#589: Genuine work feedback or infantilization?

Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter movies
I’m sure she put smiley-faces on all of her o-mails.

Dear Captain Awkward,

My younger sister, let’s call her Bee, works as an executive assistant in a large, urban, corporate environment. Bee’s manager has recently mentioned, twice, that she is “coaching” my sister on developing better professional communication skills. In particular, she has expressed concerns that Bee is not “nice” enough in her emails to co-workers. She has mentioned that my sister does not use “smileys” and doesn’t start emails out with praising statements before doing something like asking for information. There has been no actual professional coaching, only these hints that my sister should be “sweeter” in her emails.

Here’s where I come in. When I say my sister is “nice,” that doesn’t quite get at the root of the matter. She is really, really nice. Doormat sweet. Works like a dog. Seriously. Rave performance reviews. Hours of overtime. Her superiors notice this–she is often singled out for extra projects, work, trips, etc. For example, she recently has been given some account management tasks and was also recently asked to attend a conference in Europe (where she literally worked so many hours a day she didn’t even go outside, but hey). I am 99.999999% sure there is no professionalism issue with my sister’s email communications.

Can you give us some scripts or ideas on how to talk about this with her manager?

My sister is not comfortable with direct confrontation and doesn’t always have a lot of self-confidence when talking about herself, but she is an amazing and hard-working woman. The thing is, I feel like this is a feminist issue. Strike that. This is a humanist issue. I believe that my sister is being penalized because she appears to be striving “above” her “place.” The suggestions her manager has made are not ones that will make my sister appear more professional–they are items that will make her seem more subservient, sweet/cute, passive, etc. I do not believe that these “suggestions” are being made in earnest, or with the intent to actually help my sister move forward in her career.

My sister doesn’t know much about Captain Awkward, but I’m a faithful reader. We would love some advice!

Not knowing your sister or her manager, I can’t tell if the subtext of this feedback is:

  • “I, your manager, personally feel intimidated and threatened by you because you are outshining me and don’t kiss my ass enough.” As you pointed out in your question,sometimes young women (especially young black women) are singled out for this kind of “mentoring.” The same exact opinion can be “lovably eccentric” or “coldly threatening” depending on whether it’s expressed by a disheveled old white cis het dude vs. a polished young woman.
  • “You, a woman, have been communicating like a man and that’s not okay with me (or some people above me).” As in, are SMILEYS really the norm in corporate communications, to the point that people feel HURT if they aren’t included? Is “sweetness” really the metric we use?Β This makes me >:-O.
  • Other people in the company have mentioned that they find your communications brusque and this is a legit attempt to help you with some soft skills” orYou are being groomed for more client-facing tasks, like account management, and what worked for just you and me in handling my stuff won’t necessarily work with them.”Β For example, when I visit Texas, people are way more syrupy-friendly-chatty to me than I naturally am to them, and I probably come off as a damned standoffish Yankee a lot of the time. If I moved there I’d have to make some adjustments in my communication style and a boss telling me so wouldn’t necessarily be out of line.

The me who does not actually work there would have a hard time not trolling, to be honest.

“Dear Manager,

I ordered the supplies you requested, they should be here Thursday.



…would become:

“Dear Manager,

You look great today! πŸ™‚ I have ordered the supplies like you asked, they should be here Thursday. πŸ™‚ Have a great day. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ I value you as a person!!!! πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚



P.S. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚Β πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚Β πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚Β πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚Β πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚Β πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚Β πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚Β πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚Β πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚Β πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚Β πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚Β πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚Β πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚Β πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚Β πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚Β πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚Β πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚Β πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚Β πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚Β πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚Β πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚Β 


Illustration by <a href="http://funquisha.deviantart.com/art/Pegasus-Unicorn-thing-happily-pooping-a-rainbow-287366561">Funquisha at Deviant Art</a>
Illustration of a unicorn/pegasus shitting rainbows by Funquisha at Deviant Art


Don’t do that, if that wasn’t clear. That’s just my instinctive response to really vague feedback like “be sweeter.”

Bee’s most constructive course is taking the feedback at face value and trying to grapple with what her manager wants.Β Bee could look at the emails her manager sends, and see if emulating that style exactly is more pleasing to that person. Since Bee is an executive assistant, this person has a lot of say over how they like things to be, and sometimes if your boss wants their stuff in a certain color folder or wants a smiley face at the end of the email it’s easier to throw it in for them (like when you argue in front of the In My Opinion judge on The Good Wife) than to argue.Β 

Even more constructively, Bee could ask for specific examples.

  • Manager, I want to do my best to incorporate your feedback. Would you be willing to forward back to me one of the communications where I got it wrong and show me specifically how to get it right?”
  • “Is this feedback in response to something specific (from a client or a colleague)? Would you be willing to walk me through exactly what I’ve been doing wrong and exactly what you need from me?”
  • Β “Would you be willing to share with me an example you’ve written (or someone else in the company has written) that you think does this very well so I have something to work from? I really learn best when I can see an example.

If Bee makes the request in person, she should send a follow-up email to document that she did so. If this is “know your place” feedback from a disingenuous manager, those examples will never appear, and the request will be treated very dismissively, like “come on, figure it out, it shouldn’t be hard!” That doesn’t mean a message from boss to employee wasn’t sent; it was, and that message is “Time to find a real mentor at a new position within this company or another. Polish up the old resume, Bee, you have risen as high under this manager as you ever will!”Β 

If examples do come, Bee should try imitating them exactly and document that she is doing so so at performance review time it can be a thing that she can demonstrate “improvement” about. (If the examples don’t come, she should take one of her boss’s emails as a template and be able to show she did it. That way at performance review time if it comes up she can say “But look, I’ve been basing it off what you send out. Can you point out the problem?“) If “sweeter” becomes an impossible, moving target then Bee will also have some more information about how she should look for another assignment where she will be valued for the professional adult that she is.


139 thoughts on “#589: Genuine work feedback or infantilization?

  1. My mind is boggling re: smileys right now, to be honest. Sending smileys in a work-related email seems like one of the most unprofessional things ever to me (in fact, I often have to stop myself from using them out of habit). Maybe other countries/cultures/work environments handle that differently but for me, it really makes me wonder how the manager can seriously suggest something like that – I’d probably assume they’re making fun of me (which, given the rest of the letter, doesn’t seem to be the case here, but it would be my instinctive reaction).

    1. Myrin, I agree. I mean, LOL and smileys are prevalent enough in general culture now that every once in a while they do slide into work emails (at the company I work for) but if I was specifically training someone on work processes, I would decidedly NOT mention those be included. I find when they do happen, they are between coworkers who have a long, close relationship and are very informal with each other. It’s never busted out as the first email sent when hired!

      1. And to think I spent so much time telling people to never use emoticons or “lol” in communications that customers could see. It was acceptable if it was purely internal communication, but certainly not encouraged. I can’t speak for other places, but I know that what I am familiar with considers emoticons to be unprofessional. I would definitely recommend taking a good look at how coworkers write. You do want to fit into the particular corporate culture you find yourself in. But if other people aren’t following these suggestions either (or if this is a gender thing and only women are doing so) then I would be very skeptical about the advice. Mostly, I worry that if she gets into the habit of following these suggestions, it could hurt her if she switches jobs, since I really doubt most places appreciate emoticons in their professional communications.

        1. That threw me as well. I don’t have a lot of professional office experience (ie:none), but I’ve always imagined that the use of emoticons and chit chat in correspondence would be equated to showing up to a client meeting wearing flip flops and whimsically printed jammie-pants.

          1. For realz, smileys are hugely unprofessional! This from the gal who wears jeans and superhero tshirts to work on a regular basis. Legit the only time I use smileys in emails to my boss is when I am forwarding him an email announcing that I have won some kind of graduate student award or gotten a paper accepted for a talk at a conference-the kind of news you get maybe once a year. I feel like the breach of professionalism is warranted in those (RARE) situations.

            Also, I call my sister Bee and also 100% the sweetest person ever, and when I read this OP, my first reaction was “HULK SMASH EVIL BOSS OF LITTLE SISTER!” . LW, I hope your Bee can get away from this awful person.

    2. Ah, my dear Myrin! We are on the same page.

      On the topic of culture chat, someday you may get a work-related email, text or birthday card from a United Kingdom/Irish colleague, signed with a kiss, like this:


      Or more perplexing – MULTIPLE KISSES –


      Despite appearances, this is not an invitation to clink glasses and make out! Learn from my mistakes.

      1. Hahaha, Elodie, this is fantastic. I used to live in Australia, and they often do the same! Baffling to my American self (at first), who had only ever gotten that kind of signature from her Grandmother. πŸ˜‰

        1. Yup. I know Americans are supposed to be more emotive compared to where I was in the UK, but the peppering of my communications with x-es from brusque people was confusing. They also sometimes kiss people for real! Like, on the cheek, but not all the time? So the France rules didn’t seem to apply. BIG adjustment.

          1. The answers from the others are perfect! With where I was living it seemed so unpredictable and so optional about if someone would give you a kiss. Usually just one, but who knows! Could be two!

          2. In France it’s common for friends or acquaintances to greet each other with two kisses on the cheeks (called “les bises”), which aren’t really kisses, You just touch cheeks on one side, make a kissy noise, then touch cheeks on the other side. It can be performed up to 4 times (4 kisses, not 4 pairs of kisses), often depending on how close you are to the person. Family members might do more kisses, but by far the most common amount is 2. In addition, two men will almost never use les bises on each other–it’s done between women or between a man and a woman.

            Sometimes people of other European nationalities do this too, but it’s most common in France. Here’s a quick video (in English) that explains les bises in a bit more detail: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvsgNi90j0E

            (I used to live in France as well, so I had to learn all this too!)

          3. My parents’ friend group kisses people in greeting. I find it very off-putting.

          4. Anothermous that video is great!

            THB it’s confusing even for French people, not so much day-to-day but when you meet someone who’s from a different part of France. I’ve been unintentionally snubbing my (perfectly lovely) aunt very time I see her for close to 20 years now because my ingrained habit is 2 bises and hers is 4, so I always draw back and leave her hanging!

            I am also pretty uncomfortable with the gendered aspect of this, so in professional contexts with people I’ve just met I pre-empt it by offering my hand for a handshake. In social contexts it’s a bit more weird to do that though.

          5. If you live in Canada for any amount of time (six years, here), you will invariably end up with that one VERY Francophone Quebecoise acquaintance who is wedded to les bises, and everyone is so used to it that they won’t warn you. And then you, in turn, will eventually become so used to it that you will be walking around downtown on the west coast of Canada and your friends will be startled when a diminutive woman flings herself at you and dramatically kisses you, and then everyone else when she’s introduced to them, and then flings herself off again.

      2. Oh no Eloide, that is not my experience at all of Ireland and the UK. I am Irish and work in Ireland, I have also worked in Australia and the UK. The only time I would ever add a x to an email at work is to someone who is also a friend outside of work..and then only if the email wasn’t simply a work issue. I have never ever seen it appended to an actual work email.

      3. Yeah, I’ve never gotten the email kisses, but Cheers! is pretty universal among my UK colleagues as a closing.

        1. and as a greeting, and as a thank you, and as a vague statement of I’m still not really sure what.

          I don’t live or work in the UK but have colleagues from there. It’s weird sometimes, cross-cultural communication!

    3. Holy crap, yes. I used to work in a Large Corporate Environment (VERY large) and there is NO way smileys in my professional emails would ever have been tolerated. My boss would have been horrified if I’d sent anything like that to our vendors (and I would have been horrified to see it; it’s way at the bottom of the “appropriate professional communications” list. The very bottom.

    4. My mind is also boggling. I live in Europe, and smileys and chatspeak would be considered the height of unprofessionalism here. I think she should maybe use that style with her boss since she’s demanded it or even company-internal if everyone else is doing it, but under no circumstances externally in the account manager role (a customer in particular might consider it not to be subservient, but rather inappropriate and too familiar).

    5. Also? I find highly, HIGHLY unlikely that a dude would be asked to use fucking smileys in his work e-mails.

      This certainly smells like a feminist issue, LW. Don’t be so quick to remove that label from it.

      1. Pretty much. I’m a male in a hugely female “auntie” profession (and 6ft and 210lbs so I can stick out a bit) and, barring some of my male colleagues, I’m the only male I know of that has been asked to make my communications less direct and brisk.

        On the other hand, I hear of women being pulled up for this on a regular basis, both formally and informally, and told to soften their communication, even to other professionals.

        1. Inevitably, this softening up process results in a lot of twee and flannel, which is exactly the sort of thing that perpetuates the image of my profession as a twee middle class middle England past time for failed physios and daughters of doctors.

          1. Arrgghh yes. I do a good deal of volunteer work in my church, and while I love it, and I love the people, I find the achingly sweet and fluffy email culture irritating and hard to adjust to.

          2. @Another Mary: it gets very annoying, especially when you can’t tell if the friendly question about your weekend is motivated by actual friendliness, or is a mere proceedure driven preface.

            It can get to a point where you find yourself questioning any and all signs of friendliness as merely following the (unwritten, almost always unwritten) rules, leading to confusion when you get a friendly email with no actual work related question in it. I’ve wasted no end of time waiting for the work related question to come in a follow up email, only for it to never come.

            If people sandwich legitimate work related content in between flannel and fluff, then eventually any fluff gets seen as the bottom slice of the bread, and you find yourself on tenterhooks waiting for the email to fall on top of your slice of bread so you can see if you’re going to end up with prawn marie rose or cheap corned beef.


    6. The sexual harassment training at my new job had a gigantic section dedicated to telling us not to send unsolicited nudes to our coworkers through work email… Not just nude/lewd photos in general, it stressed that it was only wrong if they were unsolicited. So I don’t even know what the standards of ‘professionalism’ are anymore but smileys definitely seem like one of those ‘just don’t do it at work!” things to me…

      1. Presumably unsolicited nude photos are more likely to result in lawsuits, so that’s more CYA than professionalism. On the other hand, I can’t imagine a corporate culture that tolerated soliciting nude photos not being likely to result in lawsuits…

    7. Smilies should never be used in work emails, in my opinion. Not. ever. I’m willing to ignore it from other people, but I work in an industry that is VERY personal and laid back. In the corporate world, I’d imagine that this is the kiss of death.

    8. Personally, I think all corporate communications should be written in comic sans.

      You’re absolutely right. I’d never give anyone this advice – being “nicer” is one thing, but I don’t think smileys belong in work emails, and I’d probably lose respect for any manager who was like, “Please submit the budget reports by the end of the day πŸ™‚ Vee.”

        1. Yeah, I remember a college biology professor who gave PowerPoint lectures in purple comic sans. I’m broken-hearted that she was apparently not an outlier.

          1. Okay, so I have to ask and show my ignorance here: I’ve never understood what is bad about comic sans/why it is so hated upon? I mean, I don’t use it or am any more fond of it than of other fonts and instinctively wouldn’t ever use it in a presentation but I also don’t think it’s horrible per se. Has it got something to do with it being, well, a comic font, so something that should only be used in cartoons? Or am I just completely missing some huge significance it has?

          2. A brief history of Comic Sans & haters. I didn’t know that it helps dyslexic people read better, which is a point in its favor. Maybe the people who used it in their presentations were dyslexic.

            The real font villain is Papyrus. Unless you are making a Greek restaurant menu, back away!

          3. The Captain: “The real font villain is Papyrus. Unless you are making a Greek restaurant menu, back away!”

            Huh, reading over that site, my reaction was, “Huh, I actually really love that font! I wish she would say *why* it doesn’t belong on, say, the flyer for an arts festival…” But then, I’m no visual artist (as the husband of a former graphic designer, I am *acutely* aware of this ^^; ).

          4. It just makes everything look like a Greek Restaurant menu. If that’s what you want, by all means!

          5. A Greek restaurant menu or a yoga studio. Papyrus is a gorgeous font, but it’s been so overused — and especially overused by people who have no idea that it’s not appropriate for every occasion — that even the guy who invented it says it’s played now.

          6. One of the other problems with Comic Sans is that it’s classified as a “script” font, so text that’s in Comic Sans will show up in something that looks like calligraphy if you don’t have Comic Sans itself. My iPod Touch, which I use as if it were a smart phone that can’t make phone calls, didn’t come with Comic Sans, and so emails or documents that use it look like overly-ornate engraved wedding invitations.

          7. http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/im-comic-sans-asshole

            “You don’t like that your coworker used me on that note about stealing her yogurt from the break room fridge? You don’t like that I’m all over your sister-in-law’s blog? You don’t like that I’m on the sign for that new Thai place? You think I’m pedestrian and tacky? Guess the fuck what, Picasso. We don’t all have seventy-three weights of stick-up-my-ass Helvetica sitting on our seventeen-inch MacBook Pros. Sorry the entire world can’t all be done in stark Eurotrash Swiss type. Sorry some people like to have fun. Sorry I’m standing in the way of your minimalist Bauhaus-esque fascist snoozefest. Maybe sometime you should take off your black turtleneck, stop compulsively adjusting your Tumblr theme, and lighten the fuck up for once.”

          8. I read on tumblr that Arial, Verdana, Tahoma, Century Gothic and Trebuchet are also dyslexia-friendly. Maybe someone with dyslexia can verify that?

    9. I am boggled also. It seems like sabotage to me to advise someone to be less professional in their communication and calling it “coaching” “developing better professional communication skills. ” is utter bs..

  2. I use smileys in exactly one context at work. I know the person extremely well, and something silly is going on. So, to the person who handles scheduling, when I’ve had to change a request three different times – he gets an apology and a smiley. If this is a tight-knit company of five people, maybe go with the smileys. Otherwise, no, not professional at all.

    1. Yes, agreed – I would use smilies sometimes with people I’ve worked with for years, to make sure something is flagged as a joke and wouldn’t be misread as nasty/sarcastic.

      But for normal work stuff, never.

      1. In general, I agree. Even with close, non-work friends, I only use smileys sparingly, to make sure they don’t misinterpret stuff that’s meant to be light-hearted/joking.

        However, I think company culture does matter. If it’s an informal tech start-up, where it’s considered ok to make light-hearted, joking conversation with colleagues (even when you don’t know them super well), then smiley faces are probably ok, so long as you don’t go overboard. But if it’s a really buttoned down financial firm, where communication has to be super-formal, then yeah, you should probably reserve it for the colleagues you know well.

    2. Agreed, and the same. If it’s with a coworker I know quite well and chat with sometimes, I might toss a smiley in in the right kind of context — “okay, glad that’s FINALLY all cleared up — have a good weekend! :)” or “Here’s a link to the not-really-work-related thing we were talking about on break earlier! :)” or whatever. But even then I almost always wait for them to do it first, and I use them very very sparingly. Work email is a different thing from chatty emails with my non-work friends.

      And this is as someone who has had to give feedback to someone under my supervision to use a more casual email style instead of a style that came off as extremely abrupt and brusque in my office’s culture. Smileys every email and a policy of giving compliments before all requests would be going way too far in the other direction — heck, if that were someone I was supervising, I’d give them friendly advice to dial that back. Admittedly I’m also a chilly Yankee, and individual corporate cultures differ too, but it doesn’t sound as if the LW’s sister is likely at great odds with her company’s norms.

    3. Same here – if I know the person well, and especially if we’re communicating about something only marginally work-related (e.g. planning a lunch for someone’s birthday) then I’ll use smileys. I would never use them in a formal business email and definitely not with someone I didn’t know, and I would look very much askance at someone who instructed me to do so.

  3. I can understand the “be nice then ask for something” routine but SMILEYS? Makes no sense at all.
    I would be asking for examples from themanager via email because smileys in correspondence to people above your paygrade might have a detrimental effect to any career progression.
    What would Ask A Manager say? πŸ™‚

    1. This has to go to Ask a Manager!

      I have to say, this whole thread is making me feel a lot better about my behavior at work. I am usually on the soft and fluffy end in a high tech position. I worry that I’m often too soft and fluffy. Smilies in professional emails are not a good thing and not encouraged. Use your words like an adult. Some people need a bit more softening of tone, clarity and precision in language can often come across as harsh and unyielding all on its own, but smilies are …not necessary.

  4. I am side-eyeing Bee’s management so hard right now. Smileys? In a professional email? Are they trying to sabotage her?

    1. That was actually my thought. How high up is this manager, and is she trying to make Bee look like a fool before even higher up manager? Because as a young woman in graduate school, all the advice I’ve received has been that you don’t use chatspeak or emoticons and such in work related emails (or emails with professors). I can’t imagine being told to use it, especially not in the context of the type of work that Bee seems to be doing.

      Also, I do see this as a feminist issue because I can’t imagine a young man in a similar position in the firm ever being told to do that.

      1. I assume a man would be told _not_ to use smileys and compliment sandwiches for casual emails, because it would come off as harassey. Seriously, if some dude were like, “You’re such a fantastic junior assistant, please have that on my desk by the end of the day, πŸ™‚ :)” all the time, I’d go to HR.

      2. I kind of see it that way too. For years I was told that I “type like a man”. I’ve always been confused by this, because what the hell does that mean? No one could ever seem to articulate what it was I was doing.

        Recently I found a paper about “gendered typing styles” (http://u.cs.biu.ac.il/~koppel/papers/male-female-text-final.pdf), which led me to the Gender Guesser. I plugged a couple of short stories I’d written into it … and they came back as “strongly male”. I’ve yet to put anything in there that reads as “female”; even one that was entirely about a woman alone with her thoughts and using only female pronouns. So either I do really type like a man, or this whole thing is a load of horse puckey.

        So I’m getting a vibe off this that the manager feels like something is “wrong” with the way Bee types, and she doesn’t even know what it is that reads as wrong to her. There’s nothing wrong with it at all, it’s just not reading as “female” to her manager and it’s making her uncomfortable.

        (For my own amusement, I plugged this post into the guesser. It came back as “weak male” for formal and “male” for informal writing styles. Still not a man.)

        1. Huh. Apparently I write like a dude. Funnily enough, there are all sorts of disclaimers about how the guesser isn’t 100% accurate, and people submitting their writing shouldn’t be offended by incorrect results, particularly men who are tagged as women. Because heaven forfend a guy ever produce anything girly.

          1. Before I settled on a decidedly feminine-sounding username, I was almost always assumed to be male in chat rooms and message boards. I’m truly not sure why, but I always found it odd. I don’t think I type any differently than I talk?? So weird.

          2. that or he’d come across as
            an insincere kiss-up -or- someone with no confience in his own abilities

      3. Ding ding ding we have a winner here! As a CA lurker and 20 year plus headhunter, I HAD to jump on to say that you have the right idea. I’ve seen this a million times. Weak manager gaslighting a strong employee. Devious, subtle, and incredibly effective.

        Little sister, start documenting this, and update your resume.

    2. That was my thought, too. At best, this seems like something that’ll appease this one manager. Even assuming it’s accepted in her workplace, that’s bound to get her in trouble elsewhere.
      As is, adding smileys would do a lot to undermine and dilute actual professional emails. I’d wonder if they were feeling threatened.

  5. OMG this made my blood boil. I get this from fellow colleagues and artists all the time. I’m short and sweet, and to the point in emails. They usually don’t have any problem with it until they aren’t getting their way. Then, all of sudden, I’m too harsh and abrupt in emails. Whatever.

    I don’t mean to slap a generic gender banner on it, but come to think of it… I’ve only received this kind of response from men, and it’s when I’ve been in a position to tell them no (usually while curating art exhibitions, etc).

    Smileys? Seriously?

  6. It’s not clear to me from the letter whether the manager who is “coaching” Bee is the same person as the executive(s) Bee is assisting. If those are different people — Bee is getting this feedback from the “manager of assistants” and not from the people she is actually assisting — then I would strongly suggest she NOT change her communication style if (as it sounds) it’s been working for her and her bosses are happy with her and giving her more responsibility. (And although there may be exceptions, most executive-types I know do not like or want smiley faces in their communications.)

    I think the right way to handle it, in that case, would be to go to the executive she works most closely with/likes the best and check in with them. “Hi Executive Boss. Manager of the Assistants has suggested to me that I should take a look at ways I can improve my written communications. Her suggestion was [specific suggestion: to add smiley faces, make more small talk, etc.]. I wanted to see whether you had any thoughts on my writing style and whether you would appreciate me trying out those suggestions.” My guess is that her Executive Boss will have a resounding HELL NO to the idea of Bee making her communications LESS professional sounding. Then next time the Manager decides to “coach” Bee, she can say “I appreciate you raising the issue. I actually spoke with Executive Boss about it after our last conversation because I want to make sure I’m doing the very best work I can for her. She said that she would prefer me to do/not to X, so I’m working on following her instructions right now.”

    1. I second this! In my job, I had a supervisor who held a meeting with me in which she said I needed to learn to “talk less and listen more” and also that I was “too American” (she was, too) and needed to learn to be “nicer” to fit in in Canada. She was a tireless backstabber. What saved me was going over and around her — up the food chain, laterally in the food chain — to get feedback on her feedback (some of which was written). She eventually got smacked down and had to rewrite a really important eval of me. Later she tried to make friends (too late!) and lamented how I had “never trusted” her. She’s out of the organization now (not fired or anything, but she ceased to move up the hierarchy and left) and I’m still here and promoted. Anyway, the point is that the advice to run this advice by someone else is right on. What feels to you like intentional undermining (or at the very least, incompetent supervision) of Bee might look exactly that way to others, too.

      If it helps, the supervisor I had to deal with spent a lot of energy telling me and others how respected she was in the organization, how seriously everyone took her opinion, etc. etc. I think this was intended to cow all hearers, to suggest “everyone is on my side don’t even try to protest this is for your own good I know the system better than you do and have all the powerful friends in it”. It could have been true, of course — it just wasn’t. As others have said, while it’s possible that your sister is working for an organization with a secret but pervasive “moar emoticons” policy, it’s not likely.

    2. I had the same thought as Esti, that the feedback is probably coming from a senior executive assistant and not from the executive staff. Another possibility is that the underlying grumping is starting with her fellow assistants and is being relayed through an executive. However, I still endorse the Captain’s advice and scripts. Take the feedback at face value and see if there is something you can do better.

      This next paragraph contains a bit of irony, but I think a lot of people (including the manager here) who talk about “improving professional communication skills” need, umm….better professional communication skills. After all that’s a pretty broad category and thus not all that helpful as a constructive criticism. The Captain’s advice to ask tactful follow-up questions is a good one! Of course, lots of times managers have trouble putting a finger on exactly what isn’t working for them, and often this is just legitimately not being able to put a finger on it.

      If I were a betting man (I am!!), I would guess that we may well find that the feedback would be better articulated as “work on being more collegial.” I got that feedback myself once upon a time, and it has stood me in good stead. Once you’ve got the knack of being “collegial” and “professional” at once, you are a rock star!

    3. I agree with most of this – especially discarding smiley faces. However, and this is especially if the ‘manager of assistants’ vs executive boss situation exists – a genuine professional communications lesson to learn is that not all people like to communicate in the same way. Some people prefer more chatty, emotionally fluffy emails while others prefer shorter/to the point communications. So if the executive staff is happy with email communication one way, perhaps it is worth spending time writing more emotionally soft emails to this mentor (minus the smiley faces….). It’s not so much a case of only one style of communications being professional or not, but rather being able to communicate with people in the way they like most is helpful.

      I had one job where I had a peer in another organization. Our organizations would occasionally partner on projects, and I’d often need to ask him for information. He had a huge ego and though we had equivalent positions, saw himself as way above me (in fairness from years in the field, that was true). I would get better and faster results from him by writing “compliment, compliment, compliment – request – compliment, goodbye” emails. It became a bit of a joke to my boss – who thought it was ridiculous that I’d do that- but ultimately she was impressed with the results I got. Others who had to work with him didn’t write those emails, waited longer for responses, and ultimately it reflected poorly on them.

      I agree that there’s a risk of falling into all kinds of gender/age problems that particularly get dumped on the young and female. But it’s also valid that not all of our professional contacts want to be addressed in the same fashion. And being able to tailor yourself within reason is a good professional skill to have.

      1. I’ve actually started using a similar model to reply to students complaining about their final grades. “Thanks for your email, you are awesome, you did X and Y awesomely, [University] students in general are awesome, our standards are high because awesomeness, incidentally even though your homework and lab grades were awesome your exam scores sucked, which is why you got a [letter grade], which is an awesome grade in a class with high standards, did I mention our standards are high solely because you guys are all so awesome, I have no doubt you will continue to be awesome in your future endeavors, Best regards, Me.”

        It feels utterly ridiculous to type and send, but the thing is that it WORKS. I have never ONCE gotten further pushback from a student after an email like that, even from students where, on reading their first email, I got that immediate “Oh God this is going to be awful and involve at least seven additional email exchanges of escalating tension eventually involving hir dean and hir parents” vibe.

      2. I think it depends from person to person. I’ve had two managers who complained that I was too much to the point and blunt and I should be beating around the bush/being more “chatty” before I say what I wanted to on the phone or e-mail. Every other manager I’ve had was totally fine with how I write. It’s really gonna be a case of manager’s preference. And if Bee’s manager wants her to be chatty and girllike and friendly, then she should probably be doing that EVEN MORE. (Especially if Bee lives in a culture where that’s the thing for women to be doing–I’m assuming this is the South or something?) Hell, I’d be calling over the manager before I hit send to make her tell me exactly how much more syrup I should be pouring over this blunt e-mail of mine.

        But as for the smileys–I concur with everyone else that uh, no…. but if the manager specifically wants Smilies Dammit, and calls that out, then Bee should probably be doing it, at least on e-mails the manager will see.

        Which is to say that fighting back against preference when you are a peon is a losing battle. Just shut up and smiley, really πŸ˜›

    4. To clarify, this is coming from a woman who is the ‘manager of assistants’ and NOT, at all, from the executives she works for. I actually think this is great advice that I did not think of.

      1. Do you have any idea if this manager writes her performance review or if it is done by one of the execs? I am an admin in a large company, and my review is written by one of the execs I support, and the office manager is limited to contributing comments on each of the review criteria for me. If the manager of assistants is her not her reviewer, she doesn’t have to tread quite so carefully.

  7. I recently received similar feedback. I was told that sending an email asking logistical questions about a new project one of my employees would be working on was unprofessional because I didn’t detail how excited I was that we got the business or go into detail about what I could do to help the project (that I’m not working on). The you need to be a kiss ass at all times, even when just asking about the calendar for a project was baffling to me.

    1. I had a job last summer where the norm was SMILEYS!!!;-) and HUGS!!!!1!! and mass emails at the end of each project gushing about how fantastic everything was and how lucky everybody felt to be working together. It grated on my nerves, as did being hugged (!!!!) by one of my employers, whom I’d never even met before, at the start of a job interview.

      Now these behaviors are bright red flags to me of creepy workplaces with crappy professional boundaries, because the bosses ended up signing on a bunch of interns plus WAY more new hires than they had work for, and then asking us all to do “volunteer” shifts. Amazingly, I was the ONLY person who politely declined to work for free.

  8. “If this is β€œknow your place” feedback from a disingenuous manager, those examples will never appear, and the request will be treated very dismissively, like β€œcome on, figure it out, it shouldn’t be hard!” That doesn’t mean a message from boss to employee wasn’t sent; it was, and that message is β€œTime to find a real mentor at a new position within this company or another. Polish up the old resume, Bee, you have risen as high under this manager as you ever will!” ”

    Aack. I’ve had that happen exactly, on more than one occasion. To the point where the suggested scripts made me cringe and think “No! Don’t say that! They’ll get angry and accuse you of being difficult and combative!” (Hint: no sane manager reacts that way. Nor do their specific examples of ‘you being combative’ include stuff you strongly supported a couple months back, which they AGREED WITH AT THE TIME.)

    Ahem. Anyone know a really great manager in the PNW who’s hiring?

    1. Yeah, I had one job where I went through (I think) three of those one-on-one meetings with my manager, on three not-quite-successive months, asking him (with notebook and pen poised) for specific feedback on what I should be doing differently. At the third meeting he admitted that the specific thing I should do is look for another job.

      1. I spent a month attempting to get my (evil) boss and her boss together to give me some specific feedback about a terrible eval she had written of me. The meeting finally happened and after 20 minutes I got one specific bit of instruction. She then spent the next 80 minutes telling me *I* had been bullying *her* and making her miserable. With my “nonverbals”.

        So glad I left that place.

    2. My Darth Boss (the one who thought “Why didn’t you ask?” = training) is now in PNW. I wonder if you work for her?

      1. Nope, this asshat is of the male persuasion, as were others I’ve worked for. It’s bad – my reflexive reaction to middle aged white dudes in professional clothing is now to assume that they’re nice in public but privately horrible people who will tear me down if given a chance. I’m hoping that association fades quickly.

  9. I second the asking for specific examples.

    β€œManager, I want to do my best to incorporate your feedback. Would you be willing to forward back to me one of the communications where I got it wrong and show me specifically how to get it right?”

    β€œIs this feedback in response to something specific (from a client or a colleague)? Would you be willing to walk me through exactly what I’ve been doing wrong and exactly what you need from me?”

    β€œWould you be willing to share with me an example you’ve written (or someone else in the company has written) that you think does this very well so I have something to work from? I really learn best when I can see an example.β€œ

    Excellent scripts, all of them.

    1. But to be honest they did not make me special and valued the way the πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ email did.

      Less work-related emails, more rainbow-crapping unicorns, please!!

  10. This just made me go watch the “Sabotage” music video. It is an excellent music video and accurately represents what my knee-jerk reaction is to this “advice.”

  11. Amusingly, in my office there are two uses of the πŸ™‚

    One means “I know this could come across as sounding harsh because you cannot hear my tone of voice. It is not harsh!”

    The other one means “I cannot say fuck you in a work email so instead here is a smiley face.”

    Somehow you can always tell which one it is…

    1. This is exactly how it works at my (UK) company too. But it’s specific to internal emails – particularly communicating between Compliance and Sales because, well, Natural Enemies. And also when sending urgent things from IT when they’re under pressure and six people have already chased the same request. There is, however, a large subsection of people who replace smileys with a silly-but-appropriate image meme. Corporate Cat says You’re Welcome is very popular and I am sure the above rainbow-shitting unicorn will be a welcome addition to the company lexicon.

      But yeah, the context is never ‘you, specific person, need to be sweeter’ – it’s, ‘this specific person needs to be kept sweet and they, specifically, will respond better to a smiley/silly image than a terse note’. Shockingly, there are also people who respond better to terse emails with minimal bibbling about hoping their day is going well. Incredible, I know.

    2. Haha, it’s exactly the same for me. Most of the time the smiley face means either “Sorry!”, “Just kidding”, or most commonly “I sincerely wish the worst sort of suffering will befall you, preferably soon.”

      I feel like when people read my emails, if they sound brusque and to-the-point, that means I am not mad. When I start riding the overly polite, syrupy sweet train you know I am willing your head to explode.

      1. My DH is dyslexic. If his email is spelled *perfectly*, you really pissed him off.

    3. Aw man, the sarcastic smiley. Can be mean but also so useful, used judiciously.

      My favorite way to use it was when students emailed me to bitch about their grades long after they were out of my hands (I was a TA, and I’m talking bitching at me after the semester is over, a few weeks after final grades were out, at which point any changes have to go through the professor and the registrar’s office).

      My response would be something along the lines of

      “Hello student! I am so sorry to hear that you are unhappy with your final grade, but I have checked my records and so far as I’m aware no mistakes have been made. If you still desire to contest your grades, however, you will have to speak with [professor].

      Have a great summer!


      They may or may not have gotten the message, but I certainly enjoyed myself either way.

      1. I believe you have found the smiley equivalent of the Southern U.S. “Bless your heart.”

  12. My manager actually is using smileys in work mails from time to time and I find it unprofessional. She’s acting too buddy-ish with the employees occasionally (even though I have some sympathy because a lot of people are asses to her). Still, she definitely does not expect people to use smileys in return and that would feel even more unprofessional to me.

    Being polite in e-mails when you ask for something? Sure thing. Having to say first how fucking much in love I am with the askee/project? Hell naw.

  13. Also, just larding your emails up with emoticons and exclamation points does not magically make you kinder, sweeter person IRL. I work with an middle age white guy engineer who is an absolute nightmare to work with in person and yet he ends all his email with a smiley face. I’d rather read a professional, slightly formal email than have to wonder if a coworker had a mental break and transformed into a 12 year old.

    1. +1 to this. Some of my least favorite people ever are people who’ve insisted on ending every statement with a smiley face, even when they’re being petty, bigoted, tyrannical, or all three. To the point where I have an instinctive dislike of the “:o)” variant as a result of dealing with a couple in particular. It doesn’t soften “jerkface,” it turns it into “SMARMY jerkface.”

      1. I used to end EVERY entry in a chat room with that smiley. So that no one could ever tell if I was being nice or super-sarcastically-condescending. Spoiler: it was usually the latter.

  14. I’m so envious of people who haven’t gotten this advice because my experience with it has been toxic and undermining in the extreme. I’m definitely a confident communicator, in part because I put a lot of thought into things before I speak or write. By the time I start, I’m pretty certain of how to say what I want to say. (That doesn’t speak to the quality of the content! Only that the words match the thoughts pretty well.) This kind of advice changes nothing but instills a lot of paranoia.
    For efficacy and my own sanity, I’ve selected a few stock phrases that I can live with (and have caved to the occasional use of emoticons but not yet to emoji). When answering questions, using a preface like “I’m glad you asked” or “Thank you for asking”, has put an end to being berated for just answering the question (not that the questioner is usually required to behave civilly, mind.) “I’m happy to …” is another useful opener when agreeing to take on something I’ve been asked to do.
    As a woman negotiating these things, I have a few don’ts because the risks of the concession feel higher than not including a concession. One of those is “I’m sorry” or any other form of apology when an apology is not appropriate and sincere.

    1. I have to appreciate that I have never received this advice, especially after all I’ve read here. I think it would make me go batshit crazy. I think having to preface statements with things like “I’m glad” or “thank you,” especially in a workplace, is so odd. I don’t think I’ve met a VP or CIO who does this! I mean. A male VP or CIO.

  15. Smileys at work?????I really don’t think that it is professional. I wonder if this man doesn’t want her to have problem. I hope that she will keep his email because i find it really strange of him to have asked her to do something so unprofessional..

  16. At every office I’ve ever worked in there has been someone known throughout the office for his/her unprofessional email communications. At my current office, it is Softball Email Orc (who send emails about the office softball team that are invariable multicolored, in comic sans, include gifs, flashing backgrounds, and pop culture “jokes” about totally appropriate topics like Chris Brown’s abuse of Rihanna – really).

    The thing is: sometimes the Softball Email Orc is your supervisor.

    I would not be surprised if this is what is going on in your sister’s situation. In which case, one thing she might consider is setting up times for a quick chat with some other people she works with (especially people above the Softball Email Orc in the hierarchy) to say “I really love working here, and so I want to make sure I’m doing the best job I can. I’ve received some feedback about my email communication style and I was wondering if you could offer any suggestions for improvement or general tips.” If the person is disorganized, she can bring a couple of representative emails with her and ask for specific feedback on them. If there is a problem, these people will help identify it. If not, then she knows she’s probably ok, and has looked like someone who respects their opinions on professionalism.

    Also, even if these people ask/find out that the other feedback came from the Softball Email Orc, they will find it a sign of your sister’s good judgment that she thought the better of following advice from such a person.

  17. In a former job I emailed back and forth with a lot of people from different types of organizations and at different levels within those organizations, and styles really varied. The very high ups with massive email flow (like in very senior management at companies with thousands of employees) tended to be terse, with few pleasantries and sometimes few capital letters or punctuation marks, often writing from their phones and ccing whoever they were delegating to (“thx. amy will find us a time to meet on that” was typical). Assistants had a more cheery tone when emailing with other assistants, with “Have a great day!” type lines, occasional smileys, more exclamation points, and wry or conspiratorial comments about how difficult their bosses’ calendars were. Vendors were more strictly professional, but with plenty of professional-level pleasantries and “anything I can do to help” offers. Internal emails with people I contacted several times a day were often pretty brusque, while external emails were typically more carefully written with some pleasantries. So exactly what tone is appropriate depends a lot on the work environment and who Bee is contacting. But *not* using smiley faces is never inappropriate, in my view. This manager sounds nuts – if Bee is otherwise considered to be a great employee, it’s likely her email style is fine.

  18. At my job, I’ve been told my emails come across really direct – though thankfully no one ever told me to put in smileys or affirmative comments. Typically I will mimic the style of whoever is sending me the email, and that has worked out for me. For the really direct people like myself, we can just send one line emails with no greetings or closings or signatures. For those who prefer that, I will incorporate a “Hi Jane,” and a “Thanks, Sascha”, etc etc. It works wonders to mimic back their style. Strike a balance though – I’m not going to make my emails drip with smileys if I don’t normally do that, because then it seems patronizing.

    I’m also getting the vibe from Bea’s manager that maybe someone complained about Bea’s “directness” in emails, and so instead of talking to Bea about, they complained to the manager. And instead of the manager saying, “Oh that’s just her style, is she getting her work done and communicating effectively?” the manager is pushing it off to Bea so she won’t have to deal with it. Perhaps Bea is “safer” to confront that the complainer, because it sounds like Bea is conscientious and accommodating and wants to do her best. Whatever the reason, I hope Bea can use Captain’s excellent scripts to their full effect and resolve this.

    1. Going off at a minor tangent in response to your first paragraph: Do you know, I’ve struggled with deciding whether or not I should put headers on e-mails, and it never occurred to me that copying the style of the person to whom I’m replying is a totally valid way of dealing with that problem? Thanks!

    2. Good point. I’ve instinctively mimicked the style of the sender in work situations, though I hadn’t given it much thought until now. If I’m initiating a correspondence with a new person, I default to collegial but somewhat formal. I address this first message to Mr./Ms./Dr. X instead of the person’s first name, and I sign off with my full name. In the second e-mail, I address the person according to how they signed off (honorific + last name vs. first name) and sign off with my first name, initiating a bit of informality.

      No smiley faces at first. Those can come later if the other person uses them — I do like how they offset the brusqueness sometimes unintentionally implied by written communication — but I don’t go wild with them.

  19. I can think of some work situations where it’s *acceptable* to use smileys. I’m having more trouble thinking of situations where it would make sense to *require* smileys. Maybe it would make sense if the boss’ complaint was something like “Bee, in your emails, you sometimes say things that I think you intend to be sarcastic, but can come across the wrong way to people who don’t realize that. If you put in smileys, people would be less likely to take your comments the wrong way” (Ideally boss would list specific examples, though). It could also make some sense if Bee was using a really formal style of communications in her emails, when the company culture encourages much more laid-back style, and other employees find Bee’s emails a little off-putting.

    However, it sounds like the boss is just saying vague things “like be nicer” and “use more smileys.” So if either explanation I mentioned is correct, then the boss is still failing at their job by not clearly explaining what they need Bee to do. Also, in both situations, “you must use more smileys” is not necessarily good advice. In the first situation, if someone is that bad at sarcasm over email, then it’s probably better that they just not use sarcasm in work emails. In the second situation, using smileys occasionally (esp. if you want to clearly indicate when you’re joking) might help, but you can still be laid-back and friendly in your emails without them, so requiring them is silly.

  20. You know, particularly if the advice giver is the manager, I’d just skip straight to the “look for another job” part. Regardless of whether it is or isn’t appropriate, it sounds like something that isn’t appropriate for OP’s sister’s personality, so why not look for a position in a place that appreciates her the way she is?

    1. It’s always good to have one eye out for another position. I was asked to soften my communication by a manager at a place where I was being progressively treated worse and worse (my main job duties were being stripped out of my position and given to my co-worker, an underqualified male). I recognized this for what it was — a prelude to a firing — and had already gone on a number of job interviews before the manager lowered the boom on me. She wanted to fill my work record with negative things to justify what she already had in mind.

  21. Yeah, don’t use smileys. This seems like it could be a great question for Ask A Manager too.

  22. This is tangental (Sorta, I don’t think so) to the major question. But. I think this *is* a feminist issue. It is. Sweetening the deal for people who don’t like to admit there is male privilege and subjugation of women through communication styles at work in offices by calling it a humanist issue does not change the fact that it’s okay to call this a feminist issue first. If humanists want to get on board as well, good for them. But the language we have to explain why this is a huge problem comes from the language of feminism.

    And I am appalled at this. It’s like your sister is being asked by her manager to anti-communicate-professionally.

    1. I do think it is a feminist issue, but I guess, the bigger issue of not rising “above your place” seems like something that other people experience as well. In particular, the kind of thing that a person of color, a gay person, or a poor person might be treated to as well. So I do think it is bigger than a feminist issue, in this case, although I agree that a LOT of the language that we have to talk about situations like this comes from gender theorists.

      1. I think we will end up disagreeing on this.

        For one thing, I think feminists SHOULD be supportive of problems that arise from other kinds of subjugation/ the exercise of other privileges against others. If this were a letter about someone being criticized for the “too queer” presentation I wouldn’t want it called humanist.

        [Pushes Up Glasses On Nose, Is Nerd: the global human rights regime as we know it is kind of built on an Appealing Human Rights Is the Last (first) Resort scaffold. Yeah, our common humanity is the well from which our rights and dignity spring. But you don’t go to an international human rights court/ basic human rights argument until you’ve gone through all the other levels of arguments/arbiters about rights. It’s not okay to subjugate others because they are people too, yes. But if someone is being subjugated, it’s because of a specific feature of their humanity, usually. Getting people to care because others are humans is a low/high SIMPLE bar. It’s harder to say “you respect people by knowing you share this thing. But you do that by acknowleging and respecting their differences.” But that admission- differences do not remove shared humanity, and do not negate obligations to respect rights- is really important if if your every day interactions are going to work. /Takes Off Glasses]

        Calling the behavior what it is, specifically, keeps the attention on the specific manifestation of the problem for the person with the problem. Yeah, okay, fine. We care that Bee is being told to be nicer because that’s not cool to do to another human. But for Bee, the solution has to come from dealing with the ins and outs of sexism in the workplace. Ideally, her colleagues should get the message “that thing you are doing is not cool, because it is patriarchy in action at work. Whether you know it or not, and maybe you should know.”

        If this was about being not above your place as a poor person, I would bet money the feedback would be about being More Professional, not Nicer. That would have its own special indignities attached. Solving it would have the same message: stop it with the keeping the worker in their place. But solving it would have other scripts involved.

        I think being specific about what it is- a gender problem, a race issue, whatever it is- points us to the resources to resolve the problem. Bee’s email is covered is classic gender communication research. None of the would surprise Deborah Tannen in the least. There are experts to ask who know this very old song from this very old hymnbook. Saying “this is a feminist issue, the solutions can come from specialists in gender and communication” make us aware the experts are out there. You don’t have to solve this problem on your own, this happens all the time, and people who know can help you.

  23. I think this is controlling bullshit, but that’s in part because (cis white male) I’ve gotten the same talk (which I also thought was bullshit). When I became a supervisor, the version I got was that the people in my department were hurt (and apparently complained to my supervisor) by my communications style, which included not beginning all emails “Dear X” or “Hi Y” or any greeting at all (that’s the specific complaint that I remember).

    My current job is different in a million ways–much higher average education level and degree of professionalism–but the emoticon use is still off the charts. I was out of the corporate world for a while when I came into this position, but they’ve clearly become (at least where I’m at) an important signifier of “I’m not mad!” or “This is neutral, at worst!” So I use them all the time and hate myself for it.

    All that having been said, it’s a different context. I was in a position of power, and if I was damaging relationships by not doing something small and innocuous, even if I thought was ridiculous, I had to start doing it. So I did. Ditto with the emoticons. I would take the Captain’s advice a step farther and say that, even if this criticism is in good faith, a) being forced to communicate in an inauthentic way may also be a signal that it’s time to start polishing up the old resume even as you do as you’re told, or b) the sister may be getting enough positive exposure (it sure sounds like it) to validate her personal approach and politely ignore, to the extent possible, her boss’s “advice.”

  24. Best case scenario, a workplace where everyone is REQUIRED to come up with bullshit compliments every time they communicate and smile constantly sounds like hell on Earth. Seriously: what the fuck? That isn’t professional, that is just creepy.

    I would definitely examine emails she’s received from coworkers: do they all seem batshit unprofessional as well? If everyone there does this same wack bullshit, then it sounds like she’s gotta step in line unless she wants to start looking for a job in a more professional environment. If no one else does this/only women do this/her manager doesn’t do this, then the Captain’s advice is pretty good.

    The one thing I would do, though (to avoid boss fwd-ing me emails only from women he finds sufficiently fawning), would be to proactively find a male coworker in a similar role who seems cool and has been there awhile/seems on good footing in the company, tell him that you are working on your email technique, and ask him to send you some examples of what language he uses in both internal email chains, and customer-facing email chains. Then, you can go to your boss and say that you’ve started working with [Established Dude Coworker] to make sure that your emails are in line with customer/workplace expectations.

    Also, does Bee’s workplace have an HR person? If she really is being singled out, I would recommend taking her concerns to HR. It might not accomplish a whole lot, but who knows.

    1. Actually, being required to come up with compliments could be quite an exercise in creativity:

      “Hi Tim,

      Your smell is both powerful and memorable.
      I ordered those paperclips you like.”

  25. OP, here is your script: Bee, I’m very concerned that you are getting bad advice from someone who does not have your best interests at heart. An advice columnist who I respect and trust had this to say on the subject. (forward link)

  26. This is very very strange. Is it possible the person who is giving this advice is setting her up to fail? In a gas-lighting way (to Bee):This is how you do it, I’m helping you understand how it works. (To Bee’s next level superiors): This girl is trying, but her work really isn’t very professional, just look at those smilies.

    The scripts are very good, as is the suggestion to look for a second opinion – and if these odd instructions are coming in written form, make sure to keep them as documentation!

    1. Yeah…I can see the “include an affirmative statement before your request” being a style disconnect in the realm of professional communication, but smileys for anything that you are sending above your (or that might be forwarded above you) is just…not. Seriously, not professional. This sounds like someone is afraid that Bee is going to escape the admin dungeon and is trying to get her to undermine her own progress.

  27. I don’t know if this will be helpful, but I received the same feedback in an appraisal a few years back.

    I was, like the LW’s sister, putting in tons of hours. I was also ‘acting up’ as we say in the uk – i.e. taking on extra work above my grade, in addition to being a friendly, ever-ready human bandaid when faced with institutional problems. I worked weekends and holidays and nights, in a new city, and so had no time to socialise. I also had very low self-confidence and derived a lot of validation from being good at my job and serving the public.

    I was devastated to be told that my written comms were too impersonal and negative, that I was getting ‘a reputation’ -and wasn’t sure at the time if it was because my boss had a strange habit of keeping people in their place with ‘tough love’, or because she’d had genuine feedback from colleagues. I was even sent on a course on ‘sending less annoying emails’ (which bafflingly did not include a module on ‘being less annoyed by people’s emails’).

    One thing that’s certain, is that in my quest to be great at my job, I was being incredibly hard on myself. I just thought it was normal and fair, to hold my colleagues to the same standard. I wince at it now, but I had grown up with such a vicious internal critic -one that I thanked for getting me top grades and a place at a great uni, all that had mattered so far -that I found fixing the issue an incredibly frustrating process. My lack of work-life balancing skills meant that I couldn’t see that, even though the worst my colleagues were getting was a slightly blunt email from me now and then, I was being much harder on myself than was healthy.

    Since then, I have worked on my self esteem and work-life balance with a fantastic therapist – and crucially, found interests outside of work. I am much happier and now work in a place where my criticism and no-nonsensing abilities are valued, and I’ve learned to use those powers for good, rather than evil.

  28. Long time reader, first time commenter. I just wanted to jump in and say that I work in the tech industry on a team of fairly young folks (think “most-of-us-are-under-30-and-many-are-under-25” young), and it’s fairly common to use smiley faces and the occasional exclamation point – tastefully, I think. It’s a big company and I’m sure there are teams that are more traditional, but I just figured I’d jump in and share that there definitely are some teams and atmospheres where more casual written communications are commonplace. I think it has a lot to do with our younger team and the fact that we grew up using emoticons to convey tone along with our written communications.

    That being said, LW, your work environment sounds a lot different than mine. I work at a casual tech company with a young age curve. I’m guessing an executive assistant at a large corporation might be subject to much more of a… traditional work environment, to say the least. At the very least, if other coworkers aren’t sending emails like the ones your manager is asking for, I smell a rat. At the worst, it may be a twap of the Admiral Ackbar variety.

  29. In my opinion, “sweet” has no place in professional emails. Kind, polite, professional, collegiate, sure. It only makes sense to ask after the health of family members if a professional contact mentioned something or offer words of excitement or whatever. But sweet should be reserved for the communications that you have outside of work. Because people need to draw boundaries around themselves, and keep that part of their lives out of the office (not necessarily away from their co-workers, but out of conversations that should be About Business). And I think it’s a huge feminist issue, seeing as how women are socialized to be emotional supports to everyone in their lives. At the office, your job is to work, and to work in a manner that is kind and respectful. Your job is not to take care of people’s emotions; that’s what their Team Them is for.

    1. THIS. The “sweet” really put me off. “Sweet” is not professional. Polite, diplomatic, collegiate, occasionally formal–these are words you hear about professional correspondence. I work in a job that requires me to email lots and lots of people and convince them to do things properly and on time, which involves a lot of me ordering them around in polite, diplomatic ways; I have never gotten any complaints about my communication style. There’s something to be said for starting things off positively (as in, “Thanks for sending that form over so quickly, that’s very helpful,” not, “you’re such a fabulous client, I treasure every email I get from you!”), particularly if the next sentence is a non-snarky version of “And now about the 7 other things you said you’d have to me last week,” but excessive praise is inappropriate and your correspondents will note that. No one will take you seriously.

      My office is the kind of place where we consult each other regularly about tone and substance in emails, specifically because we do sometimes have to bring the hammer down and we are concerned with keeping it professional and not offending people. I have had no problem asking either a coworker or my boss to review an email before I sent it. And no one has ever said, “you know, I think this email would be better if you were sweeter.”

      You can be kind, you can be casual (when appropriate), you can be enthusiastic and friendly. But this specific advise strikes me as both unprofessional and gendered. Can you image a man being told to be sweeter in emails? Or about anything? “Sweet” is a gendered term. In this context, to me at least, it implies “you are being too forward for a woman, please coat your requests in fake sugar so that it doesn’t seem like you’re daring to ask for something.” Real advice to someone having trouble with email communications would be, “You may not intend this, but you’re coming off a little brusque in your emails. You might consider explaining your requests in more detail, or using some more diplomatic phrasing.”

  30. As another person who gets told I’m too formal on email – exclamation points are smiley faces-lite (a former boss also told me to use more smiley faces in my work communications). “Did you get a chance to look at the Thing I send you last week? I’d really appreciate a response! Thanks!”

    My performance reviews improved when I started emailing with more exclamation points, and are now excellent. But I do cringe a little bit every time I use multiple exclamation points (not in a row) in an email.

    I don’t know. Tell your sister she’s not the only one?

    1. Even though you know that everything with an exclamation point will be read as cheerful/excited, you can secretly write them as angry, sarcastic yelling.

      β€œDid you get a chance to look at the Thing I send you last week? I’d really appreciate a response! Thanks!” becomes pretty aggressive if you imagine it coming from the mouth of Denis Leary.

  31. Oh geez. A Thing Happened at work that was absurdly similar to this today, and I’m still really irritated. Tl;dr I was momentarily frustrated with non-working tech combined with being told that I could not possibly have set it up the way I previously DID set it up, and then suddenly later that day I found myself being counseled for being too loud and angry. I had literally forgotten the entire incident until it was all of the “we need to talk about what happened this morning” and about how I have to watch my volume and my tone and be more respectful and and and…

    This was not a thing I wanted to deal with when coming off of what I had THOUGHT was some major work success. But it’s what I’ve got.

  32. This is making me think of the common complaint against feminist writers, that if only they wrote -nicely- then the anti-feminist people would listen, and no one will ever listen to a meany woman who isn’t being -nice-. Is the person doing the “coaching” receiving any emails from Bee that are not all praise and sunshine? Then it might be the “coach” is a privileged asshole whining and tone-policing rather than dealing with their own shit.

  33. I do use smilies in my emails with one person at work, who a) frequently used them with me first before I reciprocated, b) is close to my age (both young people in a somewhat older company) and c) I use them very frequently, in communications only to her, in congratulatory or well-wishing emails- eg. “Fantastic job on the presentation last week! :)” Although this comment thread is making me rethink c).

  34. Smileys? For real? That’s as unprofessional as it gets. I’d see if there was someone higher up to talk to, and tell them she’s been harassing you and trying to get you to do very unprofessional things in your correspondences. First, tell her that you appreciate her advice, but you don’t feel it would suit what you are trying to accomplish, and ask that she stop constantly trying to tell you how to do your work. If she continues, then go to someone higher and let them know. Forward the e-mails she’s been sending you if you can. Make an airtight case, don’t let her turn it around on you.

  35. Longtime reader delurking to comment, since I might have a useful perspective here.

    I’m a manager in a corporate environment where most communication is via email and professionalism and email tone are *very* important, and I was surprised to find that smileys *are* commonly used in situations to clarify the intended tone. (Though definitely not chat-speak or spelling/punctuation mistakes!) So it does not seem implausible to me that this could be construed as professional communication. (Fortunately this is checkable by the LW’s sister! Do colleagues that are senior and well-embedded in the work culture ever use smileys? And, for that matter, do people of all ages and genders?)

    I love the way the Captain breaks down the possibilities and think the advice on next steps is spot on – it is the right way to proceed if it is valuable feedback on a communication issue, *and* if it isn’t. Perfect!

    Getting the perspectives of other mentors/supervisors is also a good idea, and (in my opinion) a good mentor will see that as totally reasonable if it’s presented in the context of “Thank you for encouraging me to focus on my communication, this is an area where I’d really like to continue to refine my skills, and I’d love to get more feedback from you AND from my other mentors/supervisors on this subject on an ongoing basis” and not “I don’t believe you, I’m going to find someone else to say you’re wrong”.

    LW, Bee may indeed be a very capable and hard worker, and might also have room to improve her communication. (I say this as someone who also, in my first year, got recognition for great performance AND also got coaching that I was sometimes coming off as more confrontational or intimidating than I intended.) The truth is, communication IS an area of constant refinement for everyone and there is always room to grow. And, even if this person’s suggestions don’t seem reasonable OR are not actually things that will make anyone but them happier, learning to tailor your communication style to the (silly) tastes of your internal/external customers is actually a pretty important skill in many lines of work πŸ™‚

  36. It may be that Bee’s supervisor is being genuine, and honestly thinks this is the best way to communicate. She’s wrong, and it’s terrible advice, and it’s still sexist, but it may be in good faith. I would suggest emailing this one manager in that style and not anyone else.

    1. It’s terrible advice, and it could be a set up. Bee’s supervisor might turn around and use those smily-face emails as examples of unprofessional communications.

  37. I’m in a benefit-of-the-doubt kind of mood today, and I’m wondering whether it’s possible that the manager is incompetent rather than malicious. It reads to me as if she may have perceived Bee’s emails as terse, or even had feedback to that effect, but can’t quite put her finger on what the problem is so she’s jumped to the most simplistic middle-school solution she can think of. In that case, there might actually be a kernel of truth in the suggestion that Bee could improve her communication style; in either case, it’s probably in her interests to make at least a gesture towards complying with her manager’s suggestions, without compromising her own professionalism.

    I also tend towards short and to the point emails, which can boarder on brusqueness, so I’ve had to think about this quite a lot, and I think there is middle ground. Rather than starting everything with an effusive compliment or launching straight into my request, I try to lead with something like “Thanks for your email”, “Thanks for getting back to me so quickly”, “I’m looking forward to working with you on X project”, “It was good to see you last week”, or whatever; and then to sign off with “Best regards”, “Looking forward to hearing your thoughts”, “See you at X meeting” etc rather than just my name. It may be that Bee is already doing all this, but if not, I think that a very short and sincere opening sentence can change the whole tone of an email.

    Then if the manager still pushes, script: “I feel really uncomfortable using emoticons in work emails.” (If pushed further: “It feels so unlike my usual communication style and the way that I present myself professionally as to feel fake, and not like me.”) “I have thought about your advice, and have modified my email style in these ways – here are some examples.”

  38. I use smileys at work for when I contact people almost everyday with a list of names etc that need changing. People who say things like “If you seem rude without a smiley face then you need to rewrite the email” don’t seem to realise that I don’t have time to craft a message that perfectly sums up my respect and friendship for a colleague when I can just send:
    Hi, please can you amend:

    Thanks πŸ™‚

    I also got this feedback about being nicer to people though, in emails where smileys would not be appropriate. It depends on your job obviously, but for me it was legitimate feedback as I am asking touchy people to do something boring so you need to be nice. My line manager went through emails with me and we crafted slightly more friendly examples, which was helpful. The problem is that I might be writing pretty much the same email twenty times a day, and after a while you stop thinking about the person receiving it.

    The solution for me was simply to write a form email, with the pleasantries available for the different situations. Just writing “I hope that you have had some time to enjoy the lovely weather” before getting to meat of the email makes the whole thing seem a lot less brusque. Also writing just: I am just emailing you, if you could just let me know etc.

    This feels a bit mechanical and false, but it means that you don’t have to drum up any sort of sentiment before emailing someone.

    (One thing I hate is when people write “I hope this finds you well …” with an elipsies. It sounds like a threat.)

    I didn’t think I’d care about this sort of thing before I started working, but one person I work with just sends emails back with ‘Done’. It shouldn’t matter, but every time it does feel like she could make the whole thing a little nicer if she just typed a bracket and a colon.

  39. The corporate culture where I work is definitely smiley-friendly – usually as a standin for tone-of-voice or facial expression.

    (“Ordered the new lights :)” / “Is or time tracking software being slow and annoying for anyone else? :|” / “Aaaaaand the Blackhawks lost the stanley cup 😦 see cowroker GH* for betting pool distribution”), but only internal or with clients-who-may-as-well-be-family (there are about two who meet those criteria).

    I mean, our project managers also spent a slow afternoon emailing cat videos on youtube back and forth & we occasionally get office-wide meme emails from the CEO, so we’re very much not “downtown corporate”.

    Bee is 99% not dealing with the kind of large-business-still-acting-like-an-eight-man-shop. It reads to me like, Boss does NOT want to lose their assistant because Bee is actually really competent and useful to them. In which case the only useful advice I’ve got is:

    If the modeling-emails-after-the-boss’s style doesn’t read as a deliberate improvement in work, find another job in a department/company that values you as you deserve to be valued.

    *Fictionalized, we have a lottery pool, not a sports-betting ring. But we’re all actually sad about the ‘Hawks.

    1. Everything’s out, and I didn’t delete whatever it was purposely, so I don’t know what happened to it. 😦

  40. Smiley faces have been acceptable (not mandatory) for internal e-mails in the last two places I’ve worked. Said workplaces had a culture of informality — no dress code, everybody called everyone else by first name, including the president of the company. It might have been a different story in the more formal office I worked in before those two, but I’ll never know because it was 1999 and I was one of the only employees with Internet access.

    They have their place. Written communication can sound brusque sometimes, especially if you’re requesting something, and emoticons offset that. A good argument for their use appeared in, of all things, Cracked.com (scroll to the last entry):


  41. Spot on re: the “is this manipulation or is this a corporate culture you’re not participating in that may legitimately be hindering you” sniff-test. I work for a company now that has HUGELY varying standards of what I would’ve called “professional communication.” I suspect, in part, this is because over 50% of our workforce is remote (myself included), but our company prides itself on having the kind of culture where everyone is SUPERBESTFRIENDS (one of our cultural tenants is “we always have each others’ back” – which I love but also…I think is very telling about the formality of the culture). I would say the company unofficially has four “tiers” of communication:

    1. Internal Very Professional e-mails (these e-mails are for communicating information in a clear and productive manner, especially information that may need to be forwarded on and up through management chains, in order to accomplish tasks). These e-mails conform to the standard of professionalism I was always familiar with (no emoticons, no text in a color that isn’t black or a font that doesn’t come standard in gmail, etc.)

    2. Internal Professional e-mails that need to do double-duty as relationship-building emails (these e-mails are for when you’re continuing work on a project with someone who you work remotely with, the main purpose of the e-mail is to communicate continued information on your joint project, but your life will probably be a happier and better place if you use some of your whites pace to be OVERTLY friendly.) These e-mails OFTEN include emoticons (I got some chilly responses before I was willing to incorporate those into my professional repertoire), exclamation marks, and I’ve seen quite a few in creative font colors etc. Initially: this horrified (hor.ri.fied.) me – but I am not kidding when I say – being able to play ball in that arena of company culture is legitimately necessary if you want people to prioritize your projects sometimes.

    3. Client Facing Very Professional e-mails (again, e-mails that are sent to clients’ communicating…project status updates, company updates, requests for client resources or testing dates, etc etc. E-mails you assume can and SHOULD be forwarded on infinitely). Again: standard professional e-mails.

    4. Client Facing e-mails that mirror the communication style of that particular client, to do double-duty as relationship building e-mails (again, e-mails that are exchanged to manage and accomplish the on-going details of a project.) As I mentioned, over 50% of our workforce is remote, and many of us are embedded within client sites. The expectation of our company is, of course, that we will represent the company at all times with utmost professionalism and integrity, but also mirror our corporate culture externally – and that is a culture heavily focused on relationship building, deeply personal investment in the purpose of the work you’re doing, and general open friendliness. Thus it is an expectation that your clients, by and large, will not only believe you’re doing a competent and worthwhile job – but they’ll LIKE YOU, on a personal level, while you’re doing it. Part of the expectation here, then, is that you’ll communicate in the manner that they like to be communicated with for less formal e-mails (I have several clients who are emoticon-heavy in their less formal communications to me – so – I am likewise emoticon heavy in that strain of communications with them).

    Initially I chaffed at this (everyone here is a grownup. professional person! I am VERY VERY VERY nice and friendly and out-going person when you meet me, it is difficult to interpret my vocal tone as “standoffish”! it really, really shouldn’t matter!…and maybe this matters MORE because I am a woman?) – but I’ve come around on it a little. As a previous commenter noted – e-mail communication can sound brusque, and in an increasing push for efficiency – it’s very, very easy for a company to sacrifice MOST of the pleasantries that might make work a NICE place to be (especially when you and TimTheEngineer can’t ACTUALLY decompress for 5 minutes together, in a shared workspace about both of you being nice, decent human beings who both understand that this task you’re working on together is really hard and frustrating and makes you a little crazy). Creating a culture where you are expected to not only do your job well, but also be easy and pleasant for other people to work with is…not the worst thing in the world. As another previous commenter noted: sometimes it can feel formulaic, and we don’t always have time to think about how an e-mail might make someone feeeeeeeel but, just as writing a professional e-mail is a SKILL, writing a professional e-mail that doesn’t come across like you’re barking orders all the time is ALSO a skill I think a lot of corporate cultures are pushing us to develop.

  42. “Smileys” aren’t the issue here. “Smileys” are an Earth Internet Thing. If Bee was Martian then the manager would be sweetly but sadly explaining that Bee wasn’t grargling her wuzznits in a sufficiently nargled way. Even though no one else has raised a Wuzznit Issue Alert, and in fact would be very happy if Bee could offer a hand/tentacle on the latest Nargle project. Cos she’s a Martian THAT GETS NARGLING DONE.

    This is about workplace bullying. And this is a particularly difficult form of workplace bullying to deal with, because it’s done so subtly….but it’s bullying none the less.

    1) the manager is deeply insecure. Either about Bee’s competence, or about the fact that Bee might realise how good she is and move on at some point to greater and better things, leaving the manager high and dry.

    2) Bee needs to sit down and clarify with herself what her career aims are. She’s got rave reviews, is doing account management work and working all hours at European conferences, but is still rolling along as a executive assistant? Her company are exploiting her. They either need to offer her the option of trainee Account Manager or somesuch, so she can move her career along, or she needs to whack all that fantastic experience onto a curriculum vitae and start applying directly for posts of that ilk in other companies. She sounds like she also might benefit from an Assertiveness Training course or something similar. She’s obviously got the All The Work Skillz, just needs the confidence to RIGHTLY demand the job title, renumeration, and freedom to draft her own damn emails as she sees fit, that should go with it.

    3) Starting keeping a record of these “coaching” sessions, and any other incidents. Time, date, witnesses, what was said, the email itself. Detailed Notetaking Is Your Friend in situations of workplace bullying.

    4) What’s Bee’s relationship like with management above that of her line manager? If Bee tipped them off about the situation would they respond in a subtle manner, or kick off in a way that would make life difficult for Bee afterwards? After all, they may not be impressed to hear that Sparkly Rainbow Manager is encouraging unprofessional and informal business email technique. Also, a cool “well after you queried these mails I showed them to our Department Head and asked for feedback, and she thought they looked perfectly professional….” could be an effective warning shot to SRM that you’re onto her bullying behaviour, and might prevent the bullying escalating.

    These kinds of situations are always shitty to deal with, regardless of planet. Good luck!

  43. I cringe at the idea that this manager could honestly think emoticons belong in a professional setting.

    I wish luck to your sister, LW. Hopefully she can navigate her way through this mess and maybe even get a new position within the company that doesn’t report up to this particular manager.

  44. My emails at work are sadly full of exclamation points and emoticons, because if I don’t, I do get dinged for being “scary”. This is kind of hilarious since I am a small very introverted middle-aged woman who dresses like the geek she is (and thus who is completely invisible in public). But I have an advanced degree (not in the field I am working in) and have other smartness markers, and am completely terrifying to some people once they know those things. So I’m always softening things up so I’m perceived as “approachable” and “friendly”.

    Are the people who have pushed this on me the most been the worst bosses? Ayup. What I’m working on now is still maintaining boundaries between performing “oh yes, I’m a friendly little vole who will fix your problems and totally not devour you ounce by ounce with her smart, sharp teeth” and still being my fierce smart self. I find it really difficult to not metaphorically pull my teeth out so I can show “really, I only have gums”.

  45. Count me as another “scary” woman, who doesn’t use smileys and/or conversational sweeteners before answering the question or making the request in an email. I am fortunate in that in my profession — lawyer –“scary” isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but my email style has drawn some feedback along the lines of what LW’s sister is getting. While I refuse to use emoticons in professional emails, here are some things I am willing to do to “soften” my communications at work.

    1. Use the greeting “Hi So-and-so”. It’s less formal and sounds warmer without being unprofessional.
    2. Use the closing “thanks!” (yes, with an exclamation point…sigh…) or “best” (without exclamation point). Same rationale — warmer but basically professional.
    3. sign with an initial for co-workers. It conveys intimacy.
    3. Longer emails. I know this is counterintuitive in these days of productivity worship, but I find if I give more of the rationale for a request or question, people see it as friendlier, even if I don’t change my communication style at all.
    4. Acknowledgement of issues or concerns. Saying things like “I know that this is disappointing” or “I understand that this is a new request” demonstrates empathy. Key things about this one: DO NOT APOLOGIZE. No “I’m sorry for asking.” NO. And also, I use these modifiers only after making the request or giving the answer.

    So my email might look like this:

    Hi Jane —

    Could you please send me the XYZ report by the end of the day tomorrow? I know this is a new request, but I need to explain to John how ABC will be put together and can’t move on the project without it.


    As opposed to:

    Jane —

    Please send me the XYZ report by end of day tomorrow.


  46. Thank you for writing about this. This has been a problem for me recently in my professional life. Generally, I genuinely love working with my boss and find her to be an amazing person to report to, but this is a bit of an issue. She has counselled me multiple times in the past to deal with bad (sometimes REALLY bad) behaviour of my colleagues at work by just “building them up”. She thinks that most behaviour problems are related to a person’s ego, and they need to have their ego stroked to stop said bad behaviour.

    I know she is advising me to proceed this way because doing the same has worked well for her in her career, but there are times when I think being super nice and “SWEET” is not the best solution. Especially since I am a person who feels capable of calling out bad behaviour respectfully. I went through a period of feeling really distressed that according to someone I really respect, the only way to advance in my career was to play nice and put on a falsely sweet persona.

    As much as I respect and admire my boss, I have stopped asking for her advice on this type of issue.

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