we made our new coworker cry, how to open and close emails to colleagues, and more

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

1. My new coworker cried when we gave her feedback

I have a new coworker who started the day before our company went to full-time telecommuting, “Ann.” She’s in a different role, outreach, but our teams work together for certain territories throughout our county. I was pulled in to help with our outreach team, as I had been on that team previously, and it’s something I enjoy. Ann volunteered to be the host of our virtual events, despite never having done any of our in-person events.

While debriefing our first event (several days later), two us us were giving some constructive feedback. Things like, “maybe try to shift your camera, let’s see if X looks better than Y, what if we had blue paper instead of red, do you have a different wall to use for your background” — nothing personal or sensitive. She burst into tears. She proceeded to tell us how hard it is to host and how we didn’t know what it was like, how she has X amount of kids, she doesn’t have air conditioning, so on.

I felt terrible. My bosses were also on the call but I stepped in and apologized and tried to empathize (we all have kids, we’re all doing our best, it’s hot outside, etc.). We got off the call fairly quickly after that. I messaged my boss and told her I was sorry if anything I said was out of line and she assured me that it was okay. Later that afternoon, I messaged Ann and reiterated that I was sorry if anything I said was hurtful and it was not my intention, but I understand impact is more important that intent. She cheerily messaged and said, “Constructive feedback is ALWAYS welcome!”

My husband says that my apology message was too much and is teaching her that her outbursts are okay; I feel like if that were me I would want someone to offer empathy and understanding. What would you have done?

Oh no, poor Ann — I think most of us have felt like melting down at some point in the last month. Of course, you don’t know her well yet so it’s possible this is always her way and she can’t take any feedback at all, but I suspect it’s more likely that she’s just under a ton of stress like everyone else (and dealing with a new job too). Since there’s nothing to suggest otherwise, I’d give her the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s the latter — in which case your apology was kind. I don’t think you need to worry about “teaching her that her outbursts are okay” unless this becomes a pattern.

If it does keep happening, that’s a problem and someone (probably her manager) would need to talk to her about feedback being part of the job. But right now, I’d assume it was a reaction to stress and she’s probably embarrassed.

That said, it’s also worth reflecting on the feedback itself and whether anyone in her shoes might have felt piled on or treated poorly. From the examples you shared, it doesn’t sound like it — but sometimes a team’s culture around how it gives feedback can feel normal to the people in it but jarring to someone new. That’s probably not the case here, but given her reaction, it’s worth making sure.

2. How should I open and close my emails to colleagues?

I spend a lot of time in my job composing and replying to emails, and I generally consider myself to be an effective communicator. However, I always struggle with the greeting and salutation part of the emails. I feel comfortable with very informal communication with close coworkers, or very formal situations such as writing a cover letter for a job application. But do you have any go-to phrases for everyday communication with managers and employees? I tend to stick with no greeting before a recipients name (“Mr. Jones,”) and “Regards” as a closing. Are there better options?

I suspect you might be on the formal side in your preferences, if only because you’re addressing colleagues as Mr./Ms. If that’s standard in your company, so be it — but otherwise using first names for colleagues, even ones you aren’t close to, is fine and normal. In general, you don’t need a high level of formality in business communications anymore (even cover letters!). You don’t want to send emails full of slang and text-speak, but you can and should write conversationally (conversational writing is usually better writing, and I’m saying that as a professional writer).

As for openings, when you’re writing to colleagues internally, “hi Jane,” “hey Jane,” “good morning Jane,” and similar variations are all good. With internal emails, lots of people don’t use a closing at all, or use “Thanks!” or any of a dozen others. (You will find strong opinions on all of them — “best,” “cheers,” “regards,” and all the others — and they are all fine and not worth the debate. Use the one you like.)

Stay gold,

3. I told my job I wanted to leave, and then COVID happened

I’ve been at my current job as an assistant for almost five years (my first job after college). In February, I was told that two of the three people I support would be leaving, and my boss opened the door for me to say I also wanted to move on. I’ve seen them react really well to people announcing their intention to leave, so I was honest and told them it was time for me to move on, largely because I want to move into a nonprofit (currently I’m in finance). They said they would be sad to see me go but would support me in my search. We had originally discussed me staying until the end of April, and getting a bonus for it.

Now, with COVID, everything is different. We’re all working from home. Of all the positions I’ve applied to, I’ve been rejected or heard nothing, or the position is on hold because the organization is closed. My boss called me the other day to ask about what my timeline is now. I think because they had a candidate in mind to replace me who they either needed to hire or cut loose. We tentatively agreed that I would stay at least until mid-May, but I’m worried about finding a job even in that timeframe. Everyone at my current job thinks the world of me and seem to have the idea that I’m so amazing that I’ll find another position without having to try. Well, I’ve been trying and it hasn’t paid off. I’ve been complimented on my cover letters by interviewers more than once, but I’ve only had a few interviews and nothing has panned out so far. It feels terrible to keep having to revise plans, and it is putting me in exactly the awkward position I didn’t want to be in: still hanging around at my old job when it’s starting to get weird that I’m still there. I know they want to do right by me, but they have their own interests as a business. I just don’t know what to do if I can’t find anything.

Ugh, this is awful timing; you risk being pushed out because they’re likely not willing to stay in limbo forever, but you might not be able to find a job in the next few months, or even longer (especially since you’re looking at nonprofits, many of which are having a terrible time).

Would you be willing to commit to staying for a longer timeline — like until the end of the year? Or even put your job search on hold entirely for now? The easiest way to handle this (and it’s not all that easy) would be to say to your boss, “Given our new circumstances, I don’t think I’ll be finding new work any time soon. I know it’s not realistic for you to stay in limbo, unsure of how long I’ll be here. Given the current situation, would you be willing for us to agree I’ll stay until at least the end of the year? I’m willing to commit not to leave before then, if that would make that easier for us to move forward.”

I realize committing to stay longer is the exact opposite of what you were trying to do — but it might be the only way to undo the earlier conversation and not get pushed out before you’re ready to go.

4. Did my old coworker keep me from getting hired?

I recently had a second interview at my dream company. Everything seemed to be fine and the interviewer told me I was their top candidate. Coming out of the interview, I bumped into Vicky, whoI’d worked with 16 years ago in my first serious job, fresh from college. I was thrilled to see her — she taught me a lot back then and I have fond memories of working with her. We exchanged numbers and that evening I texted her: “It was great seeing you today! I can’t believe you made it to manager at Dream Company! Do you want to grab a coffee sometime and tell me how you did it?” She never replied.

Fast forward four days later, and I get an email from the hiring manager that they’ve decided to go with another candidate because they feel I wouldn’t be the right culture fit. I was only mildly upset — stuff happens, after all — until I connected the outcome of my application with Vicky ghosting me. What if she voiced a negative opinion about me? Back when we worked together, I did report her friend Emma to management for a lack of ethics that resulted in Emma being made redundant. Soon afterwards, I quit too and I never really thought much of it until now. Maybe I lacked diplomacy, but I followed the rules and I put the company first, so I still think I did the right thing.

Right now, I really, really want to call Vicky and ask if she had anything to do with my rejection and if so, is that because of my disagreement with Emma back then. I still think highly of Vicky as a professional and I suspect she might not know the full story, but I don’t know that phone stalking her is the right move or maybe I should just accept that I’ll never get a job at any company where Vicky is working. What do you think I should do?

I can see why you’re wondering about that, but don’t call Vicky to ask if she had anything to do with your rejection! If she didn’t, that will come across extremely strangely — people get rejected for all sorts of reasons — and if she did, that’s not something she needs to answer to you for. She’s allowed to share input on candidates who she’s worked with in the past, and it’s possible she genuinely thinks you weren’t the strongest fit for reasons that have nothing to do with you reporting Emma 16 years ago. But even if she’s unfairly biased against you from that, confronting her isn’t likely to change it. Plus, you’ve already tried to get in touch and she hasn’t responded; you’re unlikely to get the outcome you want by continuing to press her.

There isn’t really anything you can do here other than accept it didn’t work out this time and move on. I’m sorry you didn’t get the job!

5. How do I list a furlough on my resume?

I currently work in marketing for a health care system, and as is the trend these days I’ve been placed on a temporary furlough. My employer made it clear that I am still an employee — I was able to keep my badge and computer, and they are planning to bring me back in a few months. However, I know nothing is guaranteed, so I’m starting my job search.

How do I list my current furloughed status on my resume? Because my employment was not terminated, do I list my position as though it is still ongoing? Do I call out that I am on furlough? Or do I list my position with an end date at the start of my furlough?

Any of those are fine. The big question is what your employer would say if they’re called for a reference or background check; you want what you’re saying to match up with what they’re saying. If they still consider you employed, it’s fine for your resume to list the job as current. But it’s also fine to list it like this:

* Coffee snorkeler, Beverage Oceanarium, June 2017 – present (currently on furlough)

we made our new coworker cry, how to open and close emails to colleagues, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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