I offended people at a staff meeting, desk mate makes sex noises while she works, 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 offended people at a staff meeting by saying my staff works the hardest

At a recent staff meeting, I said in a light way, “My staff are the hardest working staff here!” Of course, the other managers could have immediately said the same thing about their staff, but a couple of managers were absent and the others, including the director, did not speak up or to join in with compliments. Instead of people making light of it, other staff were pissed, as if I was insinuating that they didn’t work hard. Of course, I did say that everybody works hard, but others were then trying to defend themselves on how they work hard, and the director was like “Well, you’re digging yourself into a hole.”

Obviously, I will never try and praise my staff in staff meetings anymore since people are highly sensitive. I tried to apologize to a couple of the staff who report to another manager, saying that they are valuable members of our department and are very much appreciated and that I appreciate them, but they are still upset at me. One won’t speak to me even after the apology. The more I think about it, the more this situation is like the “everybody needs to receive a trophy” sort of situation. What is your suggestion in smoothing this over?

Everyone here is overreacting! Your original compliment to your staff was well-intentioned but not particularly thoughtful, given that it inherently meant that others in the room were not as hard-working. So that was a misfire. But the people who got upset about it are way overreacting — this should have been a “roll their eyes and move on” situation. It doesn’t warrant them not speaking to you; that’s ridiculous. And you’re overreacting by saying that you’ll never praise your staff in staff meetings anymore; that’s not the message to take away. You can praise your staff in all kind of ways without comparing them to other teams.

Ideally, you would have addressed it on the spot by saying something like, “That obviously didn’t come out right. Everyone here is hard-working. I’m especially proud of my team for doing X, Y, and Z.” That moment has passed, and apparently people are refusing to accept an apology now, so I’d look for an opportunity to give sincere public praise for other team’s work in the near future. And if they don’t drop this within a few days, you may need to go talk with their manager and ask what’s needed on your side to put this to rest, because it’s ridiculous for your office to allow this to become a thing that interferes with work.


2. My desk mate makes sex noises while she works

I have a relatively new desk mate – we sit probably three feet from each other in an open office setting. She is very nice, but there is something about her that is driving me NUTS. Whenever she gets stressed or upset or is just concentrating a lot, she makes noises exactly like um, sex noises, about every minute or so. Heavy breathing, gasps, and moans … It is maddening!

I have my headphones up on the absolute loudest setting, but the noises are so loud and distracting and annoy me to the point I can hardly sit at my desk.. Can I say something? Or do I have to just suck it up since it is just breathing?

Oh my goodness. Well … you could try saying, “You’ve probably never noticed, but you do a lot of vocalizing when you’re stressed — heavy sighing and other noises. It can be distracting! Could you try to rein it in?” You could blame the open office too, adding something like, “They have us packed in here so closely that stuff can be distracting that wouldn’t be if we had walls.”

This is likely to make her pretty self-conscious for a while, which isn’t ideal, but it’s also true that when you’re working a couple of feet from other people, regularly gasping and moaning is not cool.


Read an update to this letter here.

3. HR stole my parking space

My company recently moved to a new office that has a car parking lot. By luck of the draw, I was fortunate enough to get a parking space right outside the complex.
Unfortunately, another employee of the same company has decided to park in my spot every day since.

Because of this need to find somewhere else on a daily basis, I’ve experienced threats of tickets, annoyed coworkers whose spaces I’ve inadvertently taken, and had to move my car multiple times during the workday.

Recently, a member of our HR team asked me to move. After I did so (twice in 10 minutes), I discovered that it was actually their car in my space. They explained that it was double booked to them and that they would continue parking there. I mentioned this to the person who assigned the spaces and was informed this was not true at all. It appears that the person didn’t like their allocated space and has chosen to just occupy mine. This also happened to a colleague who parks next to me, again with another HR team member.

To keep the peace, we have now been assigned their old spaces a way down the road. While this isn’t a big deal (at least I have a space now), I can’t help feeling some negativity towards our HR team for this apparently dishonest behavior. What are your thoughts?

My thoughts are that at least some members of your HR team are jerks who abuse their positions, and that their higher-ups either don’t know or don’t care.

I don’t know whether it’s a battle you want to fight or not, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to complain to someone over their heads about how this was handled. If you do, your framing should be that HR has misused their authority to reassign parking spaces to benefit themselves. (That assumes that the HR department is in charge of assigning spaces; if it’s done by someone else who simply gave into HR’s requests in order to “keep the peace,” then that person is spineless but it’s not quite as offensive.)


Read an update to this letter here.

4. Should my cover letter extend sympathies to the company CEO, whose daughter just died?

I am working on a job application for a nonprofit organization of about 15 staff. The position reports to a vice president.

The organization has announced that among the victims of the train crash in Philadelphia was the daughter of the organization’s president and CEO. Would it be respectful or distasteful to mention that in the cover letter – i.e., “Please extend my sympathies to Ms. Jones” or something along those lines? Should I remain mute?

Do not mention it in your cover letter. It’s not the place for it, they’re not going to mention to the CEO that a job applicant she doesn’t know sends her sympathy, and it risks coming across as if you’re using her tragedy to create rapport (although I understand that’s not at all how you intend it).


Read an update to this letter here.

{ 98 comments… read them below }

  1. nodramalama*

    The people in LW1s story over-reacted but it was also a weird comment to make. It sounds like one of those comments managers say when theyre trying to one-up each other. My managers used to do this by listing an increasingly long list of things their teams were working on to demonstrate that THEY were the busiest.

    1. Rebecca*

      I had managers who would play us off against each other as a management strategy, constantly comparing us to each other and making us feel insecure about our performance.

      People’s reaction to the comment, coupled with the tone of the comments about everyone needing a trophy in the letter, make me wonder if this really was a one-off comment in a meeting or if people are getting fed up with a pattern.

      1. Fishsticks*

        Yeah, the “everybody wants a trophy” comment painted the entire rest of the letter in a slightly different light to me, immediately. Just instant “oh… oh no” Raymond Holt from Brooklyn 99 response.

    2. MK*

      Also, the “everyone needs to receive a trophy” dig at the end makes me wonder how sincere OP’s apologies are. To begin with, the comment was frankly empty bragging about their staff and indirectly about themselves, as OP has no idea how hard other teams are working, or indeed how hard their work is, plus she is hardly an objective judge of that. And she did it in a staff meeting (in front of higher ups?); if the impression she was low key creating as the manager of the hardest working team could have affected funding or budget, etc, I am not evn sure the other managers are overreacting, especially if OP has a pattern of doing this.

      You don’t come back from a blunder like that by saying that you know other teams also work hard…because that sort-off suggests you are still standing by your comment that yours is working hardest. You need to say in so many words that you didn’t mean your comment literally and you don’t think your team actually works harder. Ideally without coming across as trying to placate them.

      1. Tiredofit all*

        Agree, the everyone gets a trophy tells me that LW1’s apologies were insincere. If LW1 thinks their staff is working harder, maybe they deserve more money, but this should be taken up in private with the director.

      2. ND*

        Yea, I kind of suspect that the reason everyone is overreacting is maybe because of LW1s reaction to them being a normal amount of upset at first.

      3. Ellis Bell*

        The trophy metaphor made me think OP doesn’t really have a clear idea of what praise is. Praise doesn’t have to be competitive, in fact it’s better not to be. Praise is also a lot more specific, and interpersonal. It’s not an overall judgement.

      4. Antilles*

        The start of that second paragraph too. “I guess I’ll never compliment my team again” and calling people “highly sensitive” makes me really wonder about OP’s ‘apology’.
        In my experience, whenever people apologize but have that kind of underlying attitude in their apologies, that attitude inevitably comes across – and the resulting apology usually ends up annoying the other party even more.

        1. Willow Pillow*

          That kind of language (“I guess I’ll never compliment my team again”) is manipulation. Manipulation is emotional abuse.

      5. Phryne*

        I find it hard to believe the ‘people refuse to speak to me’ was over just this one comment. OP comes across as prickly and I wonder if this incident was just the proverbial drop that flooded the bucket.

        1. Ijustworkhere*

          Agreed. Her entire attitude in the letter was off-putting. Everyone is too sensitive, everyone wants a trophy. Seems to me if anyone is over sensitive, it is her…

    3. Was the Grink There*

      That comment works when you’re in a meeting with only your own team. Not in a meeting with a bunch of teams.

    4. Mister_L*

      I admit this doesn’t fit the situation 100 %, but the story reminded me of something that happened at an old job.
      During the christmas-party (participation semi-voluntary), the CEO thanked every department for their hard work by name, except for shipping and perhaps production (it’s been some time). In other words, the two departments that did most of the physical work.

      I’m curious, what kind of work LW’s department does compared to the others.

    5. The OG Sleepless*

      I was thinking the same. There used to be a manager at my company who would have absolutely said this. She may actually have. She managed a different team from mine, and was a former college athlete who saw life as one big competition anyway. Her team tended to see themselves as the real muscle in our organization anyway, and she did her best to encourage that mindset and pit the teams against each other whenever possible. This led to a lot of needless rivalry as well as endless finger-pointing between teams anytime something didn’t get done. If the LW habitually does things like that, the reaction she got from the others may just be the tip of the iceberg.

      I didn’t much care for the “everyone gets a trophy” wisecrack, either.

    6. A. Nonymous*

      I’m coming at it from a different angle— my team is undervalued, so when I say “no one does it better than us,” I’m taking my place at the table (so to speak).

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        I guess my question would be why do you need to say “no one does it better than us” (competitive) instead of “my team is incredible” (complimentary)?

        1. A. Nonymous*

          For me, specifically? Because we’re the assistants, they’re the analysts, and if I don’t praise them no one will. We are on a lower rung of the ladder than they are.

          1. Jennifer Strange*

            But that doesn’t answer the question. You can be complimentary without making it a competition.

            1. A. Nonymous*

              I think there’s a fundamental difference when it’s a statement amongst equals vs a statement from the less-appreciated team. I don’t agree at all that it’s a “competition,” and find it bizarre that you’re framing it that way.

              1. Cookie Monster*

                Wait, what? You’re the one framing it that way by saying “no one does it better than us.” Jennifer Strange offered a way of praising your staff withOUT making it competitive.

              2. Jennifer Strange*

                Except you’re the one making it a competition by stating no one does it better than you instead of just saying “My team is awesome”. It sounds like you’ve got some resentment (which may be justified!) but I think it’s skewing your perspective a bit.

                1. A. Nonymous*

                  I guess I honestly just can’t be fked to care about the feelings of someone paid exponentially more than I, with more team support, over slightly inelegant phrasing. I think also not everyone would be so pedantically literal in their interpretation of that comment, who knows.

                  I still maintain that it’s different when it’s equals vs disparate positions.

      2. Mio*

        I think your phrasing is muchbetter than the letter writer’s:

        – when the LW says her team works the hardest, it’s inherently putting the other teams down, as the corollary is they aren’t working as hard. When you say no one does it best, it doesn’t necessarily imply others are doing worst;

        – when you say “it”, it refers to your team’s job (assisting) so the comparison, if any, is more to assistant teams at other companies than to other teams at your company. It’s like if you said “you guys are the best assistants in the world”, that shouldn’t upset the analysts at your company. But OP said her team works the hardest and working hard is presumably something the other teams do too.

        But mostly, it’s OP’s attitude after she realized she had stubbed some toes that’s the issue. The over-dramatic “ugh fine! I won’t say anything then” is not much of an apology and I don’t see what the trophy jab has to do with anything in that context so it shows her mindset.

        (To expand on the trophy thing: the ‘issue’ with trophy is that it rewards and distinguishes the individual/team who did win or achieve the best results and whether everyone else, who participated but had an inferior performance, should get one as well to recognize their less successful efforts. If the letter writer does not actually believe that her team’s hard work was superior to all the other teams, as she claims, then trophies have nothing to do with her situation.)

    7. NotAnotherManager!*

      This was my read as well. It feels very high school superlative to me, which isn’t really any better than participation trophy.

      I get that some people are hypersensitive – my boss once made a comment about how grateful she was for some above and beyond stuff one of my specialty teams did (not that they were the best, not that they were better than anyone, just that they did a fabulous job on a weird and unusual project and she appreciated how well it turned out and their efforts), and two people complained that their teams weren’t similarly praised. They didn’t work on the special project at all!

      But I generally think telling others that your team is the best (a/k/a better than theirs) is a bad call. When someone tells you you’re digging a deeper hole, they best bet is to just shut up. Paired with the parting flounce that they’d just never praise their team in public again – well, that makes me think that the LW is more of the problem in this situation.

    8. tamarack etc.*

      A lot would depend on the tone and attitude. When said in a tone of praise, in the context of a round-robin of enthusiasm and after the team in question has done something extraordinary, and among well-meaning people, there shouldn’t be much room for mistaking the meaning! We should be able to trust that people are well-educated enough to correctly apply and read basic elements of rhetorics, such as hyperbole.

      Though to be sure, I’d probably advise pushing the hyperbole further and saying something like “the hardest-working team in this sector of the galaxy” or whatever.

  2. Irish Teacher*

    The original comment in letter 1 sounds like a joke to me and I’m surprised people took it seriously. However, I also think the LW is overreacting (and missing the point a little) by saying that obviously they will never praise their team in meetings again, since praising them wasn’t the issue. It was comparing them to other teams. It would make more sense to decide to in future say something like “my team works really hard.”

    Nor has it anything to go with “everybody needing a trophy,” which isn’t really a thing anyway and that comment makes it seem a little less like the original was a joke.

    And I can’t really imagine the other managers wanting to say the same. One person joking their team is the hardest-working is one thing. Everybody else doing, “no, mine is” strikes me as a little childish and unprofessional. Unless that kind of banter is normal in the culture and it doesn’t sound like it is in this culture.

    1. MK*

      What is funny about that comment? I honestly don’t see what sort of “joke” a manager would be making by saying their team works harder than others.

      1. bamcheeks*

        Oh I can see it as a kind of joke one-up-man-ship, where other people immediately say, “no MY staff do!” “No, I think you’ll find that’s my team!” and everyone is clearly joking.

        “Working hardest” is such a weird thing to show off about, though. Why’s your team working hardest? Are you under staffed? Do you have poor systems in place? To me it’s so weird to boast about the amount of effort you put into something rather than the results you get out.

        1. MK*

          I still don’t see the joke, and that sounds like a pretty bizarre exchange to initiate at a staff meeting. I can sort of see it happening in a more informal context, but even there, it comes across as obnoxious.

          1. bamcheeks*

            Re-reading, I was seeing this as a meeting of 4-5 managers, where it wouldn’t be a hugely funny joke but I wouldn’t find it that weird. But now I realise it might have been staff meeting, as in all the teams being talked about were also there, in which case I agree that would be super weird.

      2. Irish Teacher*

        I don’t think it’s uncommon to joke like that. It’s not really funny, but it’s a thing people do. It happens regularly in pantomimes, where they divide the audience in half and get each group to sing a song or something and two performers will each insist their side did it better. It’s not a joke in the sense of having a punchline, but just a sort of playful comment. It usually plays on the fact that everybody knows all groups work equally hard so saying one group is the only hard-working one is clearly ridiculous.

        It’s not unusual in the school I work in when we have department meetings for somebody to comment “oh, we were done first. Clearly we are the most efficient” or “we were finished last. See we work to the final minute. The rest of ye are skiving off early!” It never comes across as anything other than banter. And this doesn’t seem too different, except that it was kinda out of context.

      3. Dinwar*

        It’s like the whole “Working hard or hardly working?” thing–the point isn’t the humor of the statement, but the fact that the person is intending to be jocular. And honestly, it’s pretty standardized humor at this point, a bit of trite office vernacular that, like so much of the English language, isn’t (usually) intended to be taken seriously or literally, but more as a “I’m proud of my team” statement.

        I’ve got my own constructed language (REALLY useful for making character names in Dungeons and Dragons!), so I’ve become somewhat fascinated with how language is used. Stuff like this really stands out when you can take the view of an outsider.

      4. Olive*

        IMO, it all depends on the tone. There are things that would make it more obviously hyperbole – an ironic tone accompanied by some silly handwaving, for example. “Thank you to my staff (overly big smile and pause) … the HARRRRdest working staff in the world.” It would come across as corny, but it’s hard to imagine people taking personal offense.

        Obviously I have no idea whether this is how the LW tried to present the comment or not.

      5. hohumdrum*

        I dunno, in my department where we all like and respect each other a lot and tend to assume good intentions people just move past stuff like that. Either people would take it in the spirit it’s intended, or worse-case scenario there might be some light smirks and eye rolling but then people will move on and take it as clumsy wording.

        But at another workplace, where I felt overlooked and undervalued? Very different story I’m sure. I do tend to think that if you’re finding yourself taking things personally that weren’t meant that way it can often be revealing of larger issues.

      6. tamarack etc.*

        It’s just figurative language. I mean it should be clear that no manager should make a public comparison between teams, so if one does so, it’s not meant literally, but figuratively.

    2. Awkwardness*

      I could not understand it too. I knew a manager who did something similar always explaining how his team had so many of the most stressful process steps. But this was his quirk and nobody would have been offended by this.

      But maybe the problem lies here:
      “I tried to apologize to a couple of the staff who report to another manager, saying that they are valuable members of our department and are very much appreciated and that I appreciate them, but they are still upset at me.”

      It seems as if OP is head of a department and not all people in this department would be considered as his staff? Then I could imagine how this could go wrong.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      Everything about OP’s reaction makes me suspect there is a pattern there, and the pattern is what the other managers were reacting to.

      1. Antilles*

        When your immediate response is to jump to “people are just too sensitive” and your letter ends with blaming participation trophy culture…
        Let’s diplomatically say that this probably isn’t just one joke that fell flat.

      2. biobotb*

        Yes, the LW is presenting this as a reaction to a single comment, but it seems much more likely that they have a general attitude or pattern of comments that is making the other managers interpret the comment in the worst light.

    4. NotAnotherManager!*

      Even if intended as a joke (and the OP’s additional comments don’t lead me to that interpretation), it has many more ways to be interpreted poorly. One of the things our employment counsel hit on repeatedly when we had management training was that jokes, sarcasm, and double-entendres were rarely interpreted well in a contentious or litigious situation. His point was not that we couldn’t be light-hearted or make jokes, but that we needed to be mindful of interpretations beyond our personal intent.

  3. r.*

    While the parking spot issue for LW3 may or may not be a battle they want or should fight over, it is deeply troubling that HR staff of all people would demonstrate both their eminent untrustworthiness and willingness to abuse their position.

    There may come a time when a HR matter involving you in some fashion will also involve some of the ‘power-abusing jerks from HR’, and where your future career at that company might depend on them not being power-abusing jerks towards you.

    That’s not a good position to be in, and that’s also not a good position for the company to be in.

    1. Helewise*

      Agreed. A parking spot is small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, but this is a red flag of the kind of dysfunction that can be catastrophic in a crisis.

    2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Also the reaction of the company to hearing about some people in HR was just to … shake their heads. Like oh well that HR, what are you going to do? granted it would be a bit much for the CEO to get involved over parking spots, but its a symptom. I would be looking around for other signs of dysfunction I hadn’t really noticed or just gotten used to so it warped my sense of what is normal.

    3. The Rafters*

      The person in charge of parking for our division had a hand-written list. Those who were in her favor got parking; the rest of us could pound sand. Everyone knew about it, but nothing was done. She pulled this nonsense and much more for *years* until the entire system was overhauled at the highesty level. She and a few others tried to continue with business as usual, but they were finally fired. People still complain about parking & other issues, but it least it’s computerized and parking is more fairly given. The only real problem now is that if they call an employee to offer a transfer to a better spot, that employee has to accept or decline w/in 15 minutes or it will go to the next person on the list. I’ve interrupted high ranking meetings to deal with this.

    4. Bee*

      And the lying about it to the LW’s face! I guess it’s good to learn you can’t trust anything they say over a relatively minor issue?

    5. Sevenrider*

      Hmm, I think I would get there earlier than the HR person and park MY car in MY space. I might get some orange cones and put there every night after I left too. If asked to move my car, “oh sorry, my keys are locked in and I am waiting for (husband, friend, etc.) to bring my spare at the end of the day”). This may sound ridiculous but is it any more than an HR person taking over your space?

    6. NMitford*

      I had a job where HR was the worst offender in terms of disregarding conference room reservations (at a company where conference space was at a premium). You’d show up for your meeting and find HR in your conference room, refusing to budge despite your reservation. So, not surprised at all to hear about them abusing the assigned parking spaces in this story. No surprising at all.

  4. N*

    #2 – do you work at my workplace? We have one that high pitched “oooohhhhs” and “aaaaahhhhssss” all day long. She went from a private area at the back of the building to a communal one near the front and instantly everyone who could started shutting their doors, while those that have to sit next to her look tortured.
    After one particularly obnoxious exchange I overheard her say “and that’s how it’s done!” Then go onto describe to her surrounding team mates that clients love her active listening noises in a “raised tone” and they should all try it out too.
    Truth is there have been complaints about it (by staff and public), but the boss is too far up her ass to tell her she’s anything but wonderful.

  5. Mollie*

    sounds like the people at LW1’s company were finally at breaking point and that was the comment that tipped them over the edge. it’s the sort of thing that doesn’t matter when everything is basically ok (but you would probably think less of the person saying it even so… I mean, what is a comment like that supposed to achieve?). When there’s other troublesome things happening, something that’s a bit insensitive feels like a compounding of everything else that’s going on. Can’t help but wonder also how the writer would have felt if they’d been compared to others in a similar way… would they be admonishing themselves for expecting a ‘trophy’?

    1. WellRed*

      This is how I feel. Other people are feeling unhappy and this just put them over the edge for whatever reason. Still a dumb comment to make and a huge overreaction by absolutely everyone but I doubt the comment in a vacuum was the real problem.

    2. Mermaid of the Lunacy*

      I thought the same thing. This person was probably borderline annoying on a daily basis and the comment might have been the last straw.

    3. Punkkin*

      Exactly. A comment like this at my previous job would have had us all giving the same exact response, because we were all over worked and told we were slacking and our office in particular was never recognized for the massive amount of work we did.

    4. gmg22*

      I wondered about this, too. I went through a really severe phase of burnout that was in part fueled by a couple of managers who constantly made comments like this about a team that wasn’t mine, and also failed to take into context some very different cultural and political contexts that the two teams in question were working within. It starts to feel like you’re working in a dysfunctional family (with all your feedback essentially being the work version of “Why can’t you be more like your sister?) instead of a professional context. LW might not realize that is happening elsewhere and she stepped in it by mistake … or she’s eliding the fact that she’s said this kind of stuff before, and I can’t help but lean toward the latter as more likely given the “everyone wants a trophy” comment. A reaction like this absolutely suggests that people have been hearing this unhelpfully competitive crap for awhile, regardless of from where, and they are fed up.

  6. Falling Diphthong*

    Thoughts on participation trophies:

    I have found that kids often discount a wall of ribbons and trophies that really mean “You were the best at vault at this one meet!” or “You came third in rings at this other event!” and then there is that one participation trophy from being an orca in 2nd grade that still holds emotional heft for them, and they keep it while tossing the others.

    A lot of the time, either the third place in rings at that one thing when you were 10 has worked its way into your psyche such that you don’t need the physical memento any more, or the excitement of the time has faded and the medal doesn’t bring it back. The medal meant the most at the moment it was awarded, and for a few weeks after. And that’s when participation trophies also mean the most.

    OP’s example would be like a parent announcing at the back to school night in the history classroom that their child deserved a special history commendation for their incredible insightful paper on the American Revolution, and when the other parents and teacher gave long-suffering sighs concluding “I guess I just won’t praise my child anymore” and “You all want participation trophies.”

  7. Oof and Ouch*

    I’ve been the other manager in a meeting when someone made a comment like OP #1 and it made me feel insane. I didn’t react like OP’s coworkers, instead I had a private conversation with that manager about how yes their team was very hard working, but other teams including my own were as well and that the manager didn’t see everything all the other teams did, and that he was inadvertently devaluing the efforts of other teams that were in a more supporting role since his team was already pretty consistently praised by management since they were highly visible.

    It got a little heated because, as I suspected, the manager didn’t have a good handle on what my team really did. He thought that the approximately 50% of our work that involved his team was all of our work, and was frustrated that we weren’t taking more on from his team. When I went through all the other things he didn’t see, he started to get it. My team was on the same level as his but we were frequently seen as “junior” because our work wasn’t as forward facing. I talked to the manager about how low the morale on my team already was because they felt kind of stepped on by his, and that frequently his team caused my team to have to work on much tighter timelines with more pressure, because they were late 90% of the time and saw my team’s work time as “buffer” even though we had very real work to get done.

    In the end he apologized, and while he occasionally had similar smaller slip ups, he never did anything quite so public/high profile again.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      Ugh! I’ve been on a small team with work that intersected with many others, and for some reason, many people think that what you do for their team is *all you do.* (Which is illogical to me on many levels.) Then we got assigned managers who didn’t understand what we did but did know that they didn’t always like our procedures (put in place to protect our organization and its contracts). I would have loved a manager who had our backs like you had your team’s.

      Instead, I eventually just left and took all my institutional knowledge with me.

      1. Oof and Ouch*

        Yeah, people around the office all kind of knew that my team had more to do than deal with their stuff, but they all seemed to think that *their* work should take up like 80-90% of our time. My manager was also located at another location and would pile more on and so I would have to say “Ok, well do you want us to worry about X or Y?” And then she’d say “Well you need to do both. Is there anything you can pass off to other manager’s team?” And I’d then have to explain that other manager was trying to get my team to take on more. It was honestly a huge mess

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      This is what I came here to say – that this comment, and the apparent doubling-down (“I’m sorry that everyone needs a participation trophy these days” which yeah I agree was not LW’s actual apology, but I’m guessing close enough), is a great way to ruin the collaboration between LW’s and other teams, which, if it is like any place I’ve worked, all teams including LW’s desperately needs. Not ruling it out at all that, when 1:1 with their team, LW trashes other teams to theirs like your fellow manager was.

  8. Ex-prof*

    #3, it worries me to realize that my reaction to that would be to start racing the usurper for my parking spot. Earlier and earlier. See who breaks first.

    1. Fishsticks*

      100%. Granted, I also purposefully choose to start work about two hours before everyone else in my department because I lose a lot of productivity with ambient noise and distractions, so I get more done in a day that way, but still. I’d figure out when HR person arrives and arrive half an hour earlier than that. An hour. Two. Whatever it takes.

    2. egyptmarge*

      Agreed. This is something worthy of going to war. Start parking at 6am and taking a 3hr breakfast somewhere. Or throw a sleeping bag in the back seat and take a nap. Overblown reaction? Possibly. But worth it? Absolutely.

      Stay petty, my friends.

    3. wendelenn*

      The Parking Spot Usurpers will open for the Usurper Cranberries (classic AAM holiday story reprinted here a week or so ago), on their next tour.

  9. Indolent Libertine*

    1. The irony of LW1 responding to their perception that everyone else is overreacting… by overreacting (“Well! I’ll certainly *never* praise my staff again since everyone else is So SeNsItIvE!!”).

    2. I find it hard to imagine that the others’ response wasn’t influenced by a whooooole lotta history of LW1 being clueless and insensitive.

  10. Olive*

    LW2, I worked in a shared office with someone similar and I’d thought he might have had Tourette’s, because his articulations seemed truly involuntary. Although I realized I was armchair diagnosing, once I had it in my head that it might be medical, I didn’t want to ask about it.

    I have trouble wearing headphones for long periods of time because I am prone to both tension headaches and ear infections, so I just dealt with it until I left the company. It was a relief to not hear it anymore, even if it probably wasn’t his fault.

  11. HailRobonia*

    In my old office someone reported that people were having group sex in the conference room next to their office because they could hear loud sex noises.

    It turns out it was a group of employees practicing qigong (“Chinese yoga”) which features a lot of breathing exercises.

    1. Pizza Rat*

      I am wondering just what form of qigong is being taught here/practiced here. None of the exercises I do with my group make noises like that.

  12. NotQuiteCool*

    “My team is incredibly hard-working” is a compliment.
    “My team is the most hard-working team in the company” is an insult to all the other teams.

  13. BellyButton*

    #1 is so ridiculous! Of course when people say that they are in no way saying others don’t work, they are just praising their employees. On the spot I would have said “you all know this is just in fun, right? Every manager thinks their team is the best and hardest working- and they should!”

    It is like when people say they have the best dog in the entire world- it doesn’t mean your dog isn’t the best dog in the entire world. (he/she is clearly not, because mine is :P )

    1. I should really pick a name*

      The phrase “you all know this is just in fun, right?” is the goto defence for a lot of horrible comments. I strongly recommend against using it if someone responds poorly to something that you said.

      1. Phryne*

        Something both is and is not ‘JuSt a jOkE’ until Schrödinger’s Douchebag has perceived if the audience is insulted or not.

    2. biobotb*

      Given the LW’s response to their coworkers’ offense, I am not at all sure the comment was really “just in fun.”

      Plus there are plenty of ways to praise one’s employees without putting other people down, so again the “just in fun” argument doesn’t really fly.

      1. Crunchy Granola*

        I’m with you. It’s a form of gaslighting really. “You have a problem with my behavior, well you can’t take a joke so you’re the problem.”

    3. penny dreadful analyzer*

      Honestly, if I were talking to someone who had a history of being unnecessarily competitive about every little thing and had demonstrated a constitutional lack of capability to praise anyone without putting someone else down, I probably would find myself getting irritated at claims that their dog was the goodest boy in a way that I wouldn’t normally find myself getting irritated at normal people claiming their dog was the goodest boy. It stops being funny if they seem to be the sort of person for whom that just is how they actually think.

      1. DyneinWalking*

        It doesn’t even start to be funny when the rest of someone’s behavior indicates they’re serious.

        Also, I’m pretty sure that if the LW had meant that comment as a joke, they’d have mentioned it

  14. obvious gin-based reasons*

    LW#2 – god, I once had a manager whose “happily greeting a dog” noises sounded exactly like sex noises. “Oh, oh, OH, OH! Yes! Yes yes yes YES!” with a lot of heavy breathing and high-pitched cries. She brought her dog to work and I was treated to this several times a day. It was… uncomfortable.

  15. Bast*

    LW2 –Open office plans are the worst for this. It can be really distracting when someone is huffing and puffing all day. It’s one thing to have a particularly frustrating moment, but when it’s all day…every day… it can be a real issue. The worst part is when you work a job that requires a lot of phone calls and the people on the other end comment on the “noises” that they can hear even though the other person is well across the room and you’re like, “should I pretend those noises aren’t happening, or explain to the client that coworker is having “a moment.” Unfortunately in our situation when it was brought up, we were met with “guess I just have to be silent all day” met with attitude any time someone asked a legitimate work related question — “Sorry, can’t talk to you, I’ve been told I have to shut up all day.” Funny thing is, the noises didn’t stop, even if her actual speaking did. :/

  16. desk platypus*

    LW1: The comment may have been a joke but things like that might accidentally unearth some drama no one really wants to get into. Earlier in the year a team in my department had a meeting with the boss to go over new procedures. That team has a heinous back log of work but it’s not something that goes away overnight, we’ve had staffing changes, and it’s sort of normal anyway. But at the end of the meeting one team member made a dry “joke” about how they would get more work done if everyone else follows her lead and doesn’t stand around talking all day. The rest of the team was hurt and offended. Our boss shut it down immediately and later told her that she was actually the lowest producing team member based on stats she keeps. (This included coworkers who only do that type of work for a portion of their day, not full time like her!) I work near that team and their socializing might go overly long sometimes, and boss has worked with them on that, but they used to never socialize and morale was incredibly low. Their workflow is actually better with the camaraderie. The resentment from that meeting lasted all the way until she retired months later (for unrelated reasons).

  17. Ms. Murchison*

    High school really should include a warning about HR. It’s just not fair that so many people enter the work world bearing the naive idea that HR will be there to help.

  18. Annabelle*

    The office culture at LW1’s company seems like of those “subtle signs of an unhealthy culture maybe”

    IDK I think maybe everyone at LW1’s company needs some dang Xanax and/or a glass of wine because wow they are making a huge Mount Everest out of that molehill of a comment.

    1. Bast*

      Yeah, I had to squint and tilt my head sideways to see how mentioning that your team is the best is offensive to others, and the only thing I can come up with is the tone? Maybe? I’ve worked in offices where a manager effusively praises their team as “the best in the world” “the most hardworking people” and I’ve never once thought to get upset about it, nor did anyone else in those meetings. I found it rather refreshing to find a manager who said something nice about their team instead of tearing them down, criticizing, and micromanaging. Logically speaking, I know they clearly cannot have supervised every team in the whole company, let alone the whole world, so they wouldn’t actually KNOW that their team is “the best in the world/company/whatever” but… I didn’t think the comment was meant to be looked at in such a deep and literal way?

  19. Skytext*

    I took a more charitable view of LW1’s statement. I thought it was more along the lines of: every new mother thinks her baby is the most beautiful baby in the world, every dog owner thinks his dog is the best boi in the world, every Father’s Day stores sell millions of “World’s Greatest Dad” mugs. Everyone understands that this is a personal, biased statement of pride and affection, and in no way an objective assessment. If that wasn’t clear, or LW didn’t make it clear immediately when she got that chilly response, maybe she does have other instances of being overly competitive or downplaying others’ contributions.

    1. metadata minion*

      I think it becomes different in a situation where people really are being judged on their performance. Of *course* your dog is the best dog; all dogs are the best dog, just as all babies are the most wonderful baby, and possibly simultaneously the most infuriating baby. But I expect my manager to have a more objective view of my team’s performance.

    2. Jennifer Strange*

      Taking that same view, though: My child was born around the same time as my friend’s child. Of course I think my child is the greatest, cutest, most amazing child ever, but if my friend and I are talking about our children I’m not going to say, “Gertrude is the cutest baby to ever be born.” Even if she would likely understand that I’m just giddy about my child, it feels really weird to discount her child right in front of her.

  20. Lurker*

    LW1-I don’t think the fact that people did not like your joke means that they are too sensitive. Different people react to things differently-what you need to take away is that your method of praising your team needs to change so this doesn’t happen again.

  21. EchoGirl*

    In the spirit of the season, OP2 should probably be careful what desserts they bring to the holiday potluck!

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