write that there is a lot here.
        After three paragraphs she didn’t have space to get to this in three paragraphs! Because yes, OP needs a 180 degree turn about what being an employee is.
        An outstanding employee impresses the boss by bringing people up, not putting them down. Like when coworker said, “you should talk to us like that.”
        Your peers aren’t a bunch of people you will never see again after this class.
        You don’t get a thankful sigh from your boss when you do all the work on the “group project” yourself.

    5. morethantired*

      I have concerns that if LW1 is a woman that her being more deferential and appeasing to clients, there could be a gender bias in how her boss and coworkers are perceiving her typical manner in the office. I only say that because LW1 reacted so defensively to the coworkers comments about treating her coworkers like customers. That strong of a reaction to “you should be nicer” is familiar to a lot of women, much like being told to smile.

      1. Mouse*

        I agree and am surprised by how harsh this thread is on LW! I have a customer service voice, and while it’s very “nice” it’s clearly a performance compared to my peer-oriented behavior (and an exhausting one!). If a coworker ever said that he wanted me to use my customer service voice with him with the justification that he was a “customer”, I might have reacted pretty badly!

        I guess people are assuming that the LW is overestimating how “friendly and respectful” their tone is, which could be true. LW could benefit from some reflection on their behavior. But it would be strange to assume that’s obviously the case and ignore the possibility that the coworker simply wants LW to butter him up more.

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          I think people are reading into LW’s tone for a few reasons.

          First, because the things she reports herself saying reflect a particular and disrespectful worldview. Telling her coworker “you must have never gone to customer service training or you’d know this” is inflammatory and rude, even if saying she doesn’t expect to communicate the same way with customers as with colleagues is warranted. Dismissing “internal customers” as a phrase simply because it’s not what she learned in college is rude, elitist, and out of touch. If her reaction had been more on the lines of “Of course I talk to you differently, I shouldn’t have to treat colleagues like emotionally fragile toddlers” instead of “you uneducated rubes don’t know proper business skills,” I think readers would be much more inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt.

          Second, LW doesn’t seem to be at all concerned about how her coworker perceives her or how they might feel about the interaction. She is only concerned about her boss thinking she’s a know-it-all. While she might have omitted information about the coworker for brevity, it’s telling that she doesn’t mention anything about prior frustrating expectations nor does she try to justify her behavior by saying the coworker’s request was unreasonable.

          1. Mouse*

            I do agree that the LW comes off as offputting and focusing on all the wrong things here. But I would argue that telling a coworker that you want them to use their customer service voice with you is also a little offputting, and if his intention was to say “your professional attitude makes you unpleasant to work with” he’s also focusing on the wrong things. Perhaps soft skills are in short supply at this company.

            1. blue rose*

              I have a feeling we commenters are thinking of “customer service voice” and the distinctions between that and “congeniality with coworkers,” but what we think of as a customer service voice may not align with the LW’s customer service voice, and our and LW’s ideas of congeniality with coworkers almost certainly doesn’t align well at all. It’s already explicitly written in the letter that the LW and their coworkers have pretty different ideas about “congeniality with coworkers.”

        2. And the Skeletons Are ... Part of It*

          People are being accurately wake-up-call-y to OP because you really have to stretch to read OP’s own writing and not find them in desperate need of a wakeup call. For their own good! Lots of people are arrogant and blind to their own shortcomings, especially when new to the workforce. Things will only go downhill if they don’t get shaken out of that perspective.

    6. CareerChanger*

      Yup. Based on the LW’s own report (which should be the most generous to them):
      I told him, “You never went for customer service training before because they teach you a ‘customer service voice.’”

      Someone pointed out LW was being nicer to customers than to coworkers, and LW snapped back with “you never went to customer service training”??? The semantics around customer/stakeholder are not the major problem here.

    7. Office Lobster DJ*

      As much as LW needs to immediately step back and reflect, in this context, “It’s time then for you to learn” also sounds like it was said rudely. Possibly ditto the comment that kicked it all off, “I wish you could talk to us like that.” Impossible to know without knowing tones and dynamics, but the whole exchange sounds kind of heated.

      Not that it excuses the LW at all, but I’m not terribly worried about the colleague being hurt and offended by “I’m good, thanks,” since (in my read) they had been giving as good as they got.

      1. Me...Just Me*

        Except if OP wants to keep her job (not to mention, succeed in her career) she needs to cultivate a professional “customer service” mentality – starting with her much more entrenched and experienced co-workers. She’s not doing herself any favors by toting a degree (and I’ll be honest, I’m wondering if this might be a business certificate of some sort based on the training specific to “customer service voice”) without any real life experience.

        At this point, the coworker has probably been putting up with a whole lot of attitude from OP and might have just been making one final attempt to get through to her before just writing her off. This does not bode well for the OP.

        1. Office Lobster DJ*

          Oh, I totally agree with your take. It’s just that this thread seems to be positioning LW’s “I’m fine, thanks” as some sort of unwarranted escalation, and in my read it was probably matching the tone rather than escalating. Granted, no one should be rude or snapping at anyone.

          1. Cmdrshprd*

            I think OP was the one that escalated with: “I busted out, “I studied business and I never heard of this internal customer thing.”

            I agree the tone of the “I wished you talked to us like that.” maybe have been heated, I don’t know, but I don’t think it was. I think OP was offended/felt attacked because they think they are nice and polite, but it seems coworkers may not feel that way?

            Even in their letter/words OP does not come off the best.
            “I understand the phrase but much prefer to use “internal stakeholder” as I was taught when completing my degree.” I do think they are slightly different, but not so much that they are using completely wrong term, it seems like a small/trivial issue to get hung up on, like someone correcting a person who says “I need to stop by the ATM machine.” Yes the M already stands for machine and saying machine is redundant, but you don’t need to correct people over it, or someone who says you said Kleneex, but you meant tissue, we don’t have any kleneex here just generic brand tissues.


            ““You never went for customer service training before because they teach you a ‘customer service voice.’”

            I wonder where OP worked that they were sent for actual formal (it seems) customer service training? As others have said most people learn that kind of thing just from dealing with customers.

            1. Office Lobster DJ*

              “I do think they are slightly different, but not so much that they are using completely wrong term, it seems like a small/trivial issue to get hung up on”

              Definitely! Whatever the tone of the interaction was, this is a very trivial thing for LW to get hung up on in the first place. IMO, these are also buzzwords that just aren’t the type of thing where one can be inherently correct. As long as everybody knows what everybody means, that’s good enough.

            2. Esmeralda.W*

              “I never heard of this internal customer thing” is giving me “no one told me to be nice to admins and offer my seat on the train” vibes.

      2. Irish Teacher.*

        Yeah, the “it’s time for you to learn” definitely sounds like it was meant rudely, but I wonder if the coworker interpreted the “I never learnt that in college” to mean, not the specific term, but rather the concept of treating your colleagues as politely as you do your clients, in which case, I can kind of understand snapping back “well, it’s about time you learnt basic manners.”

        Without the context the letter gives, I definitely wouldn’t assume the LW meant “I learnt a different term for that.” I’d assume they meant “I never heard of this whole concept of internal customers/stakeholders.”

        I’m guessing that when the LW said she never heard of this “internal customer thing,” the coworker heard something like, “well, I went to business school and you can take from me that I am not here to give service to or be of any help to my colleagues. I’m here for the customers only.” In that context, I can understand the coworker basically implying “well, clearly you didn’t learn basic manners at business school and it’s time you learnt them now.”

        My impression is that both people in this conversation are misunderstanding each other and completely talking past each other. It sounds to me like the LW things this is all about her not using the preferred term in the company whereas the coworker thinks it’s about being polite and professional in the workplace.

        (Whether the LW is actually being impolite or unprofessional or whether it is, as somebody suggested above, a case of older coworkers expecting the new, young graduate to be completely deferential and let them walk all over her or whether there is some form of prejudice involved – she is a woman and the coworker is male and thinks she ought to defer to him or she is a member of a minority and the coworker is white – I don’t know. Any of these are possible.)

  3. so very tired*

    Re #3: HARD relate. With my ADHD and other auditory processing difficulties (including stress-induced hearing loss from a decade ago that still hasn’t completely resolved) accents are really tough for me at times. When I’m struggling with processing conversations/meetings at work, I graciously ask my colleagues to repeat themselves, or if it just isn’t registering in the moment, I’ll follow up with them via chat or email with something like, “I’m still not 100% clear on XYZ – currently my understanding is 123, is this accurate?” with what I hope comes across as gratitude and humility. Most of the time this seems to work and nobody appears to be alienated or annoyed. I hope this and/or other ideas help!

    1. gladfe*

      From my own experience with this, most people haven’t heard of auditory processing issues, so I have to be ready to explain it every time I disclose. If I don’t want to get into that, instead of auditory processing issues I say “mild hearing issues.” That’s doesn’t provoke as many follow-up questions, and it’s vague enough that nobody’s ever felt misled if I later have reason to explain in more detail.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*


        Also, describing yourself doesn’t necessarily tell the other person how to help you. A call to action looks more like “I need to lip read so please face me when you’re speaking.”

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes this so much. It’s a lot more helpful if you tell people what would help you because different people have different needs and it’s easier to follow a specific instruction like “face me” rather than trying to work out what would help.

          1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

            Especially because most people will understand auditory processing issue as hard of hearing and just … speak louder. Which doesn’t solve the problem and just makes the whole interaction a little cringeworthy.

            However, it does help make it about you rather than the accent. So explain what you need, I have a hearing issue, can you speak slower, louder, face me, whatever.

            1. Freya*

              I also have auditory processing issues, and increasing volume without increasing clarity can make things *worse*. Like turning up the volume on a radio station with lots of static instead of tuning the radio to have less static, it eventually gets to the point where the sound suffers from distortion. Same thing happens with my eardrums.

        2. Cmdrshprd*

          As another suggestion, I know it wouldn’t work in all situations, but I sometimes have trouble understanding people due to accents and/or people speaking fast. This usually works better over the phone, but can also work in person in some situations.

          Is saying, “I am taking notes, sometimes I might need to ask you to stop or repeat yourself to make sure I get everything right.” People are usually understanding, if I have to ask someone to repeat the same thing a third time, usually acknowledging/apologizing helps smooth things over. “I am sorry but I am having a hard time hearing, I think it might be the phone, could you repeat that again.”

        3. learnedthehardway*

          Agreed – I have “ambient hearing loss” (I’m not sure I ever had the ambient hearing TO lose, but that’s another matter). Telling people that doesn’t help. Saying “I have some hearing issues and need to see your lips move to hear you” gives them something concrete they can help with.

          1. Me...Just Me*

            As someone with hearing loss, I don’t know that co-opting my disability is the way to go. It strikes me as trivializing those with deafness. What’s wrong with just being up front with “auditory processing issues” rather than claim a disability that one doesn’t have?

            I might me a little touchy – but I am very tired of people trivializing my disability as if it isn’t a true disability that I deal with in all aspects of my life. Not sure what “ambient hearing loss” is or if someone just self describes themselves as this without a diagnosis. As a medical provider (albeit not specialized in hearing loss) I’ve never heard of this. I admit there could be such a thing — but I’m not sure how that would work given how hearing works and the physiology of the ear and hearing processing.

            1. Cmdrshprd*

              I don’t think that anything is necessarily wrong with saying “auditory processing issues” but that it does not help other people understand what you need to be able to hear.

              “Telling people that doesn’t help.”

              I think “ambient hearing loss” might be a laymans term that some people use in place of “auditory processing disorder.”

              I am not @learnedthehardway but I think what they are saying is they do have an “auditory processing disorder,” so they have an inability to hear certain things aka “hearing issues”, the cause might be a processing issue rather than a physical/physiological issue with their ear. It seems like the end result is the same.

            2. MusicWithRocksIn*

              Ambient hearing loss specifically means your ears have trouble filtering out environmental sounds. It is not the same as hearing loss and saying you have ambient hearing loss is not the same as implying you have hearing loss. Ambient hearing loss describes the problem much more clearly than auditory processing issues – which can be a different thing (like difficulty with accents).

              Personally I have fantastic hearing when I am in a quiet room, to the point where I can’t sleep if a watch with hands is in the room with me, but put me in a crowded nosy bar and I can’t understand a thing anyone is saying.

      2. Holly*

        Yeah, if I ever have to ask someone to repeat themselves more than once or to face me or something, I always just say I have trouble hearing. The reason is irrelevant, all they need to know is it’s me, not them, and then what to do about it.

        1. Snow Globe*

          I often just move my fingers up behind my ear when asking someone to repeat themselves. It generally gets the point across without a need for explanation.

      3. animorph*

        +1 for “hearing issues”, it’s less formal but still communicates why OP might be asking people to repeat themselves.

        1. NotRealAnonForThis*


          I have in the past blamed “one too many rock concerts as a teenager” while asking for a repeat of information. Some people know me well enough to know that its how my brain (doesn’t) work, others figure I just have a little mild hearing damage based on my use of the above.

          The only time I’ve made it a thing is when it was (and I wasn’t the only one). When absolutely nobody in the class, including those who speak the same native language as the instructor, can understand the instructor, that’s an issue. Example: spent six days talking about “cow” but it made ZERO sense in the context of what we were discussing. “Talc”. She was talking about talc. These two words do not sound alike, do not come close to having the same meaning, it was not a mix up because she wrote “talc” on the board while saying “cow”. “Wait? We’re talking about talc….?” “Cow? Yes.”

          1. JustaTech*

            Good grief.
            I had a professor in college (actually many professors in college) who had strong accents. I also went to a school that puts a lot of emphasis on teaching.
            So when one of the physics professors could not figure out how to say “zeta” she just called the symbol “worm”. (It’s a Greek letter that looks like a squiggle.) And that worked fine (because it didn’t actually matter what the symbol was called, just that we knew what it meant and used it consistently) until we switched professors in the middle of the semester (as usual for the course) and the new prof kept talking about “zeta” and we were like “you mean worm?”

        2. JM60*

          A problem potential problem with “hearing issues” is that someone might think that it’s a volume issue, or at least an issue that can be solved by increasing volume. I have auditory processing disorder. When the APD is the reason I can’t understand someone, it’s not a problem of insufficient sensory data (i.e., not loud enough); it’s a problem of my brain making sense of that data. As an analogy, it’s like the auditory equivalent to what’s going on with this photo for the people attending this learning disability workshop:


          Shining a brighter light onto that photo, or blowing that photo up to a larger size isn’t going to help people see what’s in the photo because it’s a “the brain can’t make sense of this data” problem. He later reveals what’s in the photo at 21:58, but not by increasing the brightness (analogous to volume).

          1. Emikyu*

            Yes, this. This happens to me a lot. Unfortunately even if I try to be specific about the actual problem, people still just end up speaking louder (or even outright yelling). Louder and still incomprehensible is not an improvement.

            Whenever possible, I explain that it’s easier for me to process things in writing and ask them to email me. That doesn’t always work, though, and unfortunately I haven’t found any other good solutions.

            I also remember taking a training at old job that said you can’t tell people “I can’t understand you because of your accent”, but offered no alternative other than just… understanding what’s being said. It also heavily implied that if you can’t do that, it’s because you’re xenophobic and probably racist. I found this ironic for a couple of reasons:

            1. The same training also talked about not being ableist and accommodating people with disabilities – you just can’t have them yourself, apparently.
            2. One of the accents I have the hardest time with is from the southeastern U.S., and I’m a white American. Sure, internalized bigotry is a thing, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what they meant.

            1. JM60*

              I can understand saying, “You should leave off the ‘because of your accent’ part.” But it’s not really helpful if they don’t provide a better script to use.

              If they’re assuming that any inability/difficulty in understanding someone with a different accent must be due to xenophobia, that’s quite an assumption. Even if you’ve never heard of auditory processing disorder before, it’s quite unimaginative to think there are no other possible reasons for this inability/difficulty.

          2. Modesty Poncho*

            Holy cow this video is incredible. I found myself just watching the whole thing.

            Also for any other gamers the first thing I thought of when the image came up was the funyarinpa from 9 Hours 9 Persons 9 Doors

      4. CJ*

        Yes, as someone with ADHD and Auditory Processing Disorder, I get better results when I say I have a bit of a hearing issue. If I throw the word processing in there then people try to dumb things down for me and that’s not helpful at all.
        Another change I’ve made to my language that seems to be helpful is instead of saying that someone has an accent, I say “an accent different than mine.” If you think about it we all have accents so really the issue is that their accent is different than the one I’m use to hearing. I find this to be less xenophobic sounding and a more accurate explanation of the issue.

        1. ecnaseener*

          +1 to the accent part — it’s not even an “if you think about it” thing, it’s a simple fact that everyone has an accent and a dialect, but some are treated as default (called “prestige dialects”)

          1. kicking-k*

            Yes! I was coming on to say “Very gently pointing out that you, too, have an accent. Everyone does. There is no default.”

            I get what LW3 is saying. I have auditory processing disorder myself. But I also speak with a Scottish accent, and although I will code-shift if I think my listener is unfamiliar with my voice (simply by taking care to speak clearly) I will never be offended if you ask me to repeat myself.

      5. so very tired*

        Yeah I don’t even mention any auditory processing issues or hearing loss. I frame it as I want to be on the same page as everyone and I need a bit more clarification. Keeping it simple is the best policy for me.

        1. Jessen*

          The main concern I’d have here – as someone with similar issues – is that it clearly does happen significantly more often with people who have accents that are unfamiliar to me. Which, since I speak a fairly common for the region dialect of midatlantic english, means it’s most commonly immigrants or people with disabilities that I struggle to understand. Framing it as an issue on my end is as much to make it clear that I’m not just being passive-aggressive by constantly asking specific individuals to repeat themselves or slow down.

      6. Cyndi*

        I just say “my hearing isn’t great,” which also stands on its own pretty well without needing elaboration.

      7. Serin*

        Yes, I have this same issue, and the phrasing I’ve found most useful is “I’m a little hard of hearing.”

        Sometimes I’ll add, “so could you speak more slowly?” What I have in mind is that this will help avoid that thing where people start yelling, but I have to admit that most of the time people either ignore it or get so thrown off their rhythm that it takes them a while to say anything at all.

    2. I don’t post often*

      Yesssssss. I’ve actually wanted to write Allison and ask this question. I have an extremely difficult time understanding accents. The thing I don’t like about the script is: I’m often on a call with 20 people, 3 of whom have heavy accents. How do I announce such a thing on a call? That feels weird?
      I’m not a huge fan or “hearing issue” although that may help.
      Note: I do not have any processing disorder – that I know of.

      1. L*

        If it’s a call on Zoom/Teams, I find the auto-captions to be helpful! They’re not always correct, but they’re generally good enough to get me over the hump of “translate this random assortment of noises into the words I know it’s meant to be”.

        I just wish they worked face to face or over the phone! It would make life so much easier. Random fun anecdote – my step-grandfather has a super strong accent, and I don’t think I’ve correctly understood a single sentence from him my entire life.

    3. JM60*

      I graciously ask my colleagues to repeat themselves, or if it just isn’t registering in the moment

      I have auditory processing disorder that has directly affected me much less during adulthood than in childhood. I usually didn’t have problems understanding professors while in college. However, when it does “trigger”, the other person repeating themselves might not help, and it can get awkward asking someone to repeat themselves 3+ times. In that case, I can very clearly hear sounds coming out of their mouth each time, but I can’t map those sounds to words.

      Fun fact: When I listen to Sweet Dreams by Eurythmics, I always very clearly (mis)-hear the opening works as “Sweet dreams are made of demons,” even though the printed lyrics claim that it’s “Sweet dreams are made of this.” I just can’t make out the sounds to sound like “this”, no matter how much I try.

        1. Mairead*

          Yes. It sounds like ‘thee-us’ to me – can’t quite get to ‘demons’ although that would be funnier.

          1. And the Skeletons Are ... Part of It*

            Yeah that’s a unique case since she really is saying “made of theeeeyusss”. Song lyrics can be uniquely weird with people’s emphasis and diction.

    4. TooTiredTooThink*

      Another ADHDer here with slight auditory processing issues as well and I felt this so hard. One thing that has helped me is spending more time listening to the accent (tv, movies, etc…). Sometimes that’s not feasible (especially in the moment); but I’ve found I’ll start processing it better. I also will take the absolute blame if I cannot understand someone as well and chalk it up to hearing issues.

      But…(and I am NOT proud of this) – one time someone from a different department called me up to ask for my help. I had to flat out lie and say something was wrong with the phone connection and could he please email me. I couldn’t understand a single thing he was saying. Thankfully people usually only need my help once. I felt horrid, but I solved his issue.

      1. ArtsNerd*

        I don’t think you need to beat yourself up over it. It was the best workaround you could come up with in the moment, and you helped your colleague instead of blowing him off.

      2. MusicWithRocksIn*

        It’s funny – I am terrible with most accents but am excellent with British accents because I watch so much BBC. My husband is fantastic with most accents, but he makes me put subtitles on when we watch the BBC because he can’t make out half the dialogue. So you are probably on the right track.

      3. Parakeet*

        I also have this problem, and while I’ve never had to have someone email me instead, I’ve made up lots of phone connection problems in my time. As a way to get people to repeat themselves, enunciate, or spell their names out (and sometimes their accent isn’t even different from mine and the auditory processing parts of my brain are just having even more of an off day than usual, or there is some sort of ambient noise that is combining with the auditory processing problem to make it even harder for me). I don’t see a problem with it, as long as you aren’t making up phone connection problems every time you talk to someone who you talk to repeatedly (and in that case, the problem is that they might become dubious about the explanation, or think your organization just doesn’t invest in good equipment).

    5. Not Me For This*

      I also have an auditory processing issue along with sudden onset hearing loss. I find people are very understanding when you tell them you have a problem hearing and understanding. So if you are comfortable sharing this information, I encourage you to do so. Also, the brain is truly amazing. The more you listen to sounds that are hard to process (in your case, accented English) the better your brain will learn to understand it. I now have a cochlear implant and the world sounds very different than it did prior to hearing loss. As part of the process I do auditory therapy which is a fancy way of saying listening to the things that are hard to understand often while also reading that information. It has helped me so much. I would encourage you to consider watching shows with individuals with strong accents (I do it with British accents as I find them challenging to process) along with captioning on so that you can catch the words you don’t understand. Another option is to listen to an audio book read by someone with an accent while also reading the book. Good luck!

      1. Nathan*

        This is fantastic advice, and I can confirm that it works. There is days upon days of content available on YouTube of people with every accent under the Sun just talking, vlogging, doing whatever…you can probably find content that’s interesting to you. Find a cooking, or woodworking, or news, or celebrity gossip, or whatever channel hosted by someone with an accent and just…watch and listen.

    6. Y'all come back now, ya hear?*

      I am Deaf in one ear from a birth defect and I read lips for understanding. I now work with a lot of contractors from different countries, and I have started prefacing all of the meetings with a “hey, I am hard of hearing due to a birth defect and read lips for understanding. If I ask for clarification or for you to repeat yourself, it’s not personal!” Everyone has been very gracious so far about it.

  4. Emu*

    #1 You are already assuming internal customer and internal stakeholder are just two terms for the same thing. There is overlap but the terms are not synonymous.

    Even so, language use is fluid and it is normal to have to adapt to the version of the terminology used within your organisation. And it is usual for the new person to change to fit the organisational norms, not for the organisation to change around the new person, regardless of age or education.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I was thinking that too. I don’t say internal customer but do know what it means, but my “internal customers” and stakeholders aren’t necessarily the same people, and it isn’t the same relationship. Just assuming that they are and confidently saying so gives away the level of arrogance, as does “nah I’m good” (if the attitude wasn’t clear to the colleagues before).

      I don’t know if this situation is redeemable, because OP has made their real attitude very clear. Any apologies, change in behaviour etc will surely come across as the facade that they are, as OP doesn’t see the need to change. As the colleague I might go along with it for the sake of getting things done but would never really feel the relationship was repaired.

      The only way forward I think is for OP to genuinely realise they are in the wrong and make an apology as such: “I was a jerk before. I wad arrogant and condescending because I’d assumed everything I learned in school was the be all and end all in the real world” etc, genuinely mean it, and then live it.

      1. Daisy-dog*

        I don’t know if it’s that irredeemable. LW is young and impressionable. Any change in behavior will likely be viewed as growth and development which is natural for anyone early-career.

    2. niknik*

      Isn’t internal customer really just a subcategory of internal stakeholder ? The one actually using the product/service in the end ?

      1. Emu*

        They can be similar, but can also be quite different. Let’s say you are changing process to improve the service you provide internal customer Team A. But this will also change the workload for a person in team B. The person in team B is an internal stakeholder, but not the internal customer.
        You may argue that team A is both, but their ‘customer’ role is the more pertinant in the negotiations.

        Either way for LW#1, their judgement that the other employees are using an incorrect term because they didn’t go to college is flawed.

          1. Wry*

            Not necessarily, I don’t think, and this confused me a bit as well, but I’m wondering if maybe a good example would be if LW did both internal and external tech support? Like if they’re answering tech support calls from the public and also handling their coworkers’ tech support issues, and the coworker was commenting that they’re politer on calls with the public than they are with their coworkers.

            1. amoeba*

              I mean, it’s also entirely possible that the company is indeed using the term “wrong” and do mean “stakeholder” but for whatever reason have the weird habit of saying “customer” instead, even if it doesn’t really fit. But, like, that’s something I’d internally roll my eyes over and potentially mildly vent about in an Askamanager thread about weird corporate lingo. Or joke about with trusted colleagues during lunch break. Very definitely not a hill to die on or even something you should comment about at all as the new person.

              1. Alexander Graham Yell*

                True, they may be using it incorrectly, but they could also have kind of morphed it into shorthand for how they want to be treated – “treat your teammates like you would treat your customers” could easily morph into “internal customer” without a thought to what the phrase means elsewhere.

                1. Irish Teacher*

                  I kind of got the impression that that might have been how this coworker was using it in this context anyway. “I’ve learnt to do a customer service voice at college,” “well, we’re your internal customers,” would say to me, “well, use that when you are talking to us, so,” even if the precise meaning of the phrase is a little different.

              2. hbc*

                My accounting employee got negative feedback when the new parent company said she hadn’t done her 12 month rolling forecast correctly. Because their 12 month rolling forecast covered 15 months. We had a good laugh, but otherwise she started sending over the oxymoronic forecast as required.

        1. Jackalope*

          I guess my other question would be: does this even matter? I mean, it might. But most likely the OP doesn’t need to use a specific term one way or the other; she just needs to communicate clearly. Which could mean her switching terms, or could mean just not using a term at all (just saying, “Maria’s team”, for example, instead of “internal ______”), but certainly does NOT mean correcting coworkers who are using an understandable turn of phrase.

          (Perhaps I’m reacting to the original phrase too. “Internal stakeholder” sounds super cringy to me in that corporate jargon kind of way that’s pretending to sound official and business-y without actually saying anything.)

          1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

            It truly doesn’t matter IMO. It’s just corporate jibberish.

            I’m a business analyst, in my last company they did not use any of the “official” language. Scrum master, sprint, etc. However, we were very effective at getting projects completed. My new job uses all the official terms, write user stories the text book way, yet projects drag and it’s very inefficient. What matters is the actual work being accomplished, not the language used.

            1. SomeWords*

              Exactly. In every job one needs to learn and use the workplace jargon. Doesn’t matter one bit what it is. This is the language used there.

              I feel a little bad when people are very impressed with their own college degrees. They always sound like they fell hard for the college sales pitch that promised them a lifetime of superiority to distract them from the mountain of debt that probably came with the degree.

              1. UKDancer*

                Yes. Every company has their own words and descriptors for things. It doesn’t matter what things mean outside or what you learnt in your degree or whether it’s correct. Fundamentally if your company uses a particular word, that’s the word you need to use regardless of whether it’s what you consider the correct one. Obviously unless it’s offensive in some way.

                Otherwise part of what you’re paid for as an employee is using the correct corporate language.

          2. Bookmark*

            Yeah. It’s understandable to be irritated about corporate or academic jargon, but sometimes you gotta use it to communicate clearly to an audience. I have a specific bugaboo about the way people use the word “typology”, but I don’t let that cause me to treat people who use it that way like they’re beneath me. Do I sometimes rant to my partner, who rolls their eyes at me and can speak the rant along with me? Of course! But OP really needs to learn the importance of building relationships with people in the working world, and the most important thing you can do in a new work environment is assume everyone around you has important information you are ignorant of.

      2. Awkwardness*

        I an not sure how I would group them, but these are different things.
        Somebody might want a thing or process change (=internal customer), but there are other people to decide if they clear the budget or additional workload to male this happen (=internal stakeholder).

        So LW unfortunately does not even get the nuances of those two terms right.

        1. Awkwardness*

          I like to add that my old boss always used those terms to create some artifical them vs. us attitude for our department. In my replies I always talked about colleagues instead.

          LW, you can prefer to use terms differently unless required, but do not play dumb in the heart of the moment. It does look bad.

      3. Tio*

        Stakeholder is not necessarily involved. In my previous job, we had one centralized team that provided a service for all different branches of the company. So we did refer to each branch as an “internal customer” as we were producing results for them, even though they wrapped those up in service to an actual internal customer. No one would have referred to the branches as “internal stakeholders” and it would have been bizarre if they had, as we did not use that term in our industry anywhere I ever heard it.

        Internal stakeholders do exist, and might in fact be the more common term for whatever OP is doing, but as many have said, that doesn’t really matter. A company can call them kittens for all it matters, as long as everyone does it. And if OP could prove that they were in fact objectively wrong about it with undeniable evidence… so what? Are the Jargon Police going to come and arrest the whole company? OP immediately gets promoted to CEO? No, OP’s going to come across very poorly and be disliked and cause themselves problems at work.

      4. Mill Miker*

        Not always. I’ve definitely worked places where only the top few tiers of management could count as stakeholders.

        The internal customers using a custom tool all day, every day to do their job? Not stakeholders in how that tool worked. The person who’s bonus depended on setting and sticking to as low of a budget as possible for maintenance of the tool? Now there’s a stakeholder if ever I’ve seen one.

    3. Knitting Cat Lady*

      I’ve never seen the inside of a business school. I’m a physicist. AND English is my second language.
      Even I know that an ‘internal customer’ and an ‘internal stakeholder’ are not necessarily the same thing!

    4. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

      This. Plus, there is a reason that so many job positions have *years of experience* requirements along with education requirements. Because college frankly cannot teach you everything you will need/want to know to do your job well.

      If anything, college should be a lesson in how much you *don’t* know, and how much there is to learn from others.

    5. Snarky McSnarkson*

      In my academic office, we have been asked to use something other than stakeholder because of its origins. Has anyone else experienced this? We can use collaborators, partners, community, etc., but they would prefer not stakeholder.

      Academia is the best! /s

        1. DriverB*

          It has to do with its colonial origins. This text is from a UT Houston blog but you can find similar descriptions elsewhere: [Historically, the term stakeholder has covetous connotations and has been used by people in power or the “holders.” Merriam-Webster also defines stakeholder as “a person holding property or owing an obligation that is claimed by two or more adverse claimants and who has no claim to or interest in the property or obligation.” This definition seems to have roots in colonialism – settlers would drive wooden stakes in the ground to literally stake their claim on indigenous land.]
          I have also been asked to use alternative terms while working on government contracts and in the nonprofit education space.

    6. Garrett*

      I think ultimately it doesn’t matter what these definitions are to us. If the company calls what we say are internal customers “banana cream pies”, then that is what the company has decided and that’s what you should use. You can certainly try to offer some new/more appropriate terms but you don’t achieve that through snootiness.

    7. Jessica*


      You can be a stakeholder in something without being someone who’s ultimately going to use the thing.

    8. Erik*

      Exactly this. These terms describe different roles, which may be close or very different depending on the industry. In my former company, for example, Field Operations was an internal stakeholder – they had design requirements, signed off on reviews, etc. They were also an internal customer – they took receipt of systems from the manufacturing flow as a customer, to use for training in other countries for example.

      Those terms should NOT be cavalierly treated as identical without a lot of discussion, and doing so reveals the unwillingness to listen to and learn from those they do not accept as “authorized to teach me”. This is a very dangerous trap, often born of excessive pride, and I’ve seen it destroy companies if someone with that trait gets to high level.

  5. LinZella*

    Oh OP 1: You really are showing being the new kid on the block, but also a know it all, and one with a fancy college degree. Yikes!
    Have you made any friends there? Do you understand why not?
    Have you had a formal or informal review with your boss? Because that’s not likely to be pretty.
    I’m cringing hard at how you’re going about this job and honestly surprised you haven’t been sent to some internal training or truly just let go.

    1. TechWorker*

      I am intrigued at what internal training exists in your company for ‘someone being a rude know it all’… I would expect the manager to spot the pattern & give feedback sure, but what training magically fixes that..?

      1. Elle by the sea*

        I am wondering about the same. Social skill training? Anti-arrogance training? In my experience, they either (1) let you be, because most successful people at the company are arrogant (this is for toxic work environments) (2) push you out without telling you why (again, toxic workplaces) (3) sit down with you and explain to you how this not the way to behave.

        1. amoeba*

          We have a mandatory training on “respectful communication” that might fit the bill… (It’s not very good and I don’t actually suggest that would help, in case that’s not clear!)

            1. Jackalope*

              I think part of that is that people don’t realize they’re also a thing that can – and should be – trained. They are specifically things you can learn, but we tend to assume they’re just innate and you have them or you don’t. I had a job where we had a section on customer service skills that was all soft skills. I still remember some of the things they told us, and probably have more of it ingrained as a skill now but don’t remember getting the explicit teaching. I truly wish more places would do that with their employees.

              1. New Jack Karyn*

                Trying to extend your thought: I think that you’re right, we tend to see these things as innate, but they can be learned. However, it’s difficult to explicitly teach them. A lot of us learned by observing others, trial and error, and practice.

                1. Random Dice*

                  I have ADHD and my son has autism. I’m astounded by how good social skill training is nowadays! Things I had to learn over decades (by observing that I had said or done something wrong and then scientifically adjusting based on a hypothesis) he can learn in child appropriate books. (Little Spot books, Social Detective and really anything by Michelle Garcia Winner, Diggory Doo books…)

          1. (Health, Safety) Environmental Compliance*

            We have a training series on our corporate values, one of which is “customer focus” and includes both internal and external customers. Those are also baked into our performance metrics.

      2. Ticotac*

        I don’t know if a training exists currently, but I do think there could be? After all, what we’re talking here is a slightly more casual version of “customer voice”; be clear, be polite, be distantly friendly, no matter how stupid you think the other person is and how much better than them you think you are. A lot of people aren’t born with the “customer voice,” they have to be taught it, so I feel like a training teaching you the best way to communicate with your coworkers for best results is feasible.

  6. deaf not being mean*

    OP3, I’m deaf and have APD and work in a very multicultural location, with both customers and coworkers who have heavy accents. With the coworkers, they already know I’m deaf, so they’re patient with me, and with customers, I used to use a script similar to what was suggested here. But recently, I’ve switched to a script that I find has been very successful when they’ve had to repeat themselves a couple times. “I know this is really frustrating, I have difficulties processing sound, so I appreciate your patience with me.”

    I feel better saying ‘thank you’ over ‘sorry’, as they feel more respected and less likely to see it as a microaggression (at least in my experience).

    I also want to say, coworkers are much more inclined to be helpful when they know the situation before hand. I have a note above my desk lists a couple things they can do to help facilitate communication when they drop by my desk unexpectedly, and 90% of the time, they do remember to work with me. It can feel embarrassing to admit that you’re struggling, but when it’s someone you work with a lot, and someone who might feel like you’re being difficult, making it a discussion before the problem really helps. Good luck with everything!

    1. Boof*

      Very good point from you and Joyce (and maybe others! Haven’t gotten through all the comments yet) – expressing the need with appreciation for working with it, not an apology for it, and everyone can keep the main focus on the task at hand

    2. Allonge*

      Confirming this from the other side – I have a colleague who joined our team in COVID / videoconferencing times, and the first impression was that she was not paying attention (or that I suddenly turned into someone who is very unclear in their explanations) – she frequently asked questions about things we literally just covered.

      Some time ago she explained that she has auditory processing issues (especially on online calls), and it both makes a lot more sense and it makes it easier to work in a way that works for her – e.g. I know now that it’s better to give complex explanations to her in writing first, even if with anyone else I would be picking up the phone about the topic. And if we are in a meeting, I also know that her questions are about this and not about us being unclear or her not paying attention.

      So, I know that disclosure of any such issues is a pretty big ask but it really can help.

    3. Visually Impaired Guy*

      I have a coworker who is partly deaf and reads lips. He explains this early to people he works with regularly, and specifically asks that people look toward him so he can lip read. It’s almost never an issue although with my visual difficulties I tend to be more aware of issues, and I have no issues being direct, so if another coworker has their hands in front of their face while talking or is turned away then I have no problems quickly suggesting they make their lips more accessible.

      Your wording is great, especially how you mention that you appreciate their patience. It acknowledges that they are being patient and makes them more likely to continue.

    4. Not Me For This*

      Thank you for saying “sorry”. I’ve struggled to not use that word as it sounds like you are apologizing for being deaf. I am not apologetic because I am hard of hearing, so have learned to explain my needs and give appreciation for patience. 99% of people are always gracious and are willing to do what it takes to help with communication. They just often don’t even think about it so it is important to explicitly share what will help.

    5. Ophelia*

      Yes, seconding this. I am OK with accents, but struggle to capture information when it’s ONLY oral, so have had great success in thanking people for being patient if I need to take notes/capture the conversation, etc. rather than apologizing. It just makes the interaction feel positive, and that no one is “at fault.”

      1. Me...Just Me*

        Yes. Just say it as a “matter of fact”, because it is. A point of information. I wear hearing aids but even with them, if they’re picking up a lot of background noise in the surroundings, they can not be much help. I just announce that I am hearing impaired and am having trouble understanding. Heck, I sometimes have people spell things for me, so that I can finally “get” what they’re saying. As a deaf person, I can get a lot from the context of a conversation, but if it’s something that doesn’t naturally flow from the conversation — yep, we get down to spelling things or having folks write something down. I’m not embarrassed or frustrated by it, and so just don’t expect them to be, either. I just carry on. I do reassure patients (I’m a medical provider) that I have a specialized stethoscope and my hearing loss affects word recognition rather than sounds like heart or lung sounds – as I understand that would be a valid concern and feel that it’s a good thing to address up front. I’ve had very positive responses and patients are very appreciative of the open discourse.

    6. Random Dice*

      I have a coworker who’s hard of hearing, so I ask the meeting organizer to turn on transcription. That way MS Teams puts up closed captions on the fly, of what folks are saying. They’re not perfect but they’re far better than nothing.

    1. And the Skeletons Are… Part of It*

      To add to that, what OP needs isn’t the false humility of “I’m better than my coworkers but it’s wrong to act like it.” They need the actual humility of “I’m not doing as well as my coworkers and need to learn from them as much as possible.”

      OP, it seems like you’re not just arrogant, but incorrectly so. You need to learn how to learn about the world around you. Develop curiosity about people different from you. And yes, do speak more nicely to your coworkers!

  7. Joyce*

    Hello 2#, I feel your pain! I live with voice issues that can make communication difficult. I like Alison’s advice although I lean towards “thanks for being patient” rather than apologizing for my disability. Best wishes.

    1. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yeah I’ve recently begun to have some serious hearing issues (side effect of some surgery) and I am trying to learn to say, “Thanks for being patient, I have XYZ” rather than apologizing. It’s been a really useful rephrase for me.

  8. Potato Potato*

    Re: difficulty with accents

    I also have awful auditory processing, especially with accents. This doesn’t help in the moment, but I’ve been watching more captioned TV where the actors have specific heavy accents. It’s been helpful for training my brain for when I encounter folks irl with the same accent.

    1. Electric Sheep*

      I was going to suggest the same thing, if there’s an accent or two you hear more often you might find them easier to understand with more practice, and captions make a huge difference to help learn how words sound in the unfamiliar accent.

    2. Elle by the sea*

      Everyone has an accent – there is no such thing as difficulty with all accents, including the LW. It’s important to phrase it as an auditory problem and as a problem with accents that you are not familiar with. I hope people are kind and understanding – they should be.

      1. vegan velociraptor*

        Thank you for saying this – I’ve been surprised at the number of people implicitly assuming there is a “neutral” accent from which other accents deviate.

        1. LB33*

          I think there is, depending on the context though. If I’m working somewhere where everyone has a thick Boston accent and someone comes along who has a heavy southern drawl, that person’s accent will deviate from the norm in that situation

          1. ecnaseener*

            Yes, but the Boston accent wouldn’t cease to exist in that context — it would just be the most common accent and the one you’re used to.

            Similarly, General American English *is* a dialect & accent, even though it’s often treated as neutral and “unaccented.”

        2. Myrin*

          I mean, there is in some languages, English just isn’t one of them.
          (Although, to be fair, in the cases I’m familiar with, the “neutral” language used to be a dialect, too, but it’s been hundreds of years since it’s been considered such, so I guess it depends on how long something has to have happened for it to count.)

          1. UKDancer*

            Yes. German is easier because there’s High German and everything else is either an accent or a dialect with varying levels of comprehensibility to High German speakers.

            I grew up with family friends speaking a heavy Cologne Platt dialect which was pretty incomprehensible even to someone with a lot of exposure although I did develop some weird dialectal expressions seemingly as a child, much to the amusement of my German teachers.

            I spend time now speaking in German to suppliers in Berlin (easy to understand), Munich (middling) and Switzerland (impossible).

        3. Happy meal with extra happy*

          I’m not sure how you’re getting this. People aren’t saying that their accent is correct/not an accent. They’re saying that they have difficulties understanding other accents, which makes total sense because they likely don’t have as much practice with them/didn’t hear them 24/7 from birth.

        4. A Non*

          “Neutral” for the letter writer is the probably the one they grew up speaking and hearing ‍♀️ Doesn’t mean it’s neutral for other people

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Yes, we know, but colloquially a “neutral” accent is usually our own or the one or ones with which we grew up and are most familiar. Most people don’t have trouble understanding their own home accent.

        Also, the LW sees that this is a problem and is asking for advice on rectifying it, so let’s not pick at them, OK?

    3. Gudrid the well traveled*

      I do this too. I seek out content creators and places that have accents I’m not familiar with. There’s a recruiting event I attend whenever I can just because of the variety of accents. I also find when talking on the phone or over video that it helps to use earbuds so they’re talking in my ear. And I always blame the connection if I have to ask them to repeat something. When asking I fill in what parts I have or ask for clarification on what I missed. In person I try to place them on my left side and call it my “good ear” if I need to.

    4. Dust Bunny*

      Same here. I’m notoriously bad at auditory processing but watching captioned movies/television has helped enormously.

  9. Delphine*

    I think maybe the LW in #1 is mentioning their college education as another reason their colleague and boss might think they’re a “know it all.” They don’t seem to be suggesting they’re actually more knowledgeable than their coworkers.

    LW, you made an error getting so attached to your preferred term, but you can easily correct course by adopting the company terminology. But I wonder if you buried the lede here; why was your coworker commenting on your tone? Was it just teasing/joking or was he being serious? In general is your relationship with your coworkers pleasant? It might be worth making a bit more effort on that front too.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I think this part gives it away that OP does seem to think (on some level) that their degree does give them all the knowledge:

      > I busted out, “I studied business and I never heard of this internal customer thing.” He responded, “It’s time then for you to learn” and I said, “No, I am fine, thanks.”

      Isn’t it interesting that OP “busted out” that line confidently and then doubled down on it. And there was no hint (in the letter, rather than in the conversation itself) of anything like “I don’t even know why I said it, it just came out of my mouth before I could stop it. Now I am regretting it”.

      1. casey*

        My impression was that OP said “busted out” as a continuation of “in the heat of the moment,” not as a confident gotcha (or at least not just as).

      2. And the Skeletons Are ... Part of It*

        It reads to me like OP meant to convey “blurted out”, rather than busted out as in busting out a snappy retort.

    2. John Smith*

      LW1, I’m going to go against the grain of all the criticism you’ve had here on this phraseology bullshit… I’d get out of there becuase it sounds like hell (Note, I’m from the UK and some US working customs and practices and customs can be seen as…extra). If any of my colleagues had asked me to refer to them as a (internal) customer, I’d have a hard job not telling them where to go. And if they asked me to speak to them in the artificial super nice customer service voice, I think I’d totally lose it. This place sounds like dysfunction personified.

      They’re colleagues, not customers, not clients, not stakeholders – colleagues!
      Why someone, somewhere, had to go about making up these phrases and terminology is beyond me. Medical patients being referred to as clients, then customers, then stakeholders, then service users and finally back to patients because it has dawned on these policymakers that the other phrases mean absolutely nothing in terms of who or what a patient is. The same is happening with local authorities. Constituents (or residents / taxpayers as we used to be called) are no longer that (and yes, I know that not everyone has a residence or pays tax). Now we are customers or clients of the local authority and when someone uses that phrase to refer to a co stituent/resident, no-one has a clue who they are actually talking about.

      Usually with new (and younger) people a fresh perspective is normally welcome and I love having new perspectives to highlight and correct the things we do that could be improved or even removed altogether. We have a phrase in our department about beating the enthusiasm out of new starters and it is one that destroys my soul each time I hear it. Yes, you will have a lot to learn from work beyond that given in the education system, but it doesn’t mean you’re the issue if someone has a problem with you. There’s been many a time I’ve been told I’m wrong by my peers but I’ve stuck to my guns and eventually proven myself right all along, and some people resent that.

      Good luck to you.

      1. Emu*

        I am in Australia, so can confirm use of the terms internal customer and stakeholder are not just a US thing.
        In a large organisation it can be useful terminology to talk about the interactions between workgroups and to show their dependence on each other to achieve the organisation’s goals.
        Stakeholder terminology can also be useful when determining who needs to be consulted on something and what level of buy in you need. e.g. does team A need to be fully supportive to the point of promoting this change, or do we just need them to not be against it. Are team B a stakeholder so we need to invite them to all the meetings and take up their time, or are they not impacted by this project, so not stakeholders, so we can leave them out.
        It doesn’t mean you don’t consider them colleagues, and refer to them as colleagues. There are just contexts in which having some definitions around how colleagues’ works affects each other can be useful.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        I’m half with you because I found it really difficult to read this letter and understand who on earth was who. But OP isn’t complaining about using specific terminology, they just disagree on the exact terminology they should be using because they think they know better. Plus industry specific terms are needed sometimes. When that’s the case, it’s definitely not a good move to say to your new colleagues; “Oh that’s not the word to use, I went to school so I know”. I had a really jargon filled profession (it was necessary though because the items didn’t exist in other types of offices) and the words sometimes changed when I changed jobs. It was okay to say “Huh we used to refer to these ‘nibs’ as ‘grout’ in Old Job” but it wasn’t okay to suggest the words at the new job were wrong.

      3. TechWorker*

        I think people are commenting on the content of the letter. It seems highly unlikely in this circumstance it’s going to end up that the LW was ‘right all along’. The coworker was using the phrase ‘internal customer’ in context, not just saying ‘you must call me this’.

      4. Joan Smith*

        I think the OP‘s focus on the terms internal customer/stakeholder are leading her (and perhaps us) astray. I think the colleague’s first statement meant „so you do actually know how to communicate politely and professionally, and it’s a choice not to“ and the second meant „this style of communication is „the one you should pick both internally and externally; put colleague in the same category as customer, not in a different, less respected one“. The terminology is a distraction.

        1. amoeba*

          I think there are at least two possibilities:

          1. The LW is already communicating in a friendly and open manner with their colleagues and the coworker is expecting them to use a more exaggerated, sugar-coated friendliness, which they are using for outside customers. The coworker is using annoying corporate lingo to underline that point (“you should be pretending you’re talking to an important outside client every time you speak to a coworker!”)

          2. The coworker is *not* actually friendly and nice to his coworkers and the colleague was like “woah, so you *are* capable of being respectful and nice, why do your colleagues not get that from you?”

          In the first case, I’d actually agree with John Smith. That would be super annoying to me as well. However, from the examples and the general tone of the letter, most people here (myself included) seem to think it’s more likely the second. In which case it’s definitely the LW who needs to change something. But yeah, it’s impossible to be sure, of course.

          1. amoeba*

            Ah – and in the second case I agree with Joan Smith (slightly confusing with the names here, haha!)

          2. Snow Globe*

            The whole “no, I’m good thanks” and certainty that whatever the LW learned in business school must be more correct than whatever term these people without a degree are using, strongly lead me to believe #2 what’s actually happening.

            1. gyratory_circus*

              I agree. It’s reminding me of the librarian at my primary school who used to tell kids (myself included) that we were pronouncing our own names incorrectly, and she would know better because *she* was college educated and we were just children.

              (This same librarian also had THIS IS A SILENT ROOM in big red letters on one of walls, which should tell you what kind of person she was in general.)

      5. ecnaseener*

        I think it could go either way, based on two details we don’t have:

        1. Was LW using a sugary customer service voice with the customer, or just being generally polite and pleasant?

        2. Is LW’s job such that their coworkers are their “internal customers” in some contexts, ie they perform services for their coworkers?

        So it could be a completely reasonable request for politeness or a bananapants culture of turning on the full Customer Service voice at all times. In either case though, LW was rude and probably sounded snobby.

      6. Antilles*

        I’ll just say in the US (or at least my industry of engineering), it’s an incredibly common phrasing because the dynamics at play often are analogous to customers/clients. Here’s how it works:
        My company has a bunch of different branches in different cities. If my office is a bit light on work but other offices are busy, I’ll second out their lower level folks to other branches so they can keep billable. So my staff member Jimmy ends up working for a PM in another office who needs an extra set of hands. And in this case, it really does have a lot of parallels to “customers”:
        -The PM sets the scope and limits the budget available to Jimmy, analogous to how a client might have a Not-To-Exceed budget that they expect you to hold to.
        -If the PM has a bad experience working with Jimmy, he won’t want to work with Jimmy again, just like how you might fire a vendor whose product was trash.
        -Or, if Jimmy is stellar, the PM might start actively trying to work with him again, just like how a one-off project with a client can open the door to repeat business.

        Now, it’s not quite identical to an external client since it’s in everybody’s best interest for Jimmy to stay billable. There’s a level of “we’re all in this together” that’s not really a thing with an external client. But the phrase “internal customer” really does describe a lot of the dynamics at play here.

      7. Critical Rolls*

        Is obfuscating, constantly changing business jargon a frustrating problem? Yes. But if your company is using a particular set of terms, and everyone agrees on their meaning, resistance to those terms because you didn’t learn them in school is going to make you look like an inflexible know-it-all.

        You also seem fixed on the explanation that the coworker wants to be treated with client kid gloves. However, OP’s disinclination to adapt to company practices, and apparently sincere belief that they *do* know better than their boss, combined with the spectacularly rude direct refusal to learn how things are done, leads me to suspect that they are not treating their colleagues as well as they think.

      8. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        “They’re colleagues, not customers, not clients, not stakeholders – colleagues!”

        Going to agree with this point. Using HR as an example, the Labor Relations director* isn’t a “customer,” he’s a COLLEAGUE. On the other hand, the program manager in the teapot division, HE is an “internal customer” in the sense that I might be working with him to get his unit staffed up.

        That said, I am concerned about this: ““I wish you could talk to us like that.” (I always speak to my colleagues in a friendly and respectful manner but I do try and be a bit “nicer” when dealing with clients.)” – ARE you respectful? It’s possible this colleague is just an ass, but it is also possible you come across differently than you think you do.

        *I mean, I guess, he WOULD be a customer if he was hiring for a role on his team, but I think you understand my point here!

      9. B*

        Corporate jargon is indeed awful, and having to call my colleagues my “customers” makes me grind my teeth. But that is not the problem here.

      10. Tio*

        LW1’s entire letter, though, does not read “enthusiastic and trying to fix the workplace”. They read as condescending, with the “I’m good thanks” and the criticism of the degrees and everything else. And while the different jargon might be annoying – this is not something to fight about! If the company has an established set of terms, just use them! I say this from a company that has its own terminology lookup database because they can’t stop making up acronyms. It’s very annoying. It’s not something to fight and belittle people about!

      11. Paris Rhino*

        If any of my colleagues had asked me to refer to them as a (internal) customer, I’d have a hard job not telling them where to go.

        Well, that’s not usually what happens. I can’t speak to OP’s company, but the places I have worked where we used the term “customers” for internal people, it was when talking about roles, not people. We would talk about X team being our customer, but not about Bob being our customer. It was more of a mindset/culture thing–Bob on the X team is the user/customer of your work, and you use the same mindset to produce the work for Bob on the X team that you use to produce product for Acme Corp who gives your company money. But it’s Bob in his role of X team rep who is the customer, not Bob who you take coffee breaks and talk about your cats with.

        And if they asked me to speak to them in the artificial super nice customer service voice, I think I’d totally lose it.

        Yeah, me too. I think the skill here is code switching. When Bob comes over to talk about my latest TPS report, I use a more formal tone. When we switch over to looking at pictures of our cats, I use a casual tone.

        Or maybe Bob is kind of arrogant himself and thinks I should use the Acme Corp tone with him, in which case I don’t want to talk about cats anymore bc seriously, Bob, take it easy.

        1. Me...Just Me*

          Since when is treating your customers well “artificial super nice customer service voice”? Honestly, that’s not good customer service there — and should be avoided. How about just being pleasant, helpful, nice to everyone you come into contact with? — What’s the downside to that? Are we now thinking that just being pleasant to another person is “customer service”?

          Customers don’t like the fake customer service voice. They just want a little respect and helpfulness, mostly. That should be the default.

          1. Pescadero*

            “Customers don’t like the fake customer service voice.”

            They may not (although I’d argue lots and lots of them actually do) – but retail/call-center/etc. MANAGERS do like it. They’re the ones deciding on raises and promotions also.

      12. Bess*

        Well…colleagues CAN be internal customers, if you deliver a service or product to them. I have often needed to use customer service skills in those situations.

      13. Editor Emeritus*

        I’ve worked in employee communications in the US and the UK. In both places “internal customers” (or clients) was used, as was “internal stakeholders”, with slightly different meanings and some overlap. All were also colleagues or co-workers. The larger issue is we need to adapt to the culture where we work, not try to mold the culture to our preferences.

      14. Elle by the sea*

        I haven’t heard “internal customer”, either, but if that’s what my current company was using, I would have no trouble going with it. (I’m in the UK but have lived in the UK as well.) Even “internal stakeholder” made me cringe at first and had a hard time understanding what it meant, but got used to it. I wouldn’t make a fuss out of jargon and terminology. That’s where I think the LW’s approach is weird. And on top of that, they are justifying it by having a degree in business. As if business is something that can be taught effectively at university and as if by virtue of obtaining an undergraduate degree (going through coursework, probably not even writing a thesis) they will be in possession of all knowledge of the business world. By saying all that, I am not excluding the possibility that the workplace culture itself is weird.

    3. Irish Teacher*

      That was my read of it too. I didn’t think they were saying “I know better because I went to college.” I thought they were saying, “I wonder if I said something that sounded arrogant or if my coworkers are seeing me that way because of the stereotype of the young college grad who thinks their degree means they know better than people with years or decades of experience in the field.”

      That said, I think the LW is getting too hung up on the term “internal customer.” My impression was that the coworker might not even have been using it completely literally or in a formal way. I suspect they simply meant to say, “well, just as part of your job is to be polite to customers, it’s also part of your job to treat your colleagues in the same way. Think of us as your internal customers.”

      I’ve only heard that term and the one the LW uses about stakeholders on this site, so not sure of exactly how they are used, but in this case, it sounds to me like the coworker was making a point and that getting caught up in thinking they should ask the boss about the exact nuances of the term misses the point.

      I wouldn’t even be surprised if the colleague heard the LW’s response about not having heard of internal customers, not as meaning she learnt a different term but rather as “I never heard of having to treat colleagues in the same way as clients.”

    4. Ama*

      I wondered about this bit too. What kind of dynamics between OP and their coworker are not included in the letter? Is this a situation with an older male being condescending towards a younger female because she’s not “cheery enough”? Is this someone noting that OP is friendly and effusive on the phone but taciturn or withdrawn with coworkers?

      Was it just a friendly jibe that landed wrong? For the record, I think an overly cheery customer service voice is something that young women are socialized to have. I remember the summer I worked at a chocolate store, and how I noticed that when a customer walked up to us while we were talking my coworker’s voice go up almost an octave. It’s the way my sister gets when she talks to her preschool kids. I bet I do it too. I could see myself teasing a friend or being teased by a friend about that, if the difference was startling enough or the transition from “normal voice” to “customer voice” was abrupt enough. Maybe the coworker was joking and it just came across badly or awkwardly.

      1. Another Academic Librarian*

        I haven’t seen anyone else mention this, but I was also wondering if the comment was a friendly jibe. To me, it sounds like the kind of joke you might make to a friend or family member — “hey, I heard you on the phone trying to sort out your electricity bill, why don’t you ever talk to me that nicely?”

    5. casey*

      Agreed. The writing style is a bit tone-deaf and leaves a lot of context to be sussed out by readers, but I think this letter is bringing out a lot of unnecessary, gleeful Reddit correctiveness from commenters.

  10. Drag0nfly*

    OP #1 If you were making excuses to me on the grounds that you never heard of something at your school, I would reply, “You weren’t a very good student, then.” Good students read widely and independently, and seek out more than what their teachers and textbooks are telling them. Good students can take in new information and adapt their mental models and paradigms. They can make connections between ideas and experiences. And they also realize that school was more of a primer, not the whole shebang.

    You come across as mentally inflexible, because you can’t seem to handle adjectives or analogies. In the sense that if someone isn’t using the exact same term as your textbook, then they may as well should be speaking another language. This is the student version of teaching to the test, because you only know exactly what was on the test, and never went beyond it.

    Also, there shouldn’t be a discernible difference between the way you talk to your customers and your coworkers. This is coming across as “rude to the waiter,” where your coworkers are the waiters because you don’t “need” to be courteous to them. This is not going to get you very far. Be kind. Your coworkers have already put you on notice that your behavior is less than ideal.

    If you’re motivated mainly by self interest, note that not every manager goes strictly by competence when evaluating people for projects and promotions. They’re just as likely to prioritize competence + ability to get along with other people. In the long run it will cost you nothing to be kind and polite, so make it your habit starting now. You don’t know which of today’s coworkers will be promoted above you tomorrow. These archives are full of letters from people who discover someone they mistreated is blocking them from advancement or employment. Be kind!

    1. ARROWED!*

      If I spoke to my coworkers the way I speak to customers, they would wonder what’s wrong with me. It’s not inherently rude to have different ways of speaking to different groups – it’s very normal. Speaking too formally to those you’re closer to can be just as bad as being too informal when formality is required.

      That said, unless LW’s coworker was joking, then it is a sign that the way they’re speaking to their coworkers is annoying them, so they should definitely think about making changes.

      1. Drag0nfly*

        No, it’s not inherently rude to be formal / informal with different people. Did it really seem that’s what I meant? Okay, I’ll clarify.

        I didn’t get the sense the coworker was referring to *code switching* where you use slang for one set, and formal high tea use-the-right-fork for another set. The point was referring to *manners.* Courtesy, politeness, which applies whether or not you’re speaking in-group and out-group, which is why I referred to the waiter test. If you’ve never heard of it, that’s the one where you judge a romantic date by whether they’re rude to the waiter, or anyone they think *has* to put up with their rudeness. Some managers use that test too, on job interviews where you meet for lunch. THAT is the test the OP sounds as if he or she is failing.

        For the record, I once did tech support, and I was always so friendly and patient over the phone that customers would ask for me by name. My colleagues never once wished me to be as nice to them, because I always was as nice to them, regardless of vocabulary terms. My boss remarked that he was “surprised but not surprised” when he saw me pal around with people from other departments that we rarely work with, because I’m friendly and approachable to *everyone*. I would get summoned out of the blue to help on projects with people I never met before, because I had a reputation for explaining technical matters without making anyone feel stupid.

        I just think it’s better for the OP to learn kindness and humility sooner rather than later. Degrees aren’t everything, and they don’t inherently confer superiority.

        “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

        Hope that’s clearer.

        1. Oui oui oui all the way home*

          Your kind response to a prickly comment is a great example of your excellent communication skills.

        2. Budgie Buddy*

          “There shouldn’t be a discernible difference between the way you talk to your customers and your coworkers.”

          Yeah this confused me too because based on the rest of the paragraph it sounds like it’s saying there’s only one way to be “kind.” Arrowed isn’t being contentious or obtuse for not getting your exact meaning.

    2. Heta-uma*

      Yes, what you learnt in university is a starting point, not the be-all and end-all of everything. It’s water-wings in the kiddie pool before they let you out to swim in the big swirly (and sometimes rough) river of work.

      But honestly reflect, get excited about how much you can learn from a role and your colleagues, work on your soft skills and I hope you’ll get where you want to be – one day this will be just be one of those unfortunate learning experiences that make you wonder what on earth you were thinking at the time (and I promise you won’t be the only one – I know I have a few memories that make my soul fold up into a complicated origami of cringe).

  11. Anonymous cat*

    #1–It sounds like your coworker was dropping a big hint about how you’re coming across. It’s probably not as friendly and respectful as you think.

    Also the comment about time to learn was a piece of advice. If someone spoke to me the way youve described, I’d stop any efforts to help them.

    (To be clear—I’d do my job but I wouldn’t go out of my way for them. )

    1. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yeah, I have to admit, I didn’t love that part either. I was young and arrogant at one point in my life and I tend to be pretty forgiving of others foibles when they’re new to the work world. But as a manager, I would have some concerns if I had a staff member speak that way to another staff member who was trying to give them some advice. The fact is, it sounds like LW1 may need to open up a little bit to the idea that people who have been working a long time in a field might. have something to offer, even if they don’t have the degree. In the work world, degrees matter a lot less than colleges want you to believe. It’s a powerful lesson to learn and one that is worth learning.

  12. Corey*

    #1: If you know what a stakeholder is, then you should realize that not everyone who has a stake in your product is a consumer of it. So you might actually not know what either “internal customer” or “internal stakeholder” means.

    I was waiting for a punchline that never dropped. These are not cryptic terms — their makeups project their meaning. It’s like being confidently wrong about what a hair straightener does and then rejecting any offers to help correct yourself.

    1. Myrin*

      I’m not a native English speaker and this letter makes me realise that whenever I see “stakeholder” anywhere I immediately think “stock market” because somehow what I’m reading is “shareholder”! So, thanks for that, OP.

      This also made me look up the translation for “stakeholder” and I have to admit I still don’t get it in this context – I assume “internal customers” are basically coworkers who need something from you? But what are “internal stakeholders”, then? The translated words it showed me really just mean someone who has a vested interest in a thing but that doesn’t quite seem to be it, either?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That’s pretty much it! To ground it in a real example, if you’re writing a briefing paper on Topic X, your internal stakeholders might be the internal experts on X, the lobbyists who will use the briefing paper in their work, your communications people who care about the org’s written products in general, and the deputy director whose pet issue this is. Your “customers” in this case might just be the lobbyists who requested the briefing paper, but everyone else on the list is a stakeholder, because they all have a vested interest in the work.

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

          Thanks for the explanation. Even us native English speaking folx can get all confused with this business jargon if you’re not in that field.

  13. Oatmeal Mom*

    LW1, unless there is a legal and a very specific reason to use one term over the other, it’s better to just adapt to the company where you’re working right now for the sake of clarity and communication. Degrees also don’t determine expertise in most fields.

    I work with internal customers and while there’s a bit more of a casual tone (the idea we’re all on the same team, not as stiff as with external customers) I still have to maintain my “customer service voice” and the attitude that comes with it. All a part of professionalism. I would take on your boss’ critique gracefully and move on with this in mind.

    1. Totally Minnie*

      This feels like a helpful explanation. When I worked in customer service, it was like there were three distinct versions of me. There was Normal Minnie hanging out with friends and family, she’s a little sassy and silly. Then there was Work Minnie, a slightly curated version of my normal personality, dial back the sass and leave out some things I might say or do with non-work friends. And last was Customer Service Minnie. Customer Service Minnie is happy to see everyone and has never heard a stupid question in her life.

      You don’t have to go full Customer Service mode with your coworkers, but you should be able to find a happy medium between that and your normal, non-work communication and behavior.

  14. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP2 (seeking offers when you don’t really want to leave) – here are some additional reasons you might reconsider:

    – what does it mean to stay “long term” at your company? In software (I’m also in this area) that can be a negative especially if there’s no real growth in the current role – and then for the future you may find skills lacking where the company hasn’t moved with the market, etc. Also, don’t assume that the company and job will be around as long as you want it – you will have heard about the layoffs etc in tech.

    – you never really know what the startups and behemoths might offer that you haven’t thought off and end up liking. Although since you seem to value stability (?) startups may not be the best fit. Startup salaries are higher because of the “risk premium” for it not working out. The behemoths may have more room for growth and change.

    – networking, get on the radar of companies and recruiters even if it turns out now isn’t the right time to make the move

    – confidence that you do have other options (this is a big one I’ve been contending with lately), not feeling stuck.

    – you never really know what the future holds and if you are in your prime earning years now, there’s an argument to sock away as much as you can now (for retirement or savings or whatever) while the opportunity is there.

    1. amoeba*

      I’m in science, not in tech, but I’d definitely say, give a chance to the behemoths! At least in my field, apart from salary and benefits, they are also typically the ones where you’re most free to do interesting research. Because, well, at least in my field, you need a ton of money to fund that.

      1. LW2 Software Dev*

        That’s a good point. I don’t doubt that a FAANG job would be interesting! I just feel a little weird about tracing the line between my work and the impact these companies have on the world, even though I use their products daily. I’m sort of a touchy feely bleeding heart type about it and don’t know how much is just me being kind of precious.

        With the VC funded startups, generally I don’t find their elevator pitches to my liking – it can feel like the napkin scene from Glass Onion sometimes. (“Uber for Dogs” or whatever the line was.) I’ve worked in a non-VC startup and once I got settled in I realized I did not enjoy it all that much. I’m not sure how much of the foibles on display there were startup things vs. idiosyncratic though. And if working at one of those places might be a chance to prove my preconceptions wrong, I’d need to reckon with the risk that I still wouldn’t like it, and then where would I be? Lots to think about.

        1. LJ*

          Have you heard of the notion of “earning to give”? It’s an interesting thing to think about – what if you can make double your salary and donate half of it? Would that have a greater impact on the world?

          Now, humans are not all utilitarian and the answer may be that you want greater fulfillment in your work regardless, but I think it can be good to view things through multiple lenses.

        2. len*

          You’re not being precious. That’s a really important consideration, props to you for giving it weight — just wanted to say this since I know from experience (and observation right here) that you’ll hear a lot of people trying to talk you out of caring about the knock-on consequences of a major life choice.

    2. LW2 Software Dev*

      Thanks, Captain, for this helpful breakdown! I didn’t put this stuff in the letter because I didn’t want it to be too long or prompt speculation about exactly where I work, but I don’t actually work at a tech company. I work on a software team within a not-for-profit research institution. (So my expectations would be less “hey match this salary” and more “can I get the top of your range?”)

      The norms and working conditions are a mix of “techie normal” and “research normal” with obvious benefits and drawbacks associated with both. One nice thing is that long term really does mean long term here (I work with a guy who has been here over a decade) and my boss agrees with me that advancing to Senior Software Engineer is a possibility.

      Layoffs are a little bit tricky. You’re right that I do value stability (the other thing is, I guess, a touchy feely sense of doing good.) I have seen layoffs happen, but it was tied to specific grants/projects and didn’t affect me in terms of job security or even workload because that team and mine were effectively two leaves on different branches of a big tree. At the time of what people were calling the Big Tech layoffs, I don’t think we had layoffs at all. But getting complacent about that is obviously not a good move.

      Confidence is a BIG one for me! I think there may be an element of feeling like I’m at the high school dance and want people to ask me to dance, here.

  15. AK*

    OP4: My neighbor recently missed an email from a hiring manager and the hiring manager had to call her to ask what’s up. Then she totally missed the screening call (just forgot!), then was lucky enough to be able to set up a new screening and her phone wasn’t working and she couldn’t make or receive calls! They had only 10 mins left of the appt time when they actually got connected. Somehow, after all that, she moved onto the final rounds and got an offer! Insane.

    1. Visually Impaired Guy*

      It’s sadly normal to have something go to spam. The hiring manager wasn’t only questioning your interest, they were also asking your referrer if there were technical difficulties and this was the case! In these types of situations I typically ask about technical difficulties rather than anything else “I assume X didn’t respond because of email problems, can you please reach out to them to let them know” and it’s almost always the case and we connect and it all proceeds normally from there. I wouldn’t worry about it at all!

    2. Elsewise*

      I was 15 minutes late to an interview once! It was only scheduled for 45 minutes, so I missed a full third of it. It was a video interview, but the calendar invite and the email had different links, so I was just sitting in the waiting room. They still hired me!

  16. Lemonwhirl*

    LW3 – I also have auditory processing issues, and accents, until I learn the person’s patterns, can be a real struggle. (I had a landlord who spoke in a thick West Cork accent and talked so fast – I never learned his accent and was always 3 seconds behind in conversations with him.)

    Allison’s advice is spot-on, and it’s something I’ve been doing for a few years now after a manager suggested disclosing in a similar manner. What I found is that I nearly hear better after I’ve disclosed, because I’m not worrying AND trying to listen.

    1. Robin*

      I don’t have auditory processing (that I’m aware of) but I have the same problem with accents. if this is happening over video, I’ve found turning on closed captioning really helpful. It’s not perfect but it’s much better than I am, and when I don’t have to strain to figure out every word.

  17. JaneDough(not)*

    LW1, this concerns me: ‘I always speak to my colleagues in a friendly and respectful manner but I do try and be a bit “nicer” when dealing with clients.’

    I can’t think of a single reason to be a little less nice to some people than to others — especially to the colleagues with whom you spend about 30% of your waking life. I know that you’re young and finding your way, and I’m not criticizing you; rather, I’m urging you to work on opening your eyes and your mind, because it’s clear that insecurity about who you are/what you have to offer, combined with your hierarchical way of viewing the world, is working against you. Best wishes as you grow.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      That really stood out to me. Even if I thought I was the best and most helpful colleague, the fact of someone saying essentially ‘Um yeah, you’re not great with us’ would really make me take stock and bother me. OP brushed this off without a thought.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Worse, LW effectively proved them right by refusing to take the coaching.

        “You’re coming across as rude.”

        “No, I’m not: go away.”

    2. amoeba*

      I mean, there might be jobs where you have to adopt a “the customer is always right” kind of mentality that I definitely would not employ with colleagues. Or, you know, being extra friendly in an exaggerated manner (“have a great day! Thank you so much! So good of you to do X!”). You also probably wouldn’t translate that 1:1 to everyday office interactions.

      But yes, from the context, I also get the same vibe as you – the coworker was complaining because LW is actually rude to them.

      1. kiki*

        High-level customer service levels of “nice” are really difficult to maintain for very long. It also doesn’t necessarily work well for dynamics that aren’t one-sided. And frankly, if my coworkers treated me as hyper-politely as they do customers, I would be confused!

        So I think there are definitely reasons somebody would speak to a client differently or more “nicely” than they would a coworker. BUT I also think the coworker saying they wished LW treated them differently is a huge flag being waved– LW probably is being at least a bit rude to their coworkers!

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          This seems so strange to me… being nice to customers is no different than being nice to coworkers or being nice to the checkout clerk or being nice to random strangers at the bus stop. In all cases it just requires being respectful, kind, reasonably empathetic, and polite.

          I’m more familiar/casual with coworkers than with customers, but no less nice. Artificial syrup-sweet voice, acting hyper-positive or extremely deferential – those aren’t part of being nice and in many cases are antithetical to it as they are quite condescending.

        2. biobotb*

          I’m confused–why is “hyper-polite” considered “nicer”? I feel like you can be equally nice to customers and coworkers without being as formal with coworkers as you would be with customers.

    3. Pretty as a Princess*

      What also jumped out at me was that the LW replied by basically saying “You never took bizcomm, I did and learned how to have a customer service voice.”

      The colleague made the comment about how the LW was engaging with externals vs internal team members and the LW’s first reaction was to lecture the colleague that the LW had something in college that they thought the colleague didn’t have. The LW basically said “I’m better at this than you because I did X and you haven’t.” They were focused right from the start on how they think that their education/experience in their mind is superior to the colleague and didn’t even seem to consider why the colleague might make such a statement.

      The LW sounds VERY young and inexperienced professionally and I hope that they can recover from this nose dive. I would start by recommending that they try to approach their work and their team from the perspective of “what can I learn from this person/situation/conversation/interaction?” rather than “how can I show off my bona fides?”

      I also think that the LW might benefit from thinking on the difference between niceness/politeness and formality. I’d be horrified if one of my team members said they felt they could be less nice to coworkers. There is a considerable difference in the level of formality we use with our external clients and how we choose to defer or manage issues in a conversation – but that’s not the same as niceness or politeness.

  18. West Bromich*

    No.1: I agree with the above comments regarding softening your approach and embracing humility, but I would add that I’m 40 and do not recall ever hearing the term “internal customer.”

    1. Le Vauteur*

      Same here! ‘Client department’ is about the closest I’ve heard for that. Internal stakeholder is a regular term here though.

    2. amoeba*

      I mean, we use the term for actual service units that are literally set up that way – as in, they measure something for us and then charge our department per measurement. Or rather, we are their internal customers. Or tech support, stuff like that.
      I’d probably also be mildly annoyed by a place that used it broadly for normal office interactions. But, you know – almost every company has some degree of mildly annoying lingo and other quirks! See all the AAM threads about that kind of stuff.
      You just roll your eyes (internally!) and accept that or maybe complain about it to your friends or spouse at inner. You might also try to avoid using certain terms yourself, if they’re not actually necessary. But you do not go around and complain about it to your colleagues, pretend not to understand them, or get hung up about why the language they use is wrong. Doubly so if you’re new (but, honestly, it would probably still be rude after a few years!)

    3. Fieldpoppy*

      This term has been in use for at least 25 years in Canada — i used it in the 90s. It’s easiest to understand it when you think about the « service » aspects of an organization — let’s say I’m in the communications dept and another team needs me to help design a marketing campaign. The people who will buy the product are external customers, the team whose product im designing the campaign for are internal customers — they have needs i need to understand and meet just as the external folks do. They also might be funding this piece of work through some kind of service agreement.

    4. Snow Globe*

      It’s frequently used where I am, but I think that may be because I work in an internal support function. Managers use it as a way to clarify that even if we don’t have direct contact with external clients, we are providing services internally, and need to keep that mindset (rather than thinking something like responding in a timely manner doesn’t really matter since we are dealing with co-workers).

    5. ecnaseener*

      I was so glad to learn it’s real, I’ve basically been using it in my head thinking it wasn’t a thing! Pretty much all my interactions at work are with internal customers.

    6. iglwif*

      I would add that I’m 40 and do not recall ever hearing the term “internal customer.”

      I am nearly 50 and I have heard it a lot. I think whether or not you’ve run across this concept (which I’ve also heard called “internal clients”) can depend a lot on what kind of work you do, because in some jobs (IT and facilities, for example) it’s very common but in others it probably never comes up.

      One past job of mine involved providing a specific set of services to both 2 internal departments and several external customers. They were all our customers!

      And there’s often a balance-sheet implication to this kind of relationship, too — often services provided by one department to another are “charged” to the latter via a JV or in some other way represented as income for the former and expenses for the latter.

    7. Sneaky Squirrel*

      We use ‘internal customer’, ‘internal stakeholder’ and ‘internal client’ relatively interchangeably. I think OP is being intentionally obtuse by telling their colleague that they’ve never heard the term before.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        I’ve never worked for a place that used it… and yet it was completely obvious what it meant the moment I heard the term. LW even admits she knows exactly what her colleagues mean.

    8. SnappinTerrapin*

      The gist of the “internal customer” idea is that anyone in your firm whose work is affected by your work is a “consumer” of your work.

      If delays in your work impact someone else’s work, that impact may be as important – or more important than – the direct impact on an external customer, who might never be aware that your delay, or your inaccuracy, was what caused them to be frustrated with your colleague’s delivery of goods or services.

    9. I Have RBF*

      I’m over 60 and have heard that term, and variations of it, for years.

      In any sort of internal support role, even tier 3, you will have internal clients, customers, stakeholders, etc. Each firm uses them slightly differently, so when in doubt, ask (politely.) A college degree, even a PhD, doesn’t mean you know everything about that company and that department.

  19. Diplomat*

    #lw1. You want to salvage this?

    1. Go ahead and refrain from name dropping your degree in the future. I assure you that your generalist business degree (complete with your fancy internships and capstone project) are simply not going to matter to your seasoned colleagues with years of experience in your industry. (Speaking as someone with two fancy degrees AND years of experience)

    2. Be truly engaged in the work and excited to improve – Because when you are, you’ll realize there’s opportunities for institutional, industry, and general knowledge EVERYWHERE.

    1. Anon for This*

      All of this. I have two degrees from top 10 universities and have been a CEO. Where did I learn my “customer voice “? In high school, working the counter at a fast food restaurant. Where did I learn to use the current corporate jargon? At my first job out of college. Where did I learn to treat my colleagues well? Working in sales, not business school. Also from my parents (who also had multiple degrees, but never let that go to their heads).

      If you want to succeed, please drop the superior attitude and listen to your more experienced colleagues. They know more than you do about business right now. Trust me on this.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yeah “treat your colleagues well” is one of those things you either know intrinsically or find out the very hard way. Unfortunately it sounds like OP is going to be the latter.

    2. And the Skeletons Are ... Part of It*

      To point number one, I would add – while it’s always gauche and immature to reference your own degree as though you think that will make you sound smarter than others, on top of that it comes across as silly when you do that with a kind of degree which is… not generally known for its rigor.

      Not that business degrees aren’t valuable, and not that you don’t have to work hard to get one, but… there’s a hint of a reputation about them nonetheless. If you namedrop your astrophysics degree, you’ll inspire resentment. If you namedrop your business degree in the same tone, you might inspire some snickers too.

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        I’m guessing that depends on where the LW is? In Ireland, I don’t think there is any particular reputation to a business degree. It’s not something like medicine that is inherently impressive but it’s not considered unimpressive either and I would imagine in a business situation, it would be considered more significant than a degree in something less relevant to the sector.

        Just looked up the list of points for all courses in Ireland and various business and commerce courses vary from around 245, below average, probably around 70% of the country would have good enough grades to be accepted, to 613 (Global Business (USA), whatever that is!), almost the max number of points, probably only about 1% of the country would get the grades for entry. So there’s no general impression.

  20. Free Meerkats*

    When I started working from home in 2020, my wife commented on my customer service voice after a while as in, “I can always tell when you’re talking to (contact at the largest aircraft company in the US), you have a totally different voice.” It’s not something you learn in school, you learn it in life.

    And for #3, you aren’t alone. I spent much of our month in Australia translating English to English for my wife. She just couldn’t get it.

    1. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

      When I lived in the UK with my Australian gf the building manager for our flats was Jamaican (let’s call him Cedric). They ADORED each other – Cedric was pretty meh about me and would FAR rather talk to Mrs Firefighter – but COULD NOT UNDERSTAND a word the other one said, so I always ended up doing simultaneous translation between the two of them.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I worked for a few years at a summer camp who had kids from all over the US and around the world. I once had to translate a conversation between the kids from Dallas and our finance person who was from the UK (possibly Liverpool, I don’t remember exactly). It amused me to no end. My point being, accents different from your own are definitely hard to understand sometimes, especially if the person is speaking too fast or mumbles (or both!). I am having this problem currently with a consultant I’ve spoken to a couple of times where I cannot understand anything he’s saying because of this and also maybe because he speaks in technical jargon that is not a language I use very often either.

    2. Single Parent Barbie*

      When I started college in the deep south 30 plus years ago, my New England born and raised father took me . After every meeting I had to translate Southern to Boston.

      1. PhyllisB*

        Yep. I live in Mississippi and have one branch of family in New Jersey. When the two grandmothers were together, I would have to translate for them.

  21. Mangled Metaphor*

    Eh y’up luv, y’alreet? I’m popping to t’shop later, you want owt?

    My coworkers gently tease me about my Telephone Voice – what my non-work friends refer to as my Talking To Alexa Voice. I drop my (actually more neutral than my first sentence makes it appear) accent to more RP and make sure my message gets across clearly. This was not taught to me by school, business, high or otherwise, but a couple of decades of *work experience*. I’ve learned that customers will be in a variety of environments, some much louder than mine, and the onus is on me to make myself heard and understood.
    The really important thing is that this is the only thing I change about my interactions with external customers. Internal customers on the phone get the same Telephone Voice – and *everybody* gets the same level of respect and service.

    That’s what this is about – respect.
    The customer, your boss, your coworker, the janitor – they are all humans who either want/need something from you (the janitor kindly asks you to put litter in the bag, not next to it), or will be providing something to you (like your salary).
    By all means, use different emphasis to talk on the phone – it’s been key to my workplace success for 20+ years, but don’t make the underlying behaviour different. You won’t win friends, and you’ll only influence people to dislike you and treat you as poorly.

  22. Drag0nfly*

    OP#3, I have a similar problem. I don’t have issues with accents on their own, but if a person with an unfamiliar-t0-me accent is shouting, I can’t process what they’ve said. I don’t process what people without accents are saying when they shout, either. Once I realize they’re not warning about fires or evacuations I just tune out because it’s exhausting otherwise. Then I found out the shouty Eastern European coworker had a hearing problem herself, and that was WHY she yelled all the time. Not because she was overdramatic and liked scolding people, which is what I thought until another coworker clued me in.

    What I do in these situations is just let the person know, “I’m sorry, I’m going to need you to lower your voice and slow down so I can better assist you.” Also, you might lean into ambient noise, like if there’s a loud ventilation system, or music or other sounds. “I have trouble hearing, and the air vents aren’t helping. I apologize in advance if I ask you to repeat yourself.” This may buy you more grace, especially since the other person may have an issue with the noise as well.

  23. Kella*

    OP 1, I know you’re going to be getting some tough love in these comments. I’m hoping my advice can reach you.

    I want you to consider what your underlying goal was in the conversation with your coworker. What did you want to accomplish? In what state did you want each of you to leave the conversation?

    I ask because from my perspective, it appears your top goals were to a. be seen as educated, experienced, and knowledgeable and b. deflect implied criticism away from yourself and onto your coworkers. It’s very common to be taught that it’s a virtue to appear smart, above-criticism, and to never be wrong. But those are very short-sighted goals and prioritizing them tends to shut down the positive development of professional (and personal) relationships.

    If letting go of this framework is brand new to you, I’d suggest looking for something to replace it with. My favorite framework for combatting perfectionism and related cognitive distortions is curiosity. My co-worker said something that sounded like a criticism. What do they mean by that? Can they tell me more? Is there any truth to it? What can I learn about myself from this feedback? What would happen if I listened to the feedback and adjusted my behavior? What adjustments could I make? An openness to new information and trying possibilities looking for a way forward is likely to make it much easier to forge these relationships with your coworkers.

    1. Jackalope*

      I would add to this that if you are someone who has a hard time dealing with criticism in the moment (say you get a wave of negative emotion, shame, whatever), then it’s also important to learn ways to punt in your response. For example you might be able to say, “Thank you for letting me know. Can I think about that for a little bit?” Or, “I appreciate you telling me that,” or whatever works for you. (I’ve also found it helpful to ask for examples because that can help me get a better grasp on what the person is really trying to get at.) That will work out much better in the long run than giving into feelings of shame, anger, defensiveness, etc., and will give you time to consider if the other person’s comments have merit and how to respond.

  24. Not an a*hole*

    I’m trying to think of a way to express my feelings on #1 that doesn’t make me look like an asshole.

    So I have boiled it down to this – I have over 20 years of career experience (about half of which has been in leadership) and a Masters degree. What you learned in school is theoretical. Some of the absolute best people I have seen at their jobs don’t have a college degree. I have always thought of the people I support on my cross functional team as my internal customers. It is important to treat your coworkers and internal customers well. You should not be condescending to them and nice to external people. If you have been given feedback about how you communicate, even if from a non management level, listen. Having a customer service voice sounds really disingenuous. Being a genuinely good human who treats others well and respects their opinion is important and it will help you in your career. When you need help from another department and they think you’re a condescending elitist, they won’t help you. You need the help of others to succeed.

    This question really bothered me a lot. So I how my feedback is well taken and not considered as unhelpful.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, this. I’m in Finland and interactions with customers are a lot more low-key here than they seem to be in the US. But we’re still polite even if we aren’t expected to repeat the customer’s name in every sentence on phone scripts (many, including me, find that practice unnecessarily aggressive). In stores we let customers browse in peace and expect those who need help to approach an employee, even if they do so non-verbally. I worked retail for a few years in my teens and early twenties and learned quickly the difference in body language between someone who was just browsing and someone who needed help, in the latter case approaching them with a friendly smile and an “Excuse me, is there anything I can help you with?” worked.

      I only work with internal customers and I and my coworker provide a service that they can’t get anywhere else, although we outsource stuff when we’re overloaded. I have no doubt that I’d get written up/warned/fired if my manager heard from an internal customer that they’d outsourced a task that I could’ve done because I treat them so poorly that they don’t want to deal with me.

      Being respectful (of their time, their job, their basic humanity), friendly, and polite (without being unnecessarily obsequious) to your coworkers regardless of your relative positions in the organizational hierarchy is basically Professionalism 101.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      We are always very hesitant in my job to hire people who have a masters degree and no work experience, and if I’m ever advising someone considering grad school I always strongly advise them to work for a couple of years first, if they haven’t. Because it’s SO theoretical, and I can only speak to my MBA program but it was much, much easier for me to grasp concepts having professional context to consider them in than it was for my classmates who came straight from undergrad.

      I think especially if you went straight through and you’re only 24-25, you get a little swept up in the idea of being labeled a “master” of something and you don’t really have any idea what that means in practicality. I don’t blame the students for that, even if it can be annoying, because it’s just good marketing on the part of the universities. But the real world is not as impressed with your degrees as you may have been told they would be, and they only care if you can do your job well. It sounds like OP is foregoing a big part of learning to do their job well and resting on their laurels instead – and OP, kindly and honestly, this is going to hold you back more than you can know.

      1. Anon for This*

        My spouse and I have often discussed this topic. I went to business school after several years of working, as did almost all of my classmates. They went to law school straight from university, as did almost all of their classmates. My classmates were almost 100% collegial and worked well with others. Their classmates spent much of their time trying to one-up each other. You can see that play out in the (truer than it should be) work world stereotype of attorneys acting superior to non-attorneys. Especially young ones right out of law school.

      2. New Jack Karyn*

        Not for nothing, but I’ve seen this in MSW and other master’s in counseling tracks. Take your BA in psychology or sociology or what have you and get an entry level job. Depending on your specific career goal, there can be lots of those, because of the high rates in turnover and burnout. Then apply to graduate school.

      3. Emmy Noether*

        That depends a lot on the field and the place. In my exprience, if you are in a natural science (and especially in countries like Germany, where stopping after a bachelor’s is a novel concept that wasn’t even possible 20 years ago), go ahead and get at least your master’s straight away. You’ll be considered half-baked without it, and it’s really difficult to get back into studying after having stopped for a while.

        And if you want to get a job in R&D, your master thesis and/or PhD work is practical experience.

        If you’re studying business, then I agree with Eldritch Office Worker, getting some practical real-life experience first to test the academic theories against is a good idea. You also won’t be the only one.

    3. Jack Russell Terrier*

      Sephora went through a stage where the staff were obviously told always to ask you if you needed help. Within 5 mins, I was asked three times, by three different staff members if they could help. It’s outrageously annoying because you know it’s not their fault, but at the same time I Just Peacufully Want to Browse $#@&. So you plaster on your smile, politely decline and try not to seethe!

  25. CharlieS*

    No3. One of the benefits I got from disclosing my autism and related auditory processing issues at work was that it made people a lot more understanding when I did ask them to repeat themselves and it also allowed me to choose more appropriate methods of communication when I could. Most of my team know I understand thing better when they email or message me rather than calling and I can send a follow email for important conversations to let them know what i understood and give them the opportunity clarify anything I missed or misunderstood. I work in the public service so I felt comfortable to disclose this though if your workplace is particularly ableist I would understand not wanting to disclose.

  26. Decidedly Me*

    LW1 – we use the term internal customer at my company, as well as internal stakeholder, depending on the situation. Many of us also have degrees and we all have all sorts of terms we learned in school that we don’t use. Each company will have its own language of sorts and it’s only going to benefit you to learn what that is and use it. There are a lot of different ways to refer to things that can all be correct. Some of my new hires come from companies with different terms than ours and what are they doing about that? Learning to switch to the terms that we use.

    LW2 – do be wary of salaries at VC-funded companies that are far outside what is standard for the role/industry. I have several friends lured by $$$ (3 times or more what is typical) only to be misled on what the job actually was, have salaries slashed, and be let go in under 6 months. These were not failing companies either. At previous job, a competitor took away half a department with a similar tactic. All but one of them asked to return later (the one that didn’t moved on to another company).

    That aside, assuming the salaries you’re seeing are aligned with the market, I’ve done exactly what Alison mentioned. I was getting recruiters reaching out for similar roles with higher salaries. I wasn’t looking to leave my role, but the difference in salary was hard to ignore. I talked to my boss about a raise based on what the market was at the time and got it.

    1. So they all cheap ass-rolled over and one fell out*

      It seems to me that the market salary at small, non-VC companies is lower than FAANGs and VC-funded startups. Depending on how long ago LW2 got their job, how well they negotiated, and how well they researched the salary at the time (at similar employers!) they may already be getting market salary.

      Or maybe I am rationalizing because I work at a small, non-VC-funded, tech company that I like and have convinced myself that the work-life balance is worth the lower pay.

      1. LW2 Software Dev*

        Yeah, I’m getting somewhere in the middle of market pay. It’s not a small tech company; it’s a big research institution, which I feel like works out comparably in terms of pay. It’s not like a small charitable org where they make you live on instant ramen, but it’s not FAANG money. I’ve been here almost two years and drove as hard a bargain as I could in terms of negotiation. I’m not seeing totally ludicrous pay being advertised either – I see postings which would represent like a 30% pay bump (50% if FAANG) but not 200%.

        1. So they all cheap ass-rolled over and one fell out*

          I have an ex-coworker who came from a FAANG and left for a FAANG. I don’t know what he was making before he worked at my company, but after he resigned he told me he was going to earn almost double at the new FAANG (in terms of total comp). That’s pretty much my only data point, but “only” 50% pay bump doesn’t seem so big compared to that.

        1. So they all cheap ass-rolled over and one fell out*

          Sounds like it! I would take a further pay cut to work 30-32 hours, and spend that time with my family.

          Also, while I don’t work at a nonprofit, my company’s products provide a societal benefit that extends beyond just our direct users.

  27. Glazed Donut*

    LW1, I wonder if perhaps this college degree vs non-college degree has been in your mind for a while and clouding the way you interact at work.
    I agree with the commenters who advise you to consider your communication and tone and what you can learn from your coworkers. I also wonder why you took this job at this particular company – if you value degrees as much as it seems, what were you expecting?
    I wonder about your long-term future here. Maybe you would be happier (and easier to work with) if you moved to a workplace where college degrees were expected. Maybe, also, you’d be able to realize how much of a difference a degree doesn’t matter when compared to real-world experience.
    Many of us were young and inexperienced at one point, and may have clung to a new degree as a justification for actions or as a confidence booster for why we were qualified for a position. However, it is important and a sign of maturity to be able to step back and recognize the bigger picture that you may be missing (especially in light of how your colleague asked you to be kinder) with humility.

  28. kalli*

    Frankly, if a recruiter behaves like that because they don’t get a response fast enough, then I’d be reconsidering whether they, and the job, is likely to be a good fit.

      1. ecnaseener*

        All the more reason to be wary – it was the hiring manager who came off as impatient.

        Who knows, maybe they didn’t expect the message to be forwarded to LW and didn’t mean to phrase it that way, but yeah I’d be on the lookout for more signs like that.

      2. WellRed*

        No but the sentiment can still I’ll be the same. OPs response time was not egregious. Does the hiring manager expect people to wait by their emails?

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          Yeah, I mean the email *did* go to spam and it was helpful for OP to be informed of that. But that amount of attitude from the hiring manager after ONE DAY of no response seems like a red flag. Or at the very least a yellow one.

    1. Antilles*

      It sounds like it’s the hiring manager not the recruiter but, agreed. If a delay of one day draws a “hey why hasn’t Jane responded???” email, that’s a warning sign.

      1. Voluptuousfire*

        I agree it’s definitely a data point to consider. Not hearing back in 24 hours (or what sounds like slightly less) is a bit early for a follow up. I’d say a follow up after 48 hours makes a lot of sense.

        Unless the OP was a hot ticket candidate for the hiring manager, it’s a a yellow flag to keep your eye on in the process.

    2. LB33*

      In this case they did the LW a big favor though – they are interested in the position and may have missed a chance to interview if the hiring manager hadn’t sent that message. I read it as they are trying to help.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        There is no world in which “they haven’t responded yet, do they really even want this job!?” is trying to help.

        1. LW4/OP4*

          This is where my initial feelings were. I was a little surprised my interest was questioned because I hadn’t responded in 26 hours during a work week.

          For clarification to everyone else, I do check my spam. Every 1-2 days, more often if I’m anticipating a response. I just wasn’t expecting them to reach out before next week, because the job posting stated they wouldn’t be reviewing applicants until then. I’m assuming my referral expedited that process, so I should have been more mindful.

        2. LB33*

          Ok fair enough, that wording is a little harsh. I’d be more forgiving if there’s a tight timeline and they’re just trying to get the LW to reply quickly.

          Definitely a data point though

        3. Oui oui oui all the way home*

          Yes, that’s the kind of response I would expect from someone who is narrow-minded, assumes the worst, and is quick to blame. That’s not the type of boss I would want to work for.

    3. ccsquared*

      The HM’s behavior so far is not a red flag, but see what they do in the interview. If they don’t mention it or say it’s no big deal, move on. If you get a lecture on responiveness, though, run away – fast!

  29. Ama*

    As someone got a business degree at a relatively prestigious university (for my country), OP is giving off big “new grad” energy. Did you do a coop program or an internship while you were in school, OP? Because there seems to be a weird fixation on things not being “like school” that only comes from people who don’t have much real-world experience.

    I’m also wondering about why your response to the coworker was “you must not have had customer service training” instead of just “that’s my customer voice”. You seem to keep focusing on what they don’t know compared to you. Are you worried about proving your worth or something? Do they make a big deal about your lack of experience which makes you lean heavily on your education because you’re looking for respect or validation? Are you maybe the first one in your family to complete post-secondary?

    I hope these comments aren’t coming across as accusatory, OP. It just seems that your degree/schooling is taking up a lot of rent-free space in your head and I wonder why that is.

  30. Enn Pee*

    LW1, I don’t want to pile on, so I’ll say that I appreciate that you asked for advice on this. To me, that shows that you are willing to embrace a growth mindset. (If that term is unfamiliar to you, I’d recommend doing a quick internet search.) It’s important to remember that your whole life will be full of learning, not just from books and what we traditionally think of as education, but from your coworkers, managers, external and internal customers, etc.

    As someone who has spent my whole career primarily serving internal customers, I’ve also found that it is impossible to give them excellent customer service while working in a silo. I’ve always relied on a team (some direct coworkers, some not) to provide customer service. And so it’s important that I treat everyone with kindness and go out of my way for nearly everyone…I’m never sure when I need to ask THEM to go out of their way to help me!

    1. Jessica*

      …did they, though?

      They didn’t ask for advice on how to have a better relationship with their coworkers.

      They asked how to fix their *appearance* with their boss. They’re worried she might *mistakenly* believe that they’re a know-it-all, and want to “correct” that assumption.

      There’s literally no sign of awareness that they did anything wrong in their letter. They’re literally *still assuming that the problem is on their boss’s end,* that they’re smarter than she is and she just needs a correction of some sort. They’re asking for a simple thing they can do (like asking her to explain the “internal customer” term) that will flip her switch from disapproving to approving.

      I’ll also note that nowhere, in “asking” for advice, did the LW actually ask a question or show any interest in actual *advice* beyond “I’d like a script to correct my boss’s assumptions.”

  31. seespotbitejane*

    Re: accents
    My strategy for figuring out new accents is to pay attention to how they pronounce words that I definitely recognize. Numbers are really useful for this if it’s feasible (I had a job where the first thing clients did was rattle off a 10 digit number). But I find once you can figure out exactly what they’re doing with their vowels the whole thing kind of unlocks.

  32. DailyReader*

    “”internal customer” is a normal and common phrase”

    It is? This the first time I’ve ever heard/read about it… it’s definitely not common in my field!

    1. FashionablyEvil*

      It’s not one I use regularly in my field, but I’d certainly understand its usage (like I’d be an internal customer for our subcontracts system because I engage subcontractors and then that team actually writes the contract, sends it out, etc.)

    2. iglwif*

      I think it’s something you hear a lot in some jobs and not at all in others.

      Maybe more common in large orgs where people tend to be more specialized, too! I once had a job at a small org where I was the entire marketing, comms, and social media team. Now I have a job at a huge org where there is a large marketing department with many teams, each of which specializes in one aspect of the job I used to do all by myself. So I’m an internal customer of the IT department and the team that does email campaigns and the team that does events and the legal team, and I too have internal customers: the teams whose products I market. This specific company doesn’t usually use the term “internal customer” or “internal client” but the concept is definitely there.

    3. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Lots of phrases are common in some fields and not others! Ironically, it’s not common in mine…but I learned it in business school.

  33. Harper the Other One*

    OP3 – if auditory processing is part of the issue, I bet you don’t JUST have a problem with accents: you probably also struggle when people mumble, speak over top of one another, etc. One way you can make it clear this isn’t about someone’s nationality/background/first language is by making sure you speak up in all contexts about the fact that you might need folks to repeat themselves. It’s also a great way as you rise up the ranks to promote openness about sensory-related issues and their fixes!

    1. L*

      Oh god, people speaking over one another. It just instantly turns both sets of words into a jumble of noises vaguely approximating human speech.

  34. Flax Spinner*

    LW1: One of the signs of high intelligence is the willingness – even eagerness! – to be open to learning and to welcome the chance the learn more. You didn’t get your PhD by refusing to learn, after all! Now apply that attitude to your new job; you’ll do much better in every sense of the word.

    1. ecnaseener*

      FWIW, I don’t think LW has a PhD — they just say they “went to college” which usually means an undergraduate degree.

      I agree with your advice though! But with undergrad, it is possible they got their degree without the same level of openness & curiosity you need for a PhD.

  35. Longtime Lurker*

    Very first column link – awww! I don’t think I’ve gone that deep in the archives. It’s so short. And NO comments!!

  36. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    #4 if the hiring manager is calling the recruiter to complaint after only about a day after sending email, that’s an important piece of data. Is this a company that expects quick responses to emails no matter the time of day sent?

    Granted in job searching you should be a little more responsive than usual, but companies should also realize that candidates often are currently working and can’t drop everything to respond. Unless, of course, the company expects you to do the same to them (spoiler alert — they do not).

    1. CG*

      I thought that too! The hiring manager’s email came off as a little unkind to me, especially sent to a third party only one day after the initial outreach, and it doesn’t sound like they sent a follow-up to LW4 first… Definitely a piece of information to note (and discard once you’ve met the manager, if it doesn’t fit with the rest of their personality/management approach as far as you can tell).

    2. Database Developer Dude*

      You took the words right out of my mouth! 26 hours means if the hiring manager sent it at 2pm one day, by 4pm the next day he’s impatient about an answer. That would be a red flag for me.

      1. LW4/OP4*

        You are within 10 minutes of the actual times the e-mails were sent!

        But yes, I intend to proceed with caution and appreciate readers pointing out this concern.

    3. Robert in SF*

      I scrolled through the comments to find someone who had made the same observation as me on this letter. The timing and tone of that email really raised a red flag for me, or at least a yellow flag to be on the lookout for this attitude/culture in the company, department, and manager.

      “I am curious if [my name] is truly interested in this role.”

      It read to me as though the boss might underpay you, overwork you, and when asked for a raise, say “Oh, it’s only about the money with you? You don’t have any passion for the work itself or care about our customers or the company’s mission!!”

      Maybe I have read too many reddit threads on bad interviews, workplaces, and bosses and am sensitive to this potential?

      At any rate, it’s one piece of data to consider for deciding to pursue the job or work there if offered.

  37. ijustworkhere*

    1. “stakeholder vs customer” is not the hill to die on. Your degree will get you in the door of many opportunities, but it’s your attitude that will help you climb that career ladder.

    2. Why don’t you get curious and ask your coworker (in a friendly, nonthreatening way) to tell you more about how you are coming across. “I didn’t realize I was sounding unfriendly. Can you help me understand what I am doing that is coming across this way with you?”

  38. There's a G&T with my name on it*

    OP2: One thing I would watch for is places which offer a starting salary which sounds high. What I have found tends to happen is that the people they then hire into these positions make very little progression beyond that starting salary. This has been my partner’s experience with his company losing people to other tech behemoths, who leave for the money but then find the yearly raises to be smaller until they end up pretty much on the same salary they would have been on had they stayed with his company (and a not insignificant number then return!).

  39. Common Sense Not Common*

    Some of the most successful people I have ever worked with have no degree at all. What they do have is determination to learn as much as they can from their coworkers and managers as well as through other resources the company may provide (on line training, seminars etc.)

    They treat everyone with the same respect. They adapt to the company instead of expecting the company to adapt to them.

    In the work world there is the opportunity to learn and grow from a variety of people, your degree vs. non degree attitude is going to stifle your ability to learn valuable things that could help you propel your career forward.

    1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      My parents didn’t have the money to put me through university. So I went to work and made myself very useful and seized on all opportunities to learn new things.
      On the strength of what I learned on the job, I was then awarded a master’s degree.
      So you see, your colleagues with no degree might well know just as much as you and more.
      If they didn’t go to uni because they didn’t have as privileged a background as you, that makes their achievements all the greater. Stop looking down on them.
      They don’t teach humility at school but it’s a very important lesson to learn.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yes, two of the smartest people I’ve worked with and from whom I learned the most never finished college. It had more to do with their personal obligations and financial situations and nothing to do with their ability to finish the coursework. Once you start racking up work experience, the degrees matter less and less (and are not always a predictor of success) unless required for professional licensure or something.

      I have also worked extensively with people who have advanced degrees from elite universities, and many of them are not really smarter than everyone else, they’ve just been raised with advantages/opportunities that regular folks don’t have. Most are extremely bright, but there are some that you just wonder how on earth they got into an Ivy League school because they can barely tie their shoe and accomplish the most basic of work tasks. But I also went to non-elite public university with people who were equally bright and capable.

    3. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I went to college late. I graduated into the great recession and was watching people get masters degrees to work minimum wage jobs, and I couldn’t justify the cost to myself. I worked first, and I’m glad I did because I ended up going down a completely different road and I’m happy now.

      I lean MUCH more heavily on my previous work experience than I do on my college degrees, at this stage in my career. They help, in some ways, but what I’ve found is they’re much more about how seriously other people take me than they are about my ability to do my job.

      (Alison has taught me more about business and management than any of my professors ever did, if I’m being honest)

    4. Irish Teacher*

      One of the best bosses I ever had was a 22 year old retail manager who I think had sort of the equivalent of an associates degree. She was really smart, had a great understanding of people and how to get the best out of them and was just an all-round awesome boss.

    5. Awkwardness*

      I do not love this type of reply as it always comes across as if it was devaluing college/university education.

      It is not OK if leadership positions automatically to the person with the fanciest degree and no real experience, but a degree has value too.
      Both has their place and in my experience a mixture of both brings the best results.
      My very first job was in the processing industry. Almost all of my colleagues in the process line, including the top manager, were without college degree. They were handy, they had experience, but they had no knowledge to systemically analyse process data. I had done a lot of lab work in college, lot of statistics, and I started to transfer this knowledge. But I had a mindset to look for ways to contribute, not to feel superior.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        “They were handy, they had experience, but they had no knowledge to systemically analyse process data. ”

        People do learn this kind of thing without going to college though, they learn it on the job. It’s not devaluing a college degree to acknowledge there are other ways of acquiring the same or parallel knowledge. College is simply one path. And I say that as someone with a masters degree.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        I don’t think college degrees always add value (and I LOVED college, love learning new things, and would be a professional student, if I were to win the lottery – but I feel very comfortable saying that my master’s degree adds no value to my work experience, I did it for fun before getting a master’s degree cost more a luxury car). Historically, a college degree has led to increased wages and social mobility; HOWEVER, more recent economic studies that are factoring in overall wealth versus just earnings are showing that those who go into substantial debt to obtain a college degree may actually be economically worse off long-term than some people who do not have them.

        Lifelong learning, being able to independently manage your schedule and workload, and taking steps to independence are all valuable. For a long time, college was one of the best ways to learn these things. The cost of it now is a level of debt that prevents people from buying homes, saving for retirement, and building wealth – students are not universally seeing the historical benefits someone in my generation might have from having a college degree. There’s a difference between being anti-education and acknowledging that the cost of a college degree may exceed its value in some lines of work and that working your way up the ladder can produce just as good a result with or without a degree.

      3. Irish Teacher.*

        A degree definitely has value but I didn’t see Common Sense Not Common’s comment as implying it didn’t. I took it to just mean other things have value too and the lack of a degree doesn’t mean somebody can’t be good at their job.

        It depends on the role too. For some roles, like being a doctor or a lecturer, a degree is very important. For others, it is an advantage and all else being equal, the person with the degree is likely to do better, at least in the early stages of their career, but all else is not always equal and a hard-working, willing-to-learn person without the qualification would do better than the person with the degree who thinks the work is done now and has no interest learning more. And for some roles, a degree has little or no benefit.

        I don’t think that saying somebody people can be really successful without a degree implies a degree adds no value. I think it’s just saying it’s not the only thing that adds value.

  40. Scott's Tot*

    Before I went to college I worked as a line cook for a decade without any formal training, I started as a busboy and learned the ropes. There was nothing I loved more than a recent culinary school grad getting hired because they almost always hit me with a condescending attitude, and then I just outworked them.

    Eventually I finished college and ended up working in higher education. I can say with absolute certainty that college is one of the worst places to learn about workplace behavior. In fact most colleges fail miserably at business in general.

    To the OP, keep your mouth shut and your ears open except to ask respectful questions. That’s how you start a new job.

    1. Andy*

      I learned all my soft skills (the ones that others just can’t seem to replicate, the ones that get me paid) waiting tables at Denny’s in the middle of the night to truckers at a rest area. Went from that to apps and desserts at the only local place with tablecloths.
      No job in academia has ever failed to use those skills to the UTMOST bcs the ppl around me don’t have them and are constitutionally unprepared to recognize that they need them.
      Soft skills pays the bills.

  41. bamcheeks*

    LW1, I just want to send you some love! What you’ve described is actually super normal thing that a lot of new graduates experience — you’ve spent several years retraining your brain, learning all these new concepts and new phrases, and you’ve had professors who you really respect drumming these phrases and concepts into you, and you’ve worked hard to internalise them— and it can almost feel like they’re part of your identity and that you are being true to yourself and your tutors by continuing to use them. If you’ve moved back home or you’ve spent some time under- unemployed between graduating and getting this job or there’s another big transition associated with finishing your degree, that can exacerbate it: it almost feels like a threat to your identity to get used to new language and new ideas and it feels like it’s devaluing what you worked for instead of building on them.

    I have seen this in a lot of new graduates, and it does, unfortunately, come across as arrogance and self-importance, and sometimes you get real blowback from it. So you have got to get a handle on it. Hopefully you’ve got experienced managers and colleagues who will recognise this as part of the transition into the workplace and gently correct you as you start to figure your professional persona and identity out and move away from the just-graduated one.

    What you are going to learn over the next few year is that a) your degree is (hopefully) much more than the specific words or phrases you taught— the concepts and patterns of thought are usually much deeper and come out over years, not months, as you encounter new situations, new aspects of the business and so on; and b) your learning didn’t stop when you left college: work can be just as intense and stretching a place to learn as school was, and the best people to learn from are your boss a s your more experienced colleagues.

    Do put the effort in to show you’re there to learn. It’s great that you caught yourself when you realised how that came across, and you canals sure you’re putting out the right attitude in the future. In a few years, hopefully you’ll be the one extending a bit of grace to another new graduate making the transition. Good luck!

    1. Katie Impact*

      I think it’s something that’s directly encouraged by some degrees as well. When I did my Masters, several of my professors more-or-less explicitly told us that our older colleagues didn’t really know what they were doing and it was our job to change their ways. I’m glad to be working in an unrelated career now, because I don’t think that would have worked out well for anybody.

  42. NYNY*

    LW1 – I do not think it is abnormal to have a difference voice with customers (internal or external). I might have said, I have to talk slower etc with people not in our group as they do not have our groups understanding of all the issue. But I would think about, am I rubbing people the wrong way.

    And I think internal customer is a very common phrase and to insist on using internal stakeholder (and trying to “teach” others what is correct), is obnoxious.

  43. I should really pick a name*

    I think you’re filtering everything through the lens of your schooling, and missing what people are actually saying to you as a result.

    my one colleague, who is not customer-facing, said, “I wish you could talk to us like that.” So I told him, “You never went for customer service training before because they teach you a ‘customer service voice.’”

    He was telling you he’d like to you speak to him differently. You replied with how you learned to speak that way as opposed to addressing his request.

    He said, “Yeah, but we are your internal customers.” In the heat of the moment, I busted out, “I studied business and I never heard of this internal customer thing.

    He once again was saying “I’d like you to speak to us the way you speak to customers”. You focused on how his terminology differed from what you learned as opposed to addressing his request.
    If you’d never heard of internal customers, this would have been a good time to ask him about the term.

    I also went to college, and the colleague I was speaking with and my boss did not

    This isn’t relevant to the situation. The fact that you think it is suggests that once again, you’re seeing things as they relate to schooling.

    This office is your school now. You need to be open to learning in your new situation and listen to what people are saying to you. Your college education got you where you are, but your on-the-job education is what’s going to keep you moving forward. If a coworker says you should learn about something, you probably need to.

  44. LaineyintheLake*

    LW1 – As someone who has struggled in the past joining a very close knit team with long-term personal and professional relationships I wonder if your fixation on the terminology (and also who does/doesn’t have a degree) is a reflection of a wider feeling of being on the outside and struggling to establish yourself and have your professional capability recognised? I know it can be isolating and frustrating but unfortunately I think your feelings are spilling out in an unhelpful way and despite intending to be “friendly and respectful” you are nonetheless coming across to your colleagues as distinctly chilly or confrontational, hence the comment “I wish you could talk to us like that.” I honestly think that your colleague’s approach from the first comment on shows a really good balance of assertiveness and humour (which is how I take the ‘but we’re your internal customers’ comment) in trying to raise this issue with you and your own response unfortunately reinforced the negative pattern. It’s also interesting that your concern here is how to make yourself look better to your boss – and not also how to improve relationships with all your colleagues which I think is something you really need to consider. I think if you genuinely liked and respected your colleagues and felt this was reciprocated this quirk of terminology would annoy you a whole lost less.

  45. Contracts Killer*

    OP1, I can’t know how you feel, but I’ve seen others that receive a lot of constructive criticism on this site that feel overwhelmed or like they’re being attacked. I encourage you to take a breath and try to receive the feedback here with an open mind. There may be some people that comment here without the purist of intentions, but by and large we comment because we have been in the workplace a while (roughly 20 years for me) and we genuinely want to help other people succeed. It’s a much easier path to learn from our mistakes than to learn the hard way by continuing to make your own.

    You’re so early in your career, you have a huge opportunity for success if you can make some changes now before they turn into bad habits that are hard to break. I wish you all the success in your career moving forward!

  46. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    LW1, I agree with Alison and would phrase it this way: you are missing an opportunity.

    I learned the phenomenon under the name “bedside manner” instead of “customer service voice” and it has been a borderline superpower in my career. I learned it by a combination of accident, weeding out the behaviors that didn’t work for my peers, and positive feedback during the Microsupport phase of my early career; the better I got at it, the easier the job got and the better my results were. Being able to slip back into that persona with peers now, even when I can’t (or won’t) do or provide what they want, while still de-escalating emotions and re-orienting wants (or frustration) into productive directions… at least in Tech, it’s a soft-skill that’s worth its weight in gold.

    As a peer, I’d probably just give you as wide a berth as I can. You sound like you don’t need any help from me and it wouldn’t be welcome were I to offer it.

  47. Czhorat*

    LW1 is going to get a great deal of piling-on and will hopefully learn something rather than be pushed away. I think the bit about language, about learning, and about developing a measure of humility has been well-covered. On that topic, I’ll say that I’m over a half-century old, have been in my field for quite some time, and still find myself learning new things and ways of thinking. Knowledge shouldn’t be static.

    The other concern is the encounter that precipitated your outburst; if a colleague remarks that they wish you spoke to them as kindly as you speak with external customers then it seems pretty clear that you aren’t as “respectful” and “friendly” as you think that you’re being. You might want to take a look in the mirror and try to see if you’re being more kind to people who you think you *need* to be rather than make it a default to be genuinely kind and respectful to everyone.

    The comment section here is going to be a rough ride for you; I hope you can take it with an open heart and find a way to move forward.

  48. Meghan*

    LW#5, I would be very cautious with a role where the hiring manager assumes you don’t even want the job because you didn’t respond to the first email. Reaching out to your referrer to say “can you ask LW5 to check their spam, or would they prefer a phone call” would be reasonable. Even just giving you a call would be reasonable. But the phrasing “I wonder if LW5 even wants the job” is a red flag.

    If you like your work life balance I would tread cautiously.

    1. rollyex*

      My best-ever hire missed an email that went to spam to set up a phone screen. HR was doing general follow-up/clean-up, and decided to just call this person (we almost never do that – we start with email) just in case. Screen went great. Interviews went great. Hired.

  49. Workerbee*

    LW #1, if you haven’t realized at this point that things existed before you and during you while you were busy getting all that education, then someone or a lot of someones have failed you along the way. The excellent news is this is a wonderful learning process in what sounds like a relatively safe environment to expand your internal horizons.

  50. Peanut Hamper*

    I would like to redeem the situation so that my boss does not think I have a sense of entitlement.

    This line really bothers me. The best way to ensure your boss doesn’t think you have a sense of entitlement is to not have one.

    You really aren’t taking responsibility here. You want other people’s attitudes to change without having to change your own. That is not how it works.

    You do have a sense of entitlement. That’s the part you need to work on. Everybody else will start to view you differently once you let go of it.

  51. DameB*

    FWIW, I went to my manager with essentially that exact script about a year ago. (This was after two years of saying “hey, I’ve done x y & z, can I please get a raise” and being told “we’re working on it” and then Covid happened and … it was a mess.)

    She once again went to bat for me against the upper management and I actually got a big fat raise. Not enough to bring it up to market level (I’m in a “glamour” business and that’s supposed to make up for a lot), but enough that I stopped getting my head turned by salaries that were twice mine.

  52. Knitting Cat Lady*

    I’m autistic and if I get overwhelmed or there are too many different noises my ability to understand language goes away. People start sounding like the teacher from Charlie Brown to me.
    Which is exactly what I say to people and that that’s why I sometimes need to ask people to repeat themselves.
    I also carry around some form of writing implement with me at all times as I also lose the ability to speak when overwhelmed.

  53. Cordyceps*

    Internal Customer

    I’ve heard this term a lot in my career and it has always struck me as weaponized corporate jargon. In most workplaces, the subtext of “Internal Customer” is “the customer is always right”. And it is used to indicate that you just need to sit down, shut up, and do as you are told regardless of whether that is your actual job or not.

    I agree the OP won’t win this battle and shouldn’t even take it up. But, I also bristle when I hear “Internal Customer” and consider it a red flag indicating a deeper problem with the culture.

    Certainly, it is possible for that term to be used in a non-weaponized manner, I’ve just never encountered that in real life.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      When I’ve encountered it in the workplace, it’s just been a phrase and nothing more.

      The idea was basically to deliver the same quality internally as you would externally. Don’t lower standards just because something’s going to a coworker instead of a customer.

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

      I know it’s all very odd to me. I mean I’ve been on teams where the manager has said something like we are all each other’s customers, meaning we should be respectful, etc to each other. But like, to say, “but we are your internal customers” seems really odd. Like the OP should cater to their coworkers.

      1. And the Skeletons Are ... Part of It*

        It just sounds like the coworker is trying to reason with OP.

        OP states they’re speaking in a nice manner to the customer because they’re a customer (implying, and you’re not, so I don’t have to speak this well to you.)

        Coworker tries to point out, well, by your logic, you should still be speaking this nicely to us, since we’re your customers too, just internal ones.

    3. Mouse*

      I’ve never been in a field where the phrase “internal customer” was used, but yeah, I might get annoyed if a coworker used that phrase on me, with the implication that he didn’t think we were colleagues working towards a goal – that he wanted a customer-level “relationship” instead.

  54. FD*

    #1- I think you’ve probably imbued some of the more toxic parts of the education system, and may not have realized it.

    The thing about formal education is that it only values certain types of intelligence and certain types of knowledge. For example, it tends to value the ability to read and analyze texts and retain factual information. Those aren’t bad skills, but they’re only a small fraction of all of the possible skills and talents in the world.

    For example, formal education often doesn’t put much value in being creative or artistic, in being able to use tools well, or in having good eye-hand coordination. Those things tend to be relegated to extracurricular activities or specialist schools.

    The work world has plenty of its own problems, of course (mostly that it only values what it can monetize). However, the work world tends to value a much wider range of talents/skills than formal education. For instance, there are many jobs where being able to think creatively and come up with a novel solution is MUCH more important than whether you can memorize previous solutions. There are many jobs where being very precise and dexterous or using tools well are vital skills.

    And if we widen it to the general world as a whole, everyone is more enriched by the wide array of skills and talents in the world. The world is a much better place because people make art or show off their weird talents and interests. Chances are that your favorite piece of media had people working on it who absolutely sucked in school.

    I think you’ve probably fallen into thinking that only the skills valued in formal education matter. That there are ‘smart’ people and ‘dumb’ people, and smart people are inherently more valuable. I know many people who also feel deeply that if they can’t define themselves as ‘smart’–then what are they? Why would anyone want them around? That might not be true for you, but I’ve known a lot of people who did really well in school and struggle with that anxiety.

    I think you’ll not only be a better coworker but a much happier person if you stop trying to divide people into these artificial pools and realize that almost everybody is an expert in something, and the world is much more fun and interesting if you start looking for what other people know that you don’t instead of assuming you should already know it all.

    1. Random Dice*


      I’m really good at tests and school, and my IQ is genius level. But what I’ve learned in life is that most of that is utter crap.

      True success comes from being able to work well with others, a lifelong learning mentality that looks beyond books, and doing the boring bits faithfully.

      Smart kids don’t even know they’re being programmed, but it’s important to choose to see the value and worth in others no matter their job or education or salary.

  55. DisneyChannelThis*

    I have worked in customer service. And I think there definitely is a talking to customers voice that isn’t a voice you should expect people to use daily. It’s an artificial cheerful, perky person voice. LW1 may not be rude/condescending to their coworkers it may just not be that customer voice. And I think that’s fine. Especially since they are younger I do question if the coworkers are the ones in the wrong here.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      My suspicion is that the voice wasn’t the problem, but how the LW was saying things (for example, maybe they were being more agreeable with the customer than they are with coworkers).

  56. idiot sandwich*

    Regarding LW 3, any advice when the people you work with aren’t familiar with “auditory processing issues” because of a language barrier? I work with some people with very heavy accents and I feel like such a dickhead because I’m constantly asking them to repeat themselves but our mutual understanding of one another’s language is limited.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      A commenter suggested “I have trouble hearing so I may ask you to repeat yourself” which seems pretty universal.

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

        Except then you might get people who raise their voice, which can actually make things worse.

      2. Sage*

        I have the same problem, and I sometimes ask people to speak more slowly, with the excuse that I can’t hear well. It doesn’t always work, but often it does.

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

      I use something like, I’m sorry I didnt catch that, my ears don’t work properly.

  57. A Non*

    LW1, the fact that your coworker felt they had to say “I wish you would speak to us like that” probably means you do not speak to them as nicely as you think you do

  58. Batty Winged Bat*

    RE: LW #3:

    I’m the exact same as you. I have auditory processing issues and I cannot understand people with accents. And it’s not just foreign ones either, anything that sounds different than what I’m used to hearing does not register in my brain (such as a strong southern U.S. accent). I also cannot understand people over the phone, which is why I hate phones.

    This personally causes a lot of stress for me, because 99% percent of the time people think I’m either A) just not paying attention to them or, B) intentionally being a jerk. Trying to explain myself doesn’t seem to help much. So, I can commiserate in your experience.

  59. Sunflower*

    #1 I have a “customer service” voice and I only have a high school degree. I am also more casual with coworkers but I also ask them questions and don’t say “I’m good” when they tell me something.

    Perhaps you should film yourself pretending to speak with coworkers to actually see how you come across to them. You probably don’t sound as professional, respectful, and friendly as you think since they said actually something to you about it.

    1. Sunflower*

      Adding that your boss doesn’t have a degree but she worked her way to being the boss. So you can learn a thing or two from her. A degree is impressive but real world learning is just as much if not more important. School teach you facts but real life is not just one narrow way of doing or saying things.

  60. Stephanie*

    #4: It happens. I just sent an apologetic email to the contact and it was not a big deal. Didn’t get the job, but I made it through multiple rounds fine.

  61. MCMonkeyBean*

    Woof LW 1 is a lot. I will try to keep in constructive.

    1) You cannot show up at a new company and expect everyone there to change how they communicate to suit you. *You* have to adapt to *them.*

    2) You do not know more than them because you went to college. Business school is great to get you started but you will learn *WAY* more on the job than you ever did in school, so you should assume that people who have been working longer than you likely know more about the field and they definitely know more about how things work at this particular company.

    3) You should probably plan on never saying anything to a colleague that you would not want the boss to overhear. And unless it was playful banter, which from context I’m assuming it’s not, if they are outright saying you could be nicer to them you really need to take a step back and evaluate. Are you coming across as a condescending know-it-all with frequency? Do you speak to them in a way that makes it obvious you respect them less because they didn’t go to college?

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

      If we can take the OP at their word, which may be skewed. I think saying to a coworker “I wish you talked like that to us” is a bit snarky. Honestly, I think everyone kind of sucks a bit. I mean if there was issues with the OP and how the communicate with their coworkers then the boss should be addressing that.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        I agree that is an unusually snarky thing to a say to a coworker–which is why given the rest of the context of the letter I think it seems high possible that OP is in fact unusually rude to their coworkers to prompt them to say that. It’s not definitely, but definitely possible which is why I think they should take a step back and honestly consider it.

      2. Random Dice*

        I didn’t read it as snarky, but as someone giving a difficult coworker one last chance before writing them off. Difficult topics are often presented in a joking way, but are dead serious.

        1. Batty Winged Bat*

          It may have been a little snarky, but not necessarily unwarranted, if the realization the person had was, “Ah, okay, so-and-so IS capable of speaking to people in a polite and respectful manner…just not when they are talking to me.”

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

    #1 I agree that you sound a bit pretentious because you have a business degree and you should work harder on your mannerisms with your coworkers.

    But I do find this whole “internal customer” thing very weird. It sounds like these are the OP’s coworkers and yet they are calling themselves internal customers. It doesn’t even sound like the person was in another department, Like, you’re not going to act the same way with an external customer as you would with your coworker. So I’m wondering if that’s part of the issue is that the company calls each other customers, when you’re not.

    1. Sunflower*

      The OP brought up “internal stakeholder” so I assume is the same thing. She just prefers another phrase because that’s what she was taught. But each company has their own lingo and that’s also being taught; just in life and not at an official university.

      1. rollyex*

        Internal customers are a subset of internal stakeholders and implies people you are providing services to. Other internal stakeholders might be your own staff, peers that you work with, and even the board or senior leadership you don’t interact with directly, among others.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          I agree, they are both valid terms with a lot of overlap but “stakeholder” is broader–so it makes sense that’s what OP would hear more in school where they would likely be referring to broader situations.

          An example for OP: I would say like if Team X provides me with with a report that I need to create the financial statements, I am the “internal customer” of that report. Then if another team relies on the financial statements I made with that report, they would be “internal stakeholders” because if the report is late it might impact their work as well.

          Though regardless of all that, some companies use jargon in specific ways so even if they use the term in a way different than other people might, you still have to get on board. You don’t have to use the word if you have this irrational hatred of it, but you can’t pretend like you don’t know what other people mean when they use it.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      It’s a specific thing in a specific work set up, that is real and rollyex defined it well so I wont repeat. But even if it weren’t I would disagree that it was the crux of the problem. The coworkers comment was snarky, but it sounds like they have some resentment about the way OP speaks with them. This wasn’t the best way to express it, but I can see the intention in trying to reframe the mindset so that OP considers them as someone who should get professional courtesy.

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

        Oh I don’t think the use of internal customers as a problem. OP’s attitude is certainly what the issue. It just seems really odd to me, being someone who has never worked in a business that used those terminologies. At least not so openly. Like I wouldn’t call Janice from records an internal customer, I’d say my coworker.

  63. Stephanie*

    #2: People do this at my current MegaCorp semi-regularly. I put in notice this week (more on that in the open thread) and my management was surprised I didn’t come to them first with the offer before saying “Hey, I’m out.” My friend at this job successfully did it, but he said he learned after the fact they only really honor that if they think you’re a top performer, you have management backing, AND there is budget. He said it worked out, but regreted it a bit because his boss demands a lot more of him now like “Hey, remember I got you that 15% last year.” My MegaCorp will also only really do that for companies in the same industry and geographic region — I work at a legacy industrial in the Midwest and they definitely wouldn’t attempt matching a tech or consulting salary.

    1. LW2 Software Dev*

      This is good to know! I am under no illusions that my employer could actually match a Big Tech salary, I would be after more like “hey what’s the very best you can do under the circumstances.” I also don’t think I’d like being scrutinized afterward in the way your friend was! Things to keep in mind.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        I had a blunt conversation similar to Alison’s script with my boss one time. I know I was underpaid from the start because a year or so into my job I joined a committee that was helping to recruit from schools and was told the offering salary would be $5k more than I was paid lol.

        I sat down with my boss (actually my grandboss because my direct supervisor was leaving which kind of prompted the conversation as I was taking on some of his higher level work) and said something along the lines of “I really like working here and I could see myself being the kind of person who stays at one company for most of their career. But I believe I am underpaid and I’ve always read the only way to get a real raise is to change jobs. I’m hoping there is a way forward where I don’t really have to look outside the company for higher compensation.”

        I will say, it took a long time to address for me. It was fairly frustrating but after about a year they ended up promoting me with a 12% raise. Throughout the year they kept assuring me they were working on it but my company requires buy in from a bunch of levels before big raises are given.

        I wish more companies would recognize that giving good raises to keep the kind of people who would be happy to stick around forever as long as the pay is sufficient is the smart thing to do. The cost of replacing them after they leave is much higher than just paying them the right amount from the start!

        1. So they all cheap ass-rolled over and one fell out*

          I worked at a company which required CEO approval for anything bigger than a 10% raise, even with a promotion. It’s so short-sighted because when the person leaves, they’ll have to pay market rate to their replacement.

  64. MewYorker*

    LW3: English isn’t my first language, so I’m on both sides of the accent situation. I can relate!

    The first side: As an English speaker with an accent, I’d soooo much rather you ask me to repeat myself than not understand what I’m saying, so we can have a meaningful conversation. I’m well aware I have an accent, so as long as you are matter-of-fact about it and show a genuine desire to have a conversation with me, I’m not going to think that you are doing it out of spite, classism, xenophobia or whatever!

    The other side: I also have a harder time understanding some variations of natively spoken English that I’m not as familiar with, as well as some non-native speakers’ English. And again, I get it: I worry I’ll annoy the other person when I have to ask them to repeat themselves So. Many. Times. and I still don’t’ get it. It’s frustrating for both parties, but when I’m invested in the conversation, I’d rather try than float on the surface!

  65. Cafe au Lait*

    OP #3, I work in academia and interact with a ton of international students. I also struggle to process unfamiliar names auditorily. What I do if I can’t process the name after they spell it once is to ask for their student ID card. I also say “It’s not you, it’s me; my brain is mixing up the letters in your name.” Or something similar. I make it clear that the issue is a ME issue, not them. So far no one has been upset in the ten plus years I’ve had to do this.

  66. Anonymous Pygmy Possum*

    OP4: If it makes you feel any better, my current job sent their first contact and it completely missed all of my inboxes, including spam. I saw it a week later while looking for an email for a different job. I reached out to the recruiter, apologized profusely, and was able to schedule time for a phone screen. Luckily they were still interviewing, and I eventually got the job!

    I will say that the hiring manager’s response to the recruiter after just over a day is a red flag. I’m not sure if there’s a way to bring that up in the interview – you might want to probe into how available they want you to be outside of work hours.

  67. rollyex*

    I have to note that in the conversation accents I think we’re talking about *unfamiliar* accents – not the accent the listener has themself.

  68. el l*

    Put it this way, that a more concrete thinker will understand.

    There is a world of difference between “I have seen __ data points that suggest the value of my services is between $x and $y,” and “I’m giving my notice today unless I get paid $z.”

    One is a more-or-less-objective fact. The other is a threat.

    The point of “Don’t use an outside offer for more money from current job” is stated in common sense terms as, “Don’t make threats you’re not willing to carry out.”

    You’ll do much better at selling this to your boss if your tone can also convey this difference.

  69. brain problem anon today*

    LW3, I absolutely would not disclose a cognitive or psychological problem at work if there was any possible way to avoid it, because the ableism you are likely face is not worth it.

    When I have told the truth about things like ADHD or auditory processing problems, I have been treated horribly and it has become impossible to remain in the role.

    Don’t do it! Blame it on audio equipment problems, hearing problems, tiredness, or something else that’s not going to destroy your reputation.

    1. Not Me For This*

      I am so sorry you have had a bad experience disclosing disability. I have personally made it a point to being very open and honest about my disability (hard of hearing). I am fortunate that I have really mostly been received with care and understanding but I generally work with very nice people. But I do this not because I want to or because I am confident people will respond well, but because I believe in normalizing disability. So many people have a disability and they hide it. Which is exhausting and not helpful. People who are hard of hearing often are embarrassed, avoid treatment and miss out on so much. I’m not saying your experience isn’t valid. And I’m very sorry for what you have experienced. But if the OP is open to sharing her needs I highly encourage it. The more we bring disability out from the shadows, the more normal it will become and the world will be more inclusive.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I’m sorry you’ve had this experience. I have ADHD and another very visible disability I can’t hide, so I sympathize a lot. But this isn’t universal. When talking about things like this, writers should always consider whether or not they’re in an environment where it’s safe to disclose. But many, many people are. There’s no way to know for sure if it’s the majority of places, but there are legal protections for disability accommodations and generally conscientious employers will take the path of least of resistance (which is not a lawsuit).

      1. Cute As Cymraeg*

        Agreed. Just after starting, I told my new manager I have ADHD and her response was, “oh, that’s fine! I’m autistic.”

        (And true to the cliché about autistic people and ADHDers being a dream team, we get on like a house on fire.)

        I’m very sorry that Brain Problem Anon has had this experience, but thankfully it isn’t universal.

  70. eons*

    LW3 – I usually use the phone as an excuse to get them to repeat themselves. Oh I’m sorry, the sound isn’t great on this phone or there is a fan above my head and it’s making it a bit harder to hear you

  71. AnonRN*

    LW 1 you have gotten a lot of feedback here. Some of it is probably difficult to hear, but I appreciate that you were willing to ask. When I switched careers if took me quite a while to learn to moderate my responses in a way that worked for my new organization (and my role in it). I’m still not perfect but there are *so* *many* interactions I’d love a do-over on.

    Many people have commented/speculated on your tone when speaking with external clients versus internal. The issue might literally be with the sound and cadence of your voice (do you sound rushed/harried/unwilling/sarcastic with internal clients?) But another facet of this could be the *content* of your speech. Are you accommodating to internal clients (ICs) the same way you are to external clients (ECs) (as appropriate to the priorities of the organization at least)? Like if an EC calls up needing a rush job do you reassure them that you’ll do everything you can but if an IC needs the same rush are they met with the impression that they’re a huge inconvenience even if you say you’ll do the job? It’s a fine line to tread…sometimes the IC job really might not be top priority and because they’re an IC you feel like you can level with them (you’d never even say this to an EC) but actually *no one* wants to hear they’re not the top priority!

    Finally, always consider the sources of anything you are taught. Before my current career I worked in a university and was (among other things) an adjunct instructor. My boss had a similar role but with more responsibilities. Unfortunately he also had an inexplicable need to “not get railroaded” by things that were actually very legitimate requests for collaboration. He came off as “the weird, difficult one” not as “the lone hero who’s willing to stick to his boundaries,” but I’d see students emulating his behavior. Just because we were instructors doesn’t mean we knew everything. People who wanted to get things done (and not get shouted at) learned to ask me if I could somehow convince him *thing was his idea (sometimes I was successful!). Some of your instructors were probably great. Some of them may not have been inside an actual business in a decade, or worked in a totally different kind of business from the one you find yourself in now.

  72. LibraryIT*

    LW 4 – I feel your pain! I had that happen for a job I had applied to and I felt mortified! However, years later, I was a hiring committee chair and had someone not get back to me after a week. I sent another email and mentioned that maybe the original got sent to spam. And it had. Rest assured, any decent place of employment will not hold that against you!

  73. iglwif*

    LW#1, with respect, I think you are framing the situation in a way that is not going to help you. The problem isn’t what your boss thinks about this one interaction, so much as what this interaction shows about how you are approaching your co-workers, your internal customers, and the culture of your new workplace.

    No workplace is ever going to operate exactly the way you learned in business school. And most workplaces are not going to be receptive to a brand-new university graduate telling them they’re doing their jobs wrong. Is it possible that they can learn something from you? Absolutely! But given where you are in your career and where they are in theirs, a lot of the learning is going to be in the other direction. You need to learn to do the job you were hired to do in the way your workplace needs and wants it done, and every time you get a new job, that will still be true (though as you get into more senior roles, you’ll obviously have more influence on how your team works).

    If your internal customers — or any other type of co-worker! — is telling you that the way you speak to them isn’t very nice, that’s important feedback to listen to. People have different communication styles, but if yours is drawing this kind of feedback, have a think about that.

  74. Ex-prof*

    Oh dear. It sounds like at least one of LW 1’s coworkers is at the end of his rope with her. It’s unfortunate and LW, I think you should devote a week or so to just listening.

    Also, here’s a poem I was instantly reminded of. (It’s the one that starts “Who stuffed that white owl?”)


    1. And the Skeletons Are ... Part of It*

      Wow! I’d never heard this poem but a) it’s adorable and b) how apt, it’s almost eerie!

  75. Ccbac*

    I find it interesting that the disdain/diminishment of higher education generally, but especially in internet forums (like aam comment section on posts related to college/grad degrees) has risen as more people of varying genders, races, and socioeconomic statuses have been able to access higher education at much higher rates than in prior decades. Interesting. (to be clear, I do think lw1 was “in the wrong” but I also think there is far more behind these posts/comments than “fancy college boy who looks down on coworkers”)

    1. I should really pick a name*

      I think there tends to be a bit of overcompensation.

      It tends to go like this:
      Someone implies that their degree makes them better than someone without a degree.
      Then there’s a response to the effect of “the best workers I know don’t have degrees” and it turns into a bit of a situation with people suggesting that anyone with a degree is actually somehow LESS qualified because they don’t know what it’s like to pull themselves up by their bootstraps etc…

      A better response would be to the effect of “a degree is only one piece of a person’s qualifications, and it’s possible to be as qualified or more without one”.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I don’t think it’s disdain, I think it’s the real ways this has started to play out. Speaking only from a US perspective, we’ve put way too much cultural emphasis on higher education. And it’s expensive and stressful and when you get out the other side you want to be done and get the great career you were promised. Except…the market is saturated with people who got sold the same bill of goods you did, and all that time, money, and effort, only qualifies you for the bare minimum. So you get resentful, and you try to dig in your heels and fluff up your resume and make it sound like your GPA matters, and you are smart and qualified and people should take you seriously. But they don’t, so you get frustrated, and this kind of head on collision happens.

      I hire so many fresh-out-of-college workers and I see this happen over and over again. And yeah, more experienced folks get a little huffy about it because frankly it’s annoying to have to go through this with new grads constantly. But it’s not the fault of the graduates, it’s the system we’ve set up.

      Also nothing here implies this is a “fancy college boy”. We don’t know where OP went to school, it sounds like they have a pretty standard business generalist degree – that’s not all that fancy. It is, however, clear he’s looking down his nose a little bit at his coworkers, and that’s not a good look regardless of it being because you went to college or lived in a different area – we find this kind of thing with east coast/west coast transplants, for example. East coasters (I say with love, as one) are pretty self important, and I’ve seen many get their ass handed too them trying to be haughty in a more west coast culture.

      It’s narrow sighted to see this as a “now that the diverse groups get degrees” issue.

    3. Lady_Lessa*

      I think that part of the issue is that many of us have experienced folks who have degrees, but little to no people skills, nor practical hands on experience. There is a reason about the common joke (at least in the STEM areas) about B.S (self explanatory), M.S (more of the same) and PhD (piled higher and deeper).

      I’ve known both excellent ones and others who aren’t. (I’m “more of the same”)

    4. Czhorat*

      In this case, though, the LW isn’t showing that they understand the strength and weakness of college education.

      IMHO, college studies (especially in the liberal arts) give you the ability to see the world in different ways, expose you to various literature and culture, and teach you how to learn, how to think critically, and how to communicate appropriately and effectively. This is a very key component of being not only a well-rounded human, but also someone who approaches their job with a measure of thoughtfulness and wisdom.

      What college isn’t as great for is the day-to-day nuts and bolts of how to do a job, and those treating it as fancy vocational training are, IMHO, missing the point.

      This is an entirely different discussion, but I think the emphasis on STEM over the past decades is part of what devalued the more interesting and important things abotu college education; we began to see it as more learning *how* and less learning *why*.

      1. AnonRN*

        I agree with you, and I think the short answer of why we’re valuing the *how* over the *why* is…money. I did a liberal arts degree and spent 10 years working in performing arts at wages less than the local box store. Longer hours and less time off, too. The only way I could afford this at all was that I was lucky enough not to have student loans (parental employer gave a tuition benefit). There’s simply no way I could have paid the kinds of loans kids are saddled with on the work I was doing in the arts. But I loved doing it for a long time and I don’t regret doing it. Even still, I eventually left the field, went back to school (took out loans this time) and became an RN which is in the weird zone between “blue collar” and “service” and “high skill” and “profession versus trade”. I have a union job, a pension, and 10 years in my pay has more than doubled since I started (my loans are paid off, too). I loved my liberal arts education but honestly if I had a child of college age now I’m not sure I’d encourage them to follow that path unless they really wanted to. Not that liberal arts are always a path to poverty but STEM and trades can offer much more security.

    5. the bat in the office popcorn machine*

      You’re speculating a lot since a lot of AAM readers have degrees from my observations. Their ire seems to come from knowing others with degrees and therefore confirmation bias may be at play, because I know it is for me. Personally, I am over-degreed and my disdain for LW1’s attitude comes from the fact that I’ve seen a lot of people who are not that bright get them.

      I’ve seen people who have gained on-the-job knowledge over the years not be able to advance because of arbitrary degree requirements. They don’t really complain because they understand the game, but then when I see someone like LW#1 who thinks somehow their degree makes them better or more professional, it irritates me.

      You get degrees to learn things – it’s one way of learning. You can learn things in a variety of ways – I needed both degrees and on the job knowledge to become well rounded. Some people really take their degree program seriously and get a lot out of it, some people know nothing until they’re thrown into an office and told to put it to work (& humbly realize they know nothing). Some people work 20 yrs, know how to do their one job function and go home, others have worked 20 yrs and actively had conversations about processes to try to improve workflows.

      The distinction is there are “dummies” with and without degrees, what sets people apart is their desire to learn and adapt and apply their learning. LW#1 is so stuck in the dogma of their degree that they refuse to use workplace terminology and think everyone else should change for them, a young newbie (btw, a stakeholder = a customer and the other way around! What is LW#1 going on about, other than semantics and stubborn “I know best”-ism?)

    6. Parakeet*

      I agree that this happens, and I get your larger point too. But (to my pleased slight surprise) there’s been relatively little of that in this thread. Knowing how to be friendly to the people you interact with in a work context actually doesn’t have much to do with higher education, and neither does adapting to individual-workplace jargon, and that’s what most of the comments that I’ve read are pointing out.

      As to your larger point, I think there are people whose respect for higher education has diminished as it has become more accessible to more people. I don’t see the AAM comments section that way though. In many cases where people are disdainful toward or diminishing of higher ed online, I think it’s an overcorrection to what people perceive as cultural overevaluation of higher ed.

    7. Irish Teacher.*

      I don’t think that people here are disdaining higher education. I think people are just saying it’s not the only thing that has value.

      However, I also think it’s inevitable, and a good thing, that as more genders, races and socioeconomic statuses get degrees, it gets less mystique about it and becomes more normal. I know my dad, who would have grown up in the 30s and 40s when only the most intelligent or richest got degrees, saw them as somehow innately knowledgable about everything (“oh, that must be a good school; the doctor sends his son there,” when there is no reason to believe a doctor knows anything at all about education). Now, most of us have either been to college or know somebody who has and therefore, we know that it doesn’t make you magically brilliant at everything. As a teacher, I know my degree gives me no particular insight into medical treatment and just as I don’t know any more than anybody else about that, I wouldn’t expect a doctor to know more than the average person about education.

      I hope we are heading for a point where a college degree will be seen as giving you expertise in a certain area and trades and on the job training will be also seen as giving expertise in a certain area and none being better than the other, just meaning the area of competence is different. Just as I’d trust a mechanic about my car, I’d trust somebody with a degree in virology’s understanding of covid, but I wouldn’t expect the virologist to know about my car or the mechanic to have any insight into the spreading of covid. And I wouldn’t think either inherently more knowledgeable or to be more respected. Their expertise is just different.

      I don’t think that is disdaining higher education. I think it is valuing other skills.

  76. Bex*

    LW1, please, just please take a step back and look at yourself.

    I got my “customer service voice” by working retail through high school and college and for the last 20 years working with clients and my colleagues. My college degree taught me nothing about being a decent human being, I taught myself that. I’ve been taught by terrible bosses (think “Working Girl” combined with “Glengarry Glen Ross” type of environment, throwing sandwiches on my desk, overturning office furniture environment – this was in the early 2000s) how NOT to treat people.

    I do think you realized how you are already coming across, so I commend you for that. It simply does not matter that you have a degree, and your boss and colleague do not. Use what you learned in school to gracefully contribute to your profession and offer ideas for consideration. In turn, absorb and respect all of the knowledge and skills your boss and colleague have obtained over decades. They are valuable for a very significant reason, and that reason is years and decades of time and learning and growing that you do not possess because you have not gone through those years and decades. Not yet.

    There have been Presidents, writers, engineers, Nobel Peace Price recipients, scientists and builders of great buildings that never went to college. Do you get my meaning? Do not hang your hat on a degree. Be proud of your accomplishment and the hard work it took to get one, but your work is far from over. You’ve got years and decades to go.

  77. teensyslews*

    – I too have a business degree and the skills I learned in it that transferred 1:1 to the working world were negligible. Every industry and every company have a unique lingo and style and being flexible and willing to learn are 100% necessary in every role
    – In my experience, stakeholder = someone affected by the outcome of work while customer = the person who requested and is providing the guidelines for the work
    – Relationships with internal customers – are equally or more important than relationships with external customers. Internal customers can, as you’ve learned, provide much more direct feedback about your work with them to your management team and have a direct reflection on how your performance is reviewed. They should be treated with equal respect

    Hopefully you have a chance to reflect on your working style and how you perceive yourself and your work in relation to your coworkers who have different education backgrounds.

  78. Hawk*

    LW 2: you could definitely consider it as market research in what other companies see your experience is valued at. My husband is in the same field and gets the same messages. He has used it to push for a raise before (and was partially successful because he works for the government and they don’t have the money to pay as much as the rest of the field).

    LW3: I have ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder and work in a diverse public library. Sometimes I ask people to repeat things, and other times I’ll ask people to write down what they’re looking for (this is in short customer service transactions). Don’t be afraid to say something as suggested by the other commenters. I definitely need to get back into practice asking people to write things down instead.

    LW 4: as others said, I’m not thrilled that the hiring manager was so quickly miffed that you didn’t respond in 24 hours. I used to send a lot of emails outside my organization and left room (a week unless it was a tight deadline) for spam filtering, illness, vacations, etc. You don’t have to mend a broken bridge. You didn’t break it.

    1. LW4/OP4*

      Thank you so much for saying this. After reading the comments here, I feel a lot better moving into the phone interview and will be looking out for any red flags.

  79. FrogFriend*

    LW1 is so interesting to me. They got off a call where someone said “I wish you’d talk to your colleagues as nicely as I just heard you talking to a customer” and LW just…passed over that in the letter (“I’m always friendly and respectful to my colleagues”).

    If that’s the case, why did your colleague say that? I would examine this more closely if I were the LW. It could be that you’re coming across the way you think you are.

    Lending creedence to this theory- you definitely didn’t treat your colleague in a respectful and friendly way in this converstion.

    1. Hell in a Handbasket*

      That’s what most stood out to me too. If a colleague said that to me, at a minimum I’d be doing some self-reflection and monitoring my tone. And unless it was someone I knew to be totally unreasonable, I’d also apologize and ask for more details. Instead the LW chose to gloss right over the point and nitpick terminology.

  80. Llamatic*

    LW3: i work in the US and have a foreign accent. When I was living in a large diverse city it really wasn’t an issue, but now that I live someone smaller / less worldly it’s not uncommon for people to struggle to understand me (and some can be quite rude, which gets exhausting). In my experience, what I find easiest is people simply asking me to repeat myself. I don’t mind having to repeat myself several times, so long as you’re polite about it. Phrases like ‘my hearing isn’t very good’, ‘I’m struggling to hear/understand you’, ‘it’s a bit loud in here’, ‘i want to make sure I understand you’ all work if you want to smooth it over, depending on how much you want to share. Or you can skip all that and just ask me to repeat myself until you get it – just don’t other me / treat me like I’m exotic or scary. It drives me up the wall when people ignore me , look at me like a startled rabbit , repeat the sounds they think I said (this is my absolute least favorite – do not do this!), or just blurt out ‘you have an accent’ (believe me, i know!). I think something like ‘I’m sorry, i struggle with accents’ is fine, but you almost don’t need to say this – I already know that’s the problem. I’m a native English speaker, and white – not my experience, but I’m guessing that being reminded constantly that you have an accent when speaking in your non-native tongue would be even more annoying. I hope this helps (also the fact that you’re even asking the question makes me think you’re handling it just fine)

  81. Wowzers*

    OP 1 – I think you misread the interaction here. A colleague said they wished you spoke to them and the rest of your team in a more respectful and kind way, and you said no, thanks you are good. You should take steps to repair your relationship with this person, and then adjust how you speak and behave to your colleagues. You may also want to reflect a bit more on whether you are also misreading or misunderstanding other interactions through a misplaced focus on things you think you are right about (and others are wrong). In case it helps, I’ve been rude a few times over my career because I’m a human – and when I’ve made a genuine attempt to apologize and repair, my colleagues have been gracious.

  82. Queer Columbo*

    Hi LW 1,

    So, you’re gonna get some feedback on this post you won’t appreciate, but I do think it is important to hear it and begin to absorb it as soon as possible.

    I do not have a four-year degree. I am a senior manager in my field, and have been for years, and I cannot begin to count the number of times I have been dismissed outright because of my “lack of education” until I quite literally open my mouth. There is an old way of thinking that “didn’t go to college” equals “wasn’t able to get into college” and that is just not true. College is EXPENSIVE, and there are so, so many reasons why people skip it, or go back later. As it stands, there is nothing I do now that I could have learned in school anyway, because:

    The absolute smartest people I know who did go to college majored in something that has absolutely nothing to do with the careers they have now, they all learned on the job. As you grow, you will discover that this is far more common. I’ll give you an example. My industry is the game industry. Only more recently did that become any sort of field you could go to school for. And yet, wow, there are games, and have been games, for many years.

    The aura you, and people who think like you, have comes off of you in waves. We know how you feel about us, and in many cases, that will absolutely come back to bite you. What if you made a comment about this to someone who was VP level who didn’t go to college? How would you explain that to their face if you were to be called on it? I don’t want you to change your way of thinking to protect yourself from these types of scenarios, but if that’s how it starts, so be it. We don’t judge you for going to school, and I bet you’d be quite upset if we did. Treat others kindly and be accepting to learning from people you currently see as below you. I know you’ll be surprised.

  83. Tech lady*

    OP1, there is a concept in tech industry known as “dogfooding”, which basically means that the product built by the company will be internally used by other teams within the same company, in addition to external customers. In this scenario it is absolutely valid to use the term “internal customer” because they are also your team’s customers – ie they will come with issues, feedback, suggestions etc just like external customers. Just wanted to point out there are instances where it is totally valid to use this phrase.

  84. Sharon*

    LW1- if you’d like to redeem the situation, go back to your boss. Say “The other day you attempted to give me some feedback about my communication style, and it didn’t go well. Can we revisit that? What problems are you seeing with how I communicate and what suggestions do you have for improvement?” And then LISTEN. Do not make defensive comments. Do not argue over terms. Do not bring up what you’ve done/learned in the past. Just try to understand what your boss is telling you. Go back to your desk after the talk and just sit with that information for a while and then see if you can make any changes. It’s not about what “right” or even what you intend when you communicate – it’s about what’s effective and makes people comfortable working with you.

  85. Cee S*

    On #4 – One of my previous company knew that their email domain was flagged by many email providers as spam. Their marketing department wasn’t sending their marketing campaign email properly. Some of the emails from the company’s recruiters went to the candidates’ spam folder indeed.

  86. Pretty as a Princess*

    In addition to the obvious “not all skills relevant to business success are learned in college” and “there are many ways to be successful in a field and not all require college” there is also a lot out there that falls into “that didn’t even used to be a career field and there was no college for it 30 years ago; people invented the jobs and solutions into existence due to environmental circumstances and that’s why there’s college for it now.”

    And then of course there’s the example of the military:) My old chief never went to college but you can bet he knew everything about how our unit and every piece of equipment operated and every single relevant policy, before I walked in the door as a brand new college educated second lieutenant. College most certainly did not teach me how to talk to Generals or how to improvise with other equipment when the Thing That Does the Task broke down and I needed to Do The Task with Equipments Designed for Other Tasks and Not This Task in real time with no known arrival time for the spare parts. There was literally no book instruction for that until after someone had to figure out the problem in real time and wrote down what they did so other people could know if they were in the same emergency.

    My kid attends my undergraduate alma mater. The course catalog and even the structure of the university are filled with programs and departments for fields that didn’t exist, or were nascent and did not have degrees available, as recently as 30 years ago. There didn’t used to be degrees in data science like we know it now, or undergraduate specialties in computational finance or various other things. These fields and programs arose on the backs of people who had to solve problems before these disciplines were widely recognized.

    It seems like the LW really got convinced along the way that their business degree teaches the Immutable Facts and the Ineffable Plan. Someone probably did them the disservice of telling them that loudly. So much so that they don’t recognize that *those things didn’t always get taught in college* and they *had to be learned about and problems solved by people before they ever got turned into case studies or entire disciplines.* The LW might want to think of college as having given them a set of tools – but there’s still lots of room in the toolbox, and lots of situations for which you have to choose from tools you have, obtain new tools elsewhere, or invent a tool into existence.

  87. Sled dog mama*

    I too have some auditory processing issues. I am lucky enough to be in a role with kind supportive coworkers and management. When I first disclosed several of my coworkers asked what they could do to help with communication. I hadn’t ever thought about it but when I did I came up with a few things.
    1) if they talk to me in person about something important send a recap email, this has become just sending the email which is great because people no longer stop by and interrupt
    2) if possible make sure to look at me and have my attention when speaking to me (I learned during COVID that I compensate with some lip reading and facial expressions to follow conversations)
    3) if you notice me not responding in a conversation (apparently I make a pretty specific face when I’m hearing the teacher from Charlie Brown) respond in a way that clues me in on what I missed.

  88. Kyrielle*

    Re #2 – that worked very well for me a number of years ago, even without being approached. I went to my boss and told them the median salary for my number of years experience in the area was $X, and for my level of expertise and positive reviews more like $Y. That I loved what I was doing and our clients and coworkers, but that the difference was a lot of money and was concerning to me.

    Not all companies will react the same, but I made no threats – in fact I made it clear that I wanted to stay, even though the numbers were concerning – and I got both the largest $$ and largest percentage raise I ever have (or probably ever will – it was a 35% raise). I was also a top performer, which definitely played into it, but it worked really well and I think it was a pretty safe move as far as not being told to just go take it because I was talking the general market, not telling them I had another offer.

  89. Irish Teacher.*

    LW1, I get the impression that at least part of the problem here is that the LW and their colleagues are misinterpreting what the other is saying, to the point that it’s almost two separate conversations. It seems like the LW is interpreting things a lot more literally than the colleague means them.

    It sounds like, whether rightly or wrongly, the colleague perceives the LW as being more polite, friendly, professional and helpful to customers than they are to their colleagues. This may be true or the colleague may be misinterpreting their tone or may even have unreasonable expectations – I don’t know. At any rate, they said that they wished the LW would treat them as politely and professionally and be as helpful to them as they are to the customer.

    Without tone, it’s hard to tell whether the coworker was trying to be sarky here or trying to coach the LW/give them a hint about professional norms. I could take it either way.

    However, it sounds like the LW took their comment as meaning, “I really like your customer service voice and would like to hear it more often,” so they responded by saying it’s not their natural voice but rather something they learnt in customer service training.

    The coworker may have read this not to mean “I learnt a ‘customer service voice'” but rather “I learnt to prioritise the customer’s needs” and basically suggested that the LW think of their colleagues as “internal customers.”

    The LW appears to have either taken this to refer to the term or was distracted by their confusion over the term and responded that they were not familiar with it, but honestly, without the context of the whole letter, I don’t think I would have taken the LW’s response to mean they’d used a different term in the past. I would have taken it to mean, “I never heard of the concept of treating colleagues like customers.” So it is possible that what the colleague heard was something like, “I treat customers with respect because I’ve been taught to. Nobody ever said I’d have to do that for my colleagues.”

    As somebody else said above, I do think responding by telling the LW it was time they learnt does sound somewhat rude or at least rather peremptory (it’s the sort of thing I might say to a particularly difficult student who was insisting that their parents never expected them to do something basic like pick up after themselves so they didn’t know how to, not something I’d say to an adult) but if they did think the LW meant “I was never taught to be nice to you,” a rather blunt response makes sense.

    I don’t think asking the boss about what the term “internal customer” means would be helpful here. For one thing, the LW has said they understood it, but more importantly, it isn’t the issue and if I were the boss and overheard this interaction, I would be a little concern if it appeared that what the LW took from it was “I’d better check I have the exact meaning of ‘internal customer'” because I really don’t think that’s the point here.

    I think the way to show your colleague and boss that you are willing to learn is to make an extra point of treating your colleagues with respect and being polite and helpful to them.

    1. Emily*

      Irish Teacher, I think these are all great points. Funnily enough, I think what LW is doing sort of relates to one of the site rules here about not nitpicking language. Different workplaces are going to use slightly different words for things, and getting too hung up that your way is the “one true right way” is a recipe for disaster. Also, as far as degrees go, while this may not be true for every field, I have definitely found that for me real world experience has far outweighed what I learned for my undergrad degree. As part of my undergrad degree, I was required to do an internship, and it was more helpful than any of the classes that I took.

      My first job out of college was in the social work field, and there was constantly changing ideas about if we should refer to the people we were assisting as customers, members, clients, etc. I found the whole thing ridiculous because no matter what we called them, we were always understaffed and underfunded so we were providing lackluster services no matter what we called the people coming to us for help, but causing a stink about it would not have changed anything, so I just internally rolled my eyes and went with it.

    2. Irish Teacher.*

      The way I’m reading it, I suspect that from the LW’s point of view, the conversation went something like this:

      Coworker: How come you use a different tone of voice when you’re talking to clients than when you are talking to us? I love the tone you use to clients and would love to hear it more often.
      LW: Oh yeah, you didn’t do customer service training. That’s not really my natural tone of voice. It’s just the way we were trained to talk to customers.
      Coworker: But ‘internal customers’.
      LW: I never learnt that term in business school.
      Coworker: Well, you need to learn it now!
      LW: No, thanks. I’m happy using the terms I’m comfortable with.

      But I think from the coworker’s point of view, it went more like this:

      Coworker: You know, you can sound a bit brusque/too casual/unprofessional in the office sometimes. The way you were speaking to your customer, that’s more how you should be speaking at work.
      LW: Well, I learnt to be professional to customers at college.
      Coworker: Well, just think of us as your internal customers and show the same level of professionalism to us.
      LW: Business school never taught me I had to do that.
      Coworker: *thinking the LW means “I was never told I had to be polite to you“* Well, it’s about time you learnt!
      LW: No, thanks, I’m good.

      To me, the whole thing sounds a bit like ask versus guess culture. The coworker is trying to hint that the LW needs to be more polite or formal or whatever at work and assumes the LW will pick up on this, but the LW is replying to the coworker’s exact words.

  90. the bat in the office popcorn machine*

    #1: You sound like a bit of a snob and it reminds me of the LW who didn’t respect her bosses because they didn’t have degrees or the degrees were 20 years old or from different fields (Alison may have linked it, haven’t been able to click them yet) – “internal stakeholder” is more meaningless than “internal customer.” Are they stakeholders or do you provide a service to them as you do external customers? Also, stakeholders are customers and customers are stakeholders. You’re playing semantics at this point for no good reason except to go against established and understood workplace terminology. You are not correct here at all and being a know-it-all isn’t what you need to apologize for. You got snappy for no reason with a colleague about a non-issue.

    If you thought they thought out of turn, you could have used a stock phrase, “That’s weird. I feel I am friendly to you at all times and because we work together, I don’t usually put on the extra cheery tone since first impressions really matter when you don’t know someone.” Although, I do question whether you are that friendly with them and what prompted this colleague to say that based on some things in your letter but it was out of turn either way, imo. It could be seen as banter but you two don’t seem to have that relationship.

    This feels like you don’t fit in with the crew just yet and instead of working on that, you’ve decided it’s your education that’s the issue. I think you should think a bit deeper about what prickles you here…it’s not “internal stakeholder” or “internal customer.”

  91. Regular Human Accountant*

    LW1, I wrote another comment upthread as a reply to a different one, but I want to add here: I would argue that internal customers/stakeholders are even more important than external ones, at least to you personally. Be good to your coworkers, and you will see the benefits: you’ll get information you need more quickly, you’ll hear about open job postings that might benefit you, they’ll go to bat for you when needed, they might brag on you to upper management. Be open and willing to learn; speak kindly; recognize that you are part of a team and act accordingly.

    My advice as someone who’s been building a network for a long time now: go back to your coworker and apologize. Tell them you hear what they are saying, and that you appreciate their feedback. And then take the other advice given in this comment section. You’re new to the working world and your willingness to ask questions here is commendable; that is the whole point of this website, and we want to help you.

  92. KellifromCanada*

    OP1, I think you owe your coworker an apology. It sounds like you were very snippy to him. Also, if, after listening to how you speak with an external customer, he commented that he wished you spoke to your colleagues like that, I think you should take this at face value. It seems like your colleagues (or at least this one) feel that you don’t treat them with respect. This is a very big deal and will impact your success at this job, along with your relationships with your boss and peers. Take this seriously.

  93. Honeybee*

    LW4 – just to give you a little hope, during the interview process for my current job, i was asked to create a little project. I missed the email asking me to do it and they sent it right before Thanksgiving. I had been checking everything, including my spam, and didn’t see the email. They emailed me Monday just to check in and thankfully that did not go to spam. I got the assignment done that evening and sent back an apology. I’ve been at this job now for almost 9 months now and I’ve been really happy.

  94. Coin_Operated*

    Hold it… I get the focus of letter 1 is about schooling and humility, and yeah, I think that’s an issue… but like… I’ve worked in customer service long enough and I’ve NEVER, NEVER had a co-worker ask me to talk to them like I do with customers… That’s… just odd because, especially for people like me, I have a “fake” nice phone voice because that is literally how we were trained. It’s just really strange to me for a colleague to ask that, it’s basically asking “I wish you would talk fake and de-escalate me.” Just wanted to point that out. Either this place is really weird, or the OP has been just really rude to everyone beyond just the degree stuff.

    1. Irish Teacher.*

      I’m guessing there was context that made it make more sense, like maybe the LW had offered to help the customer with something and the coworker felt the LW was very reluctant to help their coworkers and meant less “I wish you’d talk to us in that tone of voice” and more “I wish you’d be that willing to agree when we ask for help.” Or maybe they are very brusque when replying to colleagues (or the coworker thinks them very brusque). “I’m busy; I haven’t time to do that.” And then they were talking to a customer and said something like, “well, I’m afraid we’re very busy this week, so I might not get to it until early next week. Is that OK?”

      Or it was an attempt at coaching that perhaps didn’t come off right. Like they’d been trying to hint to the LW about how to speak to coworkers, then heard them on the phone and they thought, “yes! That’s it. That’s the attitude you should have all the time at work.”

      It sounds like the LW interpreted it as referring to the “fake nice phone voice,” but I doubt that was what the coworker meant. I suspect both people in this conversation were greatly misunderstanding each other.

    2. blue rose*

      Honestly? My guess is that this LW is just, for some reason, really not as friendly, respectful, and nice as employees at their workplace usually treat each other. That is, LW is treating coworkers noticeably more coldly than the coworkers treat each other, but then the LW treats external customers with extra consideration, extra respect, extra “niceness,” and the coworkers realize that the LW is capable of treating others with respect, is in fact capable of being nice to other people, but just isn’t extending that respect and niceness to their coworkers.

      Following this line of reasoning, I also think the LW thinks their own behavior is at a suitable level of respect/friendliness towards their coworkers, but it actually falls short of the norm at this workplace. Also, I don’t think the LW will catch on to this without someone explicitly telling the LW this, based on two things that happen in the letter:
      1. Coworker says “I wish you could talk to us like that,” and LW admits in the letter that they are nicer to clients.
      2. Coworker tries to teach LW some of this specific workplace’s norms (the customer vs. stakeholder thing) and LW responds saying straight out that they will choose not to learn it.

      The LW says in their last paragraph that they’re “open to learning new things,” but maybe the words that follow (“from [my boss]”) are more important to the LW. They’re certainly not open to learning new things from their coworkers, who, like the boss, also have “knowledge gathered in the industry through the years”. After reading back over what I’ve written, I also kind of think this LW finished their formal education and then elected to just…stop learning.

      1. blue rose*

        *[1.] was also supposed to include that LW acknowledges that they treat customers more nicely, but then kind of blows off/glosses over their coworker who wishes LW would be nicer to the coworkers

    3. Observer*

      Either this place is really weird, or the OP has been just really rude to everyone beyond just the degree stuff.

      This is true. And the problem is that *based on what the OP says*, the latter seems to be highly possible.

      The request *is* odd. Which could have easily lead to a letter from someone saying “what’s up with this, and how do I deal with it?” Instead it led to the OP being rather rude to their CW, essentially claiming that they don’t need to learn anything that they haven’t learned in school and a letter here pointing out that they are better educated than their colleagues *and boss* and asking if they can pretend to respect their boss by asking for an explanation of a thing that they said they don’t need to learn about In the hearing of their boss.

  95. That wasn't me. . .*

    Forget the boss for the moment: if you want to salvage anything at this job, go back to that co-worker you ruded-off to RIGHT NOW and apologize. Tell them you realized immediately that you were rude, and that you delayed addressing it with them because you were so ashamed you just didn’t know what to do, and you know you had no excuse (except a bad mood, which is worse than no excuse). You are sorry, and that you won’t behave like that again. Then say: ” You are right! I have a lot to learn, and I SHOULD be as nice to my co-workers as to anyone.” (Then you can confess to your boss what you did, and that you apologized. ) Go on, do it! Right now!

  96. Susan*

    Re #1, at a time when I was admittedly a lot more experienced than the LW (!), I had a boss who frequently used domain-specific lingo in the wrong way, even in front of customers. It was often exhausting to keep a straight face when they did this in the presence of other people. Therefore, sometimes (when no customers were around) I tried as politely as possible to correct them, with varying degrees of success. It’s a tricky situation (but different from the LW’s story, I think).

  97. Baron*

    #1: yeah, the part of your letter that concerns me is your coworker saying that you don’t talk to them as nicely as you talk to customers. Might you not be talking as nicely to your coworkers as you think you are?

    I’m with you on “internal customers” being extremely annoying corporate jargon which I hate, and with the urge to not use it or to be irritated at others using it. But if that’s what they use at your workplace, that’s what they use. It’s not the end of the world.

  98. el l*

    First, sympathy. You have a different background from your colleagues, and they’ve worked together for a long time. Breaking in and becoming just another team member will naturally be challenging and may take a while.

    But you’re not progressing towards that goal like you should be. Whether you use “internal customer” or “internal stakeholder” is an incredibly minor issue that’s emblematic of nothing. What is emblematic and a major issue – what should have merited some introspection from yourself – is when your colleague said, “I wish you could talk to us like that.” Pretty clearly indicates that – however you’ve been treating your colleagues – it hasn’t worked. And like the movie Layer Cake says, it’s all about honor and respect.

    Suggest having a heart-to-heart with your boss with the tone, “What’s not working here?”

  99. Empress Ki*

    3# You aren’t the only one, I think it’s pretty common. I have a very hard time understanding French speaking Canadians, even though I French is my native language !

  100. LW4/OP4*

    Hi everyone! LW4 here. Thank you so much for your supportive comments in this thread.

    I’ve learned (1) it’s not a big deal and (2) to be cautious of a manager who makes it a big deal.

    I spoke to my referrer, who used to work with the hiring/direct manager for the role, and she described the person as “direct and honest,” and someone who “will make it clear where you stand with them.” She said she was not surprised by the nature of their follow-up e-mail.

  101. Thisishalloween*

    L1: your colleague’s comment about wishing you spoke to them in the way you do with “clients” makes me think you need followup because you may not be as respectful or civil as you believe you are. Given your lack of self-awareness about dismissing your colleagues’ experiences and feeling superior due to your education, this seems a bit likely. If everyone in the real world of this job is using “term 1” , understand and use term 1. Honestly, you have come across poorly.

  102. EasternPhoebe*

    LW3, sometimes it just takes time to get used to an accent. Don’t be too hard on yourself! I don’t have any auditory processing issues or ADHD or hearing loss, and I struggle too when I’m listening to unfamiliar accents. For example, I work a lot with people who have a specific non-English accent (think like a Korean or Indian native speaker accent) that a lot of other people find difficult to understand, but because I hear it all the time, I have no problem comprehending it. But recently I had a meeting with people who had a different accent that I don’t listen to often, and I only understood about 50% of the meeting despite listening closely and trying to figure it out. I’d probably do a little better in a second meeting but it would take time and practice to get to 100% comprehension. And of course it’s much harder to understand an unfamiliar accent if the conversation is in a location with interfering noise like crosstalk, background noise, etc.

    Definitely sometimes there’s a xenophobic angle to the discussion of accents…but I honestly think for most people it’s just a lack of practice listening to and understanding specific accents, and that can be overcome with time and opportunities.

  103. Jane Fiddlesticks*

    LW1, I actually thought you didn’t sound at all like you were too focused on education. I don’t know what the tone was of your colleagues ‘s comment about wanting you to be as nice to your colleagues as to your customers – maybe it was a very friendly tone – but I’m not sure if I would have appreciated that comment either if spoken in an accusatory tone, especially when said in front of your boss.

    Your reply about having a business degree was probably not the best, so response ever so I would try apologising to your colleague and explain to your manager that you didn’t mean to be rude or haughty.

    1. blue rose*

      It may also have been spoken in a downcast kind of tone, which would be earnest and straightforward, instead of snarky and sarcastic. Point being, we don’t know what the tone was like, as LW doesn’t bring up the tone, and doesn’t really seem to linger on the part where they and their coworkers both know the LW is treating their customers noticeable more nicely than their coworkers, so I don’t think the tone was significant enough to be relevant (unless real LW chooses to chime in here with more info). The LW is more hung up on the “internal customer” bit.

    2. Dutch*

      I don’t want to make assumptions, but if LW1 is a woman and their coworker a man I wonder if their comment was about courtesy, or whether it was more like one of those unpleasant ‘You should smile more’ comments.

  104. Inkognyto*

    LW 1 – Stakeholder is a more generic term and it can be problematic as it covers a lot, but get’s in the way when you need more narrow terminology.
    It’s probably taught this way in business classes. It makes it easier to use 1 term to learn something verse 3-30, so you can understand the basics. The problem is in the real world, nothing is ever simple, and business and companies are complex with many various needs.
    This is a good explanation why: https://insideproduct.co/customers-users-stakeholders/

    A small portion of my work is assisting with Data Governance. You have stakeholders, owners, stewards, users, custodians. Every single one of them has a ‘stake’ in what we’re doing. But it’s not specific enough. As a group they are defined as stakeholders, but we never actually use the term as it’s too generic. In our instance we actually have a few more roles but those are the overall general ones used in the terminology.

  105. Texas Teacher*

    I have a hard time with accents
    I have auditory processing disorder and I use something like Alison recommended socially as well as professionally. I haven’t had any backlash.

  106. casey*

    OP1: I feel for you, and a big piece of what’s bugging the comment section here from what I can see is lack of clarity around the context you want to emphasize. Apart from practice, I think a book called “Messages” by Matthew McKay, et al., could be of real help here. Pick it up and give it a shot–it offers lots of great communication advice and examples.

    As for your work issues… I’m not as convinced as others are that you’re the problem. Your coworker could be right that you’re being abrasive, even if unintentionally, but he sounds like a prima donna from where I stand. Hard to say what’s up.

    You do come across as a big rigid, but given the right team, that will fall away in due time. Experience will push that through. But communication is crucial and I think the book could be helpful!

    1. Jane Fiddlesticks*

      Yes, great tip and I agree with this!
      Also, I don’t think we readers can assume that just because LW1 is early career it is their perspective is off here: maybe they landed in an office where sugar-coating everything and tiptoeing around each other is the norm. Not always healthy in communication with colleagues!

  107. Moonstone*

    “I would like to redeem the situation so that my boss does not think I have a sense of entitlement.”

    But you do have a sense of entitlement. You think you’re better than your colleagues and boss because you went to college and they did not. Your coworker even said they wish you could be nicer to them when speaking with them and that went right over your head when you tried to explain a customer service voice. Like, really?

    This situation reminds me of a TikTok I saw today of a recent college grad having an absolute tantrum because she couldn’t land a high-paying marketing job because she doesn’t have experience; she literally screamed and pounded her steering wheel (oh yeah, she was driving while filming!) ranting about earning more as a waitress and how come she can’t get a job earning 150k-200k right now?!? Her degree is her experience! Ugh. All that is to say, while college teaches you some things, it is in no way a replacement for on the job experience. Drop the attitude, actually listen to your colleagues and boss, and you might learn something.

  108. casey*

    I find this to be as plausible as some of the more shamey comments here and I surprised others haven’t run with that detail. There could definitely be tight coziness amongst old colleagues that’s actively pushing out OP, or making them feel that way.

  109. Observer*

    LW, I’m coming in very, very late to this and I have not read most of the responses yet. So, I realize that you may have given up on the comment section, because the (deserved, I’m sorry to say) drubbing you have been getting must be hard to read. But it might do you some good to read this letter and the comments on it. Because there seems to be a significant overlap between your attitude and the one of this young man:

    At first glance, you may not see the parallel, but the key issue here is the idea that how you treat people around you, even people who don’t have your status or degree is not all that important. But also, one of the key things he says is that he couldn’t have been expected to know that because they don’t officially teach it in school. A huge amount of what you really need to know is not – often *cannot* be taught in school. It’s not for nothing that so many professions absolutely *require* internships or similar types of on the job training before you can get full certification. And that in many fields not having real world work experience is going to hold you back to a very high degree.

    The only thing worse than not having experience is failing to recognize that you have a lot to learn and that experience counts for a LOT.


    Update: https://www.askamanager.org/2017/07/update-ceos-wife-ruined-my-job-prospects.html

  110. SB*

    I am quite good with accents, but terrible when someone has a low note voice – think baritone & bass. Very deep voices are just beyond my brain capacity for some reason so I have to ask people to spell things like names & email addresses out for me. I straight up tell them “I’m so sorry, but I have hearing difficulties so I am going to need you to spell that for me so I am certain I have it right for you”. I get the occasional person who will sigh & carry on as if I asked them for a kidney rather than to repeat or spell something but they are very much in the minority; most people are happy to oblige once they know there is a reason for it & not just me not listening to them the first time.

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