boss is obsessed with the dress code, managing a know-it-all, and more

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

1. Our boss is obsessed with the dress code — but all of us follow it

I work for a nonprofit and our office rarely receives outside visitors. Staff dress business casual and when we do work with the public (especially with elected officials or for media interviews) we all act like the intelligent adults we are and dress appropriately. In fact, our staff is usually more formally dressed than anyone else in the room, as we work in a region with a more relaxed clothing culture.

In the last year, our executive director has sent five dress code related emails, had one meeting just about the dress code, brought it up in three other meetings, and required us to have a “practice business formal” day.

I need to reiterate here, NO ONE in the office is dressing inappropriately. The worst offense I’ve seen is someone who was once reprimanded for wearing sneakers instead of work appropriate shoes. The way our ED writes and talks about the dress code, you would think staff was showing up every day with visible bra straps and booty shorts. No reason for these repeated lectures has been given to staff at all.

This feels deeply infantilizing and, in my opinion, is entirely an issue about our ED’s need for control. The excessive reminders and lack of actual dress code violations, combined with the fact that our dress code is out of date and out of sync with our regional culture, is maddening.

I know well enough not to bring my concerns up with leadership, but I would at least like to know I’m not totally unjustified in thinking this is excessive and frustrating?

This is indeed excessive and frustrating. It’s a bad use of staff time, not to mention a bit insulting.

If someone’s not following the dress code, that person’s manager should address it with them directly. Addressing it with the full staff would only make sense if lots of people were getting it wrong and it seemed like something needed to be clarified to the whole group.

How’s the ED’s focus on the organization’s actual work? Whenever something like this is happening, I get curious about how driven that person is toward concrete and meaningful results — how good they are at managing their team/the organization toward real impact. Much of the time, stuff like this happens when they’re floundering on that front.

Any reason that at the next lecture, someone can’t simply ask, “We’ve been talking about this a lot, but it seems like everyone follows the dress code. If someone is out of compliance, I don’t think any of us are aware of it. If that’s the case, it would be helpful to hear specifics one-on-one.”

2. How to tell an employee her ego is holding her back

I have a newish member of staff (one year) who is good at her job and very knowledgeable. Our company Slack is full of her jumping in to answer questions about all manner of topics. In general conversation/online chat, she’s also extremely reluctant to be told anything without first saying she already knew it. It at times leads to awkward moments (nothing particularly egregious, but other staff have commented that she’s a bit of a know-it-all, and she can push a bit far when a simple “oh, that’s interesting” would have been the more polite response). This perhaps wouldn’t be enough to warrant a conversation on its own, but it does mean she can be difficult in domains such as receiving feedback — there is clearly a lot of ego there and she spends a lot of time justifying why she made the decision she did when you ask her to change something in her work, or explaining why it’s impossible to do what you ask. At times I’ve had to do her work for her to show her it can, in fact, be done the way I need it to be done.

I have spoken to her about receiving feedback and explained we can’t spend an hour each time going back and forth on the changes as it’s not practical (especially in our deadline-driven industry). Since that conversation, she is getting better at receiving feedback.

However, now she is saying she would like to be given responsibility to approve others’ work, and give out the feedback, a relatively senior role in the organization, but one it would make sense for her to be doing given her position. When she asked, I told her she hadn’t been with us long enough but it was great she was ambitious, and to keep working on receiving and giving feedback. (Her response, which is pretty typical of her, was that she is great at giving feedback and has lots of experience in it). My worry is that if she is giving others feedback, everything will become an egotistical competition where she can’t let small things go and gets into arguments with other staff. Given this happens over little things, it seems likely it would happen when trying to get changes out of other staff. Do I let her become an approver and just address any issues if staff come to me with complaints, or is there a professional way to first address my concerns about her ego?

Don’t inflict that on your staff! Be honest with her that you need to see changes in the way she’s giving and receiving feedback now before she’ll be effective taking on that role. Consider framing it in terms of humility — that when she’s giving feedback to someone, they need to see that she’s not assuming she’s infallible, that she’s open to other points of view, and that there’s room for them to share alternate perspectives. Be honest that those are areas she’s weaker in now, and that you need to see her improve there first.

If she does eventually take on that responsibility, do it together for a while so you can observe and flag any areas she still needs coaching in … and so you’ll spot it early if she’s still not operating the way you need her to. That’s a lot better than relying on others to complain if there are problems, since a lot of people won’t speak up until things get really bad — and there’s a lot of demoralization that could happen in the meantime (as well as permanent damage to her relationships with people).

3. Coworker keeps making an offensive joke

One of my colleagues in the office is a dude who walks around using the phrase “just the tip” to refer to anything he can fit that phrase to. It’s a phrase that alludes to a rape joke, but it’s innocent sounding enough that my coworkers don’t know. I’m angry because I’m not actually getting paid to tell people to not make rape jokes at work. But I don’t want to be the person who complains about this because I’m afraid that I will honestly sound crazy. This is a dude who has a wife and a very small daughter and who walks around making a joke that normalizes nonconsent at work. I’m considering looking for another company because this is not my problem. What am I supposed to do?

You won’t sound crazy if you tell him to stop, because that’s wildly inappropriate to be saying at work. Whether or not he understands it as a rape joke, he certainly knows it’s sexual, and he knows it’s not okay to sexualize other people’s work environment. You could say any of the following:

* “Please stop saying that, it’s offensive.”
* “Don’t make me go to HR, which I will do if you keep saying that.”
* “Dude, that’s a disgusting thing to say at work. Don’t say it in the office again.”

And then if it continues, please do report it to HR.

4. Should I warn colleagues about an issue with their guest speaker?

I work in a higher education office that arranges events and advertises the campus to potential new students and their families. Along with our other responsibilities, each of us in the office arrange one major event per year.

We are about two weeks from one event arranged by a colleague of mine alongside our director. For a guest speaker, they’ve invited an alumni who now works as a business executive at a well-known brand, who has come and spoken for us multiple times before. Here is the issue: in recent months, the company the executive works for has been increasingly publicly criticized in relation to some of their business practices, to the point of boycotts. I know my colleague and the director well enough to know that they’re likely not too plugged into this — they’re just reaching out to people who have worked with us before as they scramble to get the event set up, which they’ve evidently had a lot of trouble with this year. They didn’t have speakers finalized until today.

Is this worth bringing up to them as a potential issue, especially with how soon the event is? I think it’s most likely few people will care, but I can also easily see it ending up on the wrong social media site and causing a nightmare for us.

Yes. You’re not telling them what to do; you’re letting them know about something they probably want to be aware of. Even if they don’t uninvite the person, it’s better for them to be aware of potential for blowback so they’re not blindsided if it happens.

{ 489 comments… read them below }

  1. goddessoftransitory*

    Ugh, LW3, too many people think they can change their workplace into Archer–totally missing the fact that the humor comes from this group of dysfunctional nitwits being boilingly inappropriate at all times, and they all work there because no other workspace on Earth would have them in it.

    1. ferrina*

      Yeah…..Archer is designed to be the antithesis of a role model. The show doesn’t make a secret of it. Someone playing at being Archer at work definitely isn’t in the right headspace to be a professional. OP gets to tell this person to knock it off, and have no qualms about it.

      1. OMG, Bees!*

        There are a surprising number of characters in shows that are meant to be NOT a role model, but people gravitate to using them as a role model any, since it seems to validate terrible behavior in their eyes.

      2. Yikes*

        I once went on a date with someone (met through a dating site) who was telling me about Archer. I said “oh, that doesn’t sound like a show I’d enjoy” and he said “no. You would. I wish I could just tie you up, and feed you food and make you watch this show. And you would like it.” To say there was no second date is an UNDERSTATEMENT

    2. The dark months*

      Exactly. And the best way to address it is directly and in the moment by being very blunt and naming exactly why it is inappropriate.

      Dude, you keep making sexual references which is so not work appropriate. You also realize the phrase has rape/non consensual connotations right? That it’s “just the tip” with the implication being that it will never be ‘just’ that?

      1. Momma Bear*

        Agreed. Call him out. I privately notified a colleague that an acronym he was using meant something very different in modern social media. He was mortified and never used that shorthand again. Since this guy OP is talking about thinks he’s being funny, I’d be direct about how it’s being taken, and he needs to stop because it’s offensive.

    3. Ray Gillette*

      Well, uh.

      Username jokes aside, it’s a great example of how when you’re in the workplace you really need to think your jokes through. It’s not just making a reference to a TV show, the humor in the show comes from how inappropriate that joke is for the workplace. But if the thought process stops at “reference to funny TV show,” we get situations like this.

      Workplace pro tip, don’t be that guy.

      1. Bruce*

        I learned this lesson when I was 21 and working as a summer intern, I was sitting in the lunch room with 3 of the regular staff: 2 men in their early thirties and one woman who was just a bit older than me. I made some dumb reference to a scene in a movie where 2 people are eating dinner in a very lascivious manner. The air at the table dropped below freezing. The conversation stalled. I realized I’d made a big mistake, and sure enough when lunch quickly broke up one of the men took me aside and told me that the young woman had been having problems with the _other_ guy who’d been at the table, and that I. SHOULD. NOT. MAKE. ANY. JOKES. LIKE. THAT. AGAIN… Mortification City! All I can say is THANKS! I should not have needed to be told that, and I did not need to be told it again.

      2. zuzu*

        The new attorney at a very small firm I worked at decided he wanted to be that guy back when The Chappelle Show was on the air. Late in the evening, when it was just him, me, and the admin, who was standing in my doorway talking to me before she left for the night. I asked him something, and he responded with shouted lines from the show, can’t remember which exactly, but they involved calling me bitch. When she said something, he repeated more lines from the show, again calling her bitch.

        He hadn’t substantively responded to either of us.

        What you need to understand is that the admin, Lauren, was the absolute right hand of the guy who owned the firm. So when I gave her a look that said, “I am not going to have to put up with this from him, am I?” she gave me a look back that said she had it handled. And so she did. He was out within a few days.

  2. Petey*

    Letter 3: I’m confused, I know “just the tip” as a sexual reference but never as anything to do with rape, or a joke about rape? Am I missing something? Just did a quick google search to confirm.

    1. Shakti*

      I was very confused by this too!! It’s definitely sexual and therefore understandable that this would be flagged as inappropriate as it is, but I’ve literally never heard of it as a rape joke. It’s a pretty common joke in things and definitely not something that I’d heard in the context of non-consenting activities and I’m pretty sensitive to that sort of thing

      1. Random Dice*

        Me three!

        I mean, it’s definitely not in line with “enthusiastic consent”, it’s badgering a woman to have sex when she’s declined or shown reluctance. But while enthusiastic consent is the goal, lacking that is not actually rape.

        1. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

          “just the tip” is coercive. If coercion is present, consent is not (according to a number of university implementations of title IX). Ergo “just the top” is rapey, both in intention and execution.

        2. tamarack and fireweed*

          I was surprised too as the only reference I have for this is a food truck in my community called “just the tips” – and I thought originally it was a pot shop. But no, it’s a woman-run vegetarian mediterranean place and I believe her idea behind it is that she’s only using the finest ingredients…

          But of course I don’t know all rapey jokes in the world of pop culture, and thus the answer and reaction is perfectly warranted.

    2. NoNotNan*

      When I’ve encountered this, it is absolutely about claiming they will only stick the tip in and then go all the way against the person’s will, because they only consented to the tip.

      1. chewingle*

        Oh, I’d only ever heard of it in the context of teens trying to convince someone that it doesn’t count as losing your virginity if it’s “just the tip.” I’d never heard it in reference to this. Interesting.

          1. Rose*

            Any sexual act can be coercion. The fact that this is stupid doesn’t mean it automatically is. I knew plenty of girls in high school who very willingly did just the tip because they didn’t count it.

          1. Katie A*

            That’s not at all equivalent. Some can think a certain act doesn’t count as losing their virginity but doing it without consent is still assault.

            For this particular joke, I’ve only seen it used as an actual joke (as opposed to a reference) where it was “just the tip” so the person says “it didn’t count as my first time”. There was no assault.

      2. Annie*

        Yeah, I’ve never heard the “just the tip” as something regarding non-consent, but either way, it’s completely inappropriate for the work place.

    3. Pyjamas*

      Ditto, though the sexual connotation makes this guy sound cringe-y at best. He shouldn’t quit his day job to go into comedy. Nor should he risk his day job for his idea of a joke

      1. Ozzac*

        I’ve always heard this phrase as part of a longer “joke”, and yes, it’s about lying to have sex, so I can see the rape aspect. Regardless of that part it’s a sexual joke constantly repeated in a professional setting, so OP3 can definetly shut it down.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I had previously understood it as more about … sexual pressure, which still isn’t great, obviously. But I asked my husband about it and he persuaded me it’s more than that — this is our text exchange that made me realize what I’d missed about it:

      1. Tinkerbell*

        Yes, it’s definitely presented as a “life hack” that cool guys know about, rather than a boundary-pushing behavior which is problematic even in the best circumstances.

      2. Dog momma*

        Well I’ve never heard this or heard of this, but It would be very uncomfortable to be around someone who said this all the time. and yes, he knows what he’s saying..

          1. MassMatt*

            From what LW says, the guy makes the joke constantly. The obsessiveness of it is weird even if the joke were not gross for other reasons. There is something wrong with this guy both for thinking this joke is OK in the workplace and because it is so lodged in his brain. And is he noticing no one is laughing?

            1. Random Dice*

              I don’t think anyone actually needs to talk with him before going to HR.

              The difference between “I know you’re aware you’re talking about sex and penises at work” vs “I know you’re aware you’re talking about sex and penises and sexual coercion that may lead to rape at work” isn’t big enough to risk speaking to him before HR.

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

              I think the reason he says it constantly is because he is getting away with it. No one has stood up to him so he gets a little thrill about sexualizing stuff at work. OP needs to say something. I wouldn’t even talk to him, I would just got to HR

              1. Hannah Lee*

                I don’t think *that’s* the reason.

                Because normal professionals would not make the same “joke” over and over again, nor would they have reference this phrase in conversation the first place (at work or elsewhere) never mind kept looking for more opportunities to use it.

                1. Oregonbird*

                  No need to know the reason. The reason literally doesn’t matter. No need to delve, just to Speak Up – to him, to their manager, to HR. Remove his privilege without a care in the world for why he feels such privilege.

      3. HonorBox*

        The guy in this letter may be referencing a line Vince Vaughn says in “Wedding Crashers.” In the same way someone might drop “That’s what she said” because Michael Scott does it on “The Office.”

        Regardless of the point of reference, it doesn’t belong in the workplace.

        1. BubbleTea*

          Both of those phrases are sexual references that aren’t appropriate for work, but the one in this letter is more explicitly about genitals so I think it’s worse just on that basis.

          1. Boof*

            Yes; but i think the point is one can just stop at saying “that’s inappropriate for work” and not try to debate how rape-y it is (which may depend on where they picked it up)

        2. Caramel & Cheddar*

          Yes, I know this as a (still inappropriately sexual for work) Wedding Crashers joke, not as a rape joke.

          1. Arts Akimbo*

            Also, Wedding Crashers is a movie that makes a huge joke out of a man getting raped, so… yeah.

      4. TeaCoziesRUs*

        Offsides, your husband seems very supportive of both you and the community! Please thank him for sharing why this is more problematic than the ubiquitous (and more cringe not-funny) “That’s what she said.”

        I took them to both be the same level of 20s guy idiocy.

        1. Timothy (TRiG)*

          That’s what she said is just a far less funny version of As the actress said to the bishop, which is the same joke, but for some reason funnier, and at least allows the possibility of inversion, with As the bishop said to the actress.

      5. Observer*

        this is our text exchange that made me realize what I’d missed about it:

        Ugh, that’s gross. But thanks for posting it. Because sometimes it’s important to know gross stuff ~~Sigh~~

      6. uninformed at 47*

        As a heterosexual woman whose late teen years were marked with me insisting that “just the tip” was fine (!!!), I thought it was a reference to creative and uninformed teenagers! But I would still never think it’s appropriate for a work conversation, regardless of the fact that I never read coercion into it. (Reading these comments makes me see that I was alone in my naive, enthusiastically consenting interpretation!)

      7. Enthusiastic consent only!*

        Honestly for LW3, for Alison’s last recommendation on things to say, I think I would leave on the “at work”. I would just say “Dude, that’s a disgusting thing to say. Please stop saying it.” Because it’s disgusting both in and out of work. I work in healthcare and one of the things I always work on teaching my patients is that both partners should be enthusiastic about anything sexual. Consent matters. Being coerced into something is not ok.

        1. Anon for this*

          I’m both appalled and somehow not surprised at how many of the responses here seem to think coercion is fine and not rape. It took me a long time to care enough about myself to accept that the reason I was so upset about coercive sex I’d experienced was that it was in fact rape and that he knew I didn’t consent but pushed forward with it anyway.

    5. Tinkerbell*

      The “joke” is that when having sex, the guy pressures the girl (who doesn’t want to have PIV sex and risk getting pregnant) into letting him put “just the tip” inside her. It’s a reference to how some guys feel they can turn a “no” into a “yes” by badgering their partner and moving the boundaries, so “no” becomes “just the tip” becomes “I’ll pull out” becomes “oops, oh well, it’s done.”

      Unfortunately, OP3, a significant fraction of the population don’t see this as rape at all (seriously, there have been tons of studies where men self-report doing all sorts of things in this vein and don’t consider themselves to have done anything wrong), and there may be a good chance you get pushback if you frame it as such. You can still say it’s sexual and therefore inappropriate, though – there’s NO non-sexual way to interpret this phrase!

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, I wouldn’t even get into the coercion/non-con/rape aspect because even if he wants to deny those connotations – which he almost certainly would – he can’t really deny that it’s a sexual reference (I mean, he could, but, well, what else would it reference?).

        Apart from that, though, I’m really wondering what this dude is talking about in general that he manages to fit this phrase into regular (work) conversations. My work language isn’t English and AFAIK my mothertongue doesn’t have an equivalent phrase but I really don’t think that’s the only reason I basically never hear about any “tips” at work (although now that I’m looking to my left, I have a little “inkwell” right next to me which refills some special pens I need to use and there it is indeed important that you don’t jab the whole thing in there but only gently put the tip but, like, if I ever talked to anyone at work about this, it would be very clear that I’m talking about a literal mechanic).

        1. ThatOtherClare*

          “The tip of the iceberg” is a fairly common English phrase meaning a small visible part of a larger, mostly hidden, problem. But you can work it into the conversation in other ways as well:

          “Are we considering the whole iceberg here, or just the tip?”

          “I thought this would be a small issue, turns out what I was seeing was just the tip of the problem.”

          “This project is going to be a really big one. *gestures with hands* What you’ve seen today is just the tip of it.”

          Barf emoji.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            The first example is innocuous–the vast bulk of an iceberg is below the waterline. (Think Titanic.)

            The second would be equally innocuous if you’d never heard the joke and don’t reference body parts at work. (I don’t, except for the aches & pains of a 50+ woman trying to get back into shape.)

            The third is pushing it somehow – it may be your described gesture, or it maybe because we’re now thinking of this specific context.

            I’d suggest giving him the “honorable out” and tell him “the way you’re using that phrase, it does not sound like you’re talking about an iceberg or rewarding a good waiter.”

            1. Throwaway Account*

              No because he WANTS some to acknowledge his little “joke” and why give someone who is so dishonorable an honorable way out. Pass the awkward right back by telling him sexual references at work are inappropriate.

            2. Ophelia*

              Yeah, exactly. Context matters a lot here, and it’s clear from OP’s letter that this guy is pushing it. (I can absolutely imagine myself saying something like the first example, and not AT ALL meaning anything beyond “tip of the iceberg” but I would feel very different about the third one because of how you’ve laid them out.)

          2. AF Vet*

            The best relevant iceberg-related work comment I saw when working aircrew:

            There’s too many penguins! One keeps falling off.

            AKA, I have too many (things to learn, projects, high-priority to-dos, etc), and one keeps falling (off the radar).

            1. Fluff*

              I am stealing this today as I email my boss about what do I say no too?

              Which penguin(s) should I boot off?

              1. La Triviata*

                I read a book years ago where a man brought a colony of penguins home for his private zoo/menagerie and talked about how, when they were going into the water, there was always a first penguin that got pushed in before the others.

            2. Random Dice*

              I want to understand this comment. Were they real penguins or ways of talking about aircraft on the radar?

          3. Myrin*

            I’m fluent in English and pretty fluent in meme-ish so I’m aware of all of that, I was just thinking that for OP to be noticing his repeated use, the way he phrases it must be pretty obvious and not just some variation of icebergs and their tips, hence my wondering.

          4. Saberise*

            And in all three examples, I would think it was tip of the iceberg situation not a sexual reference at all. As in it would be a stretch to think that.

            1. Saberise*

              Having read what Allison said below I think she’s correct. Just those statements by themselves would not make one think of anything other than tip of the iceberg. It would be if he emphasized or repeated just the tip haha after. So how it is said matters.

      2. Observer*

        Unfortunately, OP3, a significant fraction of the population don’t see this as rape at all

        While true, I don’t think it’s a battle that the OP needs to worry about in this context (assuming a reasonably functional workplace.) Because, as you say, the OP is still on 100% solid ground in complaining about it being sexual, and that’s not something even the most determinedly oblivious person can’t get away from.

        1. ampersand*

          Right. I gasped when I read what OP’s coworker is saying, because regardless it’s a sex joke at work, and that’s completely unacceptable. I actually didn’t know it’s alluding to rape, so I’ve also learned something here!

        2. KG*

          That’s sad and disturbing. I hope all you people who think this is funny or just a joke, consider what fraction you belong to. This c9mment section is alarming.

      3. Love to WFH*

        It _should_ be enough to tell someone that the phrase has a rape connotation to many of the people who will hear.

    6. Rosyglasses*

      I’ve never heard it referenced to rape either – only in a jokey way with people that aren’t talking or referencing that at all. Regardless, the advice still stands about sexualizing the work environment – but I wouldn’t ascribe malice to the joke where it may not apply.

      1. Nebula*

        I think sexualising the work environment is malicious in and of itself, regardless of what the exact connotations of sexual jokes like these are.

        1. Sloanicota*

          Yeah it’s true I hadn’t considered the implications behind it, but now I will think about that more often – either way, he’s sexualizing the workplace saying this all the time and needs to stop. It’s like my buddy who just can’t let any “that’s what she said” opportunity pass. It’s just annoying and not funny and if he was my coworker I’d ask him to stop and then be visiting someone higher up if he didn’t.

          1. Formerly Ella Vader*

            In non-work contexts, my buddy has switched out “that’s what he/she said” and says “I had a date like that once”. Less gendered, less distanced from the imaginary people they’re making fun of, and still the same “heh heh heh” calling attention to a possibly-far-fetched sexual interpretation of whatever has just been said.

            I find it less annoying – partly because with being less gendered, it’s a game I could play too if I wanted to. But yeah, if I heard it in a workplace situation I’d be shutting it down.

    7. nnn*

      I also didn’t know what it mean, and I’m wondering if this might be a situation where OP can leverage that confusion and make it awkward for him.

      Just a touch louder than normal speaking volume: “Just the tip of what? Why?”

      Make him articulate the connotations and alleged humour.

      1. KeinName*

        Oh imagine the awkwardness for all involved if OP tried that!!
        And in general: what an arsehole that walks around the workplace and necessitates people discussing the implications of his ill-advised turns of phrase! We had the same recently with a collage drinking from a ‚SIZE MATTERS‘ cup on Zoom. I argued it doesn’t matter what ‚is meant by it‘, because it is indeed sexualized harassment if it makes my other colleague uncomfortable. As it very clearly did.

        1. whyblue*

          I’m not a native speaker and I’ve never heard this expression before. Tip of the iceberg was honestly my first association when I read this. Any chance that he just heard it somewhere and is indeed completely clueless?
          Even if not, maybe you can pretend that he is and just kindly explain it to him because as the father of a daughter he OF COURSE wouldn’t want to perpetuate this kind of thing?

          1. Pineapple Salad*

            Another “tip of the iceberg” person here! I wouldn’t have picked up on the other meaning at all.

              1. UKDancer*

                Nor me. I have used “tip of the iceberg” to mean there’s a lot going on below the surface and what you can see is only the topmost part. The other meaning was new to me so obviously has not made it very far in my part of the UK.

            1. Really?*

              Yes, but I’ve never heard ‘tip of the iceberg’ shortened…I was genuinely puzzled, thinking that ‘just the tip’ was a weird phrase.

          2. ThatOtherClare*

            It’s not the phrase in isolation, it’s the accompanying body language and the pattern of repeatedly squeezing it into the conversation when it doesn’t quite fit that makes it clear when someone isn’t just talking about icebergs.

            It’s a bit like the difference between people staring at me and my family when we all wore tiny hats to a restaurant for a birthday party, compared to people staring at me when I wear a low-cut top. On paper it sounds like staring is staring, right? But I can tell the difference from the body language, mouth movements, eyebrow movements, etc. It’ll be the same for the letter writer with all the the “Just the tip” comments. Human brains are extremely well optimised for picking up on subtext. If the letter writer is saying it’s innuendo, it is. If you innocently refer to the tip of the iceberg no native English speaker would bat an eyelid.

          3. Slartibartfast*

            It’s a common enough euphemism in American English, but also a very recent one. A part of meme culture that is meant to sexualize innocent conversations the same way the “that’s what she said” joke does. If the proverbial iceberg is being referenced it’ll typically be mentioned, “tip of the iceberg” would be the whole expression used.

            1. Sloanicota*

              Yeah also the circumstances where you use the phrase wouldn’t be the same so I don’t think there’d be confusion. If it’s like, plugging in a computer, “just the tip of the iceberg” would be a strange thing to say at that moment. If you’re talking about getting something started with a small initial action, “just the tip of the iceberg” would be an odd phrase.

            2. Kay*

              It isn’t that recent, and most definitely not very recent. Men trying to get their way have been using this for a very long time though.

            3. SimonTheGreyWarden*

              Yeah, it’s not work appropriate. I have some friends with whom I exchange “That’s what she said” quips with, but would never do it in the workplace.

          4. melissa*

            I agree with this. She could say “OMG I think you mean ‘tip of the ice burg’! That other thing you said actually has a WHOLE different meaning that I KNOW you wouldn’t want to say at work!”

          5. FuzzBunny*

            Why as “father of a daughter,” though? Why can’t someone not want to perpetuate it simply because that’s how decent people act, regardless of whether they have daughters?

      2. English Rose*

        I was entirely innocent about this phrase until I googled it just now and I am just amazed and disgusted that this man is using it.
        I suppose there is plausible deniability (tip of the iceberg) but I would go straight to HR.

        1. Some Words*

          No plausible deniability. The non-sexual phrase is “just the tip of the iceberg” not “just the tip”. Nobody says “just the tip” when referring to an iceberg.

          Let’s stop twisting our brains to give this person an out. It gets exhausting and we see it way too often here.

          1. Grey*

            Hard to tell without context. What’s more likely? Someone shortening a common idiom? Or someone making penis jokes in a professional setting?

            If someone said something like, “I have to complete all these reports by noon, and that’s just the tip”, I wouldn’t immediately think it’s rape joke.

            We need to know what OP’s coworker is joking about.

            1. Margaret Cavendish*

              We do not need to know what OP’s coworker is joking about.

              And this kind of comment is exactly what Some Words meant when they said “Let’s stop twisting our brains to give this person an out.”

            2. Timothy (TRiG)*

              Someone who was genuinely making a “tip of the iceberg” reference wouldn’t be constantly shoehorning it into conversations. And probably wouldn’t be accompanying it with wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know what I mean? say no more body language, which is what I’m imagining from LW’s description.

            3. run mad; don't faint*

              I think we should presume that the LW knows the difference between “just the tip of the iceberg” comments and “just the tip” innuendos from the context of those comments as they hear them.

            4. SnackAttack*

              Haha, were ya present for the whole Me Too movement? ‘Cause I actually think it’s not uncommon for gross dudes to make penis jokes in a professional setting.

            5. Oregonbird*

              The situation is clear, as is the OP’s reading of the sexualizer, and we don’t need further information to offer the OP a way forward.

              I could have lived happily never knowing that a significant percentage of AAM commentators don’t see sexual coercion as rape. (Really? Really!?!) Seeing the lack of reasonable ethics and empathy in people who work in the daily office grind is a grim reminder why legal protection is so important to white collar workers. Our predators tend to look good in suits, and with half our coworkers believing coercion is just an amusing social standard– having laws that spell out the reality of coercion is a comfort and a hard no.

          2. Observer*

            No plausible deniability. The non-sexual phrase is “just the tip of the iceberg” not “just the tip”. Nobody says “just the tip” when referring to an iceberg.

            Exactly. I’d never heard of this usage before this letter, but it was still obvious to me that “tip of the iceberg” is not what he meant because no one uses *just* the tip.

            Let’s stop twisting our brains to give this person an out. It gets exhausting and we see it way too often here.

            Yes! A thousand – a MILLION times yes!

          3. Cynthia*

            I think the person above agreed with you – I read it more as “ugh, he might claim plausible deniability (and he would be wrong to do so), but take it straight to HR anyway.”

            I agree with that too – it’s egregious enough that I’d definitely take this to HR immediately. OP, I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with this sexualization of conversations at work – so gross!

          4. Me again*

            About a third of the commenters (if not half) have said they weren’t aware of a sexual meaning at all. it not “twisting our brains” to allow it’s vaguely possible that he either doesn’t know, or thinks others won’t. Set him straight, and don’t allow it to continue, but consider it strike one.

            1. I should really pick a name*

              No, it’s not.

              It’s all about context.

              You might not have encountered the joke being referred to, but when it’s used, there’s no plausible alternate explanation. It’s not simply using a phrase that include “just the tip”. The typical usage is following up an innocuous statement with “just the tip” in way that doesn’t make sense in any context but that joke.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Yes, this. Usually what happens is the person then repeats “just the tip” in a leering or amused way. They’re deliberately emphasizing the sexual connotation. If you’re unfamiliar with this, please take the word of those are us who aren’t — there’s no way it’s innocent. It’s a very, very obvious sexual joke.

                1. Bigger-the-hair…closer-to-god*

                  How do you feel about OP saying “why are we discussing penises at work”?

                2. Forrest Rhodes*

                  Bigger-the-hair…closer-to-god said, above: How do you feel about OP saying “why are we discussing penises at work?”

                  That’s excellent. The only change I’d make would be “Why are YOU discussing YOUR penis at work—again?” (I can think of several worse modifications, but none are G-rated.)

                  I’m a serious not-fan of “just the tip,” mostly because the sayer usually isn’t referring to icebergs, and icebergs are so much more interesting than the other interpretation.

            2. Two Fish*

              There’s no realistic scenario where this guy uses this catchphrase and doesn’t know it’s sexual. Hearers can be unaware but it’s ridiculous to think that he himself is.

                1. Laura*

                  If a person is leering and hunting for reactions, one can assume that they themselves are quite sure that their speech is not appropiate for polite company.

                  (I though of icebergs, too — just because I never heard it shortened does not mean no one does it, also, I’m not a native speaker. And even then the fishing for reactions would have made him look like a creep with a penguin obsession.)

            3. SnackAttack*

              Okay, but apparently this guy says it all the time. If you’re not aware of the meaning, there’s no reason you would be saying it at all, because, well, it doesn’t make any sense (heck, even “just the tip of the iceberg” sounds weird). OP didn’t even mention anything about an iceberg – that was just something we came up with because it’s a somewhat common business phrase that involves the word tip! Many, many men I know are aware of what that phrase means (though they don’t use it, of course). It’s MUCH more plausible that a guy sauntering around the office interjecting with “just the tip” all the time is well aware of its underlying meaning, rather than being some well-meaning but ignorant innocent.

            4. ThursdaysGeek*

              I’m guessing there is some body language or indication so that the OP knows that he knows what he’s saying. That and the repetition.

              But I don’t completely disagree with your point either. I have occasionally said “that’s what she/he said” when referencing something that someone said. I know it’s also a line from some movie I haven’t seen, and I’m not trying to quote that movie. Whatever the implications are from the movie, that is not my meaning. But it’s also very occasional and accidental.

              1. AF Vet*

                The context is “that’s what s/he said when we had sex.” I.E. That’s so big! (You just made an excellent deal that will save your company thousands of dollars.) Frat bro…. “That’s what she said!” referring to the (hopeful / optimistic) size of his penis.

                You might want to avoid that phrase in work environs, unless you’re using it to get chummy with the frat bros. (I have been there and had to be chummy by using light double entendre. I get it. It stinks.)

            5. Kay*

              People don’t repeat jokes if they don’t know what the joke means. He knows what it means. If he is using it because he thinks others won’t know what it means – well, wouldn’t that be a double violation?

      3. Really?*

        I’ve never heard of this either; and was thinking the same thing. I’m sorry what was that supposed to mean? Or would you care to explain that? Which then leads to pointing out that that is totally inappropriate in any context, let alone, work context.

      4. Phony Genius*

        Got to feel bad for every waitress and others who earn tips, who probably have heard this line dozens of times from customers (possibly with a wink), abusing the plausible deniability that it was about their gratuity.

    8. Miriel*

      I have heard it as a rape joke, but also (probably less commonly) as a joke about the sexual practices of religious conservatives (i.e., it doesn’t count if it’s just the tip), and sometimes in jokes that have both. Inappropriate for work in all versions frankly, but I do wonder if it might be better strategy-wise to begin by giving the guy the benefit of the doubt, and then move to these more direct/blunt responses if he doesn’t immediately correct the behaviour.

      1. ThatOtherClare*

        Why is it better to give him the benefit of the doubt? If he was worried about being accidentally censured for making jokes with rape connotations, he didn’t have to make sex jokes at work. Easy.

        Actions have consequences. If he truly had no idea and he’s a nice person, he’ll be utterly appalled when he finds out, he’ll give a full and sincere apology, and he’ll never do it again. That’s not exactly the most onerous of consequences. People make mistakes and apologise for them all the time. If he is just an innocent bumbler, being corrected and having to give one single apology isn’t going to harm him.

      2. Smithy*

        This is where I fall in the spirit of how to have the conversation. Because whether there is a coercive element or not, that repeated variety of sexual humor/inuendo is problematic on its own.

        I’m thinking of having a colleague regularly and repeatedly saying “that’s what she said” – whether or not that connotation is “light sexual humor” or darker, the repetition in the workplace would unnerve me. I think in either case, highlighting the clear sexual inuendo and therefore inappropriate nature of the humor is ample reason to stop. And for someone genuinely thinking they were engaging in lighthearted humor – they’d stop. Not stopping immediately, or at the very least making a strong concerted effort to stop gives a lot more context when escalating the issue.

        1. Turquoisecow*

          Yeah, I’ve never heard the phrase or knew the context, I assumed he was leaving off the iceberg but when OP said it was a sex thing I immediately was squicked out even without knowing why. Reading the real meaning, ick.

          I’d probably either approach the guy privately or go to HR and say “hey, that phrase you/he are saying is really inappropriate, and here’s why.” Maybe he heard someone else say it and isn’t aware of the connotations. I wasn’t so it’s definitely possible. If that’s the case, he’ll hopefully be appalled and say something like “oh god I didn’t mean that I’m so so sorry, won’t happen again.” If you get pushback from it or a “sorry if you were offended” type non-apology, well, he’s shown his true colors and it will come out in lots of other ways.

      3. scratched cd*

        That’s more my experience too growing up in a conservative religious background. I’ve heard the phrase from the other partner’s perspective, where they’re prudish so they insist on “just the tip“ when they really want more. So bringing up rape/coercion may just get you too deep in the weeds and give him something to argue with.

        Regardless, it’s always wildly sexual and completely inappropriate and I don’t think you need to nail down the exact meaning or intent to shut it down.

      4. A Manager for Now*

        FWIW I’ve only ever heard in a “doesn’t count if it’s just the tip” religious-conservative-everything-but-PIV-virginity-construct way. This conversation has been eye opening for me, not because I use the phrase but because I’ve heard it so frequently and didn’t know there was an additional connotation.

      5. Observer*

        but I do wonder if it might be better strategy-wise to begin by giving the guy the benefit of the doubt, and then move to these more direct/blunt responses if he doesn’t immediately correct the behaviour.

        No. Because these responses are appropriate even for the “more innocent” versions of the phrase. It’s gross and has no place in the office. It needs to stop. And if he argues, the OP should not ramp it up with him, they should go straight to HR.

      6. Rose*

        I grew up in a conservative religious culture and area and I often heard “just the tip” as practical advice for consensual fun without loosing your virginity often as a teenager in the 200s. Girls and guys readily participated.

        That being said… the benefit of the doubt is that he’s making a really graphic sexual joke. Regularly. At work. Even giving him the benefit of the doubt this is so far over the line. The line is a dot to him. He has already earned the blunt script.

    9. Ellis Bell*

      Well, this is how pervasive rape culture is, that we see pressure to consent as consensual sex, or at least don’t bother to consider whether it is. I definitely had a “huh? is that rape?” moment too, but OP is right. At any rate, her colleague sounds like a child.

      1. DJ Abbott*

        I could tell by LW’s description what kind of man he is. A drunken frat boy who thinks he’s so cool with his sex joke.
        I hope he gets some maturity and awareness – and sobriety if necessary – by the time his daughter needs him.

      2. Sloanicota*

        I admit, I was like, “that’s sexual but it’s not really a rape joke” until I thought more about the context and read some of the comments here, so today I learned something! It truly is super pervasive in our culture that of COURSE guys will lie/cheat their way into sex haha it’s funny.

    10. Pinky*

      It is a joke based on the idea that consent cannot be withdrawn once given. In the vein of ‘well, she got naked with him, what did she think was going to happen. Can’t expect a guy to control themselves one they get to that point, she should have known’.
      It is very much a joke about ignoring levels of consent and therefore it is only not about rape if you believe that consent to one act is consent to everything and/or consent once given cannot be withdrawn at any moment.

    11. Katie Impact*

      I always assumed the joke was that it was an obviously desperate and ridiculous request that nobody would ever agree to, but in any case it’s not appropriate for a normal workplace, so it’s probably easiest for the OP to point out that it’s a sexual reference and leave it at that rather than get into the weeds about it.

      1. Arthenonyma*

        Unfortunately no, the “joke” is that if you can talk her into “just the tip” you can talk her into the whole thing. Or just go for it, not like she can stop you, right? :/

      2. Hokey Puck*

        Yeah, like I think with my girlfriends I have made that joke once or twice because its so ridiculous, firstly….just the mechanics of it, “just the tip” is still INSIDE. It basically means a request that is so dumb and so pitiful that its a joke. Like no one is going to agree to that because…again its dumb and pitiful.
        But absolutely should never come up at work!!!

        1. Hokey Puck*

          When I say girlfriends…I am female, I am talking about friends that are female – I just re-read that and thought maybe someone thinks I’m a dude!

    12. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

      It’s a very bad joke about coercion. The idea is that if you allow just “the tip” then it’s easier to force the rest of the way in. It’s very inappropriate for most settings especially work. He may be counting on people not understanding the reference and snickering at his own wit.

    13. ReallyBadPerson*

      It’s a sexual coercion reference. I’d be tempted to tell the nasty dude bro to keep his mouth in his pants.

    14. Anon for this*

      Yeah, I wouldn’t immediately flag it as non consent specific, but at the very least it’s sexual and kinky and that has absolutely no place in the workplace.

      1. RVA Cat*

        This. The workplace should be free from *literal* d!ck heads, at least.

        (I so wish the useful British slang “bellend” would cross the pond.)

    15. Dek*

      Yeah, to me it would be more that he’s trying to quote Archer, which…is still pretty inappropriate

      1. Global Cat Herder*

        Absolutely nothing about Archer is suitable for work. Which is actually the underlying running joke of Archer.

    16. Happy meal with extra happy*

      I know this is a (tired) common refrain, but you really think it applies here when, whether there are rape connotations or not, people simply don’t want explicit sexual humor in their workplace? You think that preference is over the top, not the jokes themselves? Like, you can assume whatever “good” intentions you want, but this is a sexual joke, full stop.

    17. JelloStapler*

      Same, I thought it was just about sex (still not appropriate)- but if it has involved into more- I appreciate knowing!

    18. Not A Bear*

      Yeah, same here. It’s absolutely sexual and completely inappropriate for work for that reason alone, but I’ve never heard it in a way that refers to non-consent – only in the context of either “things teenagers with bad sex ed mistakenly think will prevent pregnancy” or “ways people avoid technically violating their religion’s ‘no premarital sex’ rule.”

    19. JenLP*

      I always thought it was a circumcision joke…still not appropriate from work, but completely different from what I’m finding out…hmmm

  3. Anon for this one*

    LW4, definitely let your colleagues know about the speaker! I’ve scheduled speakers for a regular series that I oversee and there have been a couple folks over the last ~5 years that were unexpectedly problematic. Maybe the company had something questionable going on or maybe it was something specific to the individual, but either way, I wish someone had offered up even a vague warning about before I brought them in.

    I’ve also had to warn other folks about their invited speakers and yeah, it’s awkward as hell and hard to do politely. But it’s still a service to give them the info and let them decide what to do next.

    1. The Other Fish*

      Definitely let them know.
      Also… if there’s been boycotts… and this is going to be on a university campus.. weigh up the chances of an incident within this event and warn them explicitly if you are concerned about that. Anything from some salty questions through to pickets and protests.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        Yes, this is another potential issue. The venue where we hold our annual conference requires a list of all speakers and their topics in advance so they can identify any potential concerns and have security on hand if necessary. However, this generally isn’t a requirement for talks at smaller venues, so the organisers probably aren’t even thinking about it.

      2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        Even if not actually an incident – are the people boycotting that company the same ‘group’ (in whatever sense) as the people you expect at the event? in which case you might find the event being boycotted when they find out you have this speaker.

        1. OMG, Bees!*

          Even worse, if the company is getting enough bad press to be boycotted, would some people show up to protest at the event?

      3. JustaTech*

        Yes, and this gives a slightly different angle on the issue: “Hey, so you know there have been boycotts of Speaker’s Company, so we need to let Campus Security know so they can be prepared.”

    2. The Prettiest Curse*

      Yes, please tell the event organisers, it’s likely that they are busy and just didn’t know. I’ve been fortunate enough to have never been in this situation (having a relatively small local speaker circuit helps), but if this happened to me, I’d probably announce that the talk was being rescheduled and then just not reschedule it with that speaker.

      I promote a lot of events as part of my job and have a lot of discretion on which events to promote. There have been a couple of occasions where talks with dodgy speakers got left off the list.

    3. ThatOtherClare*

      I understand the letter writer can’t give more detail without doxxing themselves, but it’s so difficult to know how problematic the speaker might be without more detail! There’s such a broad spectrum of behaviour that can fall under the description in the letter.

      At one end of the spectrum, a few people were boycotting the big Australian supermarket chains because they didn’t stock extra Australian flags and paraphernalia for Australia day this year. It was heavily covered in the media, but from what I heard about it basically none of the locals really cared beyond finding it a bit of a joke.

      At the other end of the spectrum are people and businesses boycotting X for firing most of their Trust and Safety employees, which is a huge deal.

      For this reason it’s probably best to just err on the side of bringing it up and letting the organisers decide the risk level posed by this specific speaker, in context.

      1. nnn*

        I’m fascinated by this framing of “didn’t stock extra flags” rather than “didn’t stock enough flags”

        1. WS*

          A major right-wing politician decided it was a good idea to stir up trouble that a major supermarket chain wasn’t going all out because the supermarkets are aware that Australia Day is controversial and also they’re losing money on flags!

        2. ThatOtherClare*

          No joke. They’re a sensible money-making business. They reviewed the decline in the last few years’ flag buying patterns, and combined with very low December consumer spending due to cost-of-living issues, they predicted that the number of flags they usually stock would be enough to cover the small purchasing increase prior to Australia Day.

          This sent the media into a tizz, because “War on Australia Day” makes a good headline. The calculations were right, the flags didn’t sell out, everything went quiet again, and the supermarket chains will continue to Kanban their stock in peace.

          1. Brain the Brian*

            Hedge fund-owned news outlets without enough reporters and assignment editors to find real stories of their own are increasingly letting politicians lead them to nothingburger stories like blind bees to cough syrup. It’s happening everywhere, and it’s letting politicians get away with a lot of crap.

        3. Observer*

          “didn’t stock extra flags” rather than “didn’t stock enough flags”

          Even if the latter were objectively correct AND the others were wrong about the company losing money on these cheap flags, it would still hardly be on the order of something like allowing the KKK to march, no? Over all, perhaps something to be upset and annoyed over, but not something that is going to taint every executive that works for the whole company. While the latter probably would (one would hope!)

          1. Jack Russell Terrier*

            Back in the 90s, at college in DC, my mum and I had forgotten the KKK were having a rally to Congress. We happened upon it. It was wild. There they all were, in their regalia – scary.

            And you know who were there, standing on the street, protecting their constitutional right – the DC police, overwhelmingly black (still are today).

            It was everything terrible and great about American at the same time.

      2. Observer*

        For this reason it’s probably best to just err on the side of bringing it up and letting the organisers decide the risk level posed by this specific speaker, in context.

        Yes. The OP should not be coming to the organizers with a “Oh NO! Do you *KNOW* what Potential Speaker’s has done!?!?!” or anything at all dramatic. Just a factual “Potential Speaker’s company has been coming under criticism for X and there are have even been boycotts. Here is some information about it.” Provide some links to non-sensational coverage of the issue. Now, the organizers have the information they need to act accordingly, whatever that may be.

      3. The Cosmic Avenger*

        I mean….are there really people who just keep buying more flags EVERY YEAR?? Now I’m picturing one of these protesters trying to type an angry email from beneath a mountain of flags….

        1. M*

          As an Australian: there are… not. Very much not. In practice, it’s not even stocking normal flags – it’s like, “here’s some cheap plastic flip-flips (thongs. they’re call thongs. but, y’know, to avoid confusion for the American audience) with the flag printed on them, they’ll fall apart in a week, woo Australia Day!”. Unsurprisingly, there was *never* much of a market for them – we are very much not a country of July-4th-style nationalist celebrations – at most, you’d expect to see, like, an aisle-end display, this ain’t Christmas/Easter. It wasn’t even a national holiday until the ’90s!

          And that’s *before* the last decade or so of increasing discomfort with what the day represents and whether the date should be changed. The other major supermarket had everything on clearance the day after – Woolies clearly made the right call, business-wise.

          1. coffee*

            Yeah, we tend to save flag decorations for international sporting events, maybe some other international events. And like you say, we’re not into the flag like America is, so even before the current push to change the date and the increased cost of living (the cossie liv haha), it wasn’t really on the list to buy a whole bunch of flag decor stuff.

      4. lyonite*

        But would it really change the advice? If there are some people who might protest the speaker, it would be a kindness to give the organizers a heads-up about it, regardless of how justified, or not, the protesters might be.

    4. lilsheba*

      I definitely would. It would just be the intelligent thing to do to avoid that company altogether. My work did something completely tone deaf and gave us gift cards to a heavily boycotted coffee company. I wish someone would have spoken up about those and found something else.

  4. ThatOtherClare*

    LW#3, if you think he’s more the sort to try and avoid public embrassment than public censure, you could try this next time he says that in a large group:

    “Hey Dudley, I hate to make it awkward since I can tell you don’t know – but that’s actually a reference to a joke that’s not safe for work. You probably want to drop that saying.”

    He does know. You all know he knows. He knows you know he knows and are trying to embarrass him.

    Make it as awkward as possible. Let out your inner judgy teenager and pull all the petty “Oh dear, how embarrassing ” faces. Let him sink into the floor with the realisation you’ve trapped him into a position where he has to either admit to being naive about sex or a person who deliberately makes rape jokes at work. (Not that there’s actually anything wrong with being naive, but the kind of person who makes this sort of joke generally takes great pride in being the opposite. You’d be using his prejudice against him.)

    Some people do this sort of thing deliberately to induce shocked reactions. If you think he’s that sort and would enjoy smirking at Alison’s scripts, this might still work.

    Whatever route you go for, good luck shutting him down fast.

    1. Nodramalama*

      That might work but there’s also every possibility that he’d just like oh hahaha yeah its not that serious. Its just like that’s what she said!

      1. ThatOtherClare*

        Oh I totally agree!

        The letter writer is best placed to be able to gauge his likely reactions to different scripts, so I just figure it’s most helpful for all of us commenters to help workshop multiple different types of script for different theoretical personalities. Then LW3 can choose whatever script they think has the highest chance of success.

        If anyone else can think of different “Shut it down” scripts for different theoretical Dudley personality types please add them! Even if they don’t end up being useful to the letter writer, I’ll probably steal some :)

      2. ThatOtherClare*

        P.S. btw, Nodramalama, my response to something like that would be a condescending “Aww, sweetie, it’s a lot worse than that. Look it up when you’re at home. But it’s really not an OK joke to make in public.”

        1. Awkwardness*

          Or some very dry “of course” combined with raised eyebrows and pitying gestures to imply he has lost his mind. I really like the ” judgy teenager” attitude to convey this.

        1. ThatOtherClare*

          “Oh, you did know it was a reference to a sex joke? Wow, that’s really inappropriate for work. Ok then, well, this is your only warning. Say it again and I’ll be heading over to HR with a list of all the times you’ve said it and a transcript of this conversation. Creating a sexualised work environment is a legal liability for the company, so they will need to know.”

          I am a kind person. I want everyone to be happy and feel safe. I am not a nice person. You want to try and bully me or the people around me, and I will remorselessly grab your pathetic little ass and shove you into detention until you learn to play nice with the other grown ups. Sometimes lads like this guy need to experience some unpleasant consequences so they can learn how to keep friends, and I have zero reservations about doling them out. I would encourage anyone else with the confidence to be equally unreserved.

          I wish I could have been there to help you, Old Admin. I hope you got through the bullying ok.

          1. House On The Rock*

            I love your distinction between “kind” and “nice” and it’s honestly helped me align two parts of myself that I’ve seen as being at odds for most of my life. Specifically around loyalty to those close to me and the desire to protect them. Also, your scripts are great! Thank you!

      3. Avocado Abogado*

        It doesn’t matter that LW3’s co-worker is using this phrase “as a joke.” US law considers sexualized comments to create an illegal workplace environment even when they are uttered “as a joke.”

        This guy knows exactly what he’s saying and he should be reported, stat, to HR.

        And, LW3, I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. I know you aren’t being paid to police this guy’s words, but here’s the thing: many workplaces require employees who witness harassing or discriminatory behavior to report it. Which means that when you report this, you can say you’re doing so to comply with company policy.

        Please let us know what happens.

      4. Boof*

        I… also would not call back “that’s what she said!” at work! And would find it inappropriate / probably say something after the second or third time if someone was saying it at work! (Socially sure, ribald callback are fine, but not at work!!!)

      5. Anonythis*

        I used to work in rocket testing. A large number of aspects of rocket testing are very easy to attach sexual jokes or references to. I was almost always the only person in any conversation to whom ‘she’ could reasonably be applied.
        I also didn’t know about the connotations of the ‘that’s what she said’ joke, so the first time it came up (in context of, I think, sliding the rocket we were testing into a tube to hold it steady during the test), I immediately and quite loudly responded with ‘no I didn’t, Jim, why are you telling Dave I said that? You said that!’
        Jim was abashed, Dave was horrified, and ‘that’s what she said’ was never used in my hearing again.

    2. Old Admin*

      #3 :
      This guy is horrendous and is testing how far he can go with sexualized jokes.
      I’ve seen it happen – when I pushed back at work it the perp got worse! In spite of escalation to management, nothing happened to him as he was a Golden Boy.

      If you have any clout or standing at work shut this down hard and now. Please.

    3. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

      I recall a letter from years ago about a male employee who kept using “circle jerk” in conversations at work. Almost every single male of course got the reference. Finally in a big meeting a younger woman colleague called him out on it by asking what is was because she was unfamiliar with the term and asked him to explain the meaning. Pretty sure it was AAM but I could be wrong

      1. Hlao-roo*

        It was AAM! Story #2 on the “the sick call with sound effects, the cheesecake, and other stories of triumphs over jerks at work” post from August 19, 2021. For those who haven’t read it:

        “I worked with a horrid VP of Sales – arrogant, obnoxious, just a nightmare. We were in an internal meeting and he used the phrase ‘get in a circle jerk’ with them (and even used the hand motion). Then smirked at me, the only woman in the room and the youngest by far.

        I’d had enough so (fake) innocently asked, loudly, ‘What’s a circle jerk?’ He tried to move on but I asked again, ‘Sorry I don’t understand, what is a circle jerk – if I’m negotiating the contract I need to know the terms.’ Everyone froze. The CEO walked in and asked, ‘So where are we?’ I loudly said, ‘Well, we are waiting for ____ to explain what a circle jerk is as he’s really worried about it being part of the contract.’ It was absolute gold and a career highlight that sadly can’t go on a resume!”

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Did ThatOtherClare write this story? Because if not, I’m impressed there are two people out there who are this clever! What an *excellent* response to such grossness. I also want to know what the responses were from the guys in the room, CEO included.

          1. ThatOtherClare*

            I can’t claim the credit for that one, but it’s a brilliant response!

            You’re all very kind, but I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I have some kind of special talent. With a little bit of practice and some self-confidence any one of you can come up with great responses like this, and I actually do believe that.

            Practising different scripts for the same scenario is a great way to start as it helps you to be flexible in the moment as things actually unfold. Self-confidence is a bit harder, but you can always pretend to be Alison or me or one of your heroes if it helps, and it does get easier each time.

            I wouldn’t say this on every forum, but I believe an AAM reader will be literate, articulate, intelligent and ethical so I encourage you to give it a try.

        2. Insert Clever Name Here*

          In case you are wondering what the CEO’s response was, they provided this detail in a follow up:

          I finally just excused myself and left the room and let them regroup. I kept the poker face the entire time and to this day – I’ve never told anyone at that company the true story (it was years and years ago). The VP got fired shortly after – for expense related issues (his best line was “well you can’t get receipts for what you put in a g-string” – as he loved taking his team to strip clubs). This was in the 90s in a small tech company if you are wondering where HR might have been!

    4. super anonymous this time*

      I completely agree with ThatOtherClare, please shut this down. As a survivor of sexual assault myself, even though I was unaware of this joke until I read the letter above, it was immediately apparent to me that it’s a rape joke. I would be deeply upset to hear someone at my work saying this, and even though I normally have no trouble speaking up for myself, this would be beyond me. I’d be surprised if there isn’t at least one person at your work who is suffering from this guy’s behavior and will be relieved for it to stop.

    5. February Ninth*

      This is fabulous! I feel like I’d chicken out from being direct with this jerk, but I think I could say something like this.

      How I wish I’d had this script handy years ago!

    6. coffee*

      “Hey dude, jokes about dicks aren’t professional, keep it out of the workplace.”

      It might be easier to sidestep the whole “trying to shock people”/rapist bullshit, which some people get really hung up on, and focus on professionalism, which is less emotionally loaded and more widely agreed upon.

      As a side note, how is this guy finding so many ways to use this phrase at work?? How absolutely boring as well as being offensive.

  5. Nodramalama*

    for lw3, while the phrase can have rape connotations it doesn’t always refer to rape and I’ve only ever heard people use it in reference to sex in general. Either way it’s not an appropriate work joke so I think I agree with Alison and next time you hear it just say it’s inappropriate and leave it at that

    1. danmei kid*

      It always refers to applying continued pressure on a person who is already withholding consent to something, and the chance that consent to one small part of something can be easily overridden without consent for the rest once you have got that far. In a post above Allison’s spouse made the comment, “Consider for whom this joke is funniest for”.

    2. danmei kid*

      It ALWAYS refers to pressuring someone who is withholding consent, with the added connotation that once they consent to something small, you can go the rest of the way without impediment regardless of whether they said yes to that or not. What else do you call that?

      1. Bast*

        FWIW I 100% believe this guy knows damn well the joke he is making is inappropriate and should be called out, but given the chance to apologize and move on. I think it more likely he will double down and go the “can’t even tell a joke, people are so sensitive” route, but there’s always the possibility he will be embarrassed enough at being called out to stop.

        That being said, I disagree with your assessment that EVERYONE ALL THE TIME hears the same meaning of a word or phrase and gets the same meaning of it, which seems to be what this comment is going for. Tone and context matter A LOT, as do whether someone is speaking in their first language or not, cultural context, etc. For example, I once used the phrase “making a mountain out of a molehill” to a friend whose first language is not English and she had NO idea what I meant. What was considered “common and obvious phrase” in the US was not common and obvious elsewhere. When I explained the meaning, there wasn’t even a real equivalent to that saying in her language that she could think of; it just wasn’t something people say. Even for native English speakers in the US alone, I can think of some regional slang that has caused confusion and occasional upset when someone comes across a word or phrase that has an innocent meaning in one place… and a not so innocent meaning somewhere else. It’s also possible that people mindlessly repeat something they’ve heard without getting the context, take a phrase and THINK it means one thing when it means another, or, occasionally, sometimes something you just have something that comes out wrong and offensive and you might not realize how it was taken/could have been taken until a bit later, because that’s not how it was intended. Even in this comment thread you have people who heard the phrase and had it not ring a bell, or meant something a little different to them. Again, in this particular scenario, I do believe it was intentional, but in general I try not to attribute malice when there could be a genuine misunderstanding.

        1. JenLP*

          I posted on another comment that I thought it was about circumcision – I’m a native English speaker and have even watched Archer – I don’t know what or how I got there, but that’s what my brain interpreted it as.

          Now would I use it as a joke at work? No! It’s a joke when chopping veggies and such at home or with friends. Because it’s still not work-appropriate.

          Though now I’m wondering what my friends think we are joking about…

    3. works with realtors*

      Even if you’ve only heard it in that manner, the fact that others have heard it used as a rape joke means, full stop, that we interpret it that way instead of saying “I’ve never hear dit that way” to the LW.

    4. KG*

      “It doesn’t always refer to rape,” is a phrase I would be highly embarrassed to be uttering, let alone typing out on an advice site about workplace behavior. How about just that it does, it commonly does defer to rape- can that be enough?

      1. Friendo*

        That’s a very uncharitable thing to say to someone. They aren’t saying it “isn’t enough”, they’re having a discussion about context that OP brought up. I had a very different understanding of what the meaning was as well.

  6. Mmm.*

    After years of dealing with a teacher dress code, I’ll never work at a place that has a focus on it ever again. Beyond safety and basic decency, it really shouldn’t matter what someone wears at least 80% is the time.

    Especially when it comes to shoes. People shouldn’t have to have a doctor’s note for comfortable shoes. (This is a real thing I’ve encountered.)

    1. ThatOtherClare*

      I thoroughly agree. As a medical orthotic wearer I know it’s entirely possible to seamlessly blend stylish flat shoes into any outfit – so anyone who wants to insist on heels or tiny little pathetic flimsy things is being regressively obtuse. If my flat-soled mary janes aren’t close enough to a high heel for you, you can go lick a doorknob, you troglodyte.

    2. Brain the Brian*

      Sneakers are explicitly banned in my office. Except for one employee, who tripped over a wrinkled carpet in high heels a few years ago, broke her foot, filed a successful worker’s comp claim against the company, and is now — per doctor’s orders — allowed to wear sneakers. She’s a badass, tbh.

      1. Antilles*

        Your company had a successful worker’s comp claim filed against them…and still holds to the same shoe policy? If we count the indirect costs of lost productivity and the insurance company increasing your worker’s comp rates, it likely cost your company five figures. The idea that they didn’t learn from that and decide meh, the shoe policy isn’t worth this cost/hassle is pretty laughable.

        1. Brain the Brian*

          I think the worker’s comp ruling was basically that the problem was the wrinkled carpet, not the shoes. They came through shortly after it was finalized and smoothed out all the carpets in our office. In any case, this would hardly be the worst way we waste money around here. *eyeroll*

        2. Ace in the Hole*

          I have trouble imagining how a “no sneakers” policy would be the root cause of the injury. There are plenty of safe, secure, non-slip shoes other than sneakers.

          There’s no safety justification for changing the shoe policy to allow sneakers… but there’s definitely justification for banning high heels. Which, for all we know, they did. Hopefully they also addressed whatever allowed the carpet to become a trip hazard.

    3. Watry*

      There is a doctor’s note in my file that I am allowed to wear sneakers, which are otherwise against the dress code for office employees. It’s ridiculous.

      1. AF Vet*

        Same. Yes, there are cute shoes I could wear every now and again. No, I can’t wear them daily long-term without my feet hating me. There’s a reason I get a nice chuck of VA change monthly for the rest of my life – because even WITH orthotics in combat boots, my plantar fasciitis increased to the point my only relief would be surgery… and that’s no guarantee. The only shoe I can wear on a daily basis is a sneaker worth orthotics. I have yet to find professional-appearing sneakers that fit my foot AND orthotic. They all look like old people shoes. :)

      2. lilsheba*

        it is absolutely ridiculous! Shoes won’t make or break the work being done, and it’s way more important to be comfortable.

    4. ferrina*

      Ugh, I hate having separate shoes for the office. If I wear my shoes while commuting I’m almost guaranteed to scuff them up, so I have to bring shoes separately for the office. I used to do this when full-time in person, but now that I’m hybrid and we hot-desk, I would need to bring in my shoes with me every day. No to that!
      (I also don’t work in a building with clients, business casual environment, so it’s not an issue)

      1. Michelle Smith*

        Reason #897 I hate hotdesking and why any company who stupidly implements it needs to provide locker space for all employees!! No shot am I carrying all the crap I need into the office every day (which includes my computer since we don’t get desktops + all my disability aids that I have duplicates of so I can leave some at the office + the special food I need). Either give me a place at my desk to leave my shoes or I’m wearing whatever the hell is comfortable enough for me to walk the 3/4 mile plus stand on the train that it takes for me to get into the office.

    5. lilsheba*

      YESSS! What clothes you’re wearing DOES NOT MATTER! And the world won’t end if someone wears sneakers! I have to wear comfortable shoes there is no way around it. I’m too disabled to deal with nonsense like heels and junk. The work is still getting done, that’s what’s important, not superficial crap.

      1. evens*

        This is a deliberately obtuse comment. The clothes you are wearing absolutely matter. In some places, they matter a lot. See “interns fired over dress code petition” if you don’t believe me.

        1. Lisa*

          Yes, obviously, not following a dress code can have implications for your career, however what lilsheba is talking about is that in most situations, barring a safety issue, the clothes you wear do NOT matter one iota to your work quality or output.

        2. Bird names*

          Mh, I do believe that the co-worker with the more comfortable shoes in that letter also needed it as a disability accomodation.

    6. JustaTech*

      I’m really glad that the “dress code” at my work (beyond “business casual”) is only and specifically about *safety*.
      In the lab? Close toe shoes, for safety. Also, lab coat, safety glasses and gloves.
      In the clean rooms? Work-provided clothes (including shoes) except your underwear and socks – because the clothes have to meet very specific clean room standards.

      At your desk? Clothes. (A small group of people at my site spent an hour wrestling over if we really are “business casual” and we are, but only by regional standards, because most people wear jeans, leggings or hiking pants, which aren’t “business casual” in NYC or DC but are here.)

    7. I Have RBF*

      IMO, the only rules about shoes should be safety related (i.e. closed toes, steel toes, no narrow heels, etc). I can’t wear anything “fashionable” – my feet and ankles can’t deal with it.

  7. Coyote River*

    LW3, if your co-worker is comfortable making jokes like that I’d be concerned what else he considers appropriate. It could be just the tip of the iceberg.

      1. Caliente Papillon*

        Hard agree! It’s rather egregious really, what this dude is saying. I’m surprised no one spoke up, gasped, said What?! the moment he first said it.

  8. Finally commenting*

    I always thought “Just the tip” meant “just the tip of the iceberg”. Meaning you can only see a small fraction/ part of a much larger problem. Had no idea it was a reference to sex. As I present as female, I haven’t noticed strange looks when I’ve used it either. Perhaps it’s regional or perhaps I’m just naive. Now I know it has sexual connotation, I’ll stop using it.

    1. Nodramalama*

      The specific phrase “just the tip” refers to the tip of the penis. So I probably wouldn’t say that exact phrase at work without context. If you’re referring to the iceberg and saying something like “hmmm this may be just the tip of it” it likely isn’t reading to people the same way as “haha, just the tip!”

    2. Shy Platypus*

      I guess you wouldn’t use the rape joke phrase in the same context? I’d never heard it either, but it would probably come up in situations where this guy is jokingly trying to get a favour from someone else? Can’t imagine wanting to help someone after they make a rape joke, but to each their own.

      You’re probably safe if you use it only in a “tip of the iceberg” kind of context.

      1. High Score!*

        We just always say “that’s just the tip of the iceberg” when that context comes up. Never heard anyone leave the iceberg out.

        1. Aha*

          I’ve seen a lot of comments here to that effect. But if I come across something concerning, I might say “We’ll be in real trouble if that’s just the tip of the disfunction.” Or if I’m relaying a dramatic story, I might say “And that’s just the tip of it.” The iceberg part really isn’t necessary. The way I think of it, there’s the “just the tip” when we’re talking about just the existence of something (think of it as a noun), and then there’s “just the tip” when we’re talking about wheedling, coercing, or more action-oriented situations (the verb type). The way I read the LW’s account, I definitely assumed it’s the verb type and it should stop. But I also definitely use “just the tip” as the noun form without thinking twice, and I usually don’t add in the specific iceberg reference. So for all the people who think “just the tip” isn’t sexual, I wonder if they’re only familiar with the noun type. The fact that the two phrases are nearly identical is confusing.

    3. blue rose*

      sure, sometimes the sequence of words “just the tip” occur in the English language in reference to an iceberg (literal or figurative), but if LW’s coworker is making a running (and run-on) joke of the phrase, he’s using the sexual reference version. I think LW may be overthinking the possible repercussions for themselves because they’re worried about having to explain in-depth precisely how their coworker is using some pretty gross Not-Safe-For-WORK humor at work, but just the fact that coworker is injecting sex in an unrelated professional context puts LW on solid grounds to complain about this. This is exactly the sexualized environment that falls under the legally-sexual-harassment umbrella.

    4. Green great dragon*

      It’s all in the context. You’re fine to keep using those words in relation to only seeing part of the problem. LW’s co-worker is clearly not using them in that way.

      1. Smithy*

        Yes to this. The connotation for “just the tip” in a sexual way, can usually be used as a stand alone phrase as a means of adding sexual innuendo – similar to “that’s what she said”.

        Just the tip (of the iceberg), would usually be a phrase within a larger sentence or thought. A sentence like “At this point, maybe all we’re seeing is just the tip of a larger problem.” Like anything with innuendo, you might have someone amused by the double entendre in the meaning – but it’s not overtly rude or sexual.

        I’d see it more like if someone saying something innocuous like “I’m exhausted, been all my feet all day” – and someone responds with “that’s what she said.” It takes the connotation of that sentence to a more sexual place. In a social context, how that plays out and is interpreted is one thing. But at work, it’s hypersexualizing communication which on its own is problematic.

      2. sparkle emoji*

        Yeah, when someone is using the phrase as innuendo, the tone and context typically makes it pretty clear.

    5. ThatOtherClare*

      No need to stop using it if you can’t be bothered to. It’s about on par with the word ‘wet’ or eating a banana. Absolutely fine and normal until some utter bollard chooses to deliberately go out of their way to make it dirty. No need to let people like that dictate how normal people like us live our lives :)

    6. Two Fish*

      Nope, if people are saying “of the iceberg”, they say, “tip of the iceberg.” No one using the innocuous metaphor phrases it specifically as “just the tip.”

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        As others have said, it is all about context. People are not saying “just the tip” in the sexual joke way in the same circumstances as people say tip of the iceburg.

    7. fhqwhgads*

      “Just the tip” and “just the tip of the iceberg” are totally different phrases with different meanings. If you’ve been saying the latter, you’re fine. Continue to do so as needed. If you’ve been saying the former when meaning the latter, start saying the latter.

  9. NeedsMoreCookies*

    It sounds like Dress Code Boss’ idea of “business casual” might be… not that casual. Not “golf shirts and khakis” but “three piece suits, but you can leave the jacket at your desk if you want.”

    1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      I was wondering if the boss is trying to hint or angle that the staff needs to be more stylish or shopping at higher-end brands, etc.

      I don’t think either is appropriate, but it sounds like this person is very image-focused.

      1. Caro in the UK*

        It could be, but even if that’s the case then they should be communicating that clearly. But even then, expecting staff at a non-profit, without much public facing work, in a causal region, to shop for higher end brands and be more stylish is crazily out of touch and a misuse of the boss’ time.

        1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

          Yes, which is why I said that I don’t think it’s an appropriate ask.

          Very very types of work actually require that sort of stylish vibe. That was just my first thought of what the boss was complaining about, since it seems clear they’re not happy about the current state of things.

        2. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

          When I worked at a non-profit the dress code was very casual and inclued branded t-shirts. If the director showed up in a suit and tie it was because they had visitors or were going to an off-site meeting.

    2. Beth**

      I had a boss in about 2005 who thought “business casual” for men still had to be a shirt with a collar. Polo shirts were okay, but not t-shirts. He was a misogynistic gay man who didn’t have any idea about women’s clothes. So women could get away with a lot more than men clothes-wise.

      I do not miss working for him.

      1. Snow Globe*

        I would agree about T-shirts not being business casual, at least in my industry (finance). Eyebrows would definitely be raised here.

        1. Antilles*

          Yeah, in my industry (engineering), it’s pretty much the same.

          Nobody would blink an eye if you walked into the office for a few minutes wearing one of the “yellow safety” shirts, because it’d be clear you’re going to/returning from a job site. A company-branded T-shirt with the corporate logo is also fine.

          But anything except those two very specific examples would absolutely be out of place enough for people to raise some eyebrows.

      2. Hiring Mgr*

        That guy may have been a jerk, but certainly in 2005 if not today, that is what bus casual meant for men

      3. Blue*

        Huh, in 2024 I still think the definition of business casual for masculine presenting people includes a shirt with a collar. Maybe a nice t shirt under a jacket depending on the culture.

        1. Hastily blessed Fritos*

          “Business casual” means a ton of things depending on the industry, anything from “non-matching jacket and pants rather than suit and tie” to “plain T-shirts are fine but nothing with writing or pictures”.

      4. xylocopa*

        “Business casual” is a maddeningly vague phrase that means different things to different people….but “shirt with a collar” for men still seems to me like a pretty common interpretation?

      5. Lenora Rose*

        To everyone wondering: I agree about t-shirts; those read very casual. However, there are shirts without collars for men that are made of finer fabrics (often wool or wool blend) which read as business casual appropriate, with rounded necks, and there are men’s turtlenecks. My husband wears them all the time, and while he has collared shirts as well (at one point he might have had more collared shirts than I had shirts, period, and I don’t have a minimalist wardrobe), some of those shirts look more polished than some of the collared shirts.

        1. Me again*

          Turtleneck could be considered a kind of collar. (Like a Nerhu collar or a clerical collar are kinds of collars)

    3. Grenelda Thurber*

      This topic reminds me of a couple of software engineers I know who worked at EDS (founded by Ross Perot) in the mid 80’s. The company dress code was apparently “every man wears a suit and tie at all times, everywhere, no exceptions ever.” These were guys that regularly worked all night in computer labs to meet deadlines for releases. They’ve told stories about crawling around under dusty tables and equipment, connecting various pieces of hardware for testing, in their suits and dress shoes. Neither stayed there long. I never heard what the dress code was for women, but I can imagine…

      1. Claire*

        In the mid 90s, I know they at least had an “at the knee” skirt length requirement Source: my high school principal in Dallas who berated me daily my senior year because my uniform skirt hem was 2” above the knee and don’t I know that in the professional world I will have to follow dress codes too? EDS was probably the most restrictive example she could think of.
        Jokes on her, I’m a river scientist.

      2. Hannah Lee*

        Even the most tightly wrapped companies I’ve worked for always had a “guys who are working in the computer lab/servicing customer equipment can wear short sleeved versions of collared dress shirts, and take their suit jackets off when actively working on systems” allowance.

        And when things loosened up as years went by, and men were allowed to be in the office without wearing their jackets constantly, the short vs long sleeves was a marker of the pecking order.

        (It was always “guys” because women had their own set of dress code rules and somehow were never hired for those hands on tech jobs)

        1. Arabella Flynn*

          Once upon a time, a new manager in my father’s workplace decided that all the engineers should wear ties, button-down shirts, slacks (not jeans), and nice (not sneaker, not work boot) shoes.

          My father is an aerospace engineer. He and his buddies arranged to take their new manager on a tour of the test cells, where aircraft engines are tested to destruction. They walked him through the entire grubby, greasy facility, proudly showing him the 6″ thick concrete walls, and the enormous pane of laminated bulletproof glass the operator had to sit behind, just in case one of the compressor fans decided to shatter at top speed.

          Strangely, not a word was said about dress code ever again. My father wore jeans and heavy boots to work for the rest of his tenure there.

    4. Lisa*

      This is my read too. Everyone is dressing according to the official dress code, but they are in some way not up to the ED’s standards. So they keep harping on it.

  10. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP2 (ego holding her back) – I’m in the software field and encounter a lot of people like this, and the same problem with “approvals” (in software the approval is a ‘pull request’ to review code that someone proposes to merge into the code base from their own development area, and the person reviewing it checks it for issues, fit, etc). I can think of a number of people off the top of my head who go power crazy with the “approver” role like that and, as OP fears, nitpick every little detail and the whole thing descends into an argument.

    The good news though is that people can change (if they want to). She seems driven by highly valuing competence and knowledge, and being ‘right’. She needs to learn that another way of being competent is those soft skills like delivering feedback well (I suspect her history and being great at feedback means more like “I’m amazing at it! I found all their errors and was able to point out exactly how it should be done instead!”).

    She seems to need factual displays of evidence, so is there a way you can get her to “draft” feedback on a few things that she might in the future be an approver? And then go through it with her. If it’s written feedback that’s easy, if it would be a conversation perhaps you can role play it. And then take it slowly if you decide to let her loose on it.

    1. Over the Road*

      I like that emphasis on “she wants to be highly skilled, and this is another skill to develop”.

    2. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      In addition to the nitpik aspect, it’s also just a bummer to talk to people like that. If her ego is that present in all her exchanges, it’s going to discourage people from sharing doubts or asking questions unless it’s really necessary, slowing stuff down.

      I knew someone who had this problem (she was always wanting to show off her expertise, she never wanted to appear ignorant) and while she was genuinelly sharp and knowledgable, it actually made her appear weaker overall. It’s a problem for someone in a supervisory position.

      But she did get feedback on it and improved signficiantly.

      1. ferrina*

        Exactly this. When someone delivers feedback in a condescending or over-the-top way, it makes others shut down and be less receptive to feedback. This will make her bad at a job that requires giving feedback- when a core part of the job is communication, you need to be skilled in that area of communication. Giving feedback is definitely a skill!

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      This is the sort of training new supervisors need and so rarely get.

      I wish my current grand-boss had received the same advice.

    4. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I was gonna say something like this — hand her some work and tell her “let’s say I’m the team member who did this work, please review it and provide me with your feedback.” and then go through it with her to see how she actually does.

    5. Anonym*

      It may also help her to understand what it actually means to be right. It requires humility, self awareness, and understanding that others may know things you don’t. You’ll spend a lot of time being wrong otherwise.

      Also, there’s a hell of a lot more to being effective and skillful than just being “right”. Building strong relationships and communicating so that your message is received well are extremely important.

      Do not let this person become an approver until they can actually add value as one. She sounds like she has a lot of development to do before then.

    6. SnickerdoodleSandwich*

      Also in software engineering, and I admit I was this person on code reviews. It got worse before it got better.

      For me, it was not a problem with my ego, it was a problem with perfectionism and code standard rule policing. I saw something and thought ‘this could be better,’ or ‘this isn’t strictly compliant with the style guide’ then I wouldn’t let it drop and wasted a lot of time and made people pretty mad.

      What fixed it for me was a frank discussion with a coworker about the cost/benefit of the review process. Then I found a senior colleague who gave really good feedback and paid close attention to what they commented on or ignored and emulated that until I got a better sense for personal differences vs structural concerns.

      So for the LW, it may be ego, but it may be something else. Focus on naming the problem and giving concrete examples of what improvement looks like, let her focus on why it is happening. You don’t need to debate with her about if it is a problem.

      1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        Something I heard from an exec on a podcast has stayed with me. He said that he saw opportunities improve nearly everything people did for / under him but he chooses not to pursue that last 10% because it’s demoralizing and disempowering to his people. As long as it’s meeting that “really good” bar, the benefits of people feeling appreciated and having ownership over their work created more value in the long run than optimizing the work itself.

      2. Aiden*

        Yeah, I was lucky in that I had this experience while working with an open-source software that purposely mentored the people doing the reviews to teach us how to be supportive of new people. I don’t work professionally in software myself, but the experiences I had there have been really helpful for me in my professional life anyway, and specifically with learning to identify how to encourage early successes, differentiate requirements from expectations, and pace the building of skills.

        For me it was also not a problem of ego and very much a perfectionist problem. I never thought the things I was asking for were easy, I just thought they were necessary. Turns out they aren’t! I’m still struggling to let go of that in my own work, it’s just ever evolving problems from the time of being a kid and not wanting to turn in homework when I’m still trying to figure out the answer to a weird question.

      3. BeenThere*

        I’ve worked for entire organizations in software engineering that behave like this, nitpicking comments and so on. The caveat is there’s usually a few pairs of folks that will blindly approve each other’s code and nitpick everyone else so they appear more productive. It’s no surprise that the pairs that approve each other’s code are usually from the same dominant background and all the minorities suffer. I also had a team mate like this who really didn’t know what he was talking about and had a friends that would approve changes that would break our systems. He would also nitpick my code with “I don’t like how that looks”, as someone more senior I would either ignore his comments or take the opportunity to educate him. Fortunately I was always able to get my work approved by a handful of other engineers. Once he quit I was able to change the team culture to everyone having discussions on the side about things they might want to change in a code review and be willing to let the nitpick slide in favor of us getting real things out. We went from it take a week to get something reviewed to hours at most. I still see other teams struggle with this in our organization and am just happy my boss is on the same page as me.

    7. lyonite*

      I work with a person like this, and for a while she was in a position to give me feedback. If that hadn’t changed, I absolutely would have left over it, from a job that I otherwise quite liked. (Fortunately our shared boss caught on and changed things, but it took a few more incidents for my Egoist to learn that constantly, publicly undermining me was not something she was allowed to do. Things still aren’t great, but they’re manageable.) Please, OP2, do not move this person into that position until you have seen real evidence that she has changed her mindset, and understands that she doesn’t have all the answers, rather than just her having toned it done because she was told to.

      1. Artemesia*

        there is a low probability that this person will change with training; certainly don’t move her into a position where she supervises and provides feedback until you have evidence she can successfully change her entire personality.

    8. Lily Dale*

      I would also take a very close look at the help she’s giving in Slack. I’ve worked with a few people who really struggle taking feedback, and in my experience they often misunderunstand concepts and processes, because they won’t listen when anyone tries to help them, then they spread those misunderstandings around, because they need everyone to listen to them.

      I used to spend a lot of time on audits, cleaning up after people like this.

    9. Introvert Teacher*

      Yeah and it sounds like her estimation of her ability to give feedback is not accurate! It might help to give her a rubric for those “soft skills” and what actually constitutes “good feedback” and let her know plainly where she is currently not meeting those expectations. Like break the interpersonal skills down into analyzable and measurable components. I think like others have said maybe being “right” is what she thinks the objective is in giving feedback, when there is more to it.

  11. WS*

    LW1: I had a manager (not the big boss) who went on and on about dress codes in an office that tended to the business end of business casual. When someone eventually asked about it, she went of on a rant about how half the office dressed like they’d just bought ill-fitting polyester garbage from Target. One of the few male staff members (also a manager) drily commented that that’s what you get when you pay a Target-level salary, maybe we could have raises or have a clothing fund. She took this on has her Big Project and was still advocating for a fund when I left a year later. Her starting point was $800 a year per staff member with increases according to seniority! At least she stopped bothering the staff about it and bothered the bosses instead…

    1. Kate, short for Bob*

      oh this is a possibility. I was wondering if the boss had decided that someone was being too obviously female in clothes (having the gall to wear a fitted shirt over more than a c cup /s) and they’re not addressing it directly because they know they’re being icky.

    2. Tekkie*

      At my old job, my (very well dressed) boss once proclaimed the entire technical department needed to wear business formal, his slogan was “Tekkies in Suits”. Everybody, even we sysadmins, was mandated to wear a suit and a tie.
      I’m a woman, so I turned up wearing a ladies suit. When Boss again proclaimed his slogan, I innocently asked: ” Boss, would you like me to wear a tie, too?” (had planned to use one as a belt). He answered: “Ms. T., I can see you doing that.”
      The slogan fell by the wayside.

    3. ThatOtherClare*

      And yet even the expensive brands are mostly stocking polyester garbage nowadays. If you want me wearing a properly fitted and tailored 100% wool suit: a) I’d love to and b) you’d better be organising it through work. Let me know what day the tailor is doing the fittings for the new uniforms, I’ll make sure I wear my most ‘average’ shirt to the office.

      1. ursula*

        This is so real. So many midrange suit companies are using shit fabrics now (at least in womens suiting) – it makes me so angry.

        1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          LOL yesterday at lunch we had a conversation about how crappy bedsheets are these days…. Apparently some people are buying USED Ralph Lauren sheets from the 1990’s because they’re still better than new sheets today.

      2. Artemesia*

        20 years ago I tried to buy decent wool slacks — they were literally unaffordable — hundreds of dollars for well tailored lined wool slacks of the sort i had routinely worn years earlier. My best suit for giving presentations was beautifully tailored, expensive for me and still a polyester blend of some sort that actually looked sort of like silk — it looked great and fit well and was a good well known high end mid range brand, but no poly is comfortable so I literally just used it in very formal situations like speech making and changed into more comfortable natural fibers otherwise.

        My husband gave away all his business suits when he retired and then (predictably I would say) needed a good suit for a fancy New York Wedding of a nephew. We were horrified at hoe expensive a good wool suit is.

      3. JustaTech*

        Yes, are they going to fly everyone to Hong Kong to get fitted for suits?
        And what happens when people’s sizes change? Are they going to buy them a whole new wardrobe? Do you have to return the suits with your laptop and badge?

    4. Sharpie*

      Well done that male manager for speaking up and well done her for listening and doing something about it when a lot of people wouldn’t have and would have just continued to berate everyone. That sounds like a good collegiate place to work!

    5. Pinky*

      A close family member has in the past worked for a major bank, in the multi-million loans to businesses department. When they were hired on it was very directly stated to them that their generous salary did include an obligation to dress appropriate for client meetings and, since they were generally hired right out of college, they absolutely were expected to spend a majority portion of their first pay check on a new wardrobe. Fair enough I guess, considering the pay check in question.

      1. allathian*

        My first office job after I graduated college was in the back office of a bank, and the dress code was on the formal side of business casual and the men mostly wore suits and dress shirts without ties and with the top button undone. I wore the clothes I interviewed in for the first month, only changing my fitted shirt every day, and the same pair of slacks all week. I spent whatever I could spare of my first paycheck after rent and utility bills were paid on new clothes and accessories.

      2. Orv*

        I’ve known people who were mandated by their job to drive a car no older than X number of years. Mostly realtors.

        1. Phryne*

          In my country an employer has to provide an employee with the necessary tools to do their work, so someone like that would probably get a lease car here.

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

          that is bananas. For one, as long as the car is clean, not rusty and running well I don’t know if a lot of people would pay attention to what year it is. And furthermore, it takes out classic cars that have been re-done. My uncle used to fix up classic cars and resell them. They would go for a lot of money. If the point of making your realtors have new shiny cars is to show that they make a lot of money, having someone show up in a well taken care of redone classic Mercedes-Benzes or Grand Torino

    6. Observer*

      , maybe we could have raises or have a clothing fund. She took this on has her Big Project and was still advocating for a fund when I left a year later.

      I have to say that I’m impressed. It’s on odd obsession to me, but give her credit for being willing to put her money where her mouth is. And for being willing to act on reasonable feedback.

    7. iglwif*

      I once worked at a place where, if you did a great job during the year, one of your “rewards” was to come to a Board of Directors meeting and tell them about your job.

      Every year the invitees would all be called together for a conference call about dressing appropriately. By the CEO, who drove an Audi and wore nice suits and silk ties to the office every day.

      On the one hand, it was insulting because we were all adults and we understood the difference between what you can wear on a typical workday (consisting of fighting poor grammar, the compositors’ FTP site, and possibly a Canada Goose in the parking lot) where you see no one but your colleagues, and what you should wear to present a 5-minute spiel to the Board of Directors at their quarterly meeting.

      On the other hand, it was insulting because many of us were paid so poorly that dressing well depended on getting very lucky at Value Village.

  12. Ladida*

    LW2 assuming that reviewing other people’s work would be part of her role normally and that ideally you would want her to do that at some point, I would recommend to start by reviewing her reviews. Give her some non time sensitive thing (or even something you have already gone through yourself) to review and give her feedback. If she is playing smart and nitpicking every single thing thing then go on to explain that people have different styles and we should be focusing on things that are important. Then next time, see if she improves. Maybe she won’t, in which case you will know that she is unable to do an important part of her senior role. But there is a chance that this will work out.

    1. Brain the Brian*

      Part of my job has always been reviewing others’ work — often produced by people senior to me but making waaaaaaay less my eh because of geographic pay differences, which creates an interesting power dynamic. This is exactly what my manager did for me when I first started, and because we know I have a tendency to nitpick, she will spot-check my reviews at random every now and again to help me make sure I’m not being overly harsh with feedback. I strongly encourage it as a technique when LW2’s employee is ready for the responsibility (which may, admittedly, not be yet).

    2. learnedthehardway*

      Personally, I would NOT put this person in a reviewing role. And I would tell her that until she has learned to take feedback appropriately, that she will not be ready to give feedback.

      Obviously, put in some training on HOW to take feedback for her, which it sounds like the OP has been doing.

      1. Some Words*

        This is where I fall. She’s still having trouble with the whole concept of feedback, as evidenced by her behavior when on the receiving end. No way is she prepared to be delivering feedback to others. She’d be a nightmare. Also, I predict she’d assume that now that she’s the feedback GIVER, she needs no feedback of her own work.

        1. Artemesia*

          People like this rarely change; this is a personality defect. Training is unlikely to change her and she should not be reviewing other people until you actually SEE huge changes in her behavior with regard to feedback to her as well as how she relates to other people in meetings and teamwork.

          1. Aiden*

            It really really depends on what’s underlying her actions, and training can be really helpful for this. I used to volunteer for an open source project that identified this as a common problem with the people doing approvals – they’d go “eh, this is okay but there are better ways to do it” and most of the newbies would wander away discouraged. So they started training people with how to do approvals in supportive ways, and immediately noticed improvements in how well they were retaining volunteers and also that the quality of code would improve as those volunteers would get more practice and exposure to the work.

            I agree that she shouldn’t be reviewing people until there are changes in her behaviour, but I absolutely think that training and mentoring can work if she buys in to it.

      2. CrountryCrock*

        I completely agree with you and Some Words. My old job had someone exactly like the ego person in LW2, except they were never checked or challenged. Their ego grew and they were resented by a lot of the other stuff, though I think this person was oblivious to it all, and several people left after working with them for extended periods! LW2, nip it in the bud ASAP! Please don’t allow that person to have a leadership or feedback roll over others until they’ve changed significantly.

      3. Ladida*

        It all depends on whether reviewing is expected from her role and to what extent. If reviews is something the LW does most of the time and only rarely delegates to other senior people, then sure just not make her a reviewer. But if reviews are normally part of a senior’s role and this particular coworker is not doing them then there is a problem that needs to be addressed. But she should at least get a chance to have a go at it and receive some feedback rather than her boss deciding she can’t do it because of her personality.

    3. Sara without an H*

      Good suggestion. I can’t tell from the post, but I wonder just how explicit the Letter Writer has been about this problem? “You need to improve how you give and receive feedback” and “You’re coming across as an arrogant know-it-all, and people are expressing reluctance to work with you” are very different messages. But I agree that the LW needs to do some serious work with this person before putting her in a formal reviewing role.

      I’ve run into people like this before and, in my experience, the problem isn’t ego so much as insecurity. Even if the LW can get this woman to improve how she receives and delivers feedback, the insecurity may start expressing itself elsewhere. It’s a thing to watch out for.

  13. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

    A possible script

    “[Name], can I just check, what’s your understanding of that joke? Are you aware it’s a reference to sex?”

    [If his reply is anything other than genuine dismay]
    “I don’t think it’s appropriate to make sex jokes in the workplace”

    Room to escalate from there, inc next time if there is a next time “I’ve already said it’s inappropriate to make sex jokes in the workplace, cut it out”, & the time after that go over his head.

    1. londonedit*

      Yeah, I think this is a really good way of approaching it. There’s a tiny possibility that he’s not aware of all of the connotations, or he just thinks it’s a funny thing to say and doesn’t fully realise the implications, but in any case doing it like this gives him a chance to save face and say ‘Oh my goodness, no, I’m sorry – I won’t make that joke again’. If he reacts in any other way, like ‘Ugh, I was just having a laugh’ then absolutely say ‘It’s not appropriate to make sex jokes in the office, please stop’.

    2. ThatOtherClare*

      If he responds to “I don’t think it’s appropriate” with “You have no sense of humour”, one possible response is to simply lean into that. “Yeah, you’re completely right, I don’t have a sense of humour about sex jokes.”

      That technique relies on embarrassing the person who is being called humourless. If you refuse to be embarrassed and instead fully embrace his description of you, the gibe loses all power and you remain in control of the conversation.

    3. Pink Candyfloss*

      Not “I don’t -think- it’s appropriate”. The reply is: “It’s not appropriate.” Because it’s not an opinion, it’s a fact.

  14. John Smith*

    Re dress code. Has anyone actually asked the boss directly in what way they are so offended by the way people dress and to ask for examples of why hes complaining? I know of a manager of a company in a shared building who insisted on full business dress for his staff (the poor buggers couldn’t take their jackets off regardless of temperature or even loosen their tie). A couple of times he yelled at me (and was given a mouthful back) because of my dress, mistaking me for an employee of his (turnover was admittedly high – maybe he couldn’t keep up with his staff). Also had a boss who kept ranting at us for missing deadlines even though we weren’t. Turns out he had the wrong team. Just wondering if your boss is seeing other people dressed non-business like and thinks they’re his employees?

  15. Yoli*

    OP #2, besides the person’s issues with taking feedback, you mentioned they haven’t been in the role long enough. If you all have specific policies or metrics related to tenure, I’d recommend sharing those as well—I’ve seen know-it-alls circumvent promotion requirements because they talk a good game.

    Obviously this person has strengths you didn’t go into detail about here, but inability to take feedback is a pretty big no-go for me in terms of taking on more authority, so I’d be mindful about making sure the bar is set at what’s needed for the senior role, not just “shows improvement” or “wore [you] down.”

  16. ChurchOfDietCoke*

    Your boss made you ‘practice’ wearing business formal?

    What an insult to your professionalism!

    1. I Have RBF*

      Yeah, I’d just call out on those days. Or wear the opposite of business formal. I am not a child conforming to a high school dress code. If I don’t deal with customers, who cares what I wear as long as I’m appropriately covered.

      IMO, he’s wasting company time and resources on his dress code crusade. If he has a problem with one person, he needs to talk to them, not send passive-aggressive emails about the dress code to everyone.

  17. VP of Monitoring Employees' LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

    OP 1:

    How’s the ED’s focus on the organization’s actual work? Whenever something like this is happening, I get curious about how driven that person is toward concrete and meaningful results — how good they are at managing their team/the organization toward real impact. Much of the time, stuff like this happens when they’re floundering on that front.

    Or maybe this is yet another case where wearing the wrong brand or off-trend clothing really does introduce errors into spreadsheets and prevent reports from being written coherently?

    1. Goldie*

      Damn-no wonder we can’t stop homelessness! She wore white after September!

      If only she’d worn a sensible pump instead of sandals, we could have reversed global warming!

      Too bad he wore a sweater instead of a sport coat, we missed our last chance to get those political prisoners released.

      1. sparkle emoji*

        How dare you wear a sleeveless blouse in February! It may be unseasonably warm but you don’t dress for the weather or the office temp, you dress for the calendar!!!

  18. Yup*

    LW#1: The “visible bra straps and booty shorts” comment makes me think the violations are primarily directed at women, as dress codes almost always are. At my daughter’s old school, a group of HS girls got together to rewrite the dress code based on research and demanded that they stop being policed unfairly while the boys never got coded. And it worked–the new code is gender neutral and reflective of removing sexism from the school space. I’d recommend keeping an eye open for if this is happening in your work place. Sexism is subtle but ubiquitous.

    1. Kuleta*

      This was some 35 years ago, but some boys at one HS wore miniskirts to class in protest of the warm-weather dress code. Girls were allowed to wear miniskirts in warm weather, but boys weren’t allowed to wear shorts.

      1. Jezebella*

        This happened at my high school in the early 1980s in New Orleans. It’s hot af there half the year. All the student council boys showed up in mini-skirts. Administration conceded and they were allowed to wear shorts after that.

    2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

      Yeah. I rankled so freaking hard reading “bra straps”. Dress straps and bra straps are sometimes not perfectly overlapping things. You seeing my bra strap is no different from seeing a dress strap. If anyone ever made a comment about this I would be quitting on the spot–and I fear unemployment like no other.

      I’m done letting people treat women’s bodies as public space for comment and the straps of the garment I need to wear to be able to WALK WITHOUT PAIN as inherently sexual and inherently unprofessional.

    3. VP of Monitoring Employees’ LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

      School dress codes usually ARE targeted at girls, specifically because they give adult men an excuse to ogle underage girls.

    4. JustaTech*

      The only high school dress code I ever heard of that was applied more to the boys than the girls had to do with super baggy jeans (this was the mid-to-late 90’s) in Texas: if the Principal could stick his hand perpendicular to your body between the waistband of your pants and your body, he would duct tape the pants to your shirt as a “belt” and then add duct tape “suspenders”.
      Even if we ignore the colossally inappropriate nature of the principal touching minors around the waist and sticking his hand down their pants (!), this “punishment” meant that you weren’t allowed to use the bathroom for the rest of the day.

  19. Now that's not right*

    LW#3: Calling out sexist/racist/etc. jokes is everyone’s responsibility, especially if you are a man in a group of men. If you’re not, definitely bring it up to HR or their boss to get this stopped. Women, or anyone who’s been sexually assaulted, or anyone AT ALL really, do not need to hear this in the workplace.

  20. Just Want A Nap*

    Dress Code Executive:
    Can you ask if someone/the group is out of compliance specifically or if there’s another interpretation that you’re missing?
    My manager was going on and on about dress code in a rambling way during a group meeting (similar business casual office) and when I asked, it turned out it’s because he wants us to have “more fashionable personality choices like he does.” He wants flair because “we’re boring to look at.”
    Since you can’t exactly make “Have fun with/push the limits of business casual” a rule, he was harping on it hoping we’d spend extra money and time to go outside the regularly fitting box.

    1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

      Okay then, I’m off to buy pink socks to show my “fashionable personality choices.”

      1. Coverage Associate*

        I just got several at Marshall’s! They go with my drawer of pink sweaters. I am wearing both for work right now! I am working from home, so sadly no one is seeing my new pink socks, but my pink sweater is more than good enough for Friday video calls.

    2. Be Gneiss*

      You know what, Stan, if you want me to wear 37 pieces of flair, why don’t you just make the minimum 37 pieces of flair?

    3. Esmae*

      A past supervisor of mine once tried to have the entire dress code updated because he had a problem with a specific thing that I wore and didn’t want to talk to me about it directly. I still don’t know what the outfit was or what he objected to. When HR wouldn’t change the dress code, he apparently just dropped it rather than bring it up with me and I found out years later.

  21. Llellayena*

    LW3: it took me a couple reads and some thought to realize that “just the tip” had that connotation. And I know someone else mentioned “just the tip of the iceberg” as a regular phrase. So I think there’s room for an initial softer approach in the “hey, I don’t think you realize” vein. After that you can say “I’ve asked you to stop using that phrase” and escalate from there. I have a habit of shortening phrases (“pot, kettle, black” instead of the full phrase) and I’d be mortified if one of my abbreviated phrases ended up meaning something entirely different.

    1. danmei kid*

      If you don’t say “of the iceberg” then you aren’t making the statement you think you are and that person needs to be made aware.

    2. SnackAttack*

      Okay, but you’re not waltzing around an office saying “just the tip” whenever you get a chance. There’s a BIG difference between saying “just the tip of the iceberg” (and, to be clear, OP never said that’s what her coworker was saying – everyone here just made that up and is assuming that’s the only thing he’s repeating) and interjecting regular conversations with “just the tip” jokes.

      I’m so tired of people in this world tying themselves into knots trying to make excuses for the offensive “jokester” at the clear expense of the victim. It happened last week with the “dark chocolate” joke, and it’s happening now with this “just the tip” joke. I feel like we as a collective commentariat used to be better about this – and at taking the OP at their word – but for some reason it’s seeming to have changed recently. Idk, maybe I’m just tired of the general excuses people make for racists and sexists and homophobes in this world and I’m projecting it here.

      1. Siege*

        Big agree. Big, big agree. If you’re saying “the tip of the iceberg” or “I’ll leave the tip” or “it’s on the tip of my tongue” it isn’t actually the same as “just the tip”, and it’s not hard to figure that out. If you’re implying “the tip of the iceberg” where that context is fully understood (Person 1: Have we seen the full scope of the problem yet? Person 2: No, it’s just the tip so far) then you’re fine. Reasonable people don’t walk out of earshot of someone saying something about how much they love their country and get mad that they only heard the first syllable.

        Everyone in this comment section defending the innocence or the icebergyness or whatever of the person who the LW identified as making this joke beyond any reasonable level whether or not it fits is making an excuse for someone who the person on the scene has determined is not, in fact, making a good-faith effort to talk about icebergs. It seems like a low bar to say a) trust the people who have more context than you do that this is offensively done; and b) don’t try to figure out how to justify a rape joke whether or not y0u see it as a rape joke. I don’t personally agree that “to call a spade a spade” has racist origins, but I stopped saying it once I learned that it now has acquired a racist connotation, and I’m not going to bend over backwards to defend someone who wants to make a racism-lite joke in the workplace by using it. This is the same thing!

      2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        Honestly, “just the tip” is right up there with “that’s what she said”. FFS!

      3. Nina*

        When I’m calling out a joke like this (because I have worked with this kind of asshole before), I make sure to never, ever, ever leave them any possible gap to argue with HR about. So I’d wait until the next time he said it, say loudly enough for at least one other coworker to hear, ‘Hey, were you aware that’s often a gross sexual reference? Please don’t use it at work’, and then if he ever says it again, tell HR that a) I have addressed it with him directly and confirmed on X date with Y coworker as witness that he knows it’s a sexual reference and b) he fucking said it again.

  22. I should really pick a name*


    Don’t make any references to her ego.
    Focus on her behaviour.

    “When you receive feedback, you do X. I need you to do Y instead”
    “It’s okay to defend the choice you made, but you need to stop pushing back after you’ve been heard.”
    “There have been a number of instances where you’ve insisted something was impossible when it wasn’t. If you’re not sure how to do something, feel free to ask, but don’t claim it’s impossible just because you don’t know how.”

    Regarding giving her additional responsibilities:
    When she claimed she’s excellent at giving feedback and has lots of experience, have you asked her for examples?
    This is an area where you need to be careful. If she’s criticized for pushing back on feedback, that could translate to her not listening to explanations at all when she delivers feedback,

    1. A person*

      I second giving examples! It’s so frustrating to get feedback about a “behavior” (vs like a technical mistake) and not have clear examples of what they saw as wrong and what they’d prefer to see! I currently have a manager who repeatedly tells me he feels I’m resistant to change. Whenever I ask for examples he either gives something vague and not a specific situation or he says “I’ll have to think about it”. And then never comes back to it. I was able to get a couple of actual examples out of his boss that he’d told her (I meet with her regularly). But even in those examples she couldn’t say what part of the interaction made him frustrated and think I was resistant to change. I’ve never been told that before (actually usually the opposite) so I’m at a loss on how to fix it and I really want to fix it, but so far everything I’ve tried hasn’t helped (really watching my facial expressions and tone of voice, asking follow-up questions any time I don’t understand a direction to make sure that I don’t inadvertently do it the wrong way and make him think I’m intentionally “doing it my way”, asking him and others how they would do things and then doing them that way as much as possible- I already do this but have tried to increase the frequency, making sure I’m not talking too much in meetings to make sure he doesn’t think I’m trying to impose my will – this one is tough because I already get feedback about being too quiet from others, smiling more) and it’s really demoralizing to not be able to fix something that your boss views as negative about you because he won’t tell you what actually makes him think that!

      So managers, please, please be specific when you give feedback! Not only about what you see, but what you’d want to see instead!

      1. Lana Kane*

        Very, very few people are excellent at this. And even they probably have to deal with the feedback-receiver interpreting it through their own lens and having to course-correct. If you think you’re excellent at it you might be prone to dismissing the other person’s impressions because, well, you’re excellent at it.

  23. Keymaster the absent*

    2: Oh the amount of know it all techies I’ve had! Fortunately there are ways to steer them out of that ‘I know best’ mindset if they are willing. Pointing out to them that a great number of very skilled and well paid and important people here know how to a) take feedback and b) listen to others.
    Management of anything be it people, data, llamas cannot be run as a dictatorship with only one in charge because that’s how you get serious errors being hidden. Nobody wants to show the autocrat the mistakes.
    So I wouldn’t give her the responsibility until she’s been told and shown to develop proper skills regarding receiving and giving feedback. As a success rate it’s done pretty well.

    3: While that idiom hasn’t reached these distant shores for general use I definitely read it as inappropriate on first glance. To wit I advise the old stopgap of ‘NOT the right audience for that kinda talk mate’ or a ‘tone it down a bit dude’. This doesn’t always work as well as it should though – I had to have a very uncomfortable word with a network tech who used a r*pe term to refer to a server outage in my hearing and he told me to grow up.

  24. Jane Bingley*

    I could’ve written the first letter back at my last job. It was months before a VP pinned our CEO down in a meeting and got him to explain exactly what was bothering him. Turns out it was skirt length – a few people wore skirts/dresses with hens a few inches above the knee and he felt it was inappropriate. They got the dress code modified to specifically say knee-length dresses/skirts and he finally backed off.

    And Alison is spot-on – he was a terrible leader in many other ways, and he was particularly awful at maintaining a coherent vision for the organization and setting and sticking to goals. It was good to get out of there. My current workplace has a simple “dress appropriately” dress code, where most people wear casual clothing internally but dress up as needed for external meetings. It’s never been an issue!

  25. Falling Diphthong*

    Because people are explaining the innocuous use of “tip of the ice berg” the following is a really helpful physics simulation, in which you draw a little ice berg and the program bobs it around into the stable floating position. Inspired because people were picturing vertical ice skyscrapers with just the top stories sticking above the water line–such an ice berg would roll onto its side immediately.

    Also the simulation is good at conveying the scale between “the part you can see from your boat” and “the actual whole entire thing that your boat might be interacting with.”

  26. HonorBox*

    LW1 – I agree with everything Alison says and just wanted to say, as someone rocking a sweet pair of Nike Dunks at the office, that tennis shoes in the office (as long as they’re not the ones you wear cutting the grass) is gaining more acceptance. I’ve seen quite a good number of guys in suits and nice tennis shoes recently and it looks classy as hell.

    1. Random Dice*

      HARD disagree.

      But that’s the lovely thing about life, we can all disagree! And so long as we’re following our org’s dress code, all good.

  27. danmei kid*

    LW #1 sounds like your ED is a motivated person who likes to keep busy and doesn’t have enough work to do :/ I’m sorry that their need for “busy work” is resulting in this behavior.

    1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Right? Most EDs of non profits are pretty busy managing the whole operation, setting policy, working with the board, and schmoozing outside people whether donors or community partners. If they have time for a whole meeting just about the dress code, they aren’t doing another part of their job.

      1. danmei kid*

        I guess they could be overwhelmed and struggling with things that are out of their control, so focusing on something they think they have a better chance to control? Either way it stinks for the OP :(

  28. SMH*

    LW1: The dress code thing. Ugh. IMO this usually comes from a manager or executive who is struggling to measure performance. Especially in creative fields it can be hard to quantify performance. Yes, you can managers review their employees, but then the top people have to TRUST those reviews.

    In lieu of that, I’ve seen plenty of managers instead hone in on easily visible things: dress codes, tardiness, attendance, looking busy, etc. This isn’t effective management, of course, but it gives the person doing it the feeling they are controlling things.

  29. Thunder Kitten*

    LW3. Would playing stupid work to your advantage there ? You say no one else catches the reference – what would happen if you just make a comment in the presence of large group or leadership like

    “Hey dude – you use that phrase a dozen times a day – is there some reference or personal significance that I’m missing ?’

    Granted that might be what he wants. Any chance your/his manager will pull out his phone to look it up and realize it’s gross ?

    Sorry you have to deal with him.

  30. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

    Another way to challenge the #3 joke if OP isn’t comfortable with calling out the obvious inappropriateness:

    We had a saying in my house growing up, “Once is funny, twice is boring, three times is downright annoying”. Usually used on toddlers and small children. Give the coworker a pained look, quote it at him, and tell him he’s way over the third time.

    1. daffodil*

      seriously, even something that was funny the first time (this wasn’t) definitely isn’t funny anymore. That’s the real joke on The Office — Michael repeats inappropriate jokes and it’s NOT funny. It’s funny that he’s so clueless.

  31. Nuke*

    I’ve dealt with coworkers like the one in #3. Not quite as bad, but in my previous position at my company I had a team lead who just… borderline couldn’t have a conversation without interrupting with movie quotes, memes, and unfunny innuendo jokes like that. For example, we’d be having a regular conversation at work, and every single time he would hear the word “baby”, or “corner”, he would INTERRUPT me to say “no one puts baby in a corner!” and laugh about how clever he was. He was a nice guy, but just a little too obsessed with being Extremely Funny All The Time. Once I actually yelled at him and asked, “Can we have an actual conversation please without you interrupting me to make jokes?”

    And this was a grown, married man, with 2 young daughters. He wouldn’t always go for innuendo, but did pull out the constant “That’s what she said” in response to something even vaguely misconstrue-able. Like dude, you’re almost 40. Please learn to actually talk to people without practicing your failed standup routine.

  32. Blue*

    I just want to acknowledge that op3 was very clear that they did not want to have to address this and sees it as not their job. The suggested scripts are great imo, but also, op3, you could also flag this for your manager or your colleague’s manager and ask them to deal with it. Throw in the phrase sexualizing the workplace and see if they make sure it stops. If not – you’ve got a bigger culture issue and can revisit your instinct to leave over it.

    1. Blue*

      Adding, if you just really don’t want to address it at all, there’s no harm in looking elsewhere. But I worry that any group large enough seems to always have one of these offensive chuckleheads in it.

    2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Well they don’t want to deal with it because they don’t want to sound crazy. OP, you are not crazy. This is not appropriate. However, if you don’t want to deal with it, that’s also fine. Pick your battles. But if you do feel comfortable, talk to your boss. If your boss blows it off, well, thats a valuable piece of information and will cement your decision to leave. But if your boss takes it seriously — as they should — then it should get shut down. Mention you are worried about retaliation too if you talk to your boss.

  33. Anonymath*

    For letter #2, can we cross-check this reaction with the case of Jane, the highly skilled person who was brought in to make changes but was experiencing pushback, including from their manager, from a recently revisited letter (1/8/24)? I’m not saying the OP for #2 is misrepresenting their situation, but I’m seeing similarities between their situation and the one presented in the letter about Jane, which got a very different response for a very different framing of what seems to me to perhaps be a similar situation.

    Jane, who had many years of experience in the field, was a new member of the staff, and experienced pushback from her coworkers, which could be presented as Jane as being a know-it-all and refusing to do things the way it’s always been done. In this current letter, the manager is being told to closely supervise the feedback that the newish “very knowledgeable” staff member is giving. In that previous letter, the manager is reprimanded for being defensive and not advocating for their knowledgeable Jane.

    I could see, in the first situation, one possible response by a new staff member Jane to getting such pushback on their suggested changes would be to make more emphasis on their prior experience in these types of situations, which could come across as being a know-it-all if one is inclined to side with the staff who do not like change. I could see an experienced Jane wanting a more senior role, which may help them to be taken more seriously.

    Other than the framing of the situation, can you help me see what you all are seeing that leads to such a dramatic difference in the recommendations for how these two individuals should be dealt with?

    1. danmei kid*

      I am not on the same page as you at all – these are two completely different situations to me. In one a person is getting pushback based on the resentment from others they have not in some way earned; in the example above, the person is actively being off-putting by the words coming out of their own mouth & typing.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      There’s a difference between a Jane – ie. someone experienced and who brings best practices (which they have been hired to do) – and someone who is a recent hire with very little to no work experience.

      The pushback from colleagues who don’t want to change or acknowledge that Jane has something to offer is also very different from the recent new hire’s manager saying that the junior person does not take developmental criticism well.

      I think they’re two very different situations.

      1. Anonymath*

        Oh, I’d absolutely agree with you if the letter had said the new hire had very little to no work experience. I’m not seeing that in the #2 letter though. It does say she’s new to the staff, but does not directly address her previous work experience. It later says that giving feedback would make sense for her to be doing in her position, which is a relatively senior role in the organization. Would it make sense for her to be hired into the relatively senior role without any work experience?

        1. WellRed*

          But she wasn’t brought in to create change. She was brought into do a job and if she’s resistant to feedback or is constantly trying to one up everyone as a know it all, that’s a lot different than people who don’t want to say, switch computer systems.

        2. Observer*

          I’d absolutely agree with you if the letter had said the new hire had very little to no work experience. I’m not seeing that in the #2 letter though

          No, it’s worse than that! It’s that she sometimes even insists on things that are *provably incorrect*. Like claiming that something is “impossible” when it’s not, to the point that the OP *has to do it for her*.

    3. I should really pick a name*

      I think that if the new hire was brought in for the purpose of making changes, it would have been mentioned in the letter.

      1. Anonymath*

        I could definitely see that. I’m not seeing anywhere in the letter that says she was brought in as a change agent, only that she was hired into a position where it would make sense for her to be giving feedback but was being prevented from doing so.

    4. Hlao-roo*

      I see the similarities you see: both Jane and the employee in letter #2 are new(-ish) to their respective organizations, smart, and good at their jobs.

      Jane has many years of experience in her field. It’s not stated in letter #2 how much experience this employee has. My assumption when reading was that she is new(-ish) to the field as well as to the company, but I could be wrong about that.

      The main difference I see between Jane and this employee are soft skills. From the Jane letter: “She [Jane] is gracious about these issues, doesn’t point fingers, and is happy to fix the issues herself.” Jane has good soft skills (and good technical skills). Jane’s approach to pointing out problems that need fixing does not need to be improved.

      From letter #2: “In general conversation/online chat, she’s also extremely reluctant to be told anything without first saying she already knew it.” This employee does not have good soft skills. As this letter writer points out, an “oh, that’s interesting” or “thanks for sharing!” response can be better in these situations than “I already know that.” Maybe the employee did already know that! But she doesn’t need to announce it every time.

      Also from letter #2, I noticed that when the letter-writer told the employee “to keep working on receiving and giving feedback,” the employee responded that “she is great at giving feedback and has lots of experience in it.” The employee did not address her room for improvement in receiving feedback (and her response demonstrates her weakness in receiving feedback).

      If the employee in letter #2 can improve her soft skills, perhaps she can become like Jane. But she’s not there yet.

      1. Anonymath*

        I can certainly see your point about the soft skills and agree with you on that in a general sense. I did read the letter as the new employee in #2 having more work experience than entry-level given how the position is described. I guess my concern is that the Jane letter was written by a somewhat sympathetic-to-Jane manager, who is describing Jane’s qualities positively and is very personally reflective about their own defensive reaction to Jane. If the original manager had been less personally reflective of their reaction, do you think they may have described Jane’s skills less positively? I could see a manager who was defensive and had sided against Jane describing her as a know-it-all who pushes back on receiving feedback.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          If the original manager had been less personally reflective of their reaction, do you think they may have described Jane’s skills less positively?

          Yes, they probably would have. Advice columnists pretty much always only see/read one side of the story, so it is possible that a less self-reflective letter-writer could have downplayed Jane being hired to make changes and her skill at finding/relaying mistakes and could have played up any mistakes Jane herself made or how Jane’s coworkers don’t like her. The advice for that (hypothetical) letter probably would have been different.

          1. Anonymath*

            Thank you, Hlao-roo. I think that’s what I was getting at. I saw the similarities and wondered about if the differences were as much on the “Jane” side as on the manager’s views and presentation side. I can very much see how, given how the manager presented this current letter, everyone reacted so differently to the two cases.

    5. MsM*

      From what OP’s describing, it feels to me like their employee is insisting things have to be done a certain way, when OP can demonstrate that no, the current process works just fine (and in fact arguably better). Jane’s processes are in fact an improvement on anything that’s previously been done.

      That said, it is possible that the initial resentment against Jane stemmed from interactions like these. But by the time that LW got involved, Jane had apparently taken the feedback and worked on the soft skills, to the point that nobody could come up with an example from less than a year ago. (Besides, the absolute coordinated vitriol – I think that was Alison’s phrasing – makes everyone else’s account of Jane’s misdeeds unreliable.) This OP doesn’t seem confident the feedback will change anything here.

    6. Sparkles McFadden*

      The difference is that the person in this letter doesn’t take feedback well. It takes the LW an hour to get through giving simple feedback because this person pushes back on everything. The employee also says she is “great at giving feedback and has lots of experience in it,” which is indicative of someone who is very invested in being right and who thinks there is only one right way to do anything: hers.

    7. Sloanicota*

      I could believe the employee in the past letter used to act like this, and that’s why their former supervisor and coworker dislike them. The difference to me is in that letter the employee has apparently outgrown the behavior and their supervisor is pleased with their current performance, calling them a rockstar who saved the company a lot of money.

    8. Observer*

      ane, the highly skilled person who was brought in to make changes but was experiencing pushback,

      Except that this person is no “Jane”. The OP explicitly points out that the employee has made claims that are provably incorrect. In fact, the OP actually had to do certain pieces of work because Emp claimed that it was impossible. That is inherently incompatible with being “highly skilled”.

      can you help me see what you all are seeing that leads to such a dramatic difference in the recommendations for how these two individuals should be dealt with?

      Because the whole situation is different. Jane *was* actually skilled. This person THINKS she is skilled, but clearly is not.

    9. They Might Be a Giant*

      maybe I’m bringing my own baggage to the situation, but I’d really like to see the A-B test between LW2’s situation and an identical one in which the employee in question was “he” rather than “she”. not saying the employee doesn’t need to dial it back a bit, but in my experience in tech, people respond to (over)confidence very differently depending on the perceived gender of the person in question.

      in my personal situation, I did my best to take feedback well (and subsequent feedback confirmed that I had), but it was a little hard to stomach when I knew damn well that my male colleagues had similar or worse issues which were never even brought up to them as problematic.

      1. Anonymath*

        Yes, I think my own personal baggage is why I reacted to this letter and the Jane letter as well. As someone who was recruited with many years of experience to come create change in a different organization but is now getting massive pushback, including from my manager, I find it interesting how the different managerial point of view can have effects on how we see the “Jane” of the story.

    10. Milksnake*

      I had this same thought. As if this letter was written by Jane’s old manager. I’m a little surprised by the answer as well because we so often hear that women need to believe in their skills and not fall victim to imposter syndrome.

  34. No name Username*

    LW2 – I know people have to start someone but your employee can’t accept feedback without arguing about. I can imagine she’d be even worse when giving feedback. Don’t inflict that behavior on your other employees.

  35. BigBaDaBoom*

    I was aghast while shopping recently and seeing a snack food on the shelf called “Just the Tip!”. It was basically the tips of ice cream cones filled with chocolate. But I was like “really??”

      1. Siege*

        Yes. Because of course they did it that way so they can get the snickering shock value purchase and then pretend later that they didn’t know it. When McDonald’s used the slogan “I’d hit that”, they did actually know exactly what they were doing, and relied on the idea that they would get a lot of “can you believe they’re saying that???! omg squares!” style publicity from people talking to their friends about it.

        There’s a wide gulf between the American Apparel “clouds” incident where someone (if their version of events is accurate, which I doubt) genuinely didn’t have the context and the one where a brand of enough size to be in a supermarket or otherwise have a national presence apparently had their proposed tag line or title reviewed by no one in their extensive legal and marketing departments, which includes people who are literally paid to understand the references.

    1. Meh*

      The government in the Yukon Territory actually had a campaign encouraging everyone to get appropriate levels of Vitamin D a few years ago. The idea beyond the campaign was solid.

      The fact that their catchphrase was “Everyone Needs The ‘D’!” was slightly more problematic.

      This slogan hit billboards, advert spaces on buses, Facebook ads…

  36. Phony Genius*

    I get the feeling that the boss in #1 is thinking: “Most employees follow the dress code because of all the reminders I send. I need to keep sending the reminders if I want compliance to continue.”

    1. Random Dice*

      I get the feeling that one of the employees is busty, and despite being fully clothed, the objection is ultimately to her body.

      Or that one of them is a black woman.

      I know when I was most asked to police my staff’s compliance with dress code, it was a man who (I eventually realized) wanted to control a black woman.

  37. Naive Nelly*

    Argh, so now there is something else I don’t know and don’t want to look up on the office computer…can someone explain what “that’s what she said,” alludes to?

    1. Angstrom*

      It’s a way to turn a random comment into a slightly risque male-centered joke.
      “I’m really hot today” “That’s what she said”
      “That (random object) is huge!” “That’s what she said”
      “That’s a first for me!” “That’s what she said”

      One could reverse the gender if one was so inclined.

      1. MsM*

        It’s also a reference to the character Michael Scott from the U.S. version of The Office, who used it frequently as a catchphrase. If you haven’t seen the show, Michael is…not who you want to model management best practices on.

        1. Orv*

          As often happens with shows, Michael started out as the butt of the joke and even something of an antagonist, but over time the show forgot he was terrible and started asking audiences to root for him as an underdog.

    2. BigBaDaBoom*

      It’s a catch-all kind of “joke” when someone says something rather innocent that, if in a different context, could be sexual. Like if you were complaining about your workload and said “I just can’t get on top of it” and someone piped in “that’s what she said” har har har

    3. Ellis Bell*

      Basically imagine you’re a teenage boy, and everyone is on a ridiculous mission to prove they’ve had a lot of sex, so if you say “that’s what she said” to innocuous things, (larger balls in PE, something being hard, something being a shock … the list is endless), it’s supposed to make you sound like you’ve had a lot of sex, but what it really does is makes you sound obsessed with sex in a very inexperienced way. See also: saying the names of your mother’s friends apropos of nothing. Source: I teach a lot of teenage boys, and while they’re frequently awesome, I can’t wait for the boys and men’s movement of not being judged through sexual actions to catch up with the girls’. Unfortunately, some people just get really good at spotting opportunities to say “that’s what she said” and they get trapped in what should be an awkwardly forgettable stage forever. Sad stories.

    4. Nea*

      “That’s what she said” (and the related “I had a boyfriend like that”) are a way for someone to turn just about anything into a sex-related double entendre. Hilarious at a party; ridiculous & offensive at work.

    5. New Mom (of 1 6/9)*

      I should add to the other commenters that it seemed to be popularized by The Office; Michael Scott had a problem with saying it (in the earlier seasons)

    6. Mermaid of the Lunacy*

      I am a middle-aged woman with a “that’s what she said” streak. Definitely not at the office though! Mostly just to make my husband roll his eyes. :)

      1. BigBaDaBoom*

        With me and my friend group it’s more the “title of your sex tape” version from Brooklyn 99. I would never ever say it at work though.

  38. AnonForThis*

    OP3, this part of your letter really, really jump out at me: “I’m angry because I’m not actually getting paid to tell people to not make rape jokes at work.” But no one is and, as a woman in the workforce, that sentence makes me feel a little isolated.

    I’m thinking you’re meaning to say that you aren’t this persons manager and, therefore, it’s not your responsibility but, oh, this struck me hard. Because this is why this kind of thing keeps happening – people are aware of it being bad but think it’s not in their wheelhouse to address.

    1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      No one is? Uh, HR is. Management is. I am not being paid to “make” my coworkers behave themselves. OP is angry that she might have to “force” a grown adult to behave decently because he won’t do it himself. It’s shouldn’t be too much to expect to work in a non-sexualized environment. That is totally valid and I get where OP is coming from.

      Victims not speaking up is not why these things keep happening. Perpetrators being allowed to victimize people with no consequences is why these things keep happening. Remember who the real problem is – the guy, the guy’s boss, anyone in power who heard it and didn’t stop it. Not the OP.

      1. blue rose*

        If managers aren’t up in their employees’ business at all work hours, it’d be easy to miss. People who get their kicks out of inappropriate humor where part of the joke is the inappropriateness itself often know who they should hide their behavior from in order to get away with it; that is, it wouldn’t shock me at all if LW’s coworker isn’t doing this in front of anyone higher up. So then what to do? I don’t know if you’re picking up on something that I missed, but “let manager/someone with structural authority over the situation know” doesn’t seem to be so great an undertaking that it can’t be expected of LW, unless the relevant context got cut from the letter. “Let someone know” sounds more like step 2, with step 1 being “Ask/tell the guy to stop,” which may be skipped depending on LW’s assessment of the situation.

  39. Ihatedumbdresscodes*

    I had a very short stint at a temp agency as a recruiter right after college. The agency recruited for mainly manufacturing companies. So the people we interviewed were very blue collar. The receptionist typically wore khakis and a sweater. One of the guys in the office wore polos and slacks. I dressed on par (she/her). Nice pants, sweaters, blouses etc. The manager was an awful woman who was possibly one of the meanest people I have worked for. She wore mainly suits from 80s/90s. Very outdated for 2008. She pulled me into an office and said I need to dress more like her. If I couldn’t afford I should go to goodwill. I asked point blank why the guys got to wear polos and not suits. She didn’t answer me and dropped it. The next week I was fired. I hated it there.

  40. HalJordan*

    L1: Is it possible your boss sees “dressy business casual” as significantly weighted towards the *dressy* side? They’re certainly terrible at expressing that, if so, but the “practice business formal” day makes me think their concept of dressy business casual is ‘suit but no tie’/’skirt suit but you can wear flats’. Clearly something isn’t aligning for them bw what they see and what they envision (and they need to better express what that is). Hopefully Alison’s script can help you tease that out though!

  41. mystiknitter*

    LW3 – any chance he’s also using ‘See you next Tuesday’ in conversation? What a charming still-in-middle-schooler you have there. So very clever, isn’t he?

    1. KG*

      This. “Oh, maybe he thinks…” NO. He is saying it over and over. Ugh, I hate how so many in these comments try to twist and justify what other people are doing into something innocuous.

  42. el l*

    OP1: Second Alison’s suggestion that what’s going on here is actually only a little to do with the dress code.

    It’s that they’re doing a bad or ineffectual job on their actual job – and are taking the dress code as their opportunity to feel important and competent.

    Because that’s a common compensation tactic for bad managers: Focus excessively on a minor issue (regardless of whether they’re right on it or not) to distract themselves from their incompetence in the actual job. Other examples I’ve personally seen are policing entry times for staff, presentation slide style, and use of company cars. Right or wrong about the little issue in question, a huge amount of time and energy is spent on it – because the big issues are either (a) Outside the manager’s control, or (b) Manager has nothing to say about the real problems.

    It’s a little like the old classic Eric Hoffer line: “A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business.”

    1. Nix*

      I have that issue as a teacher; one of our administrators is obsessed with making sure everyone takes attendance in the first 10 minutes of class. she hands out little pink slips to everyone who doesn’t meet that metric, but meanwhile we just had 4 special ed teachers mass resign due to working conditions. I think she might be focusing on a small thing because the real problems are way too big

      1. Rara Avis*

        At my school we get called by the office if we don’t take attendance in the first ten minutes, because we have a legal responsibility to know where the kids are. They really tightened up after a local kid was kidnapped and killed in her way to (another) school, and the school didn’t call the parents to report the absence until after school.

  43. Nea*

    LW#1 – I’m absolutely staggered by and required us to have a “practice business formal” day.

    ED actually, literally, had a dress-up day in the office? For “practice” as if you were all back in school just learning what the business world is like?

    Flames… Flames on the side of my face! I get that what ED really wants is all formal all the time, but this is *absolutely* infantalizing!

    1. New Mom (of 1 6/9)*

      To be honest, as a WFH tech worker mole person who does not leave the house every single day, I would probably need a practice business formal day. But these people don’t sound like they do!

  44. grilled cheese*

    A few years ago several people in my team were in the habit of using the phrase “ripped them a new one.” After one too many times I asked them to please stop with the phrase because it was too visceral for me. I was literally picturing this phrase every time they said it, and I really did not want to.

    I’m very quiet, reserved and not about making waves, and was new to the team at the time. But I was so glad I said something, because after that, it stopped :)

    1. Orv*

      I had someone request the same for the phrase “thrown under the bus.” It’s easy to get a little too casual with violent metaphors.

    2. Jackalope*

      I too find this overly visceral. I had the misfortune in my younger days of reading about Vlad the Impaler and what exactly happens if someone is impaled by a skillful inpaler (pro tip: do not research this if you may feel squeamish about it), and I’ve never been able to hear this phrase without feeling a bit twitchy.

    3. KG*

      Some people truly do not understand when you write the word r@#$ or say something this gross in public, I can actually see it.

      1 out of 4 women in the US have been the victim of r@#$. I personally haven’t met one close female friend who has not been the victim of some kind of sexual assault.

  45. Observer*

    #2- Egotistical employee.

    Alison is completely correct, but she does not go far enough. If you give her that kind of responsibility, you will lose your best people. Because they won’t stand for this, and they won’t come to you. Why? Even though you seem to be a good and thoughtful manager who wants to hear what their staff says, your staff will legitimately believe that in *this* case that’s not going to matter. Because the fact is that you *know* about this issue, yet you still gave her the authority to inflict her ego on people. Sure, that is not your intention! But that is what she is going to do. You know that it’s going to happen.

    I’m also going to say that you are cutting her way too much slack. You did the right thing when you told her that she can’t have these long conversations every time you need her to make changes. Now, *stick to it*. AND expand it. Make sure that every incident of back sliding gets called out, and address the pattern if it starts becoming one again. But also, call her out when she argues with others, and don’t do her work for her (!) to prove that she’s wrong.

    Fundamentally, she needs to not only stop criticizing everyone, she needs to learn how one actually works cooperatively in a group. There is a limit to what you can do – you are not her parent, teacher or therapist. But you *can* enforce reasonable behavioral norms on her.

    1. Magdalena*

      Yes, please do not let this person get away with this behavior. It can make others miserable even as a peer.

  46. Ellis Bell*

    OP3, a lot of options are open to you with this guy, and a lot of what you choose depends on what he’s like in a wider context, and your relationship as colleagues, whether he can take a hint, as well as your capital, his capital etc. One thing that I don’t think you need to do is go straight into full on rape joke lecture mode, as I think you’re right about that being too weighty a responsibility for your pay grade, and you probably just want to shut the guy up with a lighter, easier to use set of tools. But like I say, there’s variety, so here are some wildly different options for you to assess against your context: 1) eyebrows raised +”tip, huh?” then blowing out a sigh, say “yeah, well anyway..” + subject change (this can be rinsed and repeated with you making a face like your cat brought a mangles cat in every time he makes the joke). 2) “You make that joke a lot, why’s that?” (just let the silence hang there for a while, and don’t rescue him from the awkward, and if he tries to make it about your sense of humor or your sensitivity, just take it right back to it being a matter of repetitiveness. “Oh you just say it often that’s all, so I wondered why.” 3) Mentorship mode: “This is awkward, but I’d want to know if it was me: I think you’d get taken more seriously if you didn’t make sex jokes like that. It lands a little inappropriately.” 4) Do nothing and let him get hanged by his own stupidity. This isn’t going to make him look good or encourage people to want to work with him. If it is possible that you can avoid him and the “jokes” consider doing that. 5) Instant, shocked disgust, like even if you say nothing but “ewww” or “wow”, just let your face do what your face wants to do, with your choice of how mildly or strongly you want to exclaim. If you get queried on it, just say “Oh I think the less said about it, the better! Anyway…” 6) Deliberately misunderstand the joke each and every time until it becomes pointless to say it to you. One for the actors, this one: He says “I’ll tell her it’s just the tip!” and you say “It may actually be the tip of the iceberg but…” or “I don’t understand how we can say that it’s the tip of the iceberg…” This is similar to the classic and effective… “I don’t understand why that’s funny, please explain it..” but has the advantage of you just quickly filing it as “misunderstood nonsense” without having to do the whole exchange.

  47. Observer*

    #3 – Offensive joke.

    I’ve only read some of the comments, so I know I’m repeating stuff. But I really wanted to get a couple of things off my chest before I have to go take care of some other stuff.

    Firstly, the idea that you are going to try to find another job rather than complaining is way over the top. Unless you have solid reason to believe that no one will listen to you. Because, yes, a workplace where jokes like that are ok are places to escape from. But leaving a job so you don’t have to say something because that’s not what you get paid for? You’re going to be doing a LOT of job moving in your life.

    If you are in an otherwise functional workplace, call him out in the moment. If it doesn’t stop, or if he argues (any of the usual gross “lighten up!” or “It’s just a JOKE!” garbage) go straight to you HR (looping in his manager if you want.) Speak to him first so that you can tell HR up front that you did that.

    I think that you have a responsibility here. I’m generally of the camp that victims are not the ones responsible for preventing their victimizers from going forth. But this kind of situation is different. And if only someone “who gets paid to do it” is going to speak up, it’s just going to get worse.

    You won’t sound crazy if you keep it simple and non-ranty. “Tim is repeatedly making this joke. The most common understanding is as a rape joke, but at minimum it’s a totally sexual joke. I’ve asked him to stop and he won’t / argued with me about it.”

    Leave out the stuff about his wife and kid. Yes, it certainly makes it a LOT more gross on a personal level, but that’s not really relevant in workplace context. At work it’s just a matter of *no one* should have to be listening to this kind of garbage.

  48. CTA*

    Re #1

    I agree that dress code issues should be handled 1:1 and not in mass emails to everyone (even if no one if mentioned by name).

    I once worked as a coat-room attendant at a museum. I was required to wear black pants (not jeans or denim). It was ridiculous because there was a counter at the coat room that came up to waist height and no visitor can see your pants. Apparently, attendants used to be able to wear any color pants, but then a manager had the idea that it would be nice to look uniform. We already had to wear a work-provided blazer/jacket…but, again, no visitor could see your pants because of the waist-high counter. At least the museum provided $20 reimbursement for black pants. Well, one day, I just forgot and I came wearing khakis. My manager sends out an email to everyone reminding us of the dress code. I thought that was unnecessary. Khakis aren’t unprofessional. It’s not like I was wearing dark colored jeans that looked like black pants on the security camera (like some of my other co-workers did sometimes). What if I was in a situation where this was my only pair of pants to wear because of some emergency (Like these were my only clothes because a house fire destroyed my other clothes. Or what if my pants got ruined due to an accident. I actually had a pair of pants get soiled once because I walked past someone with groceries, their grocery bag split open, glass soy sauce bottles smashed everywhere, and it got all over my pants.)?

    1. Momma Bear*

      I strongly dislike when managers blanket talk to everyone instead of having a professional conversation with the person they are concerned about. Years ago my friend and coworker took casual Friday too far, but rather than address just him, we all lost the ability to wear jeans on Fridays. He would have changed had he known his outfit was a problem. When you bypass the person, you not only never hear their reasoning, but you don’t give them an opportunity to improve.

      I’m also in camp “I wonder what this is distracting from” because it seems very weird that OP reports no violations yet the Boss is continually upset.

  49. BecauseHigherEd*

    LW 4 – I also work in Higher Ed. If you don’t point out these issues to your colleagues, your students DEFINITELY will.

  50. Liz the Snackbrarian*

    Re LW 1 can we please normalize sneakers in the workplace though? Shoes like Allbirds? I wear plain black sneakers every day because they are comfortable and I walk around a hospital all day (I’m a librarian). I have bunions so ballet flats are just way too uncomfortable. Just typing this comment is making me want to go home and burn the remaining ballet flats I do still own…

    1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      Please burn those ballet flats! I recommend Clark’s shoes (I wear them almost exclusively) or Shoes for Crews dot com (avoiding the URL so this doesn’t go into moderation) for work-appropriate comfortable shoes, including in black.

  51. A Pinch of Salt*

    #2. I have a co-worker like this. I’ve never been so de-moralized in a position. My grandbiss is leaving and my direct boss has been reigning her in, but I was actively looking to leave before that.

    I mostly want to scream “OMG I SMART TOO”. I haven’t…yet. but I do actively avoid looping her in whenever I can because the ego caressing is SO.MUCH.WORK.

  52. WellRed*

    OP 2, don’t be reluctant to manage an employee just because she’s resistant to feedback. I know you’ve had conversations with her but that you would even consider expanding her role, let alone that you figure others will just come to you if they have complaints about her is not good.

  53. Dinwar*

    I find the dress code issue interesting. I’ve read a number of letters from Rome and the Middle Ages complaining about exactly the same thing (yes, I’m a nerd). What I think is going on is this: Clothing is communication, and humans (especially Europeans/North Americans) have a tendency to move towards less and less formal communication over time. You can see this very distinctly in language, but clothing and manners also fall under this. For example, when was the last time you tipped your hat to someone? And that was an informal substitute for bowing.

    The issue is, not everyone likes that change. Especially today, since the USA in particular is undergoing a significant cultural shift (and has been for like three generations, but these things take time), there are certain people VERY resistant to changes they see happening. And they push for adherence to older norms as a way to fight back. This isn’t always a bad thing, either; there’s value in having someone push back against change, because we’ve all seen change for the sake of change, or change that’s detrimental. But it can come off as absurd when they’re swimming upstream against powerful social currents.

    Further, because communication is changing, clothing doesn’t say the same thing to these people as it does to the more casual people. Think of it as different dialects. There’s a broad framework we all work within (no one’s going to show up in a tunic, hose, and cloak; that would be the equivalent of a different language), but the specific statements mean different things to different people. To people who embrace casual clothing, clothing often says little to nothing other than “I’m not supposed to come to work naked”. In contrast, to folks clinging to the old ways, casual clothing screams “I don’t take this seriously”. I’m a strict descriptivist, and always attempt to understand what people mean rather than the words they use (English is a poetic language), so I agree that one should default to what the person intends to say with their clothing; however, there are a LOT of prescriptivists out there!

    This may not resolve the immediate problem, but I think it’s a better framework for thinking about this than “ED is a moron.”

    1. Polly Hedron*

      I love this comment, Dinwar! As another nerd, I’m wondering if those communications reset to formal at the beginning of each era, then restart a long slide to informality?
      If that would be too much of a digression, can you recommend any reading to satisfy my curiosity?

    2. Observer*

      This may not resolve the immediate problem, but I think it’s a better framework for thinking about this than “ED is a moron.”

      Disagree. I think that in general, you have a decent point. But that doesn’t change the fact that the ED is, at best, *really* bad at his job.

      The issue is not the dress code per se. If he wanted to change the dress code to be more (or less) formal, your point would be relevant. But the problem here is that he’s being unclear as to what he wants; he’s scolding all staff for something that either ONE *unnamed* person is doing or for something that’s in his head rather that something that is actually happening; and he’s acting like his employees are inexperienced children rather than reasonably functional adults.

    3. jane's nemesis*

      This is a great comment, thank you! I’m so interested in the Roman Empire and Middle Ages dress code arguments!

      1. Jam on Toast*

        Years ago, while writing my dissertation, I read a letter written by an American politician in the 1840s who was trying to prove why their shiny new Republic was so much better than the old, debauched European governments. They described American’s political and social superiority as being embodied by “the plain black broadcloth of democracy.” The idea was that the simple designs and lack of ostentation in American men’s clothing, combined with their adherence to the social norms that reduced class differences because everyone was dressed the same, were proof of America’s serious outlook and egalitarian values, thus proving the country’s moral superiority.

        Wearing the ‘right thing’ often has complex subtext, and it can become a lazy shorthand for ‘because their clothes are ‘correct’ they are correct’. We see the inverse in rape cases where the victim may be blamed for the attack because of how they were dressed. Clothes aren’t culturally neutral, in other words, and this manager may be taking their ‘make the world a better place’ non-profit ideology too literally.

        1. Coverage Associate*

          I love the Dutch portraits of people all in black. I was raised in a religion heavily influenced by that time and place and love how they’re trying to look simple and modest, but look at that ring! Or that brocade! Or that exquisite lace peeking out! They can’t hide their wealth.

          I had detailed dress codes through undergrad. It took me a while to learn that normal bosses (actually, even normal teachers and RAs) don’t want to deal with dress codes. It was hard in my first job after law school, because there was only one other woman attorney, and we had very different tastes. Now I wear a suit or something on the business end of “business casual” on my first day, then wear what other people wear after that.

          At least this discussion is helping me back off from my position that the few professions still needing business suits should get a tax credit for them, like trades with uniforms and safety gear. I guess there’s more professions still in suits in some places (not San Francisco!)

  54. Ilima*

    For the employee in #2, I wonder if they would benefit from the book Mindset, and framing this in terms of having a growth vs fixed mindset.

    As someone who was raised very much in a fixed mindset family where Being Right was extremely important and not knowing was unacceptable, I definitely brought this to my early work experiences. The whole concept of growth mindset was a revelation to me and so helpful in understanding my issues. It took a long time to change deeply ingrained habits, but I have indeed grown and am much better at work and happier in life today!

  55. FloralWraith*


    I work in higher ed in faculty communications. If your colleagues dismiss your concerns once you’ve brought it to them, take this over their heads to your department/faculty’s head of communications, as well as the central university’s/college’s corporate communications team. They WILL look into it, and there is probably a policy that people are ignoring on external speakers (how can there not??).

    1. Car park*


      Former higher comms/pr/marketing person here. PLEASE at least let your coworkers know. I don’t know if I would go over their heads to your comms office, but you may suggest they run it by that office themselves.

      If your student body leans liberal and they get wind of the speaker, it can easily end up on social and cause a kerfluffle for a few days. (I’m having flashbacks here. Lolsob.)

      I don’t know how functional your institution is (mine wasn’t) but that kind of press could mean a lot of internal drama from the president to advancement to student life, with finger pointing and blame shifting and suddenly being required to have multiple offices weigh in on all future speakers…a hot mess.

  56. Just Thinkin' Here*

    OP#2 – an approval role would be a horrible job skill fit for this employee. This would essentially have them using their worst skill on a regular basis. While some managers like to focus on improving skills, this is not the way to do it. Assign them work that highlights their best skills and send them to remedial training on their worst skill. In this case, this person needs to improve their Social Intelligence (EQ or some similar concept of soft inter-personal skills that includes empathy for others).

    All this above doesn’t address the damage she has already done in her relationship with co-workers. You need to interject on this – and it sounds like you’ve tried, but it has only been partially successful. Check in with teammates and make sure they know you have their back so they understand you are aware of the situation and working towards improvement. This should help keep morale while this employee works on their social skills.

  57. TG*

    I admit I used to be #2 and have improved. I’d recommend the sitting with her while she gives feedback and continue to monitor her feedback – what I will say is when feedback is nebulous and without specifics I tend to say that without metrics it’s hard for me to measure or put into context on how to improve. As a women in technology I’ve received feedback like “you need to soften your approach” which is so sexist, and that I “intimidate” others and what I say to that is, I’m assertive and not aggressive – I do not yell or swear or put anyone down so unless you’re willing to do that to the men who do those things my firm but readable approach stands

    1. AJL*

      As someone who also saw a lot of herself in #2, I appreciate this comment! I have worked in environments (especially early career) where my intensity and confidence in questioning systems has been really encouraged, and more recently have found myself in environments where that is not the case. At first it was a really abrupt change, because I did not recognize why asking what felt to me like clarifying questions came off as disrespect.

      I agree that specificity in feedback is especially helpful to minds like mine—putting smaller systems in context, giving a why behind the feedback that falls in line with established systems—as I know for myself that feedback without this context doesn’t help me understand how to integrate the feedback more cohesively in the future. I want to be able to take a note and implement it right away, but if I don’t know how to do that consistently, I will struggle.

      It’s also very difficult to tell when this is a personality issue and when it is cloaked sexism!

    2. I Have RBF*

      Yeah, I was pretty insufferable in my 20s. I got better, but I still will always question whether feedback is due to my apparent gender or not, because I got so much gendered feedback when I default identified as a woman, because my communication style isn’t feminine. OMG so many guys did not like it at all when I communicated just like them – never mind that I tend to talk like the people I am around.

      While the “know it all”, “has to always be right” stuff needs to be curbed, LW#2 needs to be careful not to veer into gendered feedback about communication styles. Don’t say “be softer in your feedback”, say “be considerate of the other person when giving feedback”. IOTW, if you wouldn’t say it that way to a man, don’t say it to her. (E.g. I’ve never seen a guy called “aggressive” unless he was literally hitting things.)

  58. amylynn*

    LW 1: I have experienced a lot of “dress code” issues that have come down to the manager using a vague term like “business causal” and assuming that everyone knew what the manager meant by it. That might go some way to explaining the ED’s repetition – you are not complying with whatever definition of the dress code they have in their head. The fact that they are not either addressing it 1:1 with the “offending” party or at least explaining to the group how exactly they weren’t complying is still bad management. And if they are assuming that the non-compliance is intentional that can really cause problems.

    I hope your employer really doesn’t go through with the dress-up day but if they do it might provide an opportunity to get to the root of what the silliness is about.

    Actual example loosely based on a former job: “Thomas is wearing a Hawaiian shirt! That’s totally not appropriate for the office!” “Uh, Boss, we’re in Hawaii, so it kind of is.” Didn’t go down that way but we had a lot of fun suggesting to our management that we adopt the new Honolulu office’s dress code.

    1. Coverage Associate*

      Affirming that aloha shirts are at least business casual and maybe even a more formal equivalent in Hawaii. I have had a lot of even somewhat formal video conferences with lawyers in Hawaii.

  59. amylynn*

    LW1: I work in higher ed and for a while we had a policy that we could wear jeans during the summer. Well, one summer we were crazy-slammed due to a perfect storm of events outside our control – months of overtime. As a small token of thanks our assistant VP bought us pizza one day and gave a nice speech letting us know how much he appreciated our hard work. For some reason the VP (his boss) decided this pizza party would be a good time to chastise us because a lot of us were wearing jeans even though the summer was over (Fall classes had started). WTH? Our department isn’t public-facing and we had other things to worry about.

  60. Dress Coded*

    LW1, I had a similar experience.

    My boss created a policy where any single violation of the dress code would result in a loss of parking privileges for a whole month.

    If you violated the dress code after that, it was grounds for immediate termination (!!!).

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, the person who made the rule was someone who hired a bunch of young women (but did not want to feel tempted by them). There’s occasionally something deeper behind these over-the-top policies.

  61. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

    I often see people recommend to ask people to spell out the “humorous” part of sexual/racist/etc jokes as a way to get the sexism/racism/etcism out into the open. Maybe LW3 could ask their colleague “just the tip of what? you keep saying that”? Either he’ll say “iceberg” in which case LW3 can make the point that it’s often meant to mean the penis, and that’s inappropriate so please stop, or he’ll actually SAY “penis”, in which case LW3 can say that’s inappropriate so please stop, or he’ll go very silent OR get loudly angry, in which case LW3 will know that he knows that he’s being inappropriate (and maybe he’ll stop).

    1. KG*

      This shouldn’t be on the LW, who seems very uncomfortable to the point where they are looking for another job or contemplating another job instead of addressing it with them, which- can you blame them? I wouldn’t and shouldn’t have to warn someone not to make sex jokes at work. This is should be a fireable offense, immediately. I highly doubt someone saying this nonstop doesn’t know what it refers to.

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        Of course he knows what he’s saying and what it’s referring to! Just like with racist “jokes”. It’s the forcing someone to say it all out loud that has the power.

        1. KG*

          But if you are very triggered by his rape jokes, which the OP seems to be, they shouldn’t do that. They say they don’t want to.

          1. Kyrielle*

            Yeah, I think there are a lot of things OP can say and do if they choose to, but I don’t think they should have to.

            I am not triggered by such jokes, though I am appalled; I’d hope someone like me would speak up, so OP doesn’t have to, but it seems pretty clear that that’s not happening either. :/

  62. sdog*

    OP#2 Agree with Alison, but also just want to state that you should make sure that you’re not sugarcoating the messaging when speaking to her. It’s not just that she needs to be better at receiving feedback. I think you can say very clearly that you are not ready for her to take on the reviewing role because when you give her feedback, she does x, y, and z, and that you cannot have her engaging that way with others.

  63. MAW*

    Look, even *if* the dude meant the joke as an iceberg reference (which I highly doubt), the fact is that a LOT of people take it as a sex joke and therefore it needs to stop ASAP.

  64. KG*

    Nobody says this as an iceberg reference. No one. If you’re saying “That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” you say that.

  65. Hedgehug*

    omg, and here I would have thought he was saying just the tip of the iceberg, but without completing the expression.
    I wonder if that’s what the other coworkers think and that’s why they haven’t said anything? Maybe they’re all dense like me.

    1. Usurper Cranberries*

      I promise if you were in the office with him you would understand that it’s not a shortened form of tip of the iceberg. They are two completely different phrases used in two completely different contexts and even if you didn’t know quite what it meant, you’d be aware that he’s never using it in contexts where the iceberg connotation makes sense.

  66. Rhea*

    A candid conversation needs to be had. I would not even consider promoting this staff person. soft skills are just as important as technical skills. Offer coaching on negative behavior but at the end of day we are all adults. being able to get along at work treat others with respect accept feedback is just as important as technical knowhow. this person is not a good fit.

  67. MCMonkeyBean*

    Letter 3 is a bit odd to me. The joke is obviously inappropriate and shutting him down would be extremely reasonable, but I don’t really understand looking at it from the perspective of “this person is bothering me, but it’s not my problem and they’re not paying me to tell him to stop.”

    Like, it’s definitely not your *responsibility* to be the one to shut him down if you don’t want to–but that still seems like an odd way to frame it. If you walked into the office and all the lights were off and you felt uncomfortable working at your desk in the dark would you just feel like “I wish it were brighter in here, but they don’t pay me to turn on the lights.”

    I guess I just can’t imagine jumping to all the way to potentially quitting before just trying “hey, please stop.” I would be extremely annoyed and upset by this man as well, but I am wondering whether this is a case where OP is fed up with a number of things at the company.

    1. KG*

      That’s how triggering this topic is to some of us. I’m actually shocked there is no warning on this post, and many people are discussing the intracacies of rape in these comments. Totally not what I expect to see on AAM. If you’ve been the victim of rape or any sexual assaults, op let alone many, like me, I wouldn’t want to be in the same workplace as this man. I can absolutely understand this reaction. To me, it’s almost as if he’s walking around saying he’s a rapist and no one is doing anything, and yes – reporting harassment or sexual comments often backfires. It’s not supposed to, but this is America, women/people are used to being disappointed with even the systems that are supposed to shield us.

    2. fhqwhgads*

      I think the subtext here is a lot of people hear this dude doing this all the time and no one in a position of power has made it stop, and LW needs it to stop badly enough they’d rather leave. In other words, yes, could say “stop saying that” but A) expects the dude to react poorly and doesn’t want to subject themselves to that and B) thinks the higher ups should’ve shut it down already and are pissed they haven’t.

  68. badger*

    I’ve been #2. I sometimes still am. It is not ego, it is insecurity (at least for me) – it’s driven by a belief that the only way for me to earn respect and have others decide I deserve to be there is to prove I know things. It took quite a bit of growing up and also a mentor outside my employment to sit me down and remind me that they wouldn’t have hired me if they didn’t think I could do it and that I did not need to constantly prove myself (and be obnoxious in the process). And also that it’s okay to not know everything and okay to say I don’t know the answer to something.

    No idea of that’s what’s going on for this employee, but I do wonder if anyone’s ever sat her down to say it’s okay not to know everything and she won’t suddenly lose her job if she isn’t right on top of everything all the time.

    1. Nasturtium*

      Yes, my reaction to some of the behaviors described was that it sounded like insecurity, not overconfidence. Sometimes it can be hard to tell, but the parts about justifying why they made a certain decision sounds like insecurity.

  69. jojo*

    LW2, I was a lot like your employee in my younger years; I liked to show off my skills and knowledge, I loved to be asked for help, and anytime I was corrected or given new information my response would include the words “I know.” My closest friends kindly pointed out to me, and I started to figure out that my insecurity and perfectionism stemmed from fear not only of being wrong but of what it might *mean* if I was wrong or if I wasn’t the best at everything I did. Being wrong meant others would think less of me, that I was failing, that I was inadequate. If I wasn’t perfect, I was all but worthless. In addition to therapy, something that helped was having friends and mentors who showed me through their words and actions that I could be wrong sometimes and not be rejected. That getting things wrong is compatible with being awesome.

    So, while I’m not advocating that you try to be your employee’s therapist and “fix” her, I wonder if you might get further with her by adding more reassurance to your conversations about her work.

  70. I'm A Little Teapot*

    Dress code is coming up at my workpaper, and it’s a combination of several factors. We’ve got multiple new employees straight out of college who obviously are still learning professional norms. We also have a couple of people who have gradually relaxed their typical clothing to a point that mgmt isn’t thrilled with (hilariously, one of those people is a manager). Throw in generational differences, the impact of covid, and the fact that we’re out at clients all the time who each have their own dress codes and it’s complicated. We’re going down the route of formalizing a dress code and communicating it, followed up with individual discussions as necessary for people who have questions or clearly aren’t getting it.

    Note what we’re not doing: going on and on about the dress code without addressing the root problem.

    1. Observer*

      Note what we’re not doing: going on and on about the dress code without addressing the root problem.

      That’s just so important, isn’t it.

  71. ChipDust*

    Re: #1….I retired from a place with a dress code tsar at the head. We were required to dress 3 levels better/more formal than anyone else in the greater organization. It was wearisome and a morale killer when the home office would sent out notices about casual dress only to immediately be followed by our VP saying “not you people!”. We had zero contact with clients.

    After the VP finally retired the CEO came in person and announced we’d all be held to the same casual dress code. That was the hill to die on for the VP apparently. It did cause a lot of ill will.

  72. RJ*

    LW2 – I worked with someone with the same issue years ago: refused to acknowledge she could be wrong, incapable of learning new information without pretending she already knew it. It’s absolutely imperative this type of person not be allowed to have any supervisory duties until these habits are broken. My former coworker relentlessly generated drama and toxicity in every situation where she might have been wrong or encountered new information, and over time simply became impossible to manage because knowing everything was her entire identity. She once got into a screaming match with another employee because the other person used abbreviations she didn’t understand, and she could not admit she was supposed to know them but didn’t.

  73. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    LW3 – this guy knows exactly what he means, means to say it, and hopes it’s getting the icky squishy cringe reaction it deserves. I had a dude like this in an office once and I full on snapped and told him to shut the f– up. He did. And HR wanted to know why, so I told them. He could barely look up at me when told to apologize so I said, “Save it a-hole.” And walked away.

  74. WomenCantBeAggressive*

    For LW#2 – I wonder if sexism is playing a role here. Not necessarily from the Letter writer (though, good to check in), but for the worker. Depending on the field they are in and their experience, it could be that they are trying to emulate what they see around them and take their space if they have the experience to do so. I kind of think it’s a disservice on the letter writer’s part to not check-in on why their employee needs to go into greater detail, give that feedback, or defend their choices – as a minor example, as a marginalized gender in a male-dominated industry, I have had to defend my knowledge, decisions, and experience up against people without even a quarter of it and been treated the same as that employee.

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