Ask A Manager & Captain Awkward Answer Questions: Part 2 of 2

Here is the second post in this week’s collaboration between Jennifer P. from CaptainAwkward.com and Alison Green from Ask A Manager.

Previously On: “Is it disloyal to leave a company who cut my pay and postponed my promotion?” (Nope! Cutting everyone’s pay is like the part in the horror movie where the house says “get ouuuuuut” and none of the cabinet doors will stay closed and suddenly there is a ghost boy with no irises (only pupils) staring at you while you shower, maybe the time to leave is right now?) and “Can I talk about my boyfriend’s other girlfriend at work?” (Sure, but maybe check with her first?)

Additionally, there was a question about ADHD and applying for jobs that we didn’t get to and that needed more space than this short format, I’ve answered it over on Patreon: (Part 1)(Part 2)

Now for today’s question batch:

1. Everyone in the office is hanging out without me and it feels like high school.

I work in a very clique-y office where I am just not in the main clique. I have a coworker who is sort of in the same boat and we have bonded over it, but she’s still more in than I. These people tend to organize outings outside of work to which I am not invited, but where as far as I can tell they include everyone I work with. I’ve sort of just been ignoring it, but now they keep talking about their plans, how much fun they have, etc while I’m in the room. Look, I understand if you don’t want to invite everyone (though it’s still quite hurtful frankly) but can’t they at least keep it a secret if they don’t want me involved instead of rubbing it in my face? I feel like I’m in high school again. (For the record I am in my mid-thirties). And I feel like crap. Look, I’m on the spectrum, and I know that means I will often have to deal with being the outsider, but this just seems unnecessarily cruel. Am I overreacting?

Jennifer (Captain Awkward): When social interactions among adults ping the old “OH NO, NOT HIGH SCHOOL, NOT AGAIN” radar, a good question is: Are people being mean or are they being lazy? Mean happens, certainly, but when in doubt, start with lazy. As in, maybe people are purposely excluding you (not everyone has to become free-time friends with coworkers) but it’s also incredibly likely that people assume that someone else already invited you and that if you don’t come to a particular thing it’s because you didn’t want to. 

And I’m talking about the merest blip of a thought, a second or two of wondering “Should I invite Fergusella?” “Eh, but they never come to stuff” and then moving on with their day. The longer this goes on, the easier it is to mirror these bad assumptions, and perversely this applies to people feeling comfortable talking about events in front of you. “Everyone’s invited, the more the merrier, I don’t have to make it explicit” or “Well, Fergusella would say something if they really wanted to come, right?” feel easier than changing anything. Your coworkers aren’t thinking about ableism, your history of being left out, or the very real worry that speaking up could expose and codify a probable afterthought (lazy) into an explicit (mean) choice probably because they aren’t thinking about you all that much in the first place. “They just forgot me” probably doesn’t feel less awkward than “They just don’t like me,” but it leaves more to work with in changing the situation.

Speaking of implicit vs. explicit: If literally every single person in your office is going across the street for after-work drinks and talking about it in front of you on the regular, there’s a 99.99% chance that you are and have always been invited and people assume you already know that. If you’d feel better knowing for sure, you won’t make it weird by asking, “Hey, is this invite only or can I join you?” If people are mean in response, it’s because they are mean people, not because you did anything wrong by trying to clarify it. (Now, if it’s a weekend and people are gathering at somebody’s house, that’s different: Like vampires, coworkers need to be invited in.) 

Before you do anything, an important question for yourself is: Do you want to get to know these specific people better and become friends with them? Do you want to not only be invited but to actually go to more of these things? If so, one strategy might be to choose one or two the kindest, friendliest people in the group and invite them to a very occasional solo lunch or coffee. Not from a “Why does nobody ever invite me?” angle but from a “I’m trying to be more social in 2020 and you always seem so nice and fun” angle. “I’m trying to be more social in 2020” is a useful script because it communicates that you want to hang out with them in a way that doesn’t blame them for leaving you out in the past. Once you know people better and have a one-on-one relationship, it’s less risky to have conversations like “Do you do bowling karaoke every weekend? It always sounds so fun, is it ok if I tag along once in a while?” Or even, “Hey I’m autistic, and have kind of a terror of poking myself in where I’m not wanted, so it really helps me when people turn ‘Anyone up for lunch?’ into ‘Would you like to get lunch?’ That way I know for sure I’m invited.” 

Is it less about these specific people and more about generally feeling left out and lonely? Then that’s probably a sign to work on your friendships and social life in general, inside and outside work. You’ll be able to let the chit-chat about what the office is up to go by much more easily if you’re having great weekends doing exactly what you like.

One thing I always want to tell fellow adults who may have a history of being bullied and left out: Hosting and event planning is a lot of work, and it’s not generally something the Popular Kids(™) we remember from school do as adults specifically to torment each other. Those dynamics certainly exist, I definitely believe any horror stories any of you might tell me about people in your office who think recreating school cafeteria seating hierarchies is the social pinnacle of achievement, but I think it’s good to remind ourselves that most extroverts/outgoing/social folks are doing what they do because they *want* to include and enjoy people.

Additionally, extroverts get social anxiety too.(Will people actually show up? Will they have fun? Will there be enough chairs? If I didn’t invite people, would anybody think to invite me?) They also get burnt out and feel unappreciated. If you’re trying to break into a social hub at work or outside it, it might help everybody leave high school behind to stop looking at the organizers as powerful gatekeepers who have it all figured out, and stop assuming that you have nothing to offer them. When you are invited to things, assume people want you there, enjoy yourself, offer to help if you can, and most of all, notice and appreciate people’s work in planning and hosting. It’s easy to dunk on Mandatory Office Fun, but going out of your way to say “Thank you for putting this together, that was the best sheet cake yet, need a hand cleaning up?” can win you allies on the Party Planning Committee for life.

Alison (Ask A Manager): And thus a perfect answer was written, and will be one I link people to for years to come.

I’m not trying to be lazy, I promise, but this is so comprehensive and wise and I feel I can do no better than joining in presenting it to the world.

Jennifer: Well, thank you. I obviously have a lot of feelings about this. 🙂 

2. People tell me how my name is pronounced (wrong).

I have a name that’s pretty common, but has multiple pronunciations. I pronounce my name the less common way, and usually when I meet new people they pronounce it the more common way. When I try to kindly correct them (“Oh, I actually pronounce it like Cahr-a, not Cair-a”), more often than not people push back. Everything from “Well, all the Caras I know pronounce it the other way” to “That’s weird” and “I wouldn’t spell it that way if I pronounced it like that.”

I try to be patient, but this annoys me to no end. Partly because I am 100% sure I am spelling and pronouncing my own name correctly, partly because I have had this conversation no less than once a month for 20+ years. I know people don’t love being corrected, but I do my best to clarify kindly with a smile, and struggle to keep that smile when the umpteenth person in my life tells me that my name is weird.

I don’t want coworkers’ first impression of me to be “Woman who has no sense of humor about her name,” so more often than not these days I just don’t correct it and skip the discussion. But then if a coworker I’ve worked with for a while does notice that I introduce myself differently than how they’re saying my name, they’re annoyed I didn’t correct them sooner. I feel like I can’t win!

Any advice for language I can use to correct mispronunciations and shut down pushback without getting defensive? It’s especially challenging when it’s someone like my grandboss or senior executives telling me how I should pronounce my name.

Jennifer: I’m a Jennifer who everybody wants to call Jen or Jenny the second they meet me, so, solidarity! I know that tension between “I do not want to ruin this friendly moment” and “But that’s not my naaaaaaaaaaaaaame arglebargle.” 

There has to be a path between the pompous guy I went on an extremely doomed date with who introduced himself by pre-correcting everyone (“Hi, I’m David, DaVID) and the time I was 22 and my 55-year-old boss kept calling me “Jenny” because his last assistant was Jenny and I asked him not to about 100 times and then I finally snapped in a meeting and called him “Tommy” instead of Tom in front of our grandboss and a client (“Oh Jenny will get that right over to you” “Sure thing, Tommy!”*), right? 

You are already doing the right thing by smiling and gently correcting people when they mess up and your best bet when they make it weird in a professional setting is to keep smiling but also keep insisting. “Oh, I get that all the time, but really, it’s Cah-ra, thank you so much” and then skip as quickly as possible to the work topic at hand. The vibe to aim for is “No worries, it’s an easy mistake to make, and I am going to do you the magnanimous kindness of forgetting all about it and pre-thanking you for doing the right thing.” Most good people will want to get it right from now on and people who don’t take the face-saving out you gave them are showing you something about who they are, ergo you won’t be the one making it weird if they keep doubling down on awkwardness and you get real humorless for a minute. The social contract insists that we call people what they want to be called no matter what our assumptions are, and if it means getting corrected sometimes, then it means accepting correction with kindness and grace. 

*You know what? I can’t recommend this strategy as the most professionally diplomatic one, but it only took being called “Tommy” once for a middle-aged cisgender guy to be reminded that names are important and it matters how we use them especially in professional settings. He could feel how disrespected I’d felt for himself, and he did take it to heart. After a very awkward moment in the meeting and a wee lecture on professionalism, he sincerely apologized, and my new work/Jellicle Cat name JennyohcrapI’msorry-iFER! became a running joke between us. 

Alison: Yep, matter-of-fact and breezy and moving on is what you want here. As if now that you have clarified that you do indeed know the correct pronunciation of your own name and it is not the one they want it to be, of course they will accept that and not make it into a whole big thing, because of course  they would not be so odd or boorish as to do that.

That’ll work with most people. Anyone who continues dwelling on it after that point is being rude and weird and you are allowed to say react accordingly, with a reaction that conveys half “how strange” and half “how embarrassing for you that are responding this way.” Like a puzzled look and/or a very dry “okay then” followed by an immediate pivot to a work-related topic. 

I think some of the frustration here is probably just having to go through this so many times with so many different people, even if most people aren’t all that rude about it. It’s just exhausting to have go through “wait, is it X?” / “no, it’s Y” every time you introduce yourself. 

3. Coworker won’t stop talking about her diet.

My small-ish office has monthly meetings that start with a personal check-in. It’s a time for people to share news about vacations, babies, etc. For the last few months, one of my coworkers has shared news about her diet. What she’s eating, whether she’s lost weight and, just today, how many pounds she’s lost! She talks about all this in other settings around the office as well.

Like many people, I struggle with disordered eating, and hearing her talk about losing weight constantly is unpleasant. Even if that wasn’t true, I think this is still really unprofessional. She hasn’t responded to me pointedly ignoring her or even (jokingly) saying that I didn’t want to hear about whatever she was eating. Can I address this with our supervisor? How should I phrase this? I’ve tried to let it roll off my back but it has been really difficult to cope with.

Jennifer: I wish more workplaces agreed that diet talk and obsession with weight is unprofessional, unfortunately the trend toward making employees wear fitness trackers and participate in humiliating (and discriminatory!) weight loss competitions makes me despair of getting a consensus around that any time soon. 

You’ve tried ignoring your coworker and jokingly saying you didn’t want to hear about her eating, which are good strategies to start with. Since it hasn’t stopped, before you make it a supervisor issue, what if you stopped joking? Could you pull her aside for a private direct conversation before the next scheduled meeting? A script could be “I can tell you are so excited about this diet and you had no way of knowing this, but hearing about weight and diets can be triggering and very distracting for people recovering from eating disorders. Can you update us about something else fun that’s going on with you at the next meeting? I would appreciate it so much.” 

If you focus on that specific meeting (vs. trying to monitor all her conversations in the office) and keep it personal (vs. “this is generally unprofessional”) it will help you figure out a few things before you take it to a supervisor level. Is she willing to listen to you? Does she try to curb herself at all? Or does she double down in the meetings and escalate in the office? National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is coming up February 24-March 1, and maybe your human resources team needs a timely reminder to spread the word about the importance of showing sensitivity by not talking about diets and weight loss in professional situations because we never know who is struggling. 

Alison: I love this advice. I co-sign it heartily.

So often people try delivering a message via joke, it doesn’t work, and then they feel stuck. There’s nothing wrong with starting that way — sometimes the other person does successfully receive the message that way, and framing it as a joke lets them save a little face and lets you both avoid a potentially awkward (or at least more serious) conversation. But if the joke doesn’t work, that’s a sign that you’ve got to move on to a more direct conversation if you want to solve the problem.

I can see why you’re unsure of how to do that here though! It feels weird to ask someone at work not to talk about a topic of personal interest to them, especially in a culture that seemingly loves talking about that topic. And you might worry she’ll feel you’re shooting down something that is a source of real pride/joy/satisfaction to her. That’s why I love Jennifer’s wording — it acknowledges that the topic is legitimately exciting and positive for the coworker, explains why it’s landing in a different and harmful way for you, and asks to enlist her help. It doesn’t tell her she’s doing anything wrong, which is really key. It’s just “this is affecting me differently than you realized.”

And yes, if that doesn’t solve it, at that point it’s reasonable to raise it with your manager (or, if your manager isn’t especially skilled at this kind of thing, then with HR). 

Jennifer/The Captain again:Thank you again, Alison, for letting me into your mailbox and your Secrets Of Being A Creative Sole Proprietor advice, let’s please do this again sometime. ❤

P.S. Bonus cat photo content.

 

 

58 comments
  1. Megan Lipps said:

    When people tell me I’ve pronounced my name wrong, I just say “take it up with my parents”. Such a weird thing to argue about–most people didn’t pick their own names or the spelling.

    • Britpoptarts said:

      Yeah, I just say my parents had cruel senses of humor to name me after ancestors on both sides of the family tree going back 200 years when the spelling they chose for my name was more common, and then insisting on using my middle name.

      Plus: If a piece of mail comes in addessing me by my first name, it’s junk (or the government, but the IRS is not stealthy when it mails you refunds and such).
      Minus: Having to use nicknames instead of my legal name, or correct someone’s spelling or mis-naming or mispronunciation, literally every week of my life until I die of old age. I am running out of spare energy to care too much anymore. Just call me whatever. I’m tired. But ya doesn’t have to call me Johnson.

  2. Part 1 has happened to me, and fueling my paranoia is that I called out a socially-popular colleague for making discriminatory jokes (he got in trouble but he still works there).

    It’s still probably social laziness buuuuuut it’s harder to convince myself.

    Thanks for the very necessary reminder! At a previous job, all I had to do was go up to them and ask if I could join and they said yes, sure!

    • JenniferP said:

      There is a temptation when we are socially awkward ourselves to assume that everyone is automatically better at this stuff than we are and I cannot emphasize enough how much that is not the case. 🙂 Like, the racist guy probably doesn’t love you but probably the others are lazy until proven otherwise.

    • I tend to assume that it would be unpardonably rude to ask if I can join in. I see myself as lesser-than because of internalized ableism about my autism and my mental illnesses.

  3. jef said:

    As a Jennifer who goes by Jen, I hear you. The number of people who think that Jenny is acceptable after I explicitly tell them I hate being called Jenny is astounding and exhausting. All the sympathy to LW2!

    • Gregory McIntyre said:

      My name is Greg, Gregory is also acceptable. I’ve had to fight tooth and nail with multiple people to not be called Greggy or some other nickname. Just call me by my effing name.

      • JenniferP said:

        My dad wants to call Jeremy “Jerry” SO BAD and he stifles it/corrects himself but it is very obvious. Keep fighting the good fight!

        • gremcint said:

          I had to threaten my manager with being reported to HR for harassment to get him to stop.

          • Clarry said:

            “I had to threaten my manager with being reported to HR for harassment to get him to stop.”

            Did it work? Did he begin addressing you by the correct name after that?

    • Michelle said:

      A Michelle who gets called Shelly, Missy and asked “Have you ever heard ‘Michelle’ by the Beatles” a million times. It’s Michelle, not Shelly or Missy. Yes, I’ve heard the song. Bonus points: worked for the same boss for 18 years and he still spells my name wrong (Michele- I’m sure many “Michele’s” get “Michelle”, too.)

      • Another Shelly said:

        I’m a Shelly that gets called Michelle all the damned time. Not my name!

        I don’t know why people do this. I’ve told them more than once what to call me.

      • Wolf said:

        FINALLY SOMEONE WHO GETS IT!
        I know the feeling my name is missing two letters from the more common version therefore pronounced a little differently…. And Do you know what people do?They throw out Kim’s, and the kimmy’s and all that crap.
        Seriously, I was under the impression. Being that lazy and not listening was meant to end in childhood.
        Colin buchnam wrote a beautiful song, But when people use it to mock me, I get mad.
        I have had to correct my own bosses to make them stop spelling it wrong;
        on paperwork, RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME, after I have SPELLED IT OUT!
        I feel your pain Michelle…

    • Jennaratrix said:

      I’m a Jennifer who goes by Jenna, which effectively stopped the Jenny BS cold. Now it’s a much more reasonable and understandable discussion about why I go by Jenna, which is not typically a diminutive of Jennifer. It doesn’t annoy me because it IS odd; whereas I’ve gotten really shirty with people who insisted on Jenny.

    • goddessoftransitory said:

      One guy in college, who was sweet but awkward, called me “Jenny” one time. Only once, because I immediately flared up like that venom spitting lizard from Jurassic Park and inadvertently terrorized him. It’s a huge thing with me that only immediate family members use that diminutive for me. I honestly don’t mind “Jen” or “Jennifer” from anyone else, but Jenny? NO.

  4. catherinet said:

    Great advice on the office dieter question. One of my friends used to talk about her diet (the specifics of which struck me as crazy unhealthy) and her goal to lose X pounds before a family wedding. She knew I was recovered from an eating disorder but obviously didn’t know that recovery is a years-long (lifelong?) process. I never commented on her diet choices, or on her weight one way or the other, and I always tried to change the subject. But she was persistent. I finally told her, it’s not healthy for me to hear that stuff. With my history, it will never be safe for me to diet or try to lose weight, and I don’t want to think about your diet or weight. Thankfully she understood, and we found other things to talk about.

  5. epi said:

    Oh I really feel for LW1. I work with a big group of people who obviously know each other well from more than just being office neighbors. It’s hard to go join that dynamic knowing you won’t be on the same familiar terms! To make matters worse, something terrible happened and I developed PTSD while working with them. It was not their fault at all, but I can so relate to the feeling that maybe there is something about your needs or your affect that is shining through in a way you don’t want, and leading people to deliberately leave you out.

    In addition to CA’s advice, one thing that really helps me is to redefine my goal and remind myself that I can become friends with someone at any time. Some of my best friends traveled in my same circles for years and we were friendly but never close. Then we found a shared interest or something pushed us to spend a ton of time together and they became some of the most important people in my life. Maybe all you need to do with these people right now is leave the door open. Be pleasant, engage as much as is enjoyable for you, and let that be meeting the goal– it’s all people want socially from most of their coworkers anyway. Maybe as you feel more confident, those regular happy hours will become your jam and you’ll find your work wife. Or you’ll get put on an intense project with two of them or take the same yoga class or bump into each other at a concert. On that day, you’ll be LW who has always seemed nice and cool. With some people, you’ll never be close and maybe all you’ll ever have is “always seemed nice and cool”. But that’s actually pretty great and it’s what being welcome at lunch looks like!

  6. This one here said:

    My name is Shyra. Pronounced like it’s spelled. Spelled like it’s pronounced. And yet. . .

    • sorcyress said:

      To be fair, the English language is a total cluster of different rules and pronunciations of letters. The tough coughs as he ploughs the dough, after all! I could think of three different ways that I’d pronounce “Shyra” without even trying.

      Generally, as long as someone attempts all the letters in my name, I give them credit for trying, correct them once, and it’s not a problem unless they continue to mess it up. I only get short with people when they skip letters, or give me an incorrect diminutive.

      • This one here said:

        I once got a call where they asked for “Sharia”. If they say “Sheera”, they get credit for trying.

    • ALW said:

      A y has tripped me up before. I was calling a person with two syllable name with a y in the middle, rather like yours, and pronounced it as I would naturally pronounce a word spelled like that based on my background, i.e. ‘Sh-eye-rah’. She didn’t say anything, but ages later I was on a call with her and some of her colleagues, and one of them referred to her as ‘Sh-ee-rah’. Which is obviously also a completely legitimate pronunciation of that word, it just hadn’t occurred to me at all when I read it. I apologised, she laughed and forgave me, but lesson learned!

      • This one her said:

        I have a Cajun surname, too (not one that ends with x, but it has lots of silent letters), so I’m *always* spelling.

  7. I am so bad with names. If I grew up knowing a person with a different pronunciation, even if it’s the less common one, I will forget you pronounce yours differently. Please keep correcting me. I try really hard but I just forget, especially if you’re not someone I’m in daily contact with. I’m so sorry. (In my defense, people, even those who have been close friends, often add a random “h” to my name. I forgive them because I understand how hard it can be because I’m so bad at it.)

  8. Shanshan said:

    I have to say that I’ve never had the “please don’t talk about this, it triggers many people” conversation go well, and I work at a university which you’d think would be a hotbed if liberalism.

    It’s amazing how many people have no problem with the concept that certain things are *rude* to say lose their goddamn minds when you use a different word to indicate a more dangerous kind of rudeness.

    • OMJ said:

      “Please avoid this topic because it upsets me personally” sometimes goes better, though. Not always, of course. But people generally have an easier time being considerate of an actual person they know instead of a faceless Them, Out There Somewhere (even if the Them is also full of actual people they should care about).

      • Anon said:

        Sometimes, and often “some people are upset by this” is read as “I am upset by this” anyway. But who among us wants to express painful personal truths to coworkers we barely know and whose stories kind of annoy or upset us already?

        Personally I’d go to the manager first for the anonymity, if they seem receptive to this kind of thing at all.

  9. enplaned said:

    https://askjan.org/disabilities/Eating-Disorders.cfm

    The above is a webpage on how eating disorders interact with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Whether or not it meets the formal definition of a disability for which a reasonable accommodation is warranted, in my view, it certainly meets the spirit.

    To me, it seems weird to permit this kind of diet discussion anyway, plus, I’m not big on formal on-going discussion of personal issues in a public forum. It’s one thing for a bunch of new employees to go around the room and tell everyone one interesting personal fact about them, it’s another thing to have monthly updates on your weight and diet.

    All that aside though, as a supervisor, my view is that in the spirit of the a reasonable accommodation, it is more than appropriate that the oversharing employee stop doing that because it’s an unpleasant topic for someone who has struggled with an eating disorder. There is absolutely no good business reason for the oversharing employee to discuss diet and weight in a formal required business meeting – therefore, she should stop immediately given that at least one other employee is significantly negatively impacted.

    To me, it’s pretty cut and dried. Unfortunately, bosses are of significantly variable quality.

    TL; DR – you might want to talk to someone about how your eating disorder interacts with the ADA. If it qualifies, it’s a very powerful tool.

    • On a more trivial note, diet talk probably bores the rest of the office to death.

  10. GreenDoor said:

    Ugh the names! I go by my nickname because my full name is a weird spin on a traditional name. So, say I go by Gwen. People will ask me, “Is that short for something?….Gwendolyn?” In the past, I have foolishly answered honestly that no, it’s actually Gwenifer. And then they get all excited that I have this unusual name and drill me on why I don’t go by it and then happily call me Gwenifer because they just LOVE the sound of my unusual name. Only they mispronounce it, misspell it, and cause confusion at my work by using it in front of people that aren’t aware it’s my name…….and that’s why I go by Gwen galdammit!!! So aggravating.

  11. TheLiarbird said:

    Question about the name pronounciation thing. I don’t want to be a dick but my accent pronounces certain sounds differently to my US colleagues. So it’s difficult for me to pronounce a name like ‘Kirsten’ as ‘K-EAR-sten’, it ends up coming out as ‘K-EAH-sten’ because my mouth isn’t used to making R sounds after a vowel.
    Some people seem to get upset about it. Is this something I need to try and do more? Change my accent to pronounce someone’s name, the accent is sorta similar already, it’s just some sounds.

    • Nanani said:

      When it comes to accent, reasonable people should understand that you’re doing your best. As long as you -are- doing your best attempt and not just going like “I’ll just call you THIS instead of your name, which I assume you aren’t.

      People with less exposure to accents other their own might have a hard time grasping that, especially at first. But if it’s colleagues that you talk to frequently then they should figure out that you don’t pronounce that sound at all and not get mad.
      And if they’re unreasonable, well, *shrug*

      I guarantee they can’t perfectly pronounce every name from every accent in the English-speaking world alone, never mind other language traditions, either. Some people just don’t have a specific sound in their inventory.

      • Ice and Indigo said:

        Yeah, tbh I think there’s a case they’re being kind of xenophobic more than you’re being rude. Some people, especially from culturally dominant nations, act like people are being foreign AT them. The American R is quite hard to pronounce if you have a non-rhotic accent, and anyone reasonable understands that this is your best shot.

        I mean, my mother has a name from Culture A, and we live in Culture B. Mother’s name has a rhythm to it that’s very much more A than B, and is spelled in a way that tends to fox B people on first sight. So it’s fine when people need a couple of tries to get their heads around it. However, it doesn’t contain a single phoneme that B people don’t use in every sentence they speak, and it’s not difficult for them to say unless they’ve got a mental block about it. A surprising number do, and after a while that gets annoying, because that’s a failure of listening and effort.

        But when it comes to expecting you to pronounce sounds you find it physically hard to say, the unreasonable one is not you. There’s a big difference between ‘I can’t be bothered to say your name right’ and ‘I’m saying your name as right as I can manage without tying my tongue in a knot.’ If they can’t accept that, then yeah, they need to get out more.

        • Hi I'm New Here said:

          I’m so glad to hear someone mention the American R is hard to pronounce. I can kind of do it if I maneouvre my lips the right way, but it feels unnatural. And I sound like a caricature of an American if I try it for too long anyway.

          • Ice and Indigo said:

            You may enjoy this video:

            The fellow’s an accent expert, and in this video he’s talking about actors performing conlangs – that is, constructed languages like Klingon and Dothraki. He points out that the American R is ‘a really weird thing to do with your tongue’ that even American children can struggle to learn, and it appears in pretty much no other language anywhere – to the point that conlang creators avoid it because it instantly makes an accent sound American. (They favour the tapped R, as that appears in languages all over the world and so doesn’t immediately place a conlang somewhere specific.)

            So yeah, this American accent expert agrees with you!

  12. OMJ said:

    On LW1, another advantage to inviting people to things or asking to be invited is that it signals to the people involved that you *want* to get to know them. I have social anxiety, and one thing my therapist often points out is that when that manifests it can look like unfriendliness – not texting people, not initiating invites or hangouts, seeming withdrawn or nervous in person, etc. Other people can’t read my mind, so they don’t know that I’m not reaching out because I think they don’t want me to reach out; they just see that I never initiate contact with them. It is VERY hard for my anxiety-brain to accept that maybe other people *also* don’t know what they’re doing or feel nervous or uncomfortable, so it’s a good reminder that we’re all really flying without a net, so to speak.

    It sucks because I am also quite sensitive to rejection, but that’s how it is. So I pre-plan when I’m going to initiate something and I make sure I have self-care strategies in place. I usually need something for the time between me asking and them answering. Then I need to know I have a plan if they say “no,” so I’m less afraid of it. And if my brain really won’t stop telling me that someone doesn’t want to hear from me (when they have never indicated anything of the sort), I trick myself by agreeing to behave *as if* it is true that they might want to hear from me. I frame it for myself like an experiment, like right now I don’t know for sure if they dislike me or not so I’d better find out.

    It’s hard, though. I bet it’s especially hard if you have past experience of being actively rejected, or knowing for sure you misunderstood an invite or relationship. It’d be nice if social interaction followed some kind of set formula that let everyone know what was going on, but alas, humans are mushy bags of feelings that don’t like to conform to those kinds of things.

  13. Jess said:

    I know a Karen (usually pronounced here with a short ‘a’ in the first syllable), but I overheard some people saying it with a less-common long ‘a’ (like CAR-in).

    Oh no! Was I getting her name wrong? What should I do? How would I find out?! Should I surreptitiously ask someone else? Eavesdrop?

    I took a REALLY WILD route, and…asked her. “Oh hey, are you a ‘Karen’ or a ‘Kaaren’? I’ve heard it both ways, but I’m not sure!”

    (I’m also a Jessica who goes by Jess but NEVER EVER EVER “JESSIE”, which I deal with by being over-the-top vehement with my distaste – I play it off as a joke and theatrically wince when someone then gets it wrong and that seems to work with people I work/interact with regularly.)

    • Gecko said:

      What a cliffhanger! Was did she say?!

  14. Oh my gosh! Thank you for the answer to #1. As an introvert with anxiety who also cares about putting together the occasional social event . . . I’m usually delighted when someone is like “Hey, I wish to join you/help out.” Social planning is exhausting. Over time, I’ve learned that in order for things not to feel like high school, sometimes I have to remember not to *act* like I’m in high school (i.e., don’t sit petulantly in the corner, not talking to anyone because all the conversations are too “shallow” for my high-minded, not-like-other-girls self).

  15. lowbudgetcyborg said:

    Captain, your advice on patreon is very timely for me. Not regarding job hunting, but it helped me with some ideas about structuring times to let myself experience some not-fun feelings about not-fun things in my life.

  16. Lianne said:

    I must admit to having been on the other side (sort of) of the name problem. I have a coworker whose name I fight to say right. I’ve known a Tonya for years, so that’s what has occasionally come out when talking to Tanya. The first time, she gave me a look and said ‘It’s Tah-nya.’ I do my best, but I still mess up from time to time, but I usually correct myself quickly before she can.

    Now, my mother once said she had an aunt who called me ‘Lie-ann’ as a baby, despite being corrected, because she said that the spelling was Dianne, but with an L.

  17. Kathryn said:

    God i sympathise with LW2! My name is Kathryn and it is never Kat, Kathy, Kate or even Katelyn, I’m just Kathryn. And even when it comes to spelling my name I will spell it out (because more often than not people will spell it Katherine) and it’s always followed with ‘wow thats an unusual spelling!’ or ‘Oh you’re one of THOSE’. If someone has a tricky name I generally follow it up with ‘I’m sorry if i’ve said that wrong’.

  18. Dana Lynne said:

    On behalf of all the Taras, Danas, Caras, etc. of the world, thank you.

    (As an aside, it actually casts a bit of light on the exceptional rigidity and stupidity of people who won’t even let us who have names with varied acceptable pronunciations TELL YOU WHAT OUR NAME IS, when contrasted with the EVEN MORE IMPORTANT and DIFFICULT battle of people who change their names because of personal needs, transgender issues, etc.

    And yet… and yet… PEOPLE HAVE NO PROBLEM understanding the traditional maiden name/married name for WOMEN.

    I ask you…… )

    OK end of rant.

    Thanks, Captain and Alison. Always a pleasure to read you both, together or separately.

  19. Sabina said:

    My last name has two syllables, six letters and it’s pronounced phonetically exactly as spelled (think something like “Hanlon”). And yet…and yet…the number of people who want to question either the spelling or the way its pronounced is ridiculous. “Are you sure there is not an “e” at the end?” Shouldn’t it be “HEN..lon” or “Hon..LONE” or ???? NO, NO, NO! I know how to spell and pronounce my own damn name….jeez….

    • I feel for you.

      My surname is like yours : it’s five letters and two syllables.

      The vowel in the first syllable is pronounced (and spelled!) like the “a” in “cat.” An awful lot of people “correct” me to the “a” in “father.”

      That might sound classier to them, and indeed, that might might’ve been the vowel sound in Romania and Austria. It’s not the vowel my family has used in the US for at least 125 years.

  20. ashbet said:

    Yeah, my given name is Andrea (“AHN-dree-uh”), and “AND-ree-uh” or “Ahn-DRAY-ah” are the most common American pronunciations.

    To add to the fun, I was born in France (to American parents), and the French pronunciation is more like “Ohn-ray-ah,” without much of an audible “d” sound.

    Needless to say, there’s a reason I started going by “Andi” at age 13… which everyone can pronounce, but frequently misspell with a “y”… I can’t win, LOL!!

  21. Ermintrude said:

    Please tell me that Fergusella is Tangerina Warbleworth’s sister.
    That answer is great. As I got older and did more courses in technical college, and worked in different teams I went with the assumption that people who seemed decent would be interested in befriending me, and I did find it easier to enjoy company, even if I didn’t manage to form deeper friendships.

  22. Clarry said:

    On name mispronunciation– You shouldn’t have to do it, but I find a story helps. I’m Clar-ee, not Clar-uh (and not Lorie, and not Carrie). When I get the push-back (not as often as you, but it does happen), I go into how I’m named for my grandmother and she pronounced it this way, and she said she liked it because there was a character in a book, like in Anne of Green Gables, and there’s sometimes confusion with this other cousin who pronounces it the other way, and there’s nothing wrong with the other pronunciation, but that’s my cousin, not me. Either they remember and start getting it right, or they have to hear the whole thing spoken in the friendliest terms again … and again, and again, until they’re bored out of their skulls. Since the story is chatty, I still have a sense of humor and am friendly, but I start to get the point across.

    • Clarry said:

      Oh, and I forgot to say: none of the story is true.

      • “None of the story is true.”

        *rimshot*

  23. Britpoptarts said:

    Dear Cara-pronounced-Cahr-a, I have a name that almost everyone misspells (even after I’ve befriended, worked with, or worked for, if it has been literally years), and I also get called every name starting with an M except my own.

    I relate to this tune:

    They call me “Hell”
    They call me “Stacey”
    They call me “her”
    They call me “Jane”
    That’s not my name
    That’s not my name
    That’s not my name
    That’s not my name
    They call me “quiet girl”
    But I’m a riot
    “Mary,” “Jo,” “Lisa”
    Always the same
    That’s not my name
    That’s not my name
    That’s not my name
    That’s not my name

    My solutions have included giving in and letting close friends call me nicknames I don’t hate (and they get misspelled online and mispronounced offline, too), ignoring it, and quietly stewing. I bet you are really sensitive to how other people spella nd pronounce their names, however, so maybe that’s the bonus prize for enduring non-stop misnaming / mispronunciations.

  24. Pris said:

    I think LW2’s issue is a structural one that needs to be addressed with the company, rather than Workplace Dieter: If the culture of the office is such that people talk about babies and vacations in meetings, then discussing a diet is also perfectly in line with that sort of personal chitchat, and there is no reason to call Workplace Dieter’s behaviour any less professional than that of Workplace Vacationer or Workplace Parent. If we’re talking about conversations that can really press people’s buttons in a negative way, think of how Workplace Person-With-Fertility-Difficulties’ might feel having to listen to talk of the yet-another-baby Workplace Parent has just popped. These sorts of conversations are maybe best had over lunch or after work rather than in a work meeting. (I would hugely resent listening to ANY of those topics in a work meeting. Just, like, let’s get the MEETING done and get the hell out!)

    • Emma9 said:

      That was my knee-jerk reaction to the question too. If this comes up in a direct interaction with the co-worker, that might be a good occasion for ‘I’m thrilled that this is going so well for you, but for personal reasons I can’t really be involved in conversations about weight and diet, thank you for understanding’.

      If the coworker is reasonably empathetic but just hadn’t previously cottoned on to the potential problematic-ness of the topic, that might even be a lightbulb moment for them that you would also appreciate not hearing about it in an open forum.

      Otherwise, though…the cold truth might be that there *isn’t* ‘anything else fun going on’ that the coworker feels comfortable sharing at the monthly ‘Everybody Share A Personal Thing Now, Damnit!’ sessions. And I agree that there’s really no ‘safe’ topic that will never bring up painful/harmful associations.

    • If you please said:

      Sorry to do this, but can I put in a word for Workplace Person With Traumatic Obstetric History and ask to avoid graphic/dismissive terms like ‘popped’? I’m sure you meant no harm but they make me and probably others feel pretty sick. Thank you kindly. 🙂

  25. Gecko said:

    I’d be sorely tempted to say to the name correctors, “Oh, really? Maybe I should double-check with my parents….” and then, depending on the person, either smile inclusively or stare into their eyes until they flinch.

  26. Ugh. Frances. E is for hEr, I is for hIm. I introduce myself as Frances with the “a” pronounced as in “car”. Not Fran, Franny, Franky, or with the “a” as in “ack”. I don’t understand why it’s that hard.

  27. Ice and Indigo said:

    To LW1 – first, much sympathy. I have loved ones on the spectrum and I’ve seen them struggle with similar worries.

    A question that occurs to me: how much are you masking at work? (That’s hiding your autistic traits and passing for as NT as possible, for those unfamiliar with the term.) My guess would be that you have to at least a bit, and one thing I’ve noticed is that people masking can often present an air of courteous-but-distant. This isn’t a criticism, it’s really a pretty big feat and I’ve seen how exhausting it can be!

    But from an NT perspective, I have been known to read masking, not as ‘This person’s a loser, let’s avoid them’ but as its exact opposite: ‘This person is obviously cooler/posher than me, and if they don’t talk to me it’s because they haven’t deigned to.’

    Never underestimate NT insecurities! It may not be the case with you, but it is possible that your co-workers aren’t snubbing you, they just figure you’re too fancy for the likes of them.

    I don’t know if you’re open about your neurotype at work; if you are, a quick explanation to one of the nicer co-workers that you’d like to be more social at work and want to make sure you’re not pushing in when you’re not invited OR coming across as unfriendly might help. If not, the Captain’s advice is excellent – well, it is either way. But if you are masking, and it is being misread as being distant, the odd compliment mixed in when you talk to people can help reduce that because it signals that you actually do think someone is interesting/cool/whatever.

    It may be I’m telling you stuff you already know, in which case I beg your pardon, but I thought I’d submit it for consideration anyway. 🙂

  28. johann7 said:

    “If literally every single person in your office is going across the street for after-work drinks and talking about it in front of you on the regular, there’s a 99.99% chance that you are and have always been invited and people assume you already know that.”

    I’ve had problems of this sort related to autism and not internalizing what is apparently a social norm in some subcultures: people consider talking about plans in front of someone else to be an invitation to join those plans, even if they never say something similar to, “Would you like to join me/us?” I’ve personally run into problems in both directions – I miss when someone intends to be implicitly inviting me, and I accidentally implicitly invite people to things (in their interpretation) by talking about plans.

    So, I’m with CA that it’s likely that your co-workers actually think that they HAVE been inviting you, and YOU have been avoiding them (although they would be wrong about that IMO – given the inherent indeterminacy and subjectiveness of such an implicit norm, it serves everyone best to make invitations explicit). I strongly second the recommendation to clarify; that approach has worked well for me in most situations.

  29. Red22 said:

    This will almost definitely not work for everyone with nickname issues, but what works for me is polite but confused non-understanding of to whom the speaker is referring.

    I dropped Becky and became Rebecca when I got to Kindergarten and decided that, as a big kid, I no longer had to put up with that nonsense. The decision 5-year-old me reached, and which I have maintained to this day, is that because Becky is not my name, I will react to being called it just as if you had called me Hortense or Julia: by failing to respond in any way, even to correct you. From first grade onward, when Becky my-last-name was called at attendance on the first day, I wouldn’t respond, I would wait until the end of attendance and then say ‘You didn’t call my name’ (most years that ended it, to the few who said ‘But I called Becky’ I would reply ‘That’s not my name’. The other kids thought it was hysterical, especially because otherwise I was quiet and super into classwork and not upsetting the teacher. 5-year-old Rebecca took no prisoners on this issue, and only this issue).

    After years of doing that, it feels completely normal and non-confrontational to me to insist on it- in non-list-based contexts, I simply don’t respond, even if they are looking directly at me. If the speaker repeats it, I will politely say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, were you speaking to me? My name is Rebecca.‘ It’s very difficult for anyone to argue that I MUST know that Becky is a valid nickname for Rebecca when there are many nickname options, so there isn’t much they can say other than I’m sorry, I was confused. If it was a genuine mistake, it’s as inoffensive as possible given it’s a rebuke of their bad memory; if it was intentional, confused politeness instead of a stronger reaction means they usually stop doing it because it’s not fun (and it makes them look bad). I recognise that there is privilege in being able to get away with all of that (I have never been in a position where I thought I might get fired or lose opportunities for doing it), but I continue in the hope that habitual mis-namers might learn the ’use correct names’ lesson from me and apply it to people who are less willing/able to make a fuss.

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