my employee identifies proudly as a grump

A reader writes:

I manage a small team of creative people and we all have different work styles (as defined during a company-wide professional growth workshop.)

One team member has so strongly identified with her more aggressive and direct work style that I find she is using it as a crutch to excuse bad behavior like having a negative attitude about her work or being short or dismissive of coworkers. “Well, that’s just me. I’m a grump, everyone knows that’s my work style!” she’ll say in a light-hearted way.

We have a casual workplace and I’m friendly with my employees, but I’m finding it difficult to guide her to be more positive without it coming across like, “Don’t be yourself!” or like I’m critiquing her personality instead of it being about a work issue.

I have tried to curb this behavior by saying, “No, we don’t see you that way” when she self-identifies as being a negative person/grumpy/“bad with people.” I’ve praised her when she handles situations the way I would expect (with a collaborative spirit and openness).

My biggest concern is how this is impacting her work and how she interacts with the rest of the team. She has expressed interest to me in being promoted and taking on more responsibility with more creative freedom, but when I have brought opportunities to her to take ownership and have more space for creativity, she has reacted negatively both through her body language (literally frowning and scowling in meetings) and through her commentary and a lot of self doubt and generally defeatist attitude).

I want her to feel supported and I don’t want her to feel like I’m picking on her for what she has embraced as a personality trait but I’m hitting a wall.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 312 comments… read them below }

  1. Excel Jedi*

    Can we please just stop with the personality tests which boil people down to a (usually arbitrary, not scientifically rigorous) narrow identity? Especially the ones which paint some people in a bad light. If you get sorted into (for example) “Grump,” “Visionary,” “Socialite,” “Producer,” or “Manager,” the implication is that you’re NOT those other things, or you have limited capacity for those other things.

    These kinds of ‘personality tests’ just push people into boxes – especially when that’s how they think their manager and colleagues now perceive them.

    1. Mill Miker*

      I have to wonder if she was like this before, or if she’s reacting to being officially labelled a “grump” in front of everyone by leaning in to it. Like, “Oh, I’m a grump? I’ll show you grump.”

      1. Betty Spaghetti*

        My thoughts exactly. It was my reaction to my supervisor’s annual review critique regarding my face not being enthusiastic enough.

          1. Betty Spaghetti*

            I thought about purchasing a variety of Venetian masks to wear around the office. Esp seeing how my supervisor’s specific example was my face not being enthusiastic enough after her lovely racist comments during an internal discussion.

            1. RVA Cat*

              “…my supervisor’s specific example was my face not being enthusiastic enough after her lovely racist comments during an internal discussion.”

              *record scratch* WTF?!?!?!

            2. CommanderBanana*

              I was told I “move my face too much,” then after I started getting Botox, it was that I had “too deadpan of an expression” and then when I tried smiling in meetings I was “smirking.”

              Turns out that to some people, if you are a woman and you have a face, you are Doing A Face Wrong.

              1. OrangeCup*

                One of my friends didn’t get a job and the specific feedback she was given was she didn’t smile enough during the interview. Then she found out who got the – a former colleague of hers who once had to be escorted off the premises of a job by security for awful behavior after being fired. But hey – she was a smiler!

                1. Phryne*

                  I once was told the interviewer was ‘missing the sparkle’ in me. It was a logistics j0b, planning/monitoring trains. In a windowless room.
                  (It seemed kinda interesting at the time, but I’m not tearful I did not get the job. Doubt it stayed interesting for long.)

    2. Psych Scientist*

      Yep, all real personality science is very very clear that personality is always a continuum, not a category

    3. Aggretsuko*

      I’m reminded of those “Divergent” books in which you were only allowed to have one personality trait. The hell?

      1. UKDancer*

        Yeah those books never made sense to me either. I liked the protagonist but the premise didn’t work as I don’t think people can be divided by trait that simply.

        1. RussianInTexas*

          The series ending explained it though. The people of the city were deficient, in fact, and the people outside ran an experiment.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        To be fair to the author Divergent was a dystopia novel. Part of that is what didn’t work.

    4. Antilles*

      I agree with you, but in this case, the personality test is just a red herring.

      Based on OP’s first paragraph, I feel pretty confident that Grumpy Gertrude was a grump before taking the test, it’s just now she feels empowered to wave that piece of paper around like a shield to justify her grumpiness. And for some reason, OP is treating that as a reasonable excuse rather than going “I don’t care why you’re acting like this, I just need you to stop”.

      1. Excel Jedi*

        I didn’t read it like that initially, but I can see that point.

        In that case, I don’t know if it’s so much a red herring as a reinforcer of behavior. If someone who’s already low-key rude is called a “Grump” in a teambuilder activity, and presumably told that everyone’s personalities are valid, then it’s easy to see how they can feel like their grumpiness is just fine.

        I think OP does need to address this head-on, but I also think this kind of test undermined OP and made her life harder.

    5. Constance Lloyd*

      I used to train college students to use Strengths Finder, and the value of this and other similar assessments basically boils down to self reflection and consideration. You don’t need the assessments to do that, but all they’re really good for is giving people language to think about how they work and how those around them work.

      But maybe that’s just my empathy and individualization coming through. (/s)

      1. WillowSunstar*

        Years ago I was a temp at a large company that did Strengths Finder. Turned out my strength at the time was Asking Questions, which I got yelled at for because I was a temp and didn’t know everything the permanent employees knew.

    6. Wintermute*

      Given that professional scientists who spend decades iterating on a test for a very specific and measurable purpose (e.g. intelligence, academic performance, knowledge of the fundamentals of law, etc) can’t do it without introducing horrific racial and class bias among other well documented faults I have less than zero faith pseudoscientific personality tests aren’t absolutely riddled with unconscious bias and bad questions.

      I have hope one day courts will be critical of attempts to use these nonsense tests on the grounds of disparate impact or hostile environment, until then I can only agree with you loudly.

    7. I'm Here. Isn't That Enough*

      Oh, what an Orange thing to say! :)

      Totally kidding. I worked at a place and they bought into a color based personality assessment before I started, and everyone got a mug of their color, and for some reason there was an abundance of orange and purple in the cabinets.

      Not sure if they were extras or left behind from people that left.

      1. Hrodvitnir*

        Oh man. On one hand I think being literally, observably colour coded like that isn’t great for team spirit. OTOH I am highly entertained by getting colour coded mugs.

    8. I See Real People*

      Thank you for speaking truth! Maybe it offends the direct/grumpy employee that her manager wants to change her personality. If the work is getting done and she’s not harassing people with her grumpiness, what does it matter how she is “percieved”? Ugh! So tired of this failed idea that we’re 100% responsible for the personalities and perceptions of other people!! Grow up!

      1. Observer*

        Thank you for speaking truth!

        What truth?

        If the work is getting done and she’s not harassing people with her grumpiness, what does it matter how she is “percieved”?

        Because that perception is based on her being rude and difficult to work with. *And* she wants promotions. And if the people giving promotions “perceive” her as being unable to work well with others, they won’t promote her into positions where she needs to work well with others.

        So tired of this failed idea that we’re 100% responsible for the personalities and perceptions of other people!!

        The comment you are responding to seems to be saying something totally unrelated. And the question that the LW is asking does indicate that they want the employee to “be responsible” for anyone or anything but her own behavior. Like not excising being short with people because “that’s the way I am.”

      2. Kella*

        This is a very strange take. Alison is not proposing that this employee is responsible for other people’s perception of her. The employee is responsible *for her own behavior*.

        If this employee is behaving in ways that are rude or negative, that makes her difficult to work with. It is difficult to work with someone who responds to you with something like “That’s a stupid idea” during a brainstorming session. If she is difficult to work with, people will avoid working with her, which has real-world consequences on everyone’s ability to do their job, and her ability to get promoted. And yes, if she acts in ways that make her difficult to work with, people will perceive her as being difficult to work with, BECAUSE SHE IS.

      3. Kt*


        Also so over this expectation that we come to work excited to be there. I’m literally just here so I don’t starve to death, thanks.

        I’d like to know how OP is as a boss and how that company is to work for. People who are grumpy at work are normally reacting to a toxic environment.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          Excited to be there and not openly hostile aren’t the same thing. You also seem to be missing that this person has expressed an interest in moving up in the organization. If they want that, then they need to decide if it’s worth giving up their grumpy persona.

          And in my experience people who are grumpy at work are just grumpy in general. Plenty of people work in toxic environments and manager to not push that upon others who aren’t responsibly for the toxicity.

          1. allathian*

            Yes, this.

            I’m fairly low-energy and I certainly don’t project enthusiasm all the time, but I couldn’t do my job effectively if I were openly hostile at work. Thankfully I work in an environment where we don’t have to project enthusiasm all the time, but I’ll certainly show my enthusiasm if I’m offered a stretch project that I either genuinely want to do, or at least recognize is necessary for my professional development.

          2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

            There should be a grump metric in the KPIs, then she’d get “exceeds expectations” only in the negative.
            If she meets all other requirements for a promotion, it’ll be crystal clear that she needs to shape up and stop grumping to get a promotion.

        2. Lydia*

          People who are grumpy at work are normally reacting to a toxic environment.

          That is not actually true. It sounds like you may be awful to work with and are looking for an excuse to continue to be awful. Your behavior is under your control and if you’ve decided to be a grumpy jerk to everyone, it is 100% within your manager’s rights to ask you to adjust your crappy behavior.

  2. aarti*

    Ugh I can’t stand self proclaimed grumps or overly negative people. News flash: you are a misery to work with and everyone avoids you. Please be at least respectful and polite in professional environments, that’s part of the job too.

    1. Cobol*

      I don’t mean to argue, but I can’t stand working with self described optimists. I find they refuse to address issues that need to be addressed, and in general are a group that’s often behind meetings that should have been emails.

      This isn’t too say grumps should be grumps. It’s more everybody has a national personality, and often times we look at the opposite trait from ours, without looking at the benefits and not examining our own preferences.

        1. MicroManagered*

          I think what Cobol is saying is that everyone’s different. Perhaps you think a self-described grump is a misery to work with. The next person might feel the opposite. So it’s not blanketly true that everyone feels the same way about a self-described grump. That’s not what-about-ing, it’s acknowledging that different perspectives exist and one is not inherently better.

          1. Wintermute*

            that’s the interesting paradox.

            I’ve heard people have issues with very positive, upbeat coworkers and some people adore working with them.

            I have never seen someone, even one who is a pessimist by nature, who preferred or even tolerated working with a **true** grump. Not a realist who isn’t afraid to mention downsides or doesn’t buy into the rah rah party line or someone whose job it is to focus on the “why not” (like legal, oftentimes, or HR) but a true grump.

            The only place they’re even mildly tolerated tend to be workplaces that feel like a penal legion, with lots of dark humor, fatalism, and the shared comraderie of continually being the ones being driven into the fray and genuinely abused like healthcare staff (especially EMTs) or customer service call center reps.

            1. This space left intentionally blank*

              I’m one of those who have the issues, and there’s nuance to it that a lot of people miss.

              Positivity can be borderline or outright toxic when it gets invalidating. “Oh poor Sage, you’re sad Chris stole your idea? Don’t be sad, look at the bright side!”

              This kind of “keeping a positive attitude” can also be weaponised against marginalized people.

              1. Lydia*

                Toxic positivity is a scourge. And you’re right. There is nuance. I work with someone who is genuinely mostly positive. She has her moments of “man, this isn’t great” but in general she is very positive. I’ve also worked with the toxically positive person who didn’t want to deal with the downsides, never expressed ANY negative opinion, and he absolutely sucked at his job. Having seen true positivity and toxic positivity, I feel comfortable saying there is a difference and you can usually tell who is who.

                1. allathian*

                  Definitely. Thankfully I’ve never had to work with either true grups or truly toxically positive people, but I’ve defintely dealt with both socially. I quickly learned to avoid them.

                  I work with a couple of people who are genuinely mostly positive and can be counted to find, if not a silver lining, at least a lesson to be learned, in pretty much every situation. But even these people are human, and while they can move on from bad things faster than most thanks to their attitude, even they have their “oh man, this stinks” moments.

            2. kitto*

              absolutely, those sorts of workplaces where the office grump can fly under the radar are usually just absolutely dire for everyone. it brings out the worst in all the staff in my experience

              also, i think having a personality clash with someone whose personality is on the sunny side and taking issue with someone avoiding difficult situations/conversations are two separate things. it’s not a necessity to be an eeyore to notice and bring up when things aren’t working

            3. House On The Rock*

              I used to work in a corporate cubeland hellscape where I thought that I and my Too Cool for School cynical buddies were fantastic, hilarious, and the only ones who Got It or did a good job. When I left, I realized how deeply toxic everything was and how we are just trying to keep our heads above water with sarcasm, and a good helping of unkindness towards others. I regret a lot of my behavior during that time, but also recognize that it was a crappy environment that made us think that was the way to cope.

          2. Friendo*

            I think there is an inherent difference between not responding well to over-positivity and not responding well to negativity. Negativity is inherently putting out bad vibes. The other is a difference in personality.

            1. aarti*

              I am a positive person. But by that I mean I don’t inflict my bad day on everyone else. And that’s what grumps do. They are having a bad day, or they think life sucks, so the rest of us all have to be brought down to their level.
              I much prefer pleasant people who can be social and engaging. I am positive but I am a realist and understand not everyone likes the way I am and I don’t expect them to just put up with it – I modulate to their level, another thing self proclaimed grumps don’t do.

          3. I See Real People*

            Thank you MicroManaged. Everyone has different reactions to every little thing. That doesn’t mean that every reaction is correct or should change every little thing they perceive to fit their feelings.

          4. Reluctant Mezzo*

            I worked with someone I was told was a grump, turned out she was quite nice if treated with human courtesy. Some people get tired of being dumped on, and then they are labeled just because Happy Cat has run out of Happy.

            1. KC*

              Right? I find it quite like grumps sometimes. I find a lot of grumps are very observant and can sometimes be grumpy to hide the fact they are in fact very sensitive. Plus they are awesome devil’s advocates…if I need someone to poke holes in an idea, the office grump is my go-to for that task (and their input usually makes the idea better, and they can be great champions once they see you considered their critiques).

      1. Kella*

        Grumps and optimists, when taken to an extreme, are actually embodying the exact same problem. While there is going to be some difference in your natural tolerance for the way they conduct themselves, someone who is on the far end of the grump or optimist spectrum is defining themselves and their actions by a single, non-nuanced perspective and blocking out all other possibilities. Hearing “That will never work” in response to every solution is just as much of an obstacle to progress as, “I’m sure it will be fine” in response to every problem. Both are rigid frameworks to operate from, which is both difficult to work with and can often be unpleasant when you are trying to be open and flexible.

    2. Beveled Edge*

      In case you missed it, the planet is on fire and awash with plastic. People who are “overly negative” might just be paying attention. And people can both be polite and respectful while having an extremely negative perspective, so if you’re always receiving negativity as rudeness or disrespect, it might be fruitful to take a second look.

      1. RussianInTexas*

        I am not sure how being short and dismissing of her coworkers helps with climate change, but OK.

      2. Seashell*

        In 1918, there was a worldwide flu epidemic and a world war. In 1968, there was a war in Vietnam, assassinations, and lead in gas and paint. There have always been things to be negative about. Unless the job is in environmental science, recycling, etc., I don’t want to hear ongoing complaints about global warming or plastic ruining the environment.

        1. RussianInTexas*

          Yes, if I am coming with “Sue, where is that SCM report for the Fergus LLC?” and she goes with “But did you know turtles die from plastic straws?” this would not be conducive to the work environment.

      3. jellied brains*

        This comment feels very disingenuous.

        Yeah the world is going to hell in a hand basket (when in human history wasn’t it) but I still manage to be a polite, engaged employee even as forest fires rage, COVID continues to spread, the alt right are determined to strip me of my human rights, and so on.

      4. Facts*

        None of that is a reason to be awful to your coworkers. When you’re in the office you need to act professional. Save that for when you are not working.

      5. CTT*

        Unless your coworkers are in fact coal-burning plastic factories, that doesn’t excuse being rude to them.

      6. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        There’s a big push to always be positive which is pretty dangerous. I’m not saying to cuss people out but please don’t assume everything will work out fine* * is actually talking about work.

      7. Onomatopoeia Cornucopia*

        Major eyeroll to this. Acting miserable, irritable, and difficult to work with has absolutely nothing to do with fighting climate change. It’s a total red herring and puts nothing positive into the world or humanity’s fight for it. Get real.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes agreed. It’s possible to challenge things and be realistic while still being a pleasant and agreeable person.

      8. Annabelle*

        Cool motive. Still a jerk move though.

        You know how “people don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses”? Well sometimes people leave non-boss coworkers. And if I were working with Grumpy or you, I’d want to leave too.

      9. aarti*

        On the contrary I can’t fix the whole world but I can make my small portion of it a little bit happier, a little bit smoother, be respectful and kind to the people around me, and not alwaays bring them down with negativity.

    3. MusicWithRocksIn*

      Or the ‘I’m just really honest!” Crowd – that is always code for I like to be mean to people but don’t want the social consequences.

      1. Festively Dressed Earl*

        Cosigned. A lot of ‘brutally honest’ people are far more focused on ‘brutal’.

          1. Lydia*

            Yep. Honesty is not the same as being unkind, and if your “honesty” causes harm, you don’t get to brush it off as “that’s just who I am.” You have to address the potential damage you caused.

      2. jellied brains*


        My dad is honest to a fault (& sometimes it really is a fault) but when my mom or I call him out because what he said was hurtful, regardless of whether or not it’s factual, he’ll back down and apologize.

        The “brutally honest” never apologize and use their “honesty” as an excuse to be a jerk.

      3. Onomatopoeia Cornucopia*

        The “I’m just brutally honest!” people say that in order to imply that everyone else has as nasty, small, cynical minds as they do, and are just hiding it. That way they don’t have to face the reality that many of the kind people they see are genuinely kind, and the happy people are genuinely happy.

        In reality, they have two problems – that they think shitty things, and that they say them. They try and deny that anyone is better than both of those facts about them.

        1. Lydia*

          There’s also the implication that if you can’t handle their bullshit “brutal honesty” you’re 1. too sensitive and 2. not letting them be their true selves.

        2. Hannah Lee*

          I was an a management training course once and was part of a group exercise with a break out group. The group I was in barely was able to complete the exercise because another participant kept arguing with me – claiming I was fake and lying and that “nobody is like that, nobody would make that decision and pass up xyz” because I was advocating that our team avoid the really unethical options in whatever business decisions we were making. He said basically that I was not a real person, I must be a plant.

          I can’t remember the exact exercise, but the decision points boiled down to something as straightforward (to me anyway) as 1) should we falsify financial statements if there’s a good but not 100% chance we’d get away with it? and 2) should we accept a product design/production process that reduces our costs leading to an 5% increase in gross margin, but that also dramatically increases the risk of someone being killed or maimed by it.

          I was advocating for NO on both those points, both from an ethical and business standpoint, and he would just NOT allow that ANYONE would EVER turn up those ‘opportunities’. And he was a loud mouthed bully about it. It was such a bizarre point of view and such bizarre intensity, personal attack around discussion of hypothetical business decision in one break out session of a week long training with people who would never see each other again. (Like dude, this is all imaginary, and different people can have different values, opinions, ya know)

          Looking back on it now, OC, I think your assessment might have been correct.

          1. The Linen Porter*

            Well, to be fair, your misguided colleague seems to have adapted the ”corporate mindset” of making a profit… I mean every other week you come across ”accounting fraud” and I’m not talking about current politics or paying cash without a receipt, but big companies and big accounting firms. And also, I used to work in finance IT databases and theres a lot of… erm… ”tax planning” that while totally legal, ethically… lets say a lot of EU countries have been giving US companies registered in Ireland a stink eye for decades. And what comes to the production process/design savings… Ford Pinto comes to mind as one of the most known examples of what you described. I’m not sure if I can grab a current example, but all these lithium batteries catching fire… the whole process from mining the ore to manufacturing already is suspect. And then all these ”food adulteration” scandals… plastic in milk, poisoned olive oil, horsemeat in mince, and a variety of counterfit alcohols causing poisoning…

            The cynical me says your colleague ”will be in the news” one day, but I think we all might have hope if your side wins the arguments.

        3. MassMatt*

          This is getting further and further from the letter, but I think the opposite.

          The sort of people who seem to delight in “just being honest” think everyone else is a pollyanna and they are the only ones seeing that the emperor is wearing no clothes. And that they should not just suffer no consequences for rudeness, but be praised for it.

          I have also noticed that most people I’ve encountered with this trait are extremely thin-skinned when it comes to their own faults or shortcomings–they can dish it out but they sure can’t take it.

          Also, now that I think of it, a couple con artists and habitual liars I have known frequently peppered their talk with “To be honest…” and “to tell you the absolute truth….” type phrases. People that are actually being honest don’t usually feel the need to point it out constantly. They tell the truth because it’s the natural thing to do.

          1. Taketombo*

            I’ve hit a point in my career where while a part of me really wants to die on the hill of being honest, I’ve adopted a “one strike policy”

            Them/Mgmt: “We’re doing this thing!”
            Me: “Have you considered huge problem?”

            At giant department meeting: “We’re doing this thing.”
            Me (has already raised problem, bites tongue)

            But I’m (in a professional) union and if they want me yo use my work hours fixing things that didn’t need yo be broken… whatever. I’m still going home on time.

          2. Stopgap*

            “The sort of people who seem to delight in “just being honest” think everyone else is a pollyanna and they are the only ones seeing that the emperor is wearing no clothes.”

            I don’t think that’s it. They think everyone else is just as mean as they are, but are hiding it. Hence why being openly mean is more “honest”.

            1. Lydia*

              I think there are both types. I’ve heard the people who claim to be brutally honest accuse other people of not being realistic or having a pollyanna/snowflake sensibility. But there are also the kinds who think they are actually saying what everyone is thinking.

      4. Orv*

        I’ve met a couple people who told me they thought “tact” was lying and wouldn’t practice it, and it’s always been a huge red flag.

      5. kitto*

        thank you!!!! i notice that people like this never will say something extremely honest that’s also kind or generous. there’s nothing courageous about firing off your nastiest opinions under cloak and dagger

  3. Tired Psychologist*

    As a social science researcher, this is my biggest complaint about every pseudo-scientific categorization tool (Myers-Briggs, True Colors, Strengths Finder, learning styles, enneagrams, astrology separate from religious practice, etc.). Beyond the fact that they are rooted in absolutely nothing, they begin to really harm individuals when they become directive. Many folks understand the potential problems with things like “Better make Joe take that on that task in perpetuity, he’s a Woo,” but it’s just as harmful when it’s “Oh, I can’t do that, I’m a INTJ.”

    1. Dulcinea47*

      You know, I have rarely if ever seen people apply those labels to others, but I have more frequently seen people apply that type of thinking to themselves.

      (aside- I have had a enlightening time talking to my actual therapist about why my strengthsfinder strengths are what they are. Also, I *am* an INTJ, lol. I think all these things are interesting but know to take them with a large non scientific grain of salt.)

      1. WillowSunstar*

        Was an INTJ in college, recently took it online and I got INFP? Years spent doing things like Toastmasters does change you a bit, I guess.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          That’s the thing–people re-take it and get different results. It doesn’t even have to be years; taking it three months later can get one or two different results from the four axes.

          It’s not grounded in any research, nor was it designed by psychologists.

      2. Cedrus Libani*

        I’ve found the labels to be helpful for dealing with others, specifically because they’ve given me concepts and words that I can attach to certain interpersonal patterns.

        For example, I’m a very strong Intuition type, with all the strengths and weaknesses that implies. One of the weaknesses is a tendency to butt heads with Sensing types, especially when they’re in a position of authority over me. Having words for it not only helps me to explain what’s going on to myself and others, it helps me be patient with the other person as it’s happening.

        I personally find the Myers-Briggs words useful, because I fit in well with its classification system. I’m not a fit for the Big 5 traits; I’m a solid “meh” for most. I’m more Neurotic and Agreeable than I let on, I just have the extroverted emotion of a baked potato…and I’m more Open than I look, I’m just quietly soaking up ideas that might come in handy later.

      3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I’ve heard MBTI described as a mirror; it just shows you back whatever you show it.

        Like Willow, I was an INTJ the first time I tested it, but I have migrated into INFJ over the years.

    2. Hi there*

      I’m an INTJ, and I can do anything. :) Seriously though, do you have a research-supported recommendation for a team-building/leadership-building tool to use in place of these as part of a ‘retreat’? I’m always looking for suggestions, thank you!

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Another social science person here. The last I looked into it, the model of personality that has the most empirical support is the Big 5 – openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Check out some resources on this, because the meanings of the words in the model aren’t necessarily the colloquial meanings of the terms.

        Off the top of my head, I could potentially see value in having people reflect and talk about where they fall on each of the 5 factors (each is a continuum, not a binary choice) and how that affects their work and working with others. But I don’t know that this would be as valuable as other types of activities.

        I’ve had to participate in a few team building exercises based on bunk science that someone in management was excited about. Didn’t enjoy it. Was glad that everybody forgot about it basically immediately after it happened.

        1. Dulcinea47*

          I come out looking real bad on all that stuff, and it’s b/c I have a lot of anxiety due to trauma as a child. I do *not* want to talk about that in any work context.

          1. Lydia*

            I think you can talk about it in work contexts without digging into the deep reasons why you might fall where you do on the range. “In these work situations, I know I tend to be anxious about it. They make me feel like I’ll never catch up” isn’t the same as sharing things that happened to you that you know are the root of that anxiety. Anybody who wants you to dig into your deep psychological reasons for X is a jerk.

        2. Platypus*

          We did the predictive index which was scary accurate because it gave you a whole narrative. It was helpful when trying to hire, because if you could ask questions on things that may have come up to give you pause. Also can help to learn how your manager responds and how best to help your employees develop.

          Also, I enjoyed reading things about myself haha.

          1. Tired Psychologist*

            Yeah, this is what research on these types of things pretty routinely find: people enjoy these things for potentially helpful self-reflection or, y’know, some lighthearted navel-gazing. Folks rarely extend it to others in ways that aren’t harmful (e.g., putting others in a static box).

        3. Tired Psychologist*

          You’re exactly right that the Big 5 are empirically-based continuums, but I agree that it’s not relevant for work settings as a replacement for bunk personality tests.

        4. Hannah Lee*

          That sounds interesting from an individual perspective.

          I’d be very hesitant to use any personality assessment in a work context because there’s not way to know whether people are responding to the assessments honestly in a work setting (and there’s a host of perfectly valid reasons why people might choose not to) but just as importantly, I’ve never been in a work environment where someone didn’t take whatever personality assessment data available and apply it in a non-constructive way.

          why *yes* we’re doing this exercise to *supposedly* highlight and maximize the impact of diversity on the team and improve communication, interaction and effectiveness. Absolutely!

          But in reality, we (management) we’re going to see the results and decide those people are weird hermits let’s make them all the detail oriented tasks, these other people should always get stuck with the non-promotable team building work, which BTW, exec management disdains but makes us do because it looks good, and Who’d a Thunk IT! these 5 tall sporty white dudes who remind us of ourselves when we were their age all have management potential and should get invited to any and all the networking and future leaders events.

          1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

            The *only* time I found one of those useful in a work context was when I worked in a second-chance high school, and we did the colors one with our students. Our students were disproportionately Orange, and the useful thing was that the tool framed that as a combination of positive traits, along with challenges, and had examples of how those traits could be usefully channeled. For a lot of our students, they’d always heard “You’re a disruptive loudmouth” and no one had ever told them “You’re an independent thinker who looks outside the status quo” (or whatever, I don’t remember specifics), and THAT was really valuable, to see many of the qualities they considered innate framed positively rather than negatively.

            But it didn’t do anything for me to be told that I was Green-Gold, or whatever it was; I didn’t learn anything about myself from the exercise.

      2. Sandi*

        Try to find ones that get input from the people around you. The big problems with the popular tests are that they are often binary (introvert vs extrovert) without focusing on the spectrum, and more importantly the results describe one’s personal opinions rather than how one actually behaves.

        The Myers Briggs ‘test’ started when someone decided that they didn’t like their child’s fiancee and wanted an excuse to get rid of him.

      3. I am Emily's failing memory*

        My team did Lumina Splash this year. It’s pretty neat – it maps you onto a wheel with something like 10-12 different traits, and a “splash” in the center that extends further to each trait at edge the more aligned you are with that trait, and gives you 3 maps in total: what you feel like naturally, how you present at work, and how you present when you’re under stress.

        There’s also an app where team members can scan each other’s QR codes to overlay your splashes on each other and the app will offer little 1-2 sentence tips on each dimension for working with the other person, given your different inclinations – like telling you Beth feels most motivated when you can connect the piece they’re doing to the final product and impact, while telling Beth that you like to make decisions by talking through several possibilities, where each of you might not have otherwise realized those things are more important to the other person than they are to yourself.

      4. Tired Psychologist*

        Sure! Keep it focused on work, is my suggestion. So as an example, with my team we use our semesterly retreats to develop (or prioritize, if they are handed to us from above) team goals, which helps create a sense of buy-in. I then use part of the time to discuss how the team will achieve the goals – individuals discuss with the group what skills/experience they are bringing to the table, and also what skills they want a chance to develop or improve upon. Then create an action plan and divvy up tasks – you can use this info to inform folks’ annual reviews.

        1. AMT*

          This is…so, so refreshing. A work retreat with no invasive woo-woo tests or trust falls? Where actual work priorities are discussed? Sign me up!

    3. Jojo*

      I had a manager who was into astrology. He paired people to work together based off of their signs and everything. When I found out, I was gobsmacked. Not surprisingly, he was a terrible manager, and it’s been wonderful since he retired.

    4. PercyJax*

      Agreed! I had to do one recently as part of management training. And I asked about the research that backed up the test/categories. The most annoying part? I was categorized into a “data-driven” style, so they used that as evidence for the test being accurate. (And never sent me the promised research papers, despite me sending multiple reminders.)

      The only reason the test was helpful was as a reminder to me that different people approach work differently, and when managing, to keep those different approaches at the front of my mind. But their advice to “categorize” my employees in order for me to effectively manage them? Thanks, but no thanks.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I’m in a leadership training program now and have taken so many of those tests!

        I can’t wait to find out which Disney princess I am.

      2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        I’m a manager of people and also in my role work across the company with a lot of different people, of all levels. I do find things like the Myers Briggs useful as a framework for explaining what I know about that person and how they are likely to react to a situation, how they might want information presented, what types of tasks they might want to do, what they might struggle with, etc. I don’t use it to put people in a box or think “I won’t give them this project cos they are an ISTJ!” or whatever, but it is useful background information imo. I’m aware a lot of people will disagree with me on this.

          1. Hrodvitnir*

            Haha, I feel you. I am very strong on both thinking *and* feeling, and in fact the idea of regarding them as opposites has always struck me as totally bizarre. That’s not actually how our brains work (though there are people who represents extremes of one to the exclusion of the other.)

            1. Tau*

              Oh man, this has bugged me forever. Yes, it’s possible to be logic-oriented but also empathetic and sensitive to emotion! I tend to score XNXX on MBTI tests (as in, I/E, F/T and P/J can go either way) and don’t find it a super useful system of categorisation.

    5. Irish Teacher*

      This is a big complaint about learning styles too, that people identify as “I’m a visual learner so I won’t bother reading the textbook. I won’t learn anything from it anyway.”

      Personally, I do think learning styles have value if only to make students aware that reading the textbook isn’t the only way of learning and it’s worth experimenting with mindmaps, studying with friends, listening to audio versions, etc to see what works for you. But categorising people as “you’re a visual learner so can only learn from diagrams,” “you’re a kinaesthetic learner so you need to do everything hands-on or you won’t learn it is overly-simplistic and harmful.

      You can’t divide people up into neat little categories and assume that tells you everything about them.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        “Learning styles” was my PhD advisor’s biggest pet peeve. If anyone brought them up, they would get A Look at best and a fulsome explanation of why you can’t categorize people this way at worst.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          Ugh. And *what* you are learning is so important to *how* you are learning it.

          I cannot personally experience the Italian Renaissance, but I can read about it and experience the art and artifacts left from it.

          On the other hand, I cannot learn to swim by reading about it and watching others do it. I need to get in the water and actually do it.

          1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            Yes, I think there’s a big difference between learning information and learning skills.

      2. WantonSeedStitch*

        IMO, learning styles are most helpful for people doing teaching or training, because it’s a reminder that it’s a good idea to use multiple methods: walk people through a new software tool by having them use it while you direct them, but also provide a handout with written reminders of how to do tasks or use functions in it. Have little videos demonstrating different tasks that they can watch as a refresher. That kind of thing.

        1. peter b*

          I think what can grate at least for me about “learning styles” is that you’re right – it’s best practice to be multi-modal, but learning styles are framed as an individual preference where you learn best if that modality is catered to, which is not backed by evidence whatsoever. People may have preferences, and it is good to diversify methods while training, but that =/= learning styles myth as it’s usually used.

        2. Tired Psychologist*

          They really aren’t useful – all of the evidence demonstrates that when people use ‘learning styles’ to design lessons or training, individuals learn LESS than they do when they are taught in a way that helps them make meaning from the content/skills and connections to their prior knowledge. There’s a great youtube video by a prominent cognitive psychologist named Daniel Willingham that explains very briefly (6ish minutes) how we actually learn and process information, such that we can confidently say learning styles do not exist:

          1. Me...Just Me*

            I’d need far more than a YouTube video to agree with the premise that people don’t learn best via different modalities (learning styles). Empirically, we know that for many reasons, people do learn and process differently. We see it in the world around us on a daily basis, if we care to look. Whether we call it a “style” of learning is just semantics.

        3. UKDancer*

          Learning styles can be useful in proportion. For example I can’t learn to dance by watching you do the dance facing me because I can’t work out what I need to do. I need you to tell me in words or with physical contact which foot I’m using and where my arms need to go and what the counts are. This is useful to me because it gives me a good idea which dance teachers will work for me and which ones won’t.

          It’s probably less useful in a lot of other situations and at work I usually prefer a mixture, so explain it, then let me try it and then talk it though with me.

      3. allathian*

        Yes, I agree.

        Unless they have an actual disability, most people can learn something in any style, and often multi-modal is best because the different styles reinforce each other.

        However, as an adult learner, I’d rather talk about learning preferences. I hate instructional videos with the heat of a thousand suns, and I’d much rather read what I need to learn. I’m a fast reader, and I retain what I read much better than what I hear, and these days I resent the effort required to take notes.

    6. Lady_Lessa*

      Personally, I have found Myers-Briggs to be helpful in allowing me to understand myself, and only once do I remember using it in connection with others. I noticed a tendency in another person and chose to work to balance in the opposite way. Like someone being very unthinking of the effects on others, and making sure that I was concentrating on making their side known. (And that was contrary to my usual way).

      I do like that M-B points out that it is just tendencies rather than being set in stone.

    7. bamcheeks*

      I trained as an MBTI practitioner in a previous job, and whilst I know there are lots of concerns about the validity and reliability of the categories, what I actually took from it and still use is that your preferences don’t define your behaviour. “This is your preferred approach to X, but you can learn to use your less preferred approach, it’ll just take more energy and you’ll need to take that into account” is a really useful approach to lots of things, and I use that idea a lot in training and coaching. If someone is teaching MBTI as “this is your type, lean into it and never do anything differently” they’ve really missed the point of MBTI IMO.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        We had a really well-facilitated MBTI workshop at my office, and they were very clear that these were self-reported preferences and not any sort of diagnostic test or excuse for behaving poorly. The test was a small piece of the experience, and, as someone who’s not a fan of teambuilding stuff in the first place, I thought it was one of the better ones I’ve been subjected to over the years.

        I don’t think I ever heard anyone try to pawn off undesirable behavior on their MBTI results – I’ve certainly joked about mine, but I’m not one of the touchy-feely types and that fact would never been an acceptable reason to be a jerk in the office.

        1. bamcheeks*

          Yeah, the training I did heavily emphasised that it’s not a “test”, that which preference you think you are takes precedence over the questionnaire, and that you don’t have to share what you are with anyone if you don’t want to. All stuff I felt pretty ok about signing up to!

    8. PotsPansTeapots*

      THANK YOU. Myers-Briggs isn’t empirically supported and I’m tired of people looking like I have three heads when I say I don’t like it.

      1. 1LFTW*

        It’s more annoying when people think they can guess my MBTI type based on the fact I have that critique.

    9. Your Mate in Oz*

      I really enjoyed one small company where the boss’s new girlfriend was a personality-test cultist so the whole office got to do Myers-Briggs and a colour test. Being geeks we sat down beforehand and allocated results to people. The official day wasn’t huge fun, but the pub afterwards where we decided how well people had matched their assigned types and made people buy rounds of drinks if they had failed was great.

      Personally I find height a better predictor: it’s cheap and easy to measure and no less valid than any of the others. People whose height is a prime number are the worst coworkers, BTW.

    10. ENFP in Texas*

      As you can probably tell by my username, I like the personality tests. For me, the trick is not to use them as an excuse, but as an explanation about why I look at things a certain way.

      For me, that then enables me to find a way to deal with the challenge, instead of banging my head against a wall trying to understand why I have such a hard time doing mundane, routine, detail-oriented tasks.

      It also enables me to understand why other people don’t view things the same way I do, and take that into account when presenting information to them, looking for solutions, or understanding their point of view.

      In short, personality tests are a tool, not an excuse.

  4. Cobol*

    I somewhat disagree with the recommendation here. LW is portraying being a grump as a bad thing, but the report doesn’t think it is. LW you have every right as a manager to say bring a grump is bad – Alison says as much later on, but it seems like you’re trying to convince your report they aren’t something that they happily are.

    Also, are you interpreting your report’s body language and word choice using your own preferences? Frowning may just be their natural face. What are their actions? Do they take on as much new work as possible? When you did your behavioral study were you a cheerleader type?

    1. Dust Bunny*

      “using it as a crutch to excuse bad behavior like having a negative attitude about her work or being short or dismissive of coworkers.”

      This is a problem, though.

      1. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

        That fact that the Grump is willing to wave around what they believe is a Get out of Jail Free card that will excuse antisocial behavior is an even bigger red flag than their grumpiness.

        It means that the Grump fails to take personal responsibility for their actions, is unwilling to be corrected, and doesn’t care about the feelings of their coworkers. If the Grump somehow succeeded in entering management the next step would be abuse of subordinates.

      2. chewingle*

        Yeah, we all have not-quite-ideal personality traits that we have to subdue for the sake of doing our jobs competently or getting along okay-ish with coworkers. If your supervisor brings some concerning behavior to your attention, your responsibility is AT A MINIMUM to reflect on it (they could be wrong, which is why I don’t say you should change it). What LW describes is that the employee is immediately writing it off, almost in a “if you can’t take me at my worst…” kind of way. Which is not good and would make me wonder what would happen if I brought an even bigger concern to them in the future. It’s just generally not a good look.

    2. TechWorker*

      Wait did the report actually say she was a grump (?!?) rather than just something about being direct? I’ve seen some pretty hokey workplace philosophies but that seems pretty far…

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        It’s a little wild to me, too, but she did!

        From the letter: “Well, that’s just me. I’m a grump, everyone knows that’s my work style!” she’ll say in a light-hearted way.

    3. Fluffy Fish*

      Given OP says “frowning and scowling in meetings” they are indicating it is a specific behavior so not her natural face.

      All, and I do mean all, behavior/work style tests are bunk. And they notoriously cause problems with people justifying their behavior because they’re an “aU&(EHNF”

      I do agree however that the tact of OP trying to tackle their personality is not where it’s at. Good managers name the behavior directly and state also directly what needs to happen instead.

      1. Dulcinea47*

        I think people should do a lot less judging/guessing by facial expression. You do not know what people are actually thinking, you need to ask them.

        1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

          Well, sort of, but also kind of not. Facial expressions are communication, just as much as words are. And tone of voice and body language too. Yes, they are all imprecise, but so are words. I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask people to ignore part of what is being communicated.

          And really, I CAN know a lot about what someone is thinking by their face. If someone grimaces momentarily when I present a new idea, they probably have negative thoughts of some kind about it. If someone gets a thoughtful, intent look on their face, they are probably thinking about something.

          Most of the time I’ve been unhappy because of what someone read from my face, it was because they accurately read what I was trying to conceal. Not because they read the wrong thing.

        2. Smithy*

          That may be part of it, but I do think that – particularly as a woman – you know you have RBF, you need to be mindful when you’re relying on your face to communicate vs your words.

          Inspired by the scenario in the letter about negative facial expressions after an opportunity was offered. If your supervisor offers a growth opportunity, and it’s an opportunity you either want or are at least open to, and you know that your facial reaction might be misinterpreted – then utilizing a one-word answer like “sure” or “fine” allows for greater overall miscommunication. And if your voice risks being read for sarcastic, taking the time to say “Thanks for thinking of me, I’d like the chance to do X Assignment” deflates that.

          Personally, I found a cheesy smile along with “sure!” to be easier – but it’s entirely ok to decide on other methods of communication based on your preference. Where you open yourself up to critical feedback, especially in the workplace, is when you’re not supplementing what is lacked in body language with other words.

      2. Smithy*

        Yes – I think this goes for coaching around a lot of professional soft skills that can be aligned with personality traits.

        If I think of job tasks that some people like/appear to have natural talents at, like public speaking or networking, it’s entirely understandable that some people strongly dislike those tasks because of how they’re personally wired. And you can certainly pursue lines of work where you rarely or never have those tasks assigned to you. But at the same time, lots of growth paths benefit from doing those tasks, and doing them relatively well. And for people who don’t have a natural affinity to public speaking or networking, you can certainly improve – but it’s usually easiest when you focus on concrete steps vs personality traits. Great public speakers and networkers do often appear at ease and friendly. But that’s not how you’re going to give tangible advice.

        This is no different than why you’d give someone advice about more interpersonal relationships at work. Often people can hear they’re being told be “friendly” – when the advice is actually around “being approachable is beneficial at work because it invites people to ask you questions, raise concerns, etc.” and then is followed by suggestions around steps on how to change running a meeting, holding 1 on 1’s, having your office door open, etc.

    4. Mo*

      This was my question. There really wasn’t anything in the letter about actually negative things “grump” was doing, only that LW didn’t like her facial expressions and general negativity. I’m just curious if Grumperina is pushing back against the sort of enforced positivity that goes on in so many workplaces, or if this is something darker.

      Not really fighting for Grumps, but having removed myself from situations with a toxically positive manager, I can’t help wondering what specific examples LW would give, or what the rest of the team thinks.

      1. Smithy*

        I’d say the negative impact is that when growth opportunities are shared by the OP, Grumperina’s face appears to be displeased and then engaged in self-defeating talk. And while this may not have wide ranging negative impact, instead of framing it in the glass half empty/glass half full perspective – it’s confusing the OP about how best to work with Grumperina.

        If I was asked if I was open to replacing Simone Biles as the US Women’s gymnastic team’s captain because she was hurt – I’d screw up my face and go, omg I could never do that and would be a terrible replacement for Simone. Same conversation but with Shilese Jones or Leanne Wong…and that same reaction would be different. As someone who’s never done gymnastics, it’s a very sincere comment and I would be bad. For other members of the recent gold medal winning team, it would raise other questions around exactly what they mean (are they also hurt, not confident, are they thinking of retirement, etc).

        No doubt a lot of use sarcasm or snark when we’re nervous about succeeding at opportunities that we do want to do. Some of us are also offered random growth opportunities because our supervisors don’t have a lot of other options available that we do want to do. This has perhaps left the OP taking Grumperina seriously when sometimes she’s being sarcastic, and sometimes it’s work she doesn’t want to do – and the end result is much broader miscommunication – which is clearly negatively impacting Grumperina’s ability to progress at work.

      2. JimmyJab*

        From the letter: “I find she is using it as a crutch to excuse bad behavior like having a negative attitude about her work or being short or dismissive of coworkers.”

        1. Also-ADHD*

          Yes but the letter then goes on to categorize crossing her arms as an example of this “behavior” so what is she saying or doing that’s bad, I wonder?

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            She’s short and dismissive with coworkers, reacts negatively when offered opportunities, and scowls in meetings.

            I’m all for less policing of women’s faces when they’re neutral, but I also think we shouldn’t act like non-verbal communication doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter.

            1. Also-ADHD*

              Is crossing your arms being short and dismissive? Is it fair to control someone’s face and say they can’t scowl? Women are often labeled short and dismissive for being direct, and I think that’s where a lot of workplaces have common bias — which was why actual specifics would really help. And LW definitely needs better specifics to speak to the employee if there is an issue.

              1. Joron Twiner*

                We don’t need to debate whether Grumperina is actually being grumpy or not. We know she is because she says it herself: “she self-identifies as being a negative person/grumpy/“bad with people.””

                If you actually scowl in response to being asked to do something, you will face the social consequences, which is OP not giving her any more stretch opportunities.

              2. New Jack Karyn*

                “Is crossing your arms being short and dismissive? Is it fair to control someone’s face and say they can’t scowl? ”

                These are context-dependent. Crossing one’s arms, combined with other signals, can show impatience or defensiveness. If someone is looking at their own work, scowling can simply signal concentration or focusing on a knotty problem. But in conversation with others, it indicates displeasure, at the very least.

                Can we take the LW at her word that the worker is grumpy and unpleasant to her coworkers?

                1. Me...Just Me*

                  Yes! The LW has listed several things the “grump” is actually doing. Verbalizations, making excuses “I’m just a grump.”, scowling, crossing arms. — I think the LW has given us a pretty clear picture of what is going on. Now, just because a few commenters don’t believe that all these things add up to a problem (which I disagree with, btw), it is a problem for LW, who is this person’s manager. So, it’s affecting work. Thus, something needs to change.

                  Let’s just believe the LW.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        IDGAF about my coworkers’ underlying personalities as long as their behavior at work doesn’t make everyone’s jobs worse and doesn’t get in the way of getting stuff done.

        I worked with a woman who was a grump and the real problem was that she was short, dismissive, and, beyond that, meddlesome–if she felt like someone wasn’t doing things the way she thought they should be done (even though she had no authority over them) she would create fake work for them to do for her. She and I got along fine superficially but I was not at all sorry to see her retire.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      I’m genuinely spinning at the quotation “bad with people”??!! There are not many places were interpersonal skills aren’t basic expectations. If you’re still in nursery school, then possibly it’s only a goal, but it’s an important one! I would be seriously tempted to pull them aside and say “I’m assuming this a joke, but this language is really alarming and a terrible look for us. We do not need sales level charm, but we do have basic people skills in this department and it’s not okay to suggest we don’t.”

  5. per my last email*

    In my office our self-proclaimed grump was top of the list when we had layoffs last year. It was such a relief to all of us when they were let go – they were our production point person and very central to our workflow. The constant negativity made it really difficult to want to engage with them to the point where everyone did their best to find workarounds to bypass them.

  6. The Person from the Resume*

    Ugh, I know I can be pedantic, but “grump” isn’t even a “work style.” Grumpy can be a personality trait, but it’s one that makes a person hard to work with and not suited for jobs where you have to work with customers or coworkers. Being grumpy (bad-tempered, irritable, miserable) is not a personality trait conducive to high rating and certainly not promotion to higher levels and management.

    OTOH “direct” (honest, straight-shooter, not a sugar-coater) can be useful trait; “aggressive” not so much. Being uniformly “negative” is generally not useful at work either.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I thought “grump” probably wasn’t the official name for the work style in this system, but that’s how the person has interpreted it and now they are hanging on to the word grump. Probably the classification in the actual exercise was something more like “realist”, “task orientated”, “lone wolf” etc.

    2. Onomatopoeia Cornucopia*

      Grumpy (genuinely grumpy, not like kindhearded curmudgeon) barely qualifies as a personality trait, either. It’s just poor regulation skills for negative emotions, just as anger management problems would be.

      1. amoeba*

        I love “kindhearded curmudgeon” though! Because I was thinking through the whole discussion that there’s certainly a type of self-proclaimed grump that can be a great coworker but struggling to find a way to define them. This is great and I think every workplace can benefit from one of those!

  7. Jill*

    I feel like there are so many situations where we hope that the person engaging in the problematic behavior will suddenly gain the ability to read between the lines, or pick up on all the various context clues that have been presented to them over the years, but they just don’t. I’ve also noticed that a lot of us (and I’ve done this as well) feel like we *have* been direct enough with the person, but we haven’t been. If you work with people who are generally good at picking up on subtext and know how to receive indirect feedback then it can be tough or feel like you’re being overly abrasive to manage someone who does neither of those things. LW has my sympathy.

    1. MassMatt*

      So often the responses from Alison are “have you actually TOLD Wakeen to stop lighting the break room on fire?”. People will go through extraordinary lengths to avoid unpleasant conversations.

      And on the flip side, people will go through extraordinary lengths to not HEAR unpleasant things they don’t want to. As in, “Wakeen was surprised when I fired him after lighting the break room on fire after three warnings and a PIP”.

  8. Miss Muffet*

    I mean who wouldn’t love to have a work style as “missing deadlines” or “alienating clients”? Ha!

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      My work style is “gets paid to do nothing” so the company should just send me checks while I sit around, right?

  9. Ms. Murchison*

    If I was talking to the LW, I’d ask if this person also has RBF, besides scowling at meetings. If so, she might be embracing the “grump” identify partially to cope with the backlash against RBF.

    1. CLC*

      Or she just has an expressive face. My thought reading that part was who cares if she frowns?People are allowed to frown, especially at work. I agree that with the “grump” thing she might just be responding to messages she is getting about her personality.

      1. Dulcinea47*

        OH NO people are NOT allowed to have facial expressions! I’ve found it true in real life and tons of Allison’s answers reflect that you are, in fact, expected to have a neutral or pleasant expression at all times. (I think this is ridiculous. I don’t have to like everything. That doesn’t mean I won’t do a good job and be perfectly pleasant when it comes to doing the actual work.)

        1. CLC*

          Agree. I’m ND and have an extremely expressive face. Other than high school theater, it’s never been a good thing for me. It’s this part of the letter that really makes me wonder if this workplace has a toxic positivity problem (to use an extremely over used buzzword).

        2. Friendo*

          Of course you’re allowed to have facial expressions but, like any other form of communication, you can’t expect the other person to ignore what you’re saying.

          1. Willow Pillow*

            Why not? Is it really that hard to understand something like “I look angry when I’m concentrating”?

            1. Friendo*

              I think there is a big difference between someone looking angry while concentrating and someone whose face changes mid-conversation in reaction to what you’re saying.

              1. Willow Pillow*

                Not to everyone, though. Speaking from personal experience, this could be as simple as holding meetings virtually (so that the big reactions aren’t happening around everyone).

            2. Smithy*

              When you have a very expressive face, I actually think the burden/responsibility in a workplace then becomes relying more on your words.

              So if you’re called on in a meeting and asked if everything is ok, knowing where it’s coming from and answering as unbothered as possible that you’re concentrating but will let the speaker know if you have any questions. If it’s your boss and they ask you that a lot, then it’s possible to give more context in a one on one.

              I do completely get that women and ND people are regularly told things along the lines of “if you just smiled more…” type statements for the comfort of others. And some will decide that just “smiling more” is easiest. So having to regularly articulate ‘this is just my face’ is frustrating. But at work, if you give people the good benefit of asking in good faith (until proven otherwise), and answer likewise – I do think it starts from a basis of “we just are struggling to understand one another” as opposed to something more antagonistic.

          2. TechWorker*

            Right. If your expressive face is saying ‘wow you’re an idiot’, that’s not ok any more than actually saying it would be. There’s room for *some* compromise with people you work with regularly (as there is with any weakness at work) but ‘people should completely ignore my expression’ is.. not a reasonable expectation either :)

            1. Willow Pillow*

              I honestly don’t know what a “wow you’re an idiot” expression looks like. I’m not aware of any expression that would point decisively to that, and not to anything else.

                1. Willow Pillow*

                  I haven’t seen Castle nor said GIF. That’s the point I’m trying to make: facial expressions need context. Some have scientific backing as universally understood within any human culture – e.g. happiness, surprise, contempt, sadness, fear, disgust, anger. They need context beyond that emotion, though, and we have a tendency to insert it ourselves if it’s missing. Disgust could mean “wow, you’re an idiot”, or it could mean “wow, I left a gallon of milk in my car three days ago”.

                2. amoeba*

                  Well, an eye roll, for instance, is pretty univeral for annoyance. If somebody regularly rolls their eyes whenever coworkers suggest something they don’t like then yes, that’s very open, very rude criticism. Of course, it *could* be about something completely unrelated because you… weren’t actually listening? But the pattern would become obvious very, very quickly. Like, if you do it every time somebody says something you don’t agree with, it’s *probably* not a coincidence.

        3. The Linen Porter*

          Ah, I was just trying to visualise this. Let’s imagine one of those old silent films you have stereotyped characters with a lot of theatre makeup and overly dramatic facial expressions and say very expressive eyebrows and moustache for the villain – so you know it’s the villain. This our villain now gets bumped into a staff meeting with the Stepford Wives who all have taken their daily botox… ”You should smile more” say the Stepfords in unison, and the villain grins with Nosferatu teeth… Yeah, I can understand there might be misunderstandings.

        4. Orv*

          Yeah, I’m an introvert and I end up spending a huge amount of mental energy trying to police my own facial expressions and self-consciously worrying about them.

          1. Me...Just Me*

            I’m an introvert and never worry about this. I don’t think you can chalk it up to “introverts automatically have negative facial expressions”.

            RBF is a thing – but easily explained. Just verbally communicate well. “I’m pleased you thought about this opportunity for me.” “Wow, I’m surprised, but this is a good thing.”

            Truth is, we are responsible for how and what we communicate.

  10. CLC*

    It’s really not clear to me what exactly this person is doing and how exactly it is affecting her work. From what’s in the letter it could be anything from the OP *is* just criticizing her personality or thinks she should be more “positive” to she’s actually causing unnecessary conflict, making colleagues uncomfortable, not getting results because she can’t engage others, etc.

    1. Olive*

      “Being short or dismissive of coworkers” is pretty specific. Even if there isn’t much conflict and others bend over backwards to engage with her, allowing one person to be rude to coworkers isn’t creating a good working environment.

      1. Fluffy Fish*

        As is frowning and scowling in meetings and being negative.

        Being a pleasant person to work with is absolutely part of being a good employee. So many work problems seem to be people behaving poorly and management not doing anything about it.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          If she weren’t also rude and dismissive of coworkers, I’d let the frowning thing go. That could just be a “thinking face,” but based on the rest of the description, that isn’t the case.

        2. CLC*

          I have to disagree here. Being a “pleasant” person to work with is definitely a good thing, but it’s not necessarily critical to being a good employee. I’ve worked with countless people I wouldn’t necessarily characterize as “pleasant” but I can still respect them and appreciate their work as long as they aren’t hateful/bigoted, aren’t harassing anyone, etc., and they are getting their job done. Grumpy people need to eat. Annoying people need to eat. Even “rude” people need to eat. Part of being an effective leader OR colleague is recognizing that sometimes you work with difficult personalities and finding strategies for yourself for optimizing that relationship. And let’s not forget that yes, even now, women are criticized on their personality FAR more than men. If the person in question were a 60 year old man, would the LW still find their “grumpiness” to be a problem? Would they find frowning a problem? Or would they write it off as oh that Joe, he’s such a grump? I think that’s the first question the LW has to ask themselves. If they ultimately decide that this is in fact a real performance issue, then they have to make sure the feedback is given in a very constructive and specific way. Just saying “your coworkers find you unpleasant” isn’t useful at all. They need to reference specific examples where their work suffered and provide alternative solutions and things they could have done differently. My concern with this letter is that the writer themselves is concerned this may just be a critique of their employee’s personality. Alison often takes things at face value and I understand why she did that, but I feel like the nuance is missed in both the letter and the response.

          1. Uranus Wars*

            I would say I agree with all of these…particularly your example regarding Joe.

            However, it sounds like in this case they are working with their colleagues on projects where being unpleasant to work with impacts the ability to work closely together to get things done.

            1. Also-ADHD*

              I think the challenge I’m having is that it’s unclear it IS impacting projects because LW doesn’t really say that. I can see how there’s maybe an implication (but also maybe not?) to some people, but the only things stated directly are very easily biased like facial expressions and arm crossing, things that might be taken differently from a woman than a man etc. LW needs to reflect on specific actionable examples both to address it (things the report actually said—the one example given is calling themselves grumpy and even then after a work styles workshop apparently said that, which was weird to me that such a workshop happened, and that was either an official style given or a characterization of a style, but either way the report calling themselves grumpy in a light hearted way doesn’t excuse other behavior but also isn’t actually a bad thing to do, especially if you’ve been externally characterized that way by what sounds like a kind of toxic workshop day). It could be that the employee is rude but short and dismissive could also be direct and female at the same time. We don’t know the work product or results of any collaboration (though there has been cause to praise) or if when they’re short, it’s for a reasonable aim (anything from addressing a micro aggression to simply addressing an idea that logistically can’t work and has been previously discussed ad nauseum when someone waxes on about it and threatens for a meeting to run long). LW needs to be specific anyway to coach, but the only specifics they give here are kind of not “wrong” things and the “wrong” things are the judgements, not what happened (short and dismissive, but not what the report said or how it impacted the team).

              1. amoeba*

                The style in the workshop was described as “aggressive and direct”, which they then translated to “grumpy”, I believe?

      2. CLC*

        I don’t think it’s specific at all. There are no examples given. The LW also doesn’t say she’s rude. Being “short” with people isn’t necessarily rudeness. Being “dismissive” may be, but we don’t know exactly what the LW means by “dismissive.” If her stakeholder engagement skills need work and her work is suffering as a result, that’s a specific work performance issue and one that can be trained and coached on. The information provided in the letter isn’t enough to distinguish whether this is the case or others simply don’t like her.

        1. Willow Pillow*

          Agreed. This is not actionable feedback – “you roll your eyes and sign audibly whenever you are asked to put a cover sheet on the TPS reports” is actionable, for instance.

        2. Kel*

          “having a negative attitude about her work or being short or dismissive of coworkers.”
          “I have brought opportunities to her to take ownership and have more space for creativity, she has reacted negatively both through her body language (literally frowning and scowling in meetings) and through her commentary and a lot of self doubt and generally defeatist attitude).”

          These are pretty specific to me, and to LW they are enough to be concerned with this person’s ability to do their work, and to get promoted.

      3. SaltedCaramel*

        Not to mention that the employee in question us clearly aware of it and proclaiming it to people. I can easily excuse someone being short with me that one time because they had a bad day or whatever, but if somebody was being a jerk in the office and implying that they were going to continue to act that way… Yeah, I’d go out of my way not to work with that jerk.

    2. bamcheeks*

      Yes, I wasn’t clear on whether this is a problem in her current job, or just a barrier to her progressing, and I think those are two different things. And “we don’t think of you as a grump” definitely sounds like you’re more concerned about the team member/ self-esteem than their impact on others.

      I’ve worked with people who would be the grumpy or cynical one in team meetings, but were also unfailingly polite and kind or colleagues, reliable when you needed something, and generally did great work. I don’t think they needed any correction! If it isn’t actually having an impact on work relationships and they do good work and have positive relationships, I think that’s fine. But IME that is only true for individual contributor roles. “if you want to look at leadership and management roles, we’d need to see more positive buy-in and enthusiasm for the company vision, because you’d need to be able to lead others to believe in it too” is perfectly fair feedback.

      1. Also-ADHD*

        My manager is a grump and it’s part of why she’s great at her job in leadership—saying no, being a realist, and being the bad guy are also important sometimes. I guess it depends what we mean by grump, but I’d take her over those “positive vision” folks any day. She actually sees and addresses problems and admits when vision and reality don’t match.

        1. Despachito*

          I think there is a HUGE difference between constructive grumpiness (meaning that the person is able to see potential issues that may ensue from a solution and wants to take them in account), and Debbie-Downer style grumpiness, when the person criticizes everything but does not come with a real solution.

          The only one needing addressing is the second one, the first one is in fact a useful feature.

          Although the Debbie Downer trait is mostly up to the person to resolve, it might be worth considering for the manager whether there are some underlying reasons this person reacts like that. (I can imagine a lot of things that make her genuinely unhappy and would be the manager’s call to resolve).

          But I’d keep in mind that these are two separate things – even if Debbie does have a point, her solution to that (being grumpy and unpleasant) is a wrong one.

        2. biobotb*

          How did you decide those traits = grumpy? You can say no, be a realist and take responsibility for things without being rude and dismissive.

  11. Kali*

    I am not a happy person, in general. I am demanding of myself and others, and I don’t suffer fools lightly. I do not care for a lot of my work, and my workplace is a highly toxic environment that caters to a specific group of people that I do not belong to. I am, in my own head, very grumpy a lot of the time.

    You would never know this. I am helpful, cheerful, and all-around a good coworker. Sometimes, I get quiet and don’t engage, particularly when politics come up – I’m not known as overly social (the toxicity is helped by the “we’re all family here” attitude that makes turns a lot of work friendships into personal ones, while I abstain). I take on extra projects and answer questions. When asked about my growth and development, I state that I am happy where I am but am always willing to learn more skills, while I internally consider whether spearing myself with a spork would be more or less pleasant than promoting. All my negative thoughts are in my own head. I’m not hiding my personality – I’m not bubbly or gregarious – but the ‘grump’ stuff is carefully hidden, because it’s a highly collaborative environment that requires me and my coworkers to get along. When I’m in a particularly bad mood, I remain placid and professional. It’s not easy at times – I had to rather shortly tell my coworker to (again!) stop talking about a topic that is deeply upsetting to me the other day – but my facade makes my life and everyone else’s lives so much easier.

    Jane’s behavior is not doing that, and she needs to stop, and it’s not unreasonable to tell her that she has to act professionally.

    I will say that a lot of women are perceived as being aggressive and unhelpful and *****y when they’re just straight-forward and honest (traits that are often celebrated in men as being “assertive”), but this sounds like not that.

    1. JP*

      Yes…I’ve found that my “niceness” seemed to invite certain types of coworkers to take advantage of my time and energy at work.

      1. Kali*

        Absolutely, this happens a lot. Women especially are socialized to be helpful and nice at all times, even if it can literally put them in harm’s way. When women *aren’t* bending over backwards to be helpful – when they say things like “that’s not my job, I can’t help you” – they’re labeled as bitchy. It’s infuriating.

        I wish we had more examples of what Jane was doing, but being being “short and dismissive of coworkers” and being negative about projects she requested is beyond that, I think. LW should examine what exactly Jane is doing to make sure she is simply not being overly nice like women are socialized to be, whereas a man doing the same would not be penalized or criticized.

      2. CLC*

        YUP. This person may just be trying to protect herself and hasn’t quite figured out the best way to do it yet.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          The best way to do that would be by addressing it first with the offending coworkers and then with their and her supervisors. Being grouchy and obliquely negative is both unpleasant and doesn’t usually get the results you want.

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Solidarity – I am the crankiest, most easily annoyed person I know. You know who has no idea about that? 99% of the people I work with, including 100% of my direct reports.

      1. RussianInTexas*

        Yes, I roll my eyes internally and I get annoyed at coworkers internally.
        “Internally” is the key word here.

        1. CLC*

          I’m ND and have always found it really difficult not to show my thoughts on my face. It’s much better than when I was younger, but most of the time I don’t even know I’m rolling my eyes or whatever. Even when actively trying not to, sometimes my face still shows everything. Luckily I am really good at working with others and I take time to form good relationships, so now it’s usually seen just as a quirk, which it is. I agree it’s not a great thing to have, but just pointing out that some people actually do struggle with this.

          1. RussianInTexas*

            Even when people do straggle with it, being short and dismissive with coworkers, regardless of what you think of them is not going to create good work enviroment.

          2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            Also neurospicy, and my eyebrows have opinions of their own. I keep my camera off as often as possible, and it does totally help keep my crank on the downlow that I work from home so nobody can see the faces I’m making. My recent triumph is that a team member told me, in a cameras-on 1:1, that yes, they knew they had 60+ hours of unapproved/unaccounted-for non-productive time on their timecard for the month, no, they didn’t really have an explanation for that, stuff happens, and I managed to get through that whole conversation without either my eyebrows flying off into orbit or asking them “No seriously what on god’s green earth were you thinking, that nobody would notice that?” (Which would have been a totally valid question, but not very productive. :P )

    3. Stuckinacrazyjob*

      I was so confused when my former boss said I was cheerful and positive but then realized I had only verbalized cheery things and my constant whining and bitching was unsaid

    4. NotAnotherManager!*

      Same, almost word-for-word. I laugh every time I hear “bring your whole self to work” – trust me, y’all do not want to see my whole self. I’m here for the paycheck, and being professional, collaborative, and helpful is part of the job. I just finished a months-long project with a coworker who drives me straight up a wall, and no one except my spouse and my cats know exactly how I feel about them.

  12. JP*

    I wish there had been specific examples of what the employee was doing that was causing issues. I’ve been accused of not being “nice” enough, but I find the type of nice that I’m expected to be feels very phony and sexist. I have coworkers who are on the other end of the spectrum, to the point where they make coworkers uncomfortable. So I always kind of wonder with these situations where everyone is coming from with their expectations.

    1. CLC*

      This was my comment as well. It’s really not clear what exactly she is doing and how it is affecting her work. It’s kind of a red flag to me that the OP mentions that she frowned when presented with a new project. She’s probably just assessing the situation or whatever. It’s not super savvy to just melt into gratitude and positivity at every new thing at work. It’s fine to express negativity or indifference, scrutinize, ask questions, recognize constraints, etc.

      1. JimmyJab*

        “She has reacted negatively . . . through her commentary and a lot of self doubt and generally defeatist attitude.” She didn’t just frown per the letter.

        1. Uranus Wars*

          I took this as three different things when assigned an extra project, but said in the same conversation:
          1) commentary (really? I have to do this extra thing?)
          2) self-doubt (I don’t know why you are asking me, I can’t do it anyways)
          3) defeatist (well, I guess if you think I can and are saying I have to, I will)

          1. Me...Just Me*

            Are any of those expressions (verbalizations) appropriate, though? I don’t care if they’re singular or grouped together — but they don’t convey a positive (especially if communicated while frowning) and accompanying generalized “grumpy” behavior.

            One can’t ASK for more projects and responsibilities and then react that way when given them — and expect it to go well.

    2. Dorothea Vincy*

      The letter said “being short or dismissive of coworkers.” That is specific. If someone thinks that’s acceptable behavior because “I’m a grump,” they need to be talked about about it.

      1. JP*

        I do not find that specific enough, given the content of the letter. Is she blowing off coworkers while they’re trying to explain something to her, or is she telling them to stop singing in the office? There’s a whole spectrum.

        1. Dorothea Vincy*

          “Short and dismissive of coworkers” is rude whatever she’s doing. And even if her coworkers are singing in the office, there’s still a spectrum of behavior. If she yells at them “SHUT THE F— UP!”, which, who knows, she might, since we’re speculating? Still her fault.

          1. Willow Pillow*

            Nope! I frequently do things that are generally referred to as “short and dismissive” – not saying hi to others in the morning, not making eye contact, not giving someone’s Teams message a full answer when I’m working on a time-sensitive thing… There is no universal meaning of those words.

            1. Kel*

              Sure, but are those things affecting your work? Are they things your boss would take issue with?

              Then they’re a problem. If they aren’t, great.

              1. Willow Pillow*

                I suspect my answer got lost in moderation… these things have frequently been a problem, but when the root of said problem is subtle, pervasive illegal discrimination it’s not nearly as cut-and-dried as your comment implies.

                1. 2e*

                  Absolutely true. A couple of my supervisors have described me as ‘difficult.’ Both of those supervisors discriminated against me in overt ways, and I think their assessments of me as ‘difficult’ we’re basically misogynist/ableist.

                  But was I ultimately more ‘difficult’ in those workplaces than I have been in others? For sure, because at some point it’s impossible to respond to abuse with a Good Attitude. That sounds like circular logic, but in practice it’s a linear progression; they push until you can’t be smiling and agreeable, and suddenly your unsmiling disagreeability is retroactive justification for treating you poorly in the first place.

                  (Those two supervisors aside, my old bosses would almost certainly *laugh* at the suggestion that I’m a difficult employee. Imperfect in some ways, sure, but not difficult or disagreeable.)

                2. amoeba*

                  Yes, but there’s zero evidence for that in the message, so basically that’s fanfiction in this context?

                3. Willow Pillow*


                  I’m speaking of my own experience in reference to the comment that “‘Short and dismissive of coworkers’ is rude whatever she’s doing”.

            2. Dorothea Vincy*

              I mean, I hope you’re not screaming “SHUT THE F- UP!” at coworkers, since you replied “Nope!” to a comment that said someone who did it would be at fault. If you are, then yeah, you’re the one with the problem, not them.

              1. Willow Pillow*

                My “Nope!” was in response to your first sentence…

                “‘Short and dismissive of coworkers’ is rude whatever she’s doing.”

                Speaking of dismissive, your response addresses that single word and not any of the context that follows it.

                1. Dorothea Vincy*

                  Hey, you know what, I also find “Nope!” extremely dismissive! I’m glad we found common ground.

        1. Ginger Cat Lady*

          Yeah, and it’s often lobbed at women who speak directly.
          “Don’t talk about my body, Mike.” can be considered short and dismissive to people who think that Mike should be let down more gently when he is just “giving out compliments” about the shape of the marketing manager’s ass.
          (Seen that)
          “Make your own coffee, Bob & Bill.” can be considered short and dismissive, but if Bob and Bill expect a peer to make them coffee because she’s the only woman on the team, it’s what needs to be said.
          (Also seen that, multiple times)
          Women get to be direct, they don’t need to soften everything with long speeches, and sometimes they need to dismiss the sexist expectations. It doesn’t mean they are doing anything wrong.
          So “Short and dismissive” isn’t anywhere near enough info to know if the problem is with the employee or with the expectations of how women should behave.

          1. Apple Townes*

            Great point. See also “my name is Caroline” in a short, clipped tone to a male client who has just addressed Caroline as “sweetie.” Seen that, too.

            I have to say I disagree with the conventional rule Alison often cites on here that people should have warm, pleasant attitudes in the workplace by default. My warmth is for people of whom I am fond, or whose company I enjoy. That applies to some people I work with, but not all of them. I resent the expectation that I should perform warmth and pleasantness towards people I don’t care for, or in an environment that isn’t particularly pleasant itself. I’m there to do the work because I need a paycheck, not because it’s my calling to enrich a corporation 40 hours a week. And as long as I’m not overtly hostile to anyone, I’d prefer that my attitude be my own business. But maybe I’m just a grump!

              1. Apple Townes*

                That’s kind of my point. As long as a person’s behavior isn’t overtly hostile, their attitude/temperament should not be up to their manager (or anyone else at their workplace) to police.
                Generational differences, cultural differences, and unconscious bias all play into how someone is perceived at work, and it’s incredibly subjective! For example, the LW did not use the word “rude” in their letter, but dozens of commenters have used it to label their team member’s conduct based on how they perceive what the LW described. I would argue that “rude” is in the eye of the beholder. There are also well-documented double standards when it comes to how behaviors are perceived depending on the gender of the person performing them (i.e.: some people describe men who are assertive and dominant as “strong leaders” and women who conduct themselves the same way as simply “bossy”).
                Another example: some people (often younger/ Gen Z folks) read punctuation in text messages as passive aggressive, whereas people who didn’t use texting until they were adults tend to use it as a matter of grammatical correctness/professionalism. If I text a coworker “Thank you.” and they perceive a negative tone because I used capitalization and a period, am I being rude?
                There’s just too much gray area and individual, personal perception at play when it comes to other people’s personalities and attitudes. Short of name-calling, yelling, harassment, etc., as long as someone is doing what they’re paid to do, just let them live.

  13. e271828*

    1. If someone says “I’m bad with people,” why not believe them and offer them a coaching class or something? There can be so many reasons beyond (apparently willful) grumpiness to be “bad with people” and many ways of being “bad with people.”

    2. On the other hand, the “company-wide professional growth workshop” has a lot to answer for here. In her shoes, labeled as a grump in front of everyone (which certainly had consequences for her social standing and reputation in the company), I might just double down on that characterization. And maybe look around for another position. On the whole, I think the employer may have called this situation into being.

    Be careful; names have power.

    1. Anon For This #554*

      “Bad with people” can also be used to refer to introverts finding dealing with people to be exhausting.

      1. Me...Just Me*

        I guess?! But, it could also be said about anybody for anything? — Not sure what the point is. Being an introvert doesn’t give anyone a *pass* on bad behavior (and in this context, I’m using bad as a descriptor for unprofessional/unwanted behavior). Just because something may require more effort from one person as compared to the next, doesn’t mean that it is an inappropriate expectation.

        I’m very much introverted and don’t think that “bad” behavior is permissible in a professional context. Your coworkers are stuck working with you; you’re spouse can always leave.

        And, just because people allow some men to act inappropriately doesn’t mean it’s right. If Joe is a jerk and has gotten away with it, it doesn’t mean that we should just let everyone act like jerks. Let’s start holding Joe accountable rather than devolving into an environment where we think that kind of behavior is okay.

  14. Grumpy Canadian - Not Sorry*

    OMG, I self identify as a grump and I would never dream of acting like that to co-workers (or customers, or friends, or anybody)

    Such a huge difference between “I am grumpy and my bff and I have a sarcastic chat running to snark on the side” and “I am grumpy and you all just have to deal”

    With good side channels to discretely let the sarcasm and snark over the things that make you grumpy about a given situation out elsewhere, it is absolutely possible to be friendly, constructively engaged, and pleasant to coworkers.

    My misanthrope tendencies should never be my coworkers’ problem.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I relate to this on a fundamental level. Nobody has ever accused me of being an optimist. And no, I didn’t change my username to reply today. But I keep things professional, productive, and friendly. I am often the one to point out flaws and problems, but always in the context of making stuff better. Heck, in a performance review in the last year, my manager noted that one of my key strengths is making people feel comfortable and at ease. I can be internally grumpy, I just don’t let it affect my work and relationships with colleagues.

    2. Angstrom*

      Or my customer’s problem. I may be seething and muttering “RTFM” through clenched teeth, but my customer sees Patient Helpful Support Person.
      My colleagues deserve the same level of professional behavior.

  15. RetiredAcademicLibrarian*

    Grump can be light-hearted (my mom grew up near a town that elected a town grump every year, the candidates were all self-nominated and it was all in fun), but when it affects your working relationships, it’s gone beyond light-hearted.

  16. Olive*

    I googled “work style test grump” to see if something came up for an actual (awful) test result. Although it doesn’t mean that such a test doesn’t exist, nothing came up, so I’m wondering if “grump” was a word this employee came up with on her own instead of one assigned to her.

    It doesn’t make these types of tests any more valid, but it does sound like a possible misinterpretation of being told that she’s direct and no-nonsense.

    1. The Person from the Resume*

      so strongly identified with her more aggressive and direct work style

      It actually doesn’t sound like the work style was called “grump” or “grumpy” more likely direct and aggresive which, you know, is not actually the same as grumpy and instead the LW’s employee is using “grump” herself.

    2. Rh1812*

      I wondered this too. It would be pretty bad if the work styles test actually categorized her as a “grump.” But if it categorized her as “direct and assertive,” she’s reacting oddly.

  17. Nomic*

    Reminds me of a .gif I saw: “You’re not a Pisces, Karen. You’re just an asshole.”

    Same may apply here.

  18. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    I’m grumpy too, but I keep my game face on at work. The workplace is not an appropriate forum to showcase all your unpleasant quirks. None of us are here because we enjoy hanging out together. Let’s not make it harder on ourselves to get through the day – that’s hard enough as it is.

  19. zinzarin*

    I think it’s important to address the “professional growth workshop” that supplied the employee with this label and language.

    Note that the goal of these kinds of activities is not to bless all styles as equals or as equally effective, but rather to identify each person’s style so that they can *use* that knowledge to be better at their jobs. Interpreting “the workshop told me I’m a grump” as *license* to just be a grump is the wrong outcome of that process. The right outcome is to use your knowledge of your grumpy self to find ways to work better with others and produce better output.

  20. Popcorn enthusiast*

    well then I guess it’s time to update my self-described in office personality as ‘not-so-grump’

  21. Raisin Walking to the Moon*

    That first letter kind of triggered me. My mom has used, “that’s just who I am!” to excuse verbal abuse my whole life, and it took me a long time to understand how “is” is different from “does.”
    People are expected to control their behavior for the good of a group all the time. It’s arguably the very foundation of civilization, that we work together instead of just following our own self-interest.
    “Who I am” is a talkative shopaholic who likes being naked. I don’t bring any of that to work.

  22. pally*

    Surprised team member hasn’t suffered consequences of some kind- coworker avoidance, omitted from work social events and/or group projects, someone losing their temper -at her-over the dismissiveness. No complaints lodged with any member of management about the grumpiness?

  23. OverEasy*

    I often dislike these work style tests. BUT when I’ve found them useful it’s not to explain myself but others. It’s so I know Sansa prefers really understanding things and Arya doesn’t want the details and just to get straight to it. None of it is excuse but a guide. And it’s more about others than yourself. Ideally these tests should identify some of these traits as potential weaknesses or obstacles for the person to keep in mind. It’s not validation, it’s explanation.

    Every work style has its own pros and cons and it should give you opportunities for growth. Maybe this framing could be useful to LW? Like saying “I know you are a Type X and so you tend to excel most in independent work. But I need you to work on stretching those collaborative muscles more because that’s an important part of your job.”

  24. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    “You need to get along with co-workers and be reasonably pleasant and easy to work with, and it’s not okay to opt out of that or to explain it as ‘work style,’ just like your work style couldn’t be ‘missing deadlines’ or ‘alienating clients.'””

    Hear, hear!

  25. Jamie (he/him)*

    Never done one of these bananapants personality test/let’s find new ways to divide people in the name of cohesiveness! nonsense things, but… yeah, I’m a grump too.

    And knowing that I’m a grump means I have to go out of my way to make sure that my being a grump never, ever impacts on coworkers (and never, ever, never on people I’ve managed).

    It’s fine to be grumpy, and there’s some useful superpowers that being grumpy gives you – the ability to see through marketing speak and management BS, for instance – but we grumps have to keep our Superman/Clark Kent sides separate, especially with people we work with.

    If we don’t, we’re not being a grump, we’re being a PITA – and, as ever, Alison’s advice over on Inc is correct: LW needs to address the PITA issues as these are only tangentially related to being a grump.

  26. Coverage Associate*

    I do think it’s possible that an employee may need more explanation of “short” and “dismissive.” Communication norms differ across cultures and professions.

    Healthcare generally gives more direct instruction, even in non critical contexts, than normal office jobs, in my experience, as an example.

    1. Me...Just Me*

      …umm, you could be talking about me. I try to dial it down at home, though. Good thing it’s normal at work, expected, even. Actual work conversations go:
      “lung sounds? Diabetic? What are we looking at for blood sugar?” — “what’s that wound look like?” “just do an EKG and get a urine.” — when talking about patient specifics. Now, just plain old discussions, I talk like a normal person at work with all the niceties thrown in.

  27. Grumpy, Sleepy and Sneezy*

    Until I got to the second to last paragraph I was wondering if this letter was about me. For various reasons my boss recently had to talk to me about my tone and approach to other people (all of whom I really really like!), including but not limited to my use of jokes/sarcasm to defuse tension, as well as how I give notes/feedback. She said something like “I know it might feel like I’m asking you to change your whole personality in your 40s…” It kind of didn’t until she said it! But anyway it led to a period of serious self-reflection, taking some online classes on communication skills and stress management, meditating more and talking less, and it’s really been eye-opening! I guess my coworkers would have to weigh in to truly know but I feel like it’s going well. And it really woke me up to how stressed/burned out I’d been, which was the reason for a lot of my grumpiness!

    Anyway all of this to say that Allison’s advice is spot-on. I’m still a grump! There’s a lot in the world to be grumpy about! But it’s important to know how other people are perceiving and responding to you, especially if there’s a decent chance you’re not coming off as intended.

  28. Just me*

    Someone can be a grump/direct/ whatever without being abrasive. I think OP needs to focus on helping this person understand that the problem is how they are coming across to others around them and how this is limiting their likelihood of advancement since that was mentioned as a goal.
    By all means identify specific actions that create the negative effects and give alternative actions that would turn things around without being fake.
    Don’t expect this person to suddenly become all sweetness and light!

  29. Hiring Mgr*

    Grumps are in the eye of the beholder sometimes too. We see letters here often about not wanting to participate in ice breakers, or have work friends, or talk about your weekend and so on. That could be seen as ‘grumpy’ by some

    1. Me...Just Me*

      Not wanting to and actually not doing it – or worse, verbalizing negativity surrounding this activities to coworkers while at work, are two different things.

      We may all, at some point, not like doing something – but that doesn’t give us a pass on doing it or mean that we have to make others’ *aware* that we are dissatisfied with it.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, this.

        There’s a huge difference between giving a neutral and uninformative answer to an icebreaker or a “how was your weekend?” question if you don’t want to share anything more personal, and telling everyone how much you hate participating in non-work conversations. Thinking the latter is fine, but saying so can make things unnecessarily difficult for you at work, especially if you’re also visibly judgmental of employees who want to cultivate their relationships with coworkers by going to lunch or grabbing a coffee together, for example.

        I’m fairly introverted and simply don’t have the people energy to hang out with my coworkers after work all that often, although because I mostly work alone, I have enough people energy to socialize with my coworkers on my lunch and coffee breaks. I still mostly WFH, so when I do go to the office, I spend a part of the day cultivating relationships with my coworkers, i.e. socializing. I get more work done WFH, and my manager knows that. But I’m a happier employee if I get to socialize with my coworkers in person sometimes, and thankfully we have our manager’s approval to do that.

        I’d hate to work in an environment where employees are expected to be friends outside of work. I have a few work friends, but that’s as far as I’ll go. I’m not interested in cultivating these friendships outside of work. I guess I must be doing something right because I can almost always find a work friend or two at the office to grab a coffee or go to lunch with, but nobody’s approached me to hang out together after work for years.

  30. EmmaPeel*

    Did one of these in a previous workplace and I was analyzed as one of the direct, command types. A colleague (there were only six of us) was sharing feedback with all of us and said, “I’m so glad I’m not a ____–I mean, who’d want to be a ____?”

    Me. I would. Right over here. Allow me to directly command you to shut up.

    I think there’s something to be said for some of these tests, but there are just as many inherent biases against different types, particularly when related to gender, as in anything else. I’m definitely projecting, but it’s possible that the “grump” heard so many times that she was too direct, too aggressive, too not-like-the-rest-of-us that she just decided to embrace it.

  31. I honestly wonder if this was written about a specific person I know*

    I know someone who fits this description (and declares it to be his brand). It’s so frustrating and this person seems to go out of his way to *add* grumpy opinions to things (almost like a devil’s advocate type thing). Work meetings being derailed aside, I was also the focus of a ranting twitter thread when I shared a tweet that was advertising a job (warehouse position in a different city in the state we both lived in). He went on a huge rant about how all tech related jobs can be done from home so it shouldn’t specify a location. When I pointed out that it said in the tweet that it was a position physically handling things in a warehouse, he didn’t even stop the rant but doubled down.

    1. Anon For This #554*

      I misread “grumpy opinions” as “grumpy onions” for a second and now I can’t stop laughing.

  32. starkradio*

    I have a supervisor like this. I’m tired of it. Now when they are angry, I pointedly ask “Why are you angry?” and their usual comeback is to growl, “That’s just who I am,” which is, I then reply, “Unacceptable!” Unfortunately, efforts to deal with this have been stymied by disinterested mgmt. Which means one has to go the official route with a letter… and then deal with the fallout.

    This whole “This is just who I am” stance is a thing, and it needs to be gone imho.

  33. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    To quote Dr. Raquel Martin (video linked below, it’s worth watching the whole thing): “If you feel as though you’re irritated all the time, angry all the time, upset all the time, something is wrong. That is not a hallmark of your perosnality. However, the reason why you may not be able to separate your actual core personality from this signifigantly consistent mood is because the thing that contributes to your mood being irritable and angry and upset is around you. It’s your environment.”

    Grump may need to do some looking at their family, job, etc. to figure out what makes them such a grump. I think we all know it’s their job, right? Especially given the body language in meetings. As someone else said, soft skills ARE job skills. Time to start setting expectations and coaching.

  34. workworkwork*

    People are different and strong teams need all kinds of people. However, too many people use “I’m grumpy” to excuse rude behavior. Basic communication skills and workplace manners should be something people can agree on.

    I am a person who first sees the possibilities of a situation -the optimist many of you seem to loathe. I like new ideas and my first thought is “how could we do that? or “that’s an interesting idea–let’s explore more!”

    So, I recognize that I have a perspective and so do other people–and we come at things from different angles. It’s really important to have a good mix of perspectives on any team or you wind up with blind spots…

    I value someone who can say:
    –I’m not seeing how that will work, can you explain further”
    –I have concerns about this.
    –wait a minute we need to think about ABC
    –I think we need to slow down because…
    –when we did this previously it didn’t work out so well because…
    I don’t’ think this is a good idea because….

    What I don’t value is somebody:
    saying that’s ridiculous
    sighing dramatically
    rolling their eyes
    saying where did you get that crazy idea
    Calling me Pollyanna because I see something different from them
    saying you just keep thinking that honey you’ll learn soon enough
    using other dismissive language or gestures

    There’s a difference between being a person who puts the brakes on and challenges a group to consider risks/concerns, , and being somebody who is just cranky and using “grumpy” because you don’t like someone or because you want to shut somebody down or “put them in their place.”

  35. Nikki*

    My husband is this grump – he was told at work that he needs to be more personable – like thank people when they give him some paperwork. But his attitude is that he isn’t going to “thank” someone for giving him more work. He’s expected to cover his co-worker’s work when she’s gone but no one picks up the slack when he’s gone so he has more on his plate when comes back. He often has to physically cover another area – so his work isn’t getting done. They need to hire another person instead of asking him to work more free overtime.
    I guess my point is to make sure you are supporting the employee as far as making sure there is enough coverage and that isn’t the reason for the grumpiness.

  36. el l*

    It’s not your responsibility or your job to figure out “her deal”. What is your job to get the best work out of her and to have her be the most effective team member. So let’s focus on the identified problems, as far as you’re concerned.

    She appears to be self-sabotaging, inflexible, and with a bad attitude towards her own work. And she appears to be treating her colleagues similarly – with dismissive behavior and a vocal and negative attitude – which brings down her colleagues and the overall team’s work. You need that attitude to stop – both to allow her to realize her potential and also to improve the team’s overall team’s functioning – and it’s on her to figure out how to get there.

    Say that.

    [Note: This person sounds like they’re cruising to get fired, but there’s no need to make that threat right now. Give them a chance to be good first]

  37. Anon For This #554*

    Is…The Grump really grumpy?

    OP really undercut themselves here by making it about the personality type, and definitely by associating the type with negativity. That means it’s also inherently linked to the work-related skills and traits that put The Grump into that category.

    I could easily see The Grump thinking she’s trying to lightheartedly deflect what feels like a personal attack, especially if the supposed scowl is her thinking face. Or using “grump” as shorthand to end awkward conversations with her manager.

    Of course she had self-doubt! She’s being told her skills and personality are terrible and must change!

    This situation highlights a situation where people are so far apart, their messages are in completely different worlds, not just different languages.

    OP statement: “You say you’re not good with people. We don’t see you that way.”
    Potential Grump reaction: “You don’t see or understand me at all, apparently. People are really difficult for me.”

    OP encouragement: “Be more positive.”
    Potential Grump reaction: “What kind of advice is that? I need these critical thinking skills to do my job. Stop interfering with my ability to get work done. Don’t people get promoted by being good at their current job? Besides, I don’t have to be your bubbly clone to get promoted. Why do you keep harping on me?”

    OP encouragement: “Great job with that collaborative team project!”
    Potential Grump reaction: “Don’t patronize me; you weren’t there for the meetings and have no idea what happened.”

    OP statement: “Hey, how about this collaborative opportunity?”
    Potential Grump reaction: “Oh…yet another group project. I wanted the creative freedom to be trusted to do my own project for once.”

    OP’s sheer inability to communicate with their team in a manner that wasn’t completely disjointed had nothing to do with the personality test. The Grump was never going to pick up on OP’s point, because OP never articulated it clearly.

    1. The Linen Porter*

      This exactly.

      Also I wonder whether we are seeing a coping mechanism of some sorts here: ” “She has reacted negatively . . . through her commentary and a lot of self doubt and generally defeatist attitude.” ”

      1. The Linen Porter*

        Coping mechanism…. OK so my approach to this…. We are having here a ”creative” group. Maybe the ”grump” is self-concious, perfectionist… and knows it. Maybe they have had a traumatic ”I am not good enough” phase with their work before, and try to psych themselves to a deliverable baseline. As the OP says they do deliver… maybe that ”negativity” is downplaying their skills because they have encountered other (maybe even current colleagues) that have a ”can do-attitude” but they are full of… hot air. And Grump doesn’t want to be mistaken for being full of hot air. And knowing they are going to stress they want to get the expectations to the lowest denominator so they can cope without going overboard.

        Come to think of it I know people… I know myself doing that sometimes… some random handyman work… I know how it should be done, I know I can get it to a certain level… and I am certain it’s a horrid bodge and I still get praise… ”looks excellent” ”…but, but, there is an underlying crack and the paint will peel off in 10 years…” And I might be somewhat short and dismissive with people full of… hot air, now that I think of it.

        1. Anon For This #554*

          Exactly! I realize what I wrote above is hypothetical, but it’s well-based in personal experience from a similar incident with someone I kept stopping from doing illegal things. (Fortunately, minus the personality test.) Coping mechanisms are almost certainly in play if this went on for any length of time.

          Regardless of The Grump’s real interpretations, there’s something else going on here that’s hidden by the lack of detail. I wish there was an update – from both sides!

    2. Me...Just Me*

      This person sounds so exhausting to manage! I wouldn’t have the patience or stamina to put all the effort needed into bringing this negativity into productivity – and if it continued, the person would likely find themselves out of a job. If every positive is met with a “reason” to be negative, that’s something that cannot be coached out of a person. Does the Grump WANT to be employed doing this work? — that would be my question. If they are so intent on being miserable and trying to make others’ miserable, it’s probably for the best if they move on. No manager has the energy (time, responsibility) to coddle someone to this extent. At least, anywhere I’ve worked. There seems to be a concerted effort on the part of your “grump” to be offended/hurt/upset (GRUMPY) about even the most innocuous statement. That’s not professional.

  38. avocado affogato*

    To be honest I’d rather this ‘grump’ than all the fake people I work with. I mean being positive and having normal relationships with co-workers is one thing, this continued ‘fakeness’ and exaggerated positivity is just patronizing

  39. Anon for this*

    Something we could consider more broadly is the professional context. I don’t think this applies to OP, of course, as I think they have given an accurate letter about a tricky situation.

    I’m aware of a large company that has had to do a deep dive into its bullying/discrimination issues. They hired a professional outside consultancy to fix these issues which turned out to be very embedded in company culture. The company’s difficulty is that people who attempted to raise the issues or discuss their experiences were instantly shot down for negativity and framed as the problem.

    For example, someone saying out loud that they’re uncomfortable with a manager’s outburst = “Manager is really challenging! You’ll have to work with challenging personalities to have a future here.”

    Someone asking for help with outright microaggression and discrimination will be told, “Yes, that manager can be a bit difficult. You need coaching on communication in difficult circumstances.”

    Someone asking for help or advice with the fallout from this ongoing stress = “Let’s get you some coaching to be more resilient.” Pieces of advice given in the internal coaching program are to “release your need to control how people think of you”, “remember that only you can decide whether or not you are hurt by problems” and “it’s your choice to make this into a problem.”

    Someone going against the company grain (i.e. stating that their team is majority non-Christian when asked to plan a team Christmas activity) = “Remember that team building activities are meant to be fun and positive for everybody who attends – that means that nobody is being forced to attend.”

    (Non-Christians who partake in Christmas activities are praised for holding the company values of openness, tolerance and inclusivity.)

    There was even a company-wide effort to “diversify communication styles” that consisted of – yes – a misguided personality test, in which certain people were effectively labeled as the scapegoats that held others back.

    All of this could sound quite positive… in some circumstances. It would be appropriate in contexts where people were complaining about staplers being moved. But not in a workplace where there is an actual bullying problem, when the results are a pattern of discrimination. And definitely not when the “grumps” are consistently people who don’t celebrate Christmas, POC who express discomfort with microaggressions, and women who express discomfort with men shouting at them (i.e., “not being adaptable enough with diverse communication styles and difficult personalities”).

    The company itself believes passionately that it is a positive, uplifting workplace with very few grumps (and those grumps are identified and isolated rapidly, often forced out entirely and certainly not promoted – therefore effectively discouraged from spreading their grumpiness.) It was only after this major inquiry and findings that it was understood that the resulting culture is inherently hostile to minorities – and the company has deliberately quashed its own ability to realize this!

    I’m obviously not saying this is the case for the LW or their own Grump – I believe the LW, am very sympathetic for their difficulty, and think this advice is great. Grump’s behaviors really aren’t acceptable, and are probably impacting her coworkers negatively as well.

    But it does show the power that words have to frame, or obscure, an issue – and it shows how company culture sometimes carries a subtext we just can’t pick up on from a letter. If this letter had been written by a manager at the company I am describing, it would have completely different implications: “I praised her for showing the correct Christmas spirit, offered her the opportunity to throw a creative cocktail party, had her personality formally diagnosed as ‘grump’, reminded her that she isn’t allowed to be cold with her bullies, and even sent her on a training course on internalizing negativity; why doesn’t my Muslim employee smile more?”

    Ultimately, sometimes, the Grump cannot be happy in their environment – and sometimes it’s the Grump, and sometimes it’s the environment. Either way, a Grump is always a good opportunity to do some self-reflection…

  40. Kt*

    Absolute barf to expecting people to be happy and excited about work.

    It is 100% on OP that they held a seminar that labeled people and are now mad someone is reclaiming the label that seminar gave them. You played a STUPID game and won a stupid prize, congrats!

  41. Jayla*

    I just wanted to let you know that the title of this one, even if unintentional, is very much a part of a well-known transphobic meme that is used frequently (re:attack helicopters) to mock trans/gnc people.

  42. Apple Townes*

    “She has expressed interest to me in being promoted and taking on more responsibility with more creative freedom, but when I have brought opportunities to her to take ownership and have more space for creativity, she has reacted negatively both through her body language (literally frowning and scowling in meetings) and through her commentary and a lot of self doubt and generally defeatist attitude).”

    I wonder if what the LW sees as “bringing opportunities to take ownership and have more space for creative freedom” is perceived by this grumpy employee as pushing her in a direction that is at odds with her career goals and/or strengths. I once worked in a place where, due to restructuring, the growth path I was on just disappeared. I would have been fine to stay in my lane and just sharpen those skills, earning raises as I got better at that job. When I asked my (new) manager what my growth path was after the restructuring, I never got a real answer — but what I did get was a bunch of new responsibilities that were outside my job description, and when I pushed back, I was told I had an attitude problem. Incidentally, I developed an attitude problem, and then I quit.

    Possible that this LW is misunderstanding pushback to being assigned responsibilities the employee doesn’t want (like pushing a creative person into a manager role) as “self -doubt and a defeatist attitude.”

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