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

1. Is it rude to refuse to talk on the phone?

I’m a first-year grad student getting my MFA in Studio Arts. I am in charge of creating labels for an annual event that every MFA first-year has responsibilities for. Since we are putting up the show in a week, I sent a group message three days ago asking people to give me the information for the labels by today so I could work on it after my job (this was approved by my supervisor). Most of them have been prompt, but one person messaged me today, the deadline, asking if she could talk to me in person or on the phone about her labels. This was in the morning, before I woke up at 9:30 to go to work at 11 a.m. The conversation is below:

Her: So, for my label…I would like it to be done a little differently. Will you be around campus today? I’d like to explain plus I have a question. Thnx.
Her: Or you can call me (phone number)
Me: Hey, I’d actually be more comfortable if you messaged me. I have to work so I won’t be able to call or see you in person, sorry about that.
Her: Okay then……
(She then typed the information she wanted put onto the card and how it was to be formatted. It is different than typical gallery labels, but the instructions were: no spaces in between certain letters, no capitalization. formatting things that I would have needed to see on paper.)
Her: yes, got it??
Me: Received! Thank you for your patience. I’ll send you a picture of the label format to double check sometime today.

How do I change the way I message people to avoid offending them? I think saying that I would be more comfortable sounded like I was uncomfortable with meeting her and didn’t WANT to, instead of that I couldn’t because I was working. I admit that I honestly didn’t want to meet up or talk with her before my job because she has been patronizing to me in the past and I am not in the mindset to navigate that, so my annoyance and grumpiness came through in that message upon rereading. She may have also perceived “work” as in me working on my art in the studio, not me working a job.

She is also in her 30s and I am 23. I worry that I just don’t have the experience to deal with these types of things. I think I get overly defensive because I’m comparatively young to my colleagues, or I am too selfish because I could’ve talked to her in person or over the phone before I worked, I just didn’t want to. I’m overall incredibly worried that I am unprofessional, entitled, and inexperienced and I’m offending everyone around me with these types of things.

Yeah, the “I’d be more comfortable” wording isn’t ideal, because it sounds like this is about your comfort level rather than your schedule or the needs of the project. I think you meant “I’d be more comfortable getting this in writing so I’m sure I’m getting the details exactly the way you want them,” but it might have come across to her as “I’d be more comfortable if we didn’t have to speak by phone.” But this is easily fixed for future messages! Instead of framing it as being about comfort, just explain what it’s really about. For example:

* “I’m at work all day today so won’t be able to answer a call. Could you email me instead?” (In your case where you’re worried she’ll think that means you’re working on art in your studio, you could change that to “I’m at my job all day.”)

* “Sorry, I’m swamped today and can’t jump on a call. Could you email it and then we’ll go from there?”

* “Could you email the details to me? I want to make sure that I get the label exactly how you want it, so it’s safer to have it in writing.”

These responses are fine because they’re about what’s logistically possible (your schedule) and what’s best for the project (having things in writing), not your comfort level. You do need to be okay with phone calls for work in general because sometimes they’re more efficient, and sometimes the person you’re talking to is senior to you and that’s the way they prefer to communicate. But for stuff like this, it’s fine to set the boundaries you want.

2. How to tell my boss “I already did that”

Thanks to your excellent advice, I recently started a new job that I love, and while it’s still early days, my excellent performance reviews reflect my bosses’ confidence in me.

Here’s my problem: I manage my company’s social media. Several times a week, my bosses will approach me hours or even days after I’ve shared a news item on social media with the suggestion that I share that news item on social media. I usually just respond with “Thanks!” and move on, but I’m concerned about three things: A) my bosses think they are giving me important direction/input that I find valuable and am acting on when I am doing no such thing, B) my bosses think I would not be doing my job the way I do it, or as well as I do it, without this input and, less importantly perhaps, C) my bosses, who are otherwise active on social media, aren’t following this aspect of our company’s work at all. To me, this is a performance issue — I’m actually better at my job than they think I am, and I’d like to be recognized for it. I’m also sensitive about this because many people (this isn’t unique to my company) don’t realize how hard it is to be good at what I do; there’s a sense that just anyone can “do Facebook.”

Is there a way to say “Thanks, but I actually posted this last Monday!” that doesn’t come across as “Don’t tell me how to do my job, person who is absolutely supposed to tell me how to do my job,” or “Wow, you’re way behind on the news!” or, worse, “Stop bothering me!” I want everyone I work with to feel empowered to send me suggestions for social media sharing, because of course I may miss things, but it feels different with my bosses than it does with my coworkers or my reports, because these are more like directives than suggestions.

Yeah, when you respond with “thanks,” you’re giving them the impression that you hadn’t already posted it and may not have planned to if they hadn’t said anything. Instead, it’s better to respond with something like, “Yes! I posted it this morning!” or “Yeah, I loved that — I posted it earlier this week so we’re all set” or so forth. As long as you say it cheerfully and don’t sound annoyed, that’s not going to come across as “don’t tell me how to do my job” or any of the other things you’re worried about; it’s just a conversation about business logistics, and you’re saying you’re already on it.

I would actually be really weirded out if I discovered that my employee wasn’t just being straightforward about this kind of thing — it would make me think they felt they had to manage my feelings very carefully, and I’d worry about what else they weren’t being straightforward about due to a misplaced delicacy. Give your bosses the respect of just being matter-of-fact about this!

3. My company wants me to impart years of knowledge to someone in my last week on the job

My current role is multi-faceted. We’re a company of fewer 50 employees, I do all of the marketing, all of the graphic design for our e-learning modules, and 80% of the customer service for online learning (seriously). I have a bachelor’s degree in graphic design, and taught myself the sister software for instructional design after college.

With less than a week left before I leave for a new job, I’ve been tasked to teach our video production intern (turned full-time employee) everything I know about the software. This is an advanced software program that took me years to learn, and even now, I’m nowhere near master level. The intern is fresh out of college and knows video production very well, but has very little graphic design experience (not to mention, he’s arrogant, having once told me he doesn’t need to attend professional development conferences or skills trainings because “he already knows all of that”). First, I just don’t think I can get him up to par before I leave. Second, isn’t this asking a lot for a departing employee? Please correct me if I’m mistaken, but I’m used to passing off tasks and projects upon departure, but not being required to teach a newbie everything about a tool that I use…? Can I ask your thoughts? Furthermore, my superiors are holding this “carrot” of being able to take Thursday and Friday this week as PTO, giving me a couple of days off before I start my new job on Monday, provided I teach him this software.

It’s totally reasonable to say, “I have a degree in graphic design and spent years getting proficient with this software, which is fairly advanced. Even now I’m nowhere near master level or even really equipped to teach it to others. There’s no way I can teach him the software in a week, but I can show him some basics and point him to some tutorials that might be helpful.”

I wouldn’t get too swayed by the promise of getting Thursday and Friday off, if it comes at the price of an unreasonable expectation. I’d rather you be straightforward with them about the limitations of what’s possible, so that they have that context and don’t blame you a few weeks from now when — surprise! — he doesn’t know an advanced program that takes years to master.

4. Leaving soon after getting a bonus

I expect to receive a bonus around the holidays for work performed throughout the year. This will be the first bonus I receive from this employer, as I started late in the last year. I am currently in the middle of interviewing for a new position primarily due to being unhappy with my workplace’s culture and treatment of workers in general. If I am still employed when bonuses are given and quit within a month or two of receiving the bonus, is there any necessity to pay it back, or feel uneasy about accepting?

Nope. You earned the bonus, and it’s yours. People do sometimes leave soon after bonuses are handed out, and that’s just how the timing works out. There’s nothing rude about it, and you absolutely do not need to pay it back.

5. Do people care what days I take off?

I’m a late-20s woman who works on a team of 10 in a company of ~100. I’ve been with my company for about four years and I’m pretty well respected in the company. I still struggle with getting the hang of white-collar culture, and your blog has been a huge help.

That brings me to my question. Does anyone care what days their colleagues use their PTO? I ask because I just took Halloween off for no reason at all, and wondered if it seemed childish. I requested it three weeks in advance, and it was quickly approved. I just wanted a day off, and Halloween at work is a total productivity-free zone. I’ve never done it before, but I have a lot of PTO left — my company provides really generous PTO, to the point where a large portion of employees take part of or the entire month of December off because of “use it or lose it.” I don’t want to do that — for my mental health and the pace of the projects I manage, I choose to scatter my PTO throughout the year. Some of those days include my birthday and the week of 4/20. I volunteer for an art studio and that week is typically when we have our biggest festival of the year. Sure, I partake, but that’s not why I take the week off!

Nope, you’re fine. Most people won’t even connect you being out with Halloween, unless you announce that’s why you’re taking the day off. And it’s no big deal to take off your birthday and other random days, as long as you have the time off to use. (Obviously, don’t make a whole big thing about how important your birthday is, or that’s awful that other people work on Arbor Day, or so forth. But otherwise, you’re fine.)

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