I accidentally ditched a peer at a conference and then cried publicly, foot-touching coworker, and more

I’m on vacation. Here are some past letters that I’m making new again, rather than leaving them to wilt in the archives.

1. I accidentally ditched a peer at a conference and then cried publicly about it

Last year, I was a speaker at an industry conference. I was part of a three-person “package” with a well-recognized peer in my industry, Sansa. Sansa was super nice, helped to keep me calm, and I felt like we really hit it off. On the last night of the conference, she texted me after sessions to say she’d text me when she was going to the industry dinner so I could come with her and wouldn’t have to go alone, which was very kind as I’m a big introvert. I was exhausted but I said thanks. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go to dinner. But I took a short nap and went down to the hotel lobby just to get myself out of my room and motivated. Another peer, Arya, saw me sitting in the lobby and said she and a few other folks were going to the dinner, and did I want to hop in their Uber? I was iffy but she was excited, so I said yes, and off I went.

I was having a good time, with about 15 other peers (four of whom were at my table at the restaurant) when Sansa walked in. She saw me and had a look of shock on her face. I totally TOTALLY forgot she’d said she’d go with me. I missed several texts somehow, but she also emailed me and tried to contact me through LinkedIn and Slack, and email; she even tried to ask other people to contact me. In other words, she tried really, really hard. Her last message was, “Well, I’m going to go, I hope you’ll decide to join me!” — at least 45 minutes after she first tried to contact me. And I completely ditched her, but not on purpose. She was angry and frustrated, but not unkind. I told her to please sit next to me, let me buy her a drink, and I must have apologized 20 times, no exaggeration. And then … I started crying. Everyone at my table was uncomfortable after that. I think I was just so appalled at my behavior because I don’t often get included in things, and to know that someone was trying to include me and I acted so poorly, I couldn’t get past it. I wound up staying out for hours past when I’d normally go back to the hotel, going wherever she went, just to try to make it up to her. It was pretty obnoxious. She was still angry, and then annoyed, which I totally get, but she was still being fairly nice to me.

So now, it’s six months later, and I’ve been asked to go to this conference again and be on a panel with one other person: Sansa. How do I address not only ditching her, but worse, acting like that afterwards? She is more well-known than I am, and getting to do something with her again is very good for my career, so I can’t just say no. I’m cringing just thinking about it. I have to balance acknowledging how crazy I acted with being a professional adult person who knows how to control her emotions. Or maybe I don’t acknowledge it at all? Do I make a joke? Do I build a time machine to go back and not be so weird? Do I say something now, since we both have to figure out this panel thing, or do I say something later on?

This might be counterintuitive, but the best thing you can do is to put in the past and just move forward. Don’t apologize again — it sounds like the apologizing might have gone over the top last time, so you don’t want to start it up again! Don’t make a joke about it (too much risk of it not landing well). Really, don’t try to address it in any way. It happened, it got weird, you tried to address it at the time (and addressed it too much, it sounds like), and if you raise it again there’s too much risk of the old weirdness getting raised along with it.

Instead, make a point of being warm (but not too warm) and professional. Greet her pleasantly, shake her hand (if that’s a thing people there do), tell her it’s good to see her, and then treat her like you’d treat someone you know a little but not well. The message you want to convey with your behavior here is “professional person behaving appropriately at a conference,” not “abashed person trying to fix something.”

It’s okay if Sansa feels a little weird or is stand-offish with you. That’s fine! All you can control is you. Plus, this conference isn’t the final word in how people see you. It sounds like you’ll run into Sansa and others again from time to time, and over time you can build up a calm, professional image that will eventually be a strong counterweight to something that at some point will be many years in the past.


Read an update to this letter here.

2. Foot-touching coworker

Many people in our office wear shoes that are easy to remove, such as flip flops. Sometimes people remove their shoes at their desks, which I’m okay with, but there is a coworker who likes to remove their shoes during meetings. I would not care if they kept their feet under the table, but this person then puts one foot on the seat of the chair. The worse part is the next phase, where they start touching their toes. This was very disgusting, but matters only got worse when food was brought into the meeting. I was extremely nervous because I knew to protect others something was going to have to be publicly said, but thankfully, the food that the “toe touching individual” touched was not touched by anyone else during the meeting. However, the original owner was taking the leftovers home. I did not know what to do other than inform that person that they needed to discard the food and when I was asked why I truthfully indicated the reason.

I know something must be said to the “toe touching individual” before another meeting with food. How do I professionally handle this situation? As a side note, this person is not easy to talk to – I would consider them an office bully.

This is gross, but I’m not sure that all this drama is warranted. Is the person rubbing his foot-contaminated hands all over the food? But if you want to say something, I’d just say, “Dude, you’ve been touching your feet so be careful with the food.”

(Not to cause you more angst, but how do you know your other coworkers’ hands are clean? For all you know, they might have been touching worse things than feet.)


3. Asking employees to say I’m out when my abusive mother calls

Is it ever okay to ask an employee to “cover” for you? I am the director of a small, nonprofit county agency. I have two staff and three volunteers. The problem is my 74-year-old mentally ill mother. Long story short, she is very abusive, calls me and my husband vile names, and uses vile language in front of our teenage daughter. Sometimes it becomes so overwhelming that I have to disconnect (until she can get herself together) to protect my daughter.

During these times, my mother will call and call and call. I have told her several times not to call me at work, had my sister intervene, etc. to no avail. Sometimes I ask my employees to tell her that I am busy, which, of course, I am. Sometimes the only way to stop the barrage of calls is to have them tell her I am out of the office all day at a meeting. She is never vile to my staff or volunteers, but I feel guilty asking them to cover for me (and in some instances, lie for me). But then on the flip side, it is very disruptive to my office when she behaves like this and nothing else works. It seems like such a simple thing, but it is unethical?

I don’t think it’s unethical at all. If one of your employees were dealing with an abusive relative who behaved like this, you’d probably be sympathetic and willing to say she wasn’t there, right? I’m sure your employees are willing to do the same.

The key, especially since you’re the boss and so there’s a power dynamic, is to make sure they don’t think you take this help for granted. Express genuine appreciation for their help, and explain the basics of the situation if you haven’t already, including that having her think you’re unavailable for the day is unfortunately the best way to minimize the disruption.

Also, make sure they know that you’re doing your best to get the calls to stop. You don’t want them inadvertently misunderstanding the situation and thinking that you’re just dodging calls from your poor, lonely mother, or that you haven’t taken reasonable steps to control the situation.

Speaking of which, is there a way to block her number? That might sound callous, but if she has another way to reach you (like your cell phone), that might be the way to go with your work phone.


4. Negotiating a gym membership as part of a job offer

I’m in the interview process with a company for a job I’m really interested in, and things seem to be going well. I’m optimistic about my chances, and expect a job offer in the next week or so if things continue to go well.

In my first interview, they told me flat out what the salary for the job was. It was in my acceptable range, but lower than I was hoping for. They didn’t give a range, just a number. Now, I’m absolutely willing to take the job at this salary, as it’s a job I’m interested and the salary is still in my acceptable range. However, this is my first job out of college, and I’d like to get my feet wet with negotiations. I’ve been looking around for advice on things to negotiate other than salary, and most of them seem pretty normal (vacation time, job title) and some of them made sense although I didn’t know how to approach them (office). The one that really threw me off was gym membership.

Do people actually ask for gym memberships? Is this normal? How would you begin to explain to a hiring staff why it was relevant to the job? (Unless you were a personal trainer or something else relevant.)

No, that’s weird. Some employers offer subsidized or discounted gym membership as part of their benefits package, but they either offer it or they don’t; it’s not the sort of thing people generally negotiate individually for themselves. And that’s doubly true as someone new to the workforce; it’s going to come across as a bit prima donna-ish at any career stage, but especially as someone junior.


{ 96 comments… read them below }

  1. Allonge*

    Oh, LW1, I am so sorry. You really need to stop apologizing or treating this as a big deal. There is no closure but one you give yourself – at this stage Sansa will not want to hear about it any more.

    I know it can be tempting to keep referring to it, but if you turn it around – let’s say this happened with the roles exchanged – would you want or need Sansa to bring this up again? Would you want to be put in the position to reassure her that is really is ok? Or would you prefer to go ‘new conference, hope it goes better this time’ and forget about it?

    1. Lady Lessa*

      If you read the update at the link, at the next conference everything went well with the two of them.

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        Except she did make a joke, which Alison warned against.

        Here’s the thing, it was an uncomfortable situation for Sansa too. The best thing you can do is move on and not raise it again. So no one has to remember that uncomfortable time.

        1. Elliot*

          There was a big risk of a joke falling flat, hence the warning. But, sometimes the context feels right for a joke, and since it was well received we’ll have to trust OP’s reading of that particular moment.

        2. Not my coffee*

          Yeah, but the tone of the comments is turning into LW did nothing “wrong” and Sansa’s list of errors is getting longer…..

    2. Elitist Semicolon*

      Oof. This kind of reminds me of something that happened to me at a conference: someone bounded up to me and gushed, “Dr. Semicolon! It’s so nice to see you again!” And I completely failed to recognize her and instead of saying, “oh, you too!” like a normal human, I blurted, “Help me?” and then had to follow it up with “remind me where we met?” when she looked confused. Then the next morning, I was in the breakfast buffet line and a woman turned around and said, “oh, hi, Dr. Semicolon!” and I gave a generic “hi, nice to see you” because I had no idea who it was and of course it was THE SAME WOMAN. I was mortified.

      1. Lenora Rose*

        Neither of those sounds for cause for mortification; the second especially is purely the context of “breakfast, not in context to connect folks yet”.

        I think we all cling to the idea that because there are people who remember everyone, it’s bad form to admit you, personally, don’t always, but I’ve never felt too badly for someone who needed reminding of my name. (Maybe because for a long time I assumed I was a tiny fish and folks just wouldn’t know me at all).

  2. Reality.Bites*

    One of my employers had a fitness benefit – they had an arrangement for a discounted rate at a nearby upscale gym and an equivalent subsidy for other gyms. I suppose someone could have negotiated to have something covered that wasn’t already, but that’s about it. If I recall, it was in the neighbourhood of $1000

    1. Antilles*

      Yeah, if the company already has a fitness benefit, getting your gym added to the subsidy list would be completely normal and a very simple process. They’ve already budgeted their $1000/yr for your subsidy, so you’re not actually asking for anything extra, just that the check goes to Average Joe’s Gym instead of GloboGym.

      But trying to negotiate a fitness subsidy when it doesn’t already exist just isn’t a thing.

      1. Emmy Noether*

        This hasn’t been my experience. The employers I know that offer this negotiated a special price with a specific chain of gyms. Getting another gym added is pretty much impossible: they won’t get the special price there, and even if the other gym happens to be less expensive than that anyway, it’s extra administrative hassle to add it (setting them up as a vendor, processing the bills extra etc.). Plus they’ll be afraid it will be a slippery slope and they’ll end up with a different gym per employee. Not happening.

        1. Antilles*

          Is the subsidy a set amount or a negotiated discount? If it’s the latter where it’s gym-specific, I can absolutely see where they wouldn’t go through the process again. For the former that they just give you $50 per month as a gym allowance, I’ve never found any problems either getting them to write that $50 check to a different gym or treating it as a reimbursable that I pay out-of-pocket then submit a monthly expense report.

          But just my experience, might be YMMV depending on how your company does accounting.

  3. bamcheeks*

    I missed several texts somehow, but she also emailed me and tried to contact me through LinkedIn and Slack, and email; she even tried to ask other people to contact me

    My first thought is that this is A Lot on both sides. Two texts and a, “ok, if I see you, I see you! Have a good evening!” is all you’d have got from me.

    1. JustKnope*

      Yeah honestly my reaction was that Sansa was over the top first! Spending 45 minutes trying to contact OP, using four different communication channels, and roping other people in to reach out?! That’s way too much. I don’t even think what OP did is *that* much of a faux pas. Kinda rude but nothing that warranted Sansa being actually angry.

      1. Anknon*

        My take is that both Sansa and Arya had seen that OP is a big introvert (so, a bigger introvert than most people who say they are big introverts) and were going out of their way to make sure she felt included. So OP’s behavior was perceived as rude. Still I don’t think Sansa was really angry, at most she was pissed that she had lost 45 minutes of the event pointlessly.

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          I don’t think Sansa was angry at spending 45 minutes trying to contact OP only to see her there. I think Sansa was worried something had happened to her, then was surprised she was there just looking all chipper. There might have been a little – well she could have let me know sort of pique but I don’t think she was angry.

          Which is why it would have been fine except for the OTT apologies and crying.

          1. Ticotac*

            Yeah, like, I don’t know, maybe I’m weird, but if I end up becoming the informal mentor of a very nervous and shy person who then kind of disappears in a way that seems out of character from what little I know of her, I would get worried enough to reach out through different means because 1) maybe something happened, and 2) I don’t know what they are more likely to actually check (send me a text and I will read it in a week. Send me a facebook message and I’ll answer back in a year. Get me on Slack and I’ll be there instantly)

            1. I forgot my user name again*

              I agree with that statement and I also thought maybe they are in a niche industry where everyone is socially awkward in their own way.

      2. I Would Rather be Eating Dumplings*

        I think it’s hard to tell, IMO. If OP was leaning on Sansa a lot for support through the conference (it sounds like she was, but to what extent, I can’t tell) then Sansa might have felt obligated to put that level of effort in, as she may have been worried about ‘abandoning’ OP.

        1. bamcheeks*

          If it was Sansa writing in, though, I’d definitely be finding a delicate way to say that it was a nice thought but that LW was a grown-up professional and that was WAY over the top.

          I think both Sansa and LW may have fallen prey to the “conferences can get overwhelming and everyone can go a little nuts”. Especially if there are a lot of younger people at a conference, you can get into that overtired, overpeopled, over-committed headspace that you get in university freshers’ weeks and teenage sleepovers where everything seems heightened and A Big Deal. I suspect Sansa also looks back on this ad en embarrassing episode and was super relieved when LW kept it normal the next year.

        2. Happy meal with extra happy*

          Yeah, there are a number of context clues that OP let Sansa know how much of an introvert she is/how difficult the conference and presentation were for them. The fact that Sansa helped keep them calm, the fact that Sansa knew that it was likely OP would have to attend the dinner alone, etc.

    2. WellRed*

      And using LI to contact her in this situation was so weird. And all of this after OP said she wasn’t sure she even wanted to attend the dinner.

      1. Hmmmmmm*

        That was my take as well. The communication from Sansa seemed like a lot, and is more consistent with what you’ll do if you thought someone was having a crisis. It makes me wonder if there’s more going on here than just what the letter writer’s described.

      2. Yeah...*

        Using LinkedIn to contact people at a conference is not unusual in my experience. You may have access to another platform to reach them.

      3. Hiring Mgr*

        I don’t see how that’s the takeaway here. OP did attend, just with other people. If I were Sansa I’d be a little miffed too since she seemed to go out of her way to make OP feel comfortable.

        Sansa was the one who was kind, supportive, and trying to help the OP, who then blew her off (unintentionally but still).

      4. Happy meal with extra happy*

        Did OP tell Sansa they weren’t sure if they wanted to go to the dinner? Or, how I read it, OP agreed to but was internally thinking that they were exhausted and hadn’t otherwise been planning on going.

    3. Bast*

      It is quite A Lot. I agree with the two texts, and I’m done, however, I would be a little miffed if I felt I was being ignored. I’ve been on the wrong end of ghosting and it doesn’t feel nice, particularly if you make plans to meet up with someone and they just don’t show, and it takes awhile to figure if they are actually ghosting or maybe just running late. Granted, if someone came to me afterward and said, “I’m so sorry Bast, my phone died/I fell asleep/etc” I would forgive them, but I’d be hesitant to make plans with them again.

    4. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Yes! Sansa should have stopped after two texts; everything else is above and beyond what you need to do for the professional relationship they have. Once she got there and discovered LW was already there, mild surprise would have been warranted, but in a “I was worried you weren’t coming, but you’re here, great!” kind of way. I’m confused where her anger is coming from. It’s an industry dinner at the conference, LW wasn’t standing her up or ghosting a personal dinner with her or a smaller group.

    5. kiki*

      I assume she was worried and thought LW might not be okay when she didn’t respond, so wanted to try every avenue available to check in.

      But I also think this is a bit over the top for a casual dinner LW hadn’t fully committed to. My first guess if LW didn’t respond right away would be that they had fallen asleep, so reaching out via LinkedIn, Slack, or email would not help. As much as LW should have looped Sansa in once they decided to go out to dinner, I also think Sansa seems like she was a bit more pressed about dinner with LW than I’d expect.

    6. Salsa Your Face*

      Yeah, I agree with this. I’ve been in a lot of situations like this, where there are a whole lot of people at a conference or other event, everyone is planning to go out somewhere, but people need time to refresh or handle some business and in that time, plans and groups change. I’ve been “stood up” by people and I’ve done the same to others. If we end up in two different groups, we often end up running into each other at some point during the night anyway. It all works out in the end.

    7. Joron Twiner*

      In a normal work relationship, I totally agree. And this is how I deal with it after experiences being in Sansa’s shoes.

      OP leaned on Sansa a lot during the conference, and it seems that Sansa was put in a kind of caretaker role, and put a lot of emotional energy into supporting OP and making sure OP was OK. Yes Sansa probably got too invested, but that is because OP was sending “help me please” primate social signals to her all day! Sansa wanted to help someone who was asking for help! That’s why she was worried and overextended herself.

      Sansa’s anger and frustration is her realizing that she overextended and does not need to save OP–she will be more cautious to get involved in the future.
      OP’s embarrassment is them realizing that they caused trouble for others and made themself look needy and unstable–they will take better care of themself in the future.

  4. Lexi Vipond*

    While scrolling I managed to misread this as ‘I accidentally touched a pear at a conference’…

  5. Ferret*

    The first letter and the suggested articles are reminding me that “I got fired for attending a conference that I wasn’t invited to” is one I have been wishing for an update on for a while. More than 1000 comments on that one

  6. HonorBox*

    I may be coming down on the opposite side of things (and I did read the update, so I’m glad things went really well) but it sounds like Sansa was quite angry about this situation, which I find to be a huge part of the problem. I get it… Sansa was trying to help LW out and made the overtures to go to dinner together. But also at conferences, things happen and people find other ways to events, connect with other groups, etc. As someone who really dislikes upsetting others, I know I’d be effusive with my apologies if something like that happened and I’d upset Sansa. But having been on the other side of that situation, too, there’s a lot to be said for accepting the apology and moving on. Sansa could have been much more graceful, accepted the first apology and then moved on. Even if she was still pissed, not showing that is important. The context of the situation is very important and knowing how conferences work, she should have been a heck of a lot more understanding.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I thought Sansa tried to do that, but LW felt so bad that she tipped over into Not Letting It Go. It sounds like Sansa’s visible annoyance (as opposed to visible “Oh. That’s where you are. No need to have worried and waited” reaction) only arrived quite late in the proceedings.

      I think this is a valuable letter for two issues. One is how to recover after a misstep. The other is whether endless apologizing is a good thing. There are people who think it is the right course, managers who will instruct their staff to keep apologizing, and for a lot of apology recipients that turns a minor life annoyance into the feeling of being manipulated into having to (continuously!) reassure the person, when they are the injured party and shouldn’t be assigned extra labor as a result.

      1. Jaybeetee*

        Yeah, I imagine there might have been a blend of initial irritation – perhaps slightly with the LW, but also with the situation overall – and later annoyance at the continuing apologies and need to reassure.

        I imagine part of the angst all around in this situation was simply that the two didn’t know each other particularly well. Framing it in terms of friends, or even your regular colleagues you work with all the time, this feels like A Lot. But in a situation where you sort of feel tied to this other individual you don’t actually have any kind of personal or professional relationship with, in a multiday conference bubble where none of your “regular” people are around, I can imagine really worrying about making a poor impression on this other person, and it sounds like they both overcorrected.

      2. kiki*

        I think endless apologizing can also be frustrating to somebody like Sansa who is justifiably annoyed and needs some distance from the person they’re annoyed at but won’t actually hold a grudge in the long run. It puts Sansa in a situation where she needed time to feel their own emotions and process their frustration but now she must also comfort the person who “wronged” them. (Wronged is in quotes because it seems a bit excessive for the situation here, but I’m blanking on a better way to phrase that.)

    2. I should really pick a name*

      Is there a reason why you don’t think that Sansa accepted the first apology?

      1. Aquamarine*

        Yeah, my understanding based on what the LW said is that Sansa was quite ready to move on and let the whole thing go.

      2. HonorBox*

        If the apology is accepted gracefully, as in “Oh LW I was worried about you, but I’m glad you are here” then the apologies could stop.

        I get that doubling, tripling down on apologies is unwarranted, but we don’t know exactly how the conversation went. LW says Sansa was angry throughout the evening. Maybe that’s because of the apologies, but maybe that’s because Sansa was really upset and didn’t let it go. I was taking LW at their word.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          I see where you’re coming from, but the letter doesn’t actually include the details about Sansa’s response to the apology, so this isn’t a matter of taking the LW at their word.

          Maybe Sansa didn’t take it well and remained annoyed.
          Maybe she took it well, but then got annoyed by the over-apologizing.

        2. Aquamarine*

          But taking the LW at her word means accepting her read on the situation. She indicated that she thinks she was the weird one.

          “I think I was just so appalled at my behavior because I don’t often get included in things, and to know that someone was trying to include me and I acted so poorly, I couldn’t get past it.”

          She makes it clear that she couldn’t let it go because of her feelings about her own behavior, not because of the way Sansa responded.

    3. Happy meal with extra happy*

      “Even if she was still pissed, not showing that is important.”

      Why? It sounds like she went through a really frustrating situation, and then she had to manage OP’s feelings all night. That’s annoying. I find it interesting that you’re putting the blame on Sansa even though she was the wronged party.

      1. RussianInTexas*

        Yes. OP is the one who messed up, even unintentionally.
        And then proceeded to make things super weird, first with the never ending apologies (I get it, I heard you the first 5 times!), asking to sit next to her and buy her a drink, and then with the weird crying, which made things uncomfortable for everyone involved. And then proceeded to continue to be obnoxious (by her own words).
        I absolutely see Sansa progressing from the initial annoyance and frustration to more and more annoyance, because things got more and more annoying!

      2. HonorBox*

        There’s a couple of key differences in my mind.

        First, I’m going with what is written. If Sansa was angry throughout the night, LW might have felt the need to keep apologizing. If Sansa had accepted the apology, and even made a comment about being worried or a little put off by the fact that she was ignored, then everyone could move on. It didn’t read to me that Sansa was graceful in accepting the initial apology or LW probably wouldn’t have felt the need to continue.

        Second, LW wasn’t sure about going anyway. I’ve been at conferences where plans are made to meet up, people move with others, and then you reconnect somewhere in the evening. It wasn’t like Sansa asked LW to go to a separate dinner one on one. She was offering LW the chance to tag along. LW got the same invite from another colleague and got caught up in going. It wasn’t such a terrible misstep from OP that Sansa needed to be angry. A little irritated? Sure. But I think we’ve all been places where someone is constantly checking their phone and LW may just not have checked theirs because they were with others. Not worth being overly angry.

        1. Happy meal with extra happy*

          I read it completely differently in that Sansa likely tried to move on, but OP keyed into her initial frustration and couldn’t let it go. I’m taking OP at their word that Sansa was “not unkind” and “still fairly nice”. Not sure how that equates to “overly angry”.

          Also, once again, you’re putting the burden on Sansa to have been graceful in accepting the initial apology. Even if she went overboard in trying to contact OP, she was still blown off by OP (intentionally or not). That’s a legitimate gripe to be frustrated about, especially when it sounds like Sansa when out of her way to try to be friendly to and help OP. Why shouldn’t OP have been graceful and just accepted that they messed up and move on.

            1. Happy meal with extra happy*

              Yup! And, I’m coming at this as someone who heavily relates to OP – I hate when I can tell someone is frustrated or annoyed at me and is unwilling to let me “fix” it. However, that’s a me problem, and I do my best to keep my own anxieties internal and under control.

              1. Joron Twiner*

                Sounds like you should take Alison and other commenters advice from the update, and instead of trying to “fix” it just move on. It’s not on Sansa or anyone else to be more graceful in accepting an apology. If you wronged someone you don’t get to criticize how they behave when they accept your apology.

    4. Dust Bunny*

      I have to wonder how angry Sansa actually was or wasn’t. The OP seems to be so anxious about this that I’m not sure her perception isn’t a little exaggerated.

  7. Czhorat*

    Yeah, discount gym memberships are something that I’ve seen a couple of times, either as part of a deal with a specific gym or a nationwide service that gives a discounted rate for various “tiers” of gym. It’s not really a negotiated thing, but something the company as a whole either offers or doesn’t.

    Places I’ve worked that have things like that haven’t even mentioned them in the interviewing process; it’s just something that’s either there or it isn’t. It’s a bit like bagels in the break room on Monday; nobody sane is going to consider that a serious part of your compensation.

    1. Daisy-dog*

      Exactly. Unless the company is the corporate office for a gym or something else in the fitness realm, it’d be a weird ask. So instead just try to negotiate an extra $2000 in salary (or whatever you’d need to net the fees of a fancy gym).

      1. Czhorat*

        I think in this case the OP was looking for what they could ask for other than money if they felt the compensation was a bit low but no cash was available.

        The things I’d ask for in that context would be:

        1) Paid time off. This is tricky because, depending on the business, it might effectively equal money (if the company bills for your hours worked on a project, for example)

        2) Work from home one or more days a week, if appropriate to the role.

        3) Paid training and continuing education opportunities if appropriate to the business. This will likely again either be something that’s there or that isn’t so not really a negotiation, but a detail that could make a big difference down the road.

  8. Fluffy Fish*

    OP1 letter – everyone, everywhere has made a butt of themselves at some point. and i promise it doesn’t take up the brain space for others like it does you and many won’t remember it at all. if its of any consolation – when people seem uncomfortable because of tears its almost always because they feel bad that you are upset and not sure what to do. it’s not a “omg this person is a total weirdo”.

    Sansa will remember but again, 99.9% chance it doesn’t take the brain space for her that it does to you. To you it’s this huge thing that you did, to her its a you were kinda weird that one time.

    If OP is still around it would be great to hear how it went!

    1. Shirley Keeldar*

      Agreed, we’ve all been there—and I’m wondering if in fact, a lot of us have been there at conferences. The OP’s story made me remember the first conference I went to—I goofed something up, can’t even quite remember what it was, but it had to do with my boss. I was upset with myself and remorseful and teary, and it wasn’t really that big a deal.

      I’m also a big introvert, like the OP, and thinking back, I wonder if conference overstimulation played a role. All that noise/light/people/movement/interaction is overwhelming, and frayed nerves and heightened emotions lead to big reactions.

      1. Fluffy Fish*

        i have DEFINATELY made a total a$$ of myself at a conference. i think being away from “norm” is also part of it. you don’t know most of these people so, at least for me, im trying to present myself in a certain way to a bunch of strangers. when normally i dont’ care at all what people think of me.

      2. bamcheeks*

        I’ve got a comment in moderation saying this, but I think conferences can be very intense and you can get into the same over-tired, over-peopled and over-committed headspace as you do in university freshers’ weeks or teenage sleepovers, and it’s not super unusual for someone to end up in tears over something fairly trivial that you’d normally take in your stride! Once you’ve been to a few conferences, it’s quite common to duck out of a few events and go off early or miss a dinner or two in favour of sitting in your hotel room with some Friends re-runs or similar to de-compress.

        (IME this is just as likely to happen to extraverts as introverts —possibly because introverts are better at spotting the early warning signs of too-much-people and extraverts keep going til they fall over spectacularly!)

        1. Shirley Keeldar*

          Conferences = teenage sleepovers–so true! It’s that same overhyped, junk-foody, talk-talk-talk sensation where you are desperate to check out / go to sleep but also terrified you’ll miss something vital. No wonder we get frazzled!

  9. Ghostwriting is Real Writing*

    Regarding #4 – My husband is a college professor who teaches negotiations. He often helps graduating seniors negotiate their first job offer. The thing he has had the most success with is having them ask for a moving/relocation stipend, usually in the $3,000-$4,000 range. This might not cover all moving/security deposit/first month rent/etc but it makes a big dent plus has the advantage of being granted more often than not so gives the student positive feedback in negotiating.

    1. trust me I'm a PhD*

      Woof. I recently took a job and wish I’d tried to negotiate more on this. I was given a $1500 moving stipend and it was not enough. The institution also couldn’t come up more than $1000 on my yearly salary –– in retrospect, it was absolutely a financial warning sign and I should have fled, but responding to their lack of flexibility on salary w/ negotiating the moving stipend would have been a smarter move on my part. I think I lost $3-4K on the move.

    2. Janeway*

      +1 to this. Shortly after grad school, I landed a job with no wiggle room on the salary, but I was able to negotiate an increase relocation reimbursement to around $3000.

  10. Olive*

    What’s the opposite of a foot fetish? I’m with LW#2, someone touching their bare toes and then touching food would be so off-putting to me that I would lose my appetite. I don’t think it’s a phobia in the sense that I wouldn’t have an uncontrollable public reaction, but I find it a gross and unprofessional thing to be doing at a work meeting and especially a work lunch, especially since it sounds like a regular occurrence.

    I think there’s an aspect of public behavior that goes beyond uncertainty that people’s hands aren’t clean. I can’t and don’t want to monitor that my coworkers aren’t picking their noses, but I’d be put off by watching a coworker picking their nose and then touching things. This wouldn’t be offset by the knowledge that all the other coworkers might be picking their noses where I can’t see them. Lest someone mention that the coworkers feet might not be that dirty if they were wearing shoes the rest of the day, feet get very sweaty. It’s the same to me as if they rubbed their hands under their armpits and then touched the food, even though their armpits probably aren’t particularly dirty.

    1. Ole Pammy's Getting What She Wants*

      agree. plus other cultures have different “feelings” (cant think of a better word right now, sorry!) about feet and cleanliness. this letter sounds like it was written from Africa or South Asia, so something to keep in mind.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        Thailand has some very strict rules about feet – you don’t point them at anyone (especially royalty or important people, which might get you arrested), you don’t rest your feet on the table, and you don’t touch anyone with your feet. So putting your foot on the chair would be considered rude, even above and beyond fiddling with your feet in a meeting.

        Even in cultures where there aren’t strict ideas and restrictions around feet and cleanliness, it’s still going to be considered weird and offputting to play with your toes *in a work meeting*. Preschoolers play with their toes in public. Adults don’t. Do whatever you like with your feet in your own home, but no “this little piggy” at work, please.

        I wouldn’t care if this person was just kicking off their shoes under the table; that’s normal, if a bit casual maybe for a meeting, but if your feet hurt, they hurt. It’s the playing with their toes at work that made me go “uh, no.”

  11. RussianInTexas*

    LW#3 – yes, call her number if possible.
    My father is suffering from dementia and sometimes he gets on a roll. He’ll call multiple times, over and over (the record is 42 calls in 24 hours), to check “if his phone still working”, to ask if “your stepmom is ever coming back from the store”, stuff like that. I have to block his number.
    I used to feel bad about blocking in the beginning, but since just seeing his calls while not answering was stressing me out to the point of being afraid to go to sleep, there was not many other options.

  12. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    #3 – interesting that your mother is not vile or abusive to staff when trying to find you. Which means she CAN control it when choose to. Block her number at work. Block it at home too. Just because she’s your mom doesn’t mean you have to stay in contact with her. She might be fine for a while, but you’ve seen the pattern. She isn’t going to change. All you can change is your reaction to her. Which no contact is best for you.

    1. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

      Or, whatever is going on in her brain because of the dementia makes her think she has cause to be angry at LW3 and their spouse, but does not cause her to think she has cause to be angry at the staff (maybe she even imagines them as fellow victims of Evil LW3), so there’s nothing for her to control there.

  13. Aquamarine*

    LW1 – “Do I build a time machine to go back and not be so weird?”
    I’d like to borrow that when you’re done, please.

  14. Yvette*

    Can I just say that I thought number two was going to be about someone playing footsie under the conference room table?

  15. Blocking callers*

    The family member calling excessively one: I worked one summer in a small bakery, cafe type local place. That had desserts and coffee drinks and made speciality desserts. They had an antiquated phone system that would show the number of the caller, but it couldn’t block numbers. The phone could “hold” and “decline” and “mute.” Next to the phone was a list of three phone numbers that when they would call-employees were to push the call decline button. Only the bakery owner would pick up those calls-if they wanted to. There were a few people in the town who were “banned” from the bakery for outbursts, swearing and yelling at staff and they’d often try to call in to yell more or want to argue with the owner. If the phone doesn’t have a block option-this was a very easy solution that took no time out of an employees day.

  16. BellyButton*

    I am not squeamish in the least little bit, but the toe touching letter gave me the icks. I have never worked anywhere where it would be acceptable to take your shoes off and show your bare feet. Many people kick their shoes off under the desk, and that isn’t a problem, but bare feet, on a chair, visible in the middle of a professional meeting, then playing with their toes?? EEWWWW

  17. Olive*

    OP 3, while it’s no problem to ask an employee to cover this temporarily, the only professional solution is to find a way to block the number.

    If I were working there, while I’d be sympathetic to the general situation, it would become unacceptable to have to take someone else’s personal calls over and over and over again. It’s not a matter of fault or blame – I would understand that it’s not the OP’s fault while still needing her to find a solution. If a solution couldn’t be found and I was having to spend my work day dealing with this, I’d start looking for another job.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      Even if the mother isn’t rude to the other staff now, the OP doesn’t know that won’t change if this is allowed to continue. Block the number.

    2. Jessen*

      As someone with a family member who can be like this, my experience is that blocking the number just leads to them calling from different numbers. I’d be curious what the professional solution is if OP’s mother circumvents the block. It’s pretty trivially easy to do.

      1. pope suburban*

        I would assume that at some point, the situation will either be that her mother moves into some kind of assisted living because it is not safe for her to be unsupervised (This sounds like dementia, which tends to progress, and which absolutely requires care past a certain point), or that law enforcement will have to become involved, assuming that her mother is still competent and escalates to the point of violating the law and harassing the business. I agree that blocking her is the best choice, but if it gets to the point where she’s circumventing that, then I don’t see that OP has any choice but to involve the appropriate type of professional help.

    3. Freya*

      It’s SOP for my workplace to refuse to say where anyone is, and just say something like “they aren’t able to take a call right now, can I take a message?” and even if they don’t want to leave a message, send an email to the coworker saying this person called from this number, so there’s a record if the coworker needs it later (coworker can auto-filter emails mentioning a particular phone number to a folder they don’t look at if it’s at that stage). It’s a script that barely takes any brain power from me, to the point that I will keep working while taking the call if I recognise the number as One Of Those. Mind you, it’s the same script I use when my coworkers send up the flag that says they’re concentrating on a tricky payroll and need no interruptions, so it’s a well-practiced script!

  18. Weaponized Pumpkin*

    People are really weird about feet. I mean, NO, don’t play with your feet in a meeting but also feet are not inherently icky to me. And certainly if people are going to sit with a foot tucked up on a chair, I’d rather it be their bare foot and not their outdoor shoe. And hopefully they only touched the food they were taking, which is just standard anyway regardless what you’ve been touching.

    1. lilsheba*

      THIS! I would find it way more repulsive to have someone’s shoe on a chair rather than a sock foot or bare foot. That applies to people flushing with their damn foot too…stop that. I’m disabled and have to touch the handle, I don’t want your shoe dirt on there.

      1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        There was a hilarious ad for the Pixar movie Inside Out that that ran in the subway / commuter rail (BART) in San Francisco Bay Area. It had the Anger character blowing up yelling SEATS ARE FOR BUTTS NOT FEET. Indeed! I really hate how many people stretch out and put their shoes on the (until recently) upholstered seats.

    2. Parakeet*

      Yeah, I don’t get why LW2 is so dramatic about this. Telling the person who took the food home that they needed to discard it? If I were the person who took the food home I’d be looking at them like they’d sprouted a second head. The world is full of germs. That’s why there are best practices around food prep (that would also apply to leftovers – I’m going to reheat, refrigerate, or freeze any leftovers I have, depending on what’s appropriate for the food item).

  19. design ghost*

    Re: LW1, something I had to learn the hard way is that you can never apologize your way out of a guilt/shame spiral, because apologies are for the person you hurt, but the guilt spiral is about you.

    Self-flagellating and over-apologizing feel like they’re something you’re doing for the other person, so they can see how important it is to you and how bad you feel. But it actually doesn’t do anything for them except at best make them uncomfortable and at worst make them feel like they have to comfort you. Which adds more loops to the spiral because you start thinking, oh I’m a terrible person, I’ve hurt Sansa and now I’m making her uncomfortable, I’m the worst, I should apologize for apologizing, etc.

    It really helps to even just identify “I’m in a spiral right now” even if you can’t pull yourself out of it yet. Because if you don’t recognize that you’re spiralling and are stuck on “I did a bad thing and I need to apologize until Sansa isn’t mad at me anymore,” you’re never going to find your way out of it and will still be in that spiral 6 months later like the LW was. Years later, even.

  20. GreyjoyGardens*

    Re the foot question: I thought this was going to be about someone playing footsie at a meeting, and thought “yeah no you don’t do that at work!”

    I do not know if this LW comes from a culture where there are much more strict rules around feet than in the US or other Anglophone countries. In some cultures, you don’t point your feet at someone or put feet up on any furniture, because feet are inherently unclean. Though, you’d think “Footsie” would know this and abide by it.

    It depends to me on the cleanliness of the feet. Clean, I’ve showered this morning feet? I don’t care. Grimy, I’ve been hiking feet? Yuck. But clean feet >>> someone who goes to the bathroom without washing their hands and then touches food! Or who scratches their behind or a more private area and then touches food! You bet I’d at least be tempted to tell someone to please throw out the food if I knew Unwashed Hands had touched it.

    However: I don’t think an adult should be playing “This Little Piggy” at work. Someone who does that is going to come off as weird and unprofessional if they are actually *playing with their toes* at a company meeting. Or, worse, picking at their toenails (yuk). Kicking off your shoes under the table? Maybe not if it’s one of those Very Important Meetings with C-listers and a high-paid speaker, but in a normal work meeting, kicking off shoes gets a pass. Unshod foot on chair? Eh, if the meeting is casual, not that big of a deal. Actually *fiddling with your toes*? No. Do that at home.

  21. Ticotac*

    It’s kind of interesting to read the comments on the original #4. The assumption from the comments seemed to be that people actually thought the OP was considering it, and… I didn’t get that impression? It seemed obvious to me that it was an I-heard-of-this-and-I’m-asking-out-of-curiosity question.

    I was also amused by the “if you are happy with the offer, you don’t need to negotiate” comments. This may be me thinking of the terrible pay people in academia get because of many reasons, but- always negotiate. Always. It doesn’t have to be aggressive. At most, they’ll say no and you’ll still be happy. Negotiate. That extra $1500 is going to do a lot for you in the long run.

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