Hiring Based On ‘Fit’

by L

Guess Who Doesn’t Fit In at Work

Hiring based on “fit” = hiring someone just like me!

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98 thoughts on “Hiring Based On ‘Fit’

  1. I read this when it came out, and ITA. The best you can say about “fit” is that it’s a decent business concept that has been morphed beyond recognition by confirmation bias and rationalization into “hire the same people I’ve always wanted to hire anyway.” The darker view is that it’s a cynical mechanism for excluding the disadvantaged, with less chance of getting sued for discrimination.

    Of course, the most recent studies show that heterogeneous groups make better decisions than homogeneous ones. So I’m not even sure that “fit” makes sense as a business case, except in the case of the most egregious mis-fits that either disqualify you for the role or would just make daily life intolerable for everyone. I have people here who drive me bat-shit crazy when I have to deal with them on a daily basis. And yet, when we team up, we come up with a better overall product for the client, because we challenge each other’s unstated assumptions and fill each other’s gaps.

  2. The same thing happened with the concept of “collegiality” in academia. It is supposed to be a measure of whether someone is willing to pitch in and help with departmental stuff and whether they’re available to bounce ideas off of, but it has wound up meaning “people like us.”

  3. A group I worked with over hired a few years ago in anticipation of an expansion that didn’t occur. Suddenly we were overstaffed and some people needed to be let go. Someone came up with the idea that instead of trying to rate people on certain somewhat objective skills (not fair because we are all great!) they could just take all the senior members and have them rank all of the newer folk. Unfortunately, the end of the email chain got distributed to the wrong list, and we got a very public accounting of where we stood.

    In this mostly white male group, the list looked like this: male,female,male,male, male,male, female, male, female, female,female, female, black guy. Two people on the list were night docs who had been employed for less than 6 weeks – which meant that no one really knew them (on average, a person would have had 1-2 interactions with each). The guy was ranked #3, the girl #13.

    So, yeah, ITA.

  4. I wasn’t able to read the article, but this is an especially big problem in tech. As a tech recruiter, DH gets annoyed with companies that over-emphasize “cultural fit” because it artificially limits the pool and sometimes just means “likes that we have free soda and ping pong tables” (which, one could argue, is not really a “culture” but really just a soft perk).

  5. While reading this, the only thing swimming in my head was an exchange on the TV show Sports Night (I watched the first season while in the hospital with DS). The managing editor, and assistant producer (a new hire) were working through a massive problem the new hire had. As a new hire, he took the normal stance of “shut up and do what you’re told”. The managing editor scolded him saying “I was told you didn’t fit in and had little chance of advancement…. But that’s how people end up working here. When you come to work, you work for me. Fit in on your own time.”

    While that’s a TV show from the previous millennium, it supports the interesting point the article made. Not all “fitting in” is about creating teams who get results efficiently. Most ideas about “fitting in” seem to be about the water-cooler talk, and less about the work dynamic.

    Personally, I’ve worked in one place where I didn’t “fit” socially. I was the only female scientist, and even though I could hold my own, it was a boys club. It still is. And I left because of that. Since then I’ve fit socially with the people I work, but more importantly, I understand the role I play in producing results efficiently. Or maybe it’s just that I feel I fit socially. Not sure if my feelings are correct, but I haven’t been proven wrong, so I go with it.

  6. This is so, so,so true. I saw it in industry all the time. Many high tech companies in this area self segregate on ethnicity. I worked at a “Russian” company for about 10 years. We had many Russians developers, a few from India, and virtually no Chinese. I interviewed at another company which was pretty much all Chinese, no Russians at all. It is so weird. And it was true at the R1 school where I started my career, where it was known that the Chinese professors preferred Chinese students, the Indian professors preferred Indian or American, and the Orthodox Jewish professors preferred Orthodox Jews or Russian Jews.

  7. This may be the same thing, but I’ve found that looking the part is huge. People have a imagine in mind when they are hiring a salesperson, developer, consultant, director, doctor, nurse, engineer, etc. If you don’t look the part, you’re going to have to be x% better to get hired.

  8. What makes this so awful is the effect on minority students trying to break into the software field. I’ve started calling it “interviewing while black”. For example, one of my most stellar students, a guy with straight A’s, had worked on a research project with a Google mentor, had taken the hardest classes, knew Android development and al the other hot stuff – it took him 2 years to find a job!!!! He got called into interview after interview but never got the offer. Why? I suspect it had a lot to do with the fact that he was a large, dark skinned African American guy. It was sad because he was the sweetest, nicest guy ever. He finally won out – he entered mobile app contests, and placed second in a large and important one, and then the offers came in! He is still employed at that company and doing well. How ridiculous. I knew this guy well and would have hired him in a flash.

    Recently, someone at one of the companies that writes financial software was telling me that her boss was always moaning about the lack of black and Hispanic applicants. I asked her, where do you recruit? She said, RPI,WPI, engineering schools like that. I asked if they ever considered recruiting at a school like one of the CUNY’s with a high minority enrollment, and she just looked at me and said that her boss is an RPI alum and only wants to recruit at schools like that.

  9. MM–I’m curious to get my DH’s reaction to what you describe; will be interesting to get his take tonight (both on recruiting from CUNY’s and your star student’s situation). Separately, are your students willing to relocate to places not on an ocean?

  10. Our students generally want to stay local because of family situations. These are not Totebag kids, and many are helping out their families. However, quite honestly, the opportunities for software developers in NYC are a lot better than most other places, and a large dark skinned black guy is even less likely to “fit” at a company in say Iowa.

  11. I think Rhett’s point of “looking the part” is probably something that should be taught, but not sure how you do it in any sort of acceptable way. In my field, you do need to look put together to get a top job (if you’re asking rich people for money, you can’t look like sloppy).

    I’ve watched DH’s law firm go through many a summer associate class and it’s always interesting to see who gets jobs and who doesn’t. About ten years ago it seemed like as long as you did reasonably good work and didn’t do anything dumb while partaking in many of the drinking events, you’d get a job. They used to joke that all the drinking was a weeding out process. Now with a much smaller pool and not as many jobs, it has seemed to morph more into looking at someone’s work product since there are way less social events, which is probably a good thing.

  12. I have found that not drinking enough can be a difficult to manage part of “fit.” It’s common sense to that getting too drunk at company events is bad for your career. What isn’t as well known is that in some fields, getting drunk is a part of fitting in with the team, and it can be noticed in a bad way if you don’t participate. I’m a light to moderate drinker and never have more than 1, maybe 2 drinks at a company event. Because I’m not doing shots and such, people got the misconception that I don’t drink at all (even though they can frequently see me at happy hour sipping a beer) and I didn’t get invited out with the group as much anymore. And then got dinged in my review for not doing enough to “socially integrate myself” into the workplace. Fortunately this was at a prior job. But I’ve seen it at many firms in my industry. It’s really tough on women in particular.

  13. Over the years “fit” at my workplaces has evolved from “people exactly like us” to “people with similar even keel temperament to us”. And yes, those people must be able to do the job. I see no emphasis on color, sex, ethniticity, sexual preference etc. I am thankful for this as there is no pressure to fit in to some ideal employee mold. Earlier in my career that was a concern as I could never be certain if I was being judged on my work or who I was.

  14. And then got dinged in my review for not doing enough to “socially integrate myself” into the workplace.

    Grrr. This makes me stabby. But I have no idea how to change it.

  15. Yeah, pretty sure the boss I had at the time was a high-functioning alcoholic. I also overheard him saying that he hates it when women go to office social events because “we ruin all the fun.” And then had the nerve to hold it against me for not hanging out with them enough.

  16. Rio and RMS – In some reviews the “you are somewhat of a misfit” got put into “work on communication” area.

  17. My current company is the most diverse one I’ve worked with. In the past, I was one of the few professional women. There is a huge penalty for not fitting in. I see it in my replacement at my last job. It’s very much a boys’ club, but I managed to fit in very well. My replacement hasn’t fit in as well and it’s causing some strife (which I hear about even though I left the job 2.5 years ago). Similarly, at another job I once had, I did not fit in and hated my job. I felt overlooked and unrewarded. I left after 3 years due to fit.

    Interestingly, at both jobs, I worked predominantly with/for white men. In the job I liked, the people I worked with were all 50 years old +. In the job that I hated, the people were all 35-50 years old. Perhaps there is a difference there?

  18. Yeah, pretty sure the boss I had at the time was a high-functioning alcoholic. I also overheard him saying that he hates it when women go to office social events because “we ruin all the fun.”

    Did you ever watch Friends?

    Rachel quickly finds her boss Kim and collaborators tend to take all decisions on the balcony during smoking breaks, so after trying just to join them, which doesn’t get her close enough, she adopts the terrible habit her dad, an MD, always warned against with true horror stories.

    You can rail against the world not working like you think it should or you can have another drink and get ahead. Or, find a new job.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0583475/

  19. You can rail against the world not working like you think it should or you can have another drink and get ahead.

    That might be easy for you to say since you like to drink.

    Could you make yourself like watching professional sports and talk about them endlessly?

  20. Rhett – the most hilarious situation I faced was when a work colleague wanted to know if I was pregnant but I wouldn’t tell her. So, she would watch to see if I was drinking at work social events. I quite enjoyed the cat and mouse game. I drank O’Douls while pregnant.

  21. Could you make yourself like watching professional sports and talk about them endlessly?,

    If there was enough money in it, I could do anything.

  22. I guess I was lucky that I used to drink more when I was younger, huh? ;)

    I see the fit thing ALL THE TIME now at my firm. The people in charge of hiring are all of the white male persuasion, so guess who gets hired all the time? You’d be right!

  23. For women, just “having another drink” can make you very vulnerable. This was also in a car-centric city, and drinking more would have either stranded me at the bar or forced me to drive drunk. I suspect many of my colleagues drove drunk, but that’s a line I’m not willing to cross.

  24. Rhett, you might be able to have another drink , but you can’t ordinary change from a man to a woman or from Chinese to Russian. WCE has shared that one of the reasons she and her family like the corner of PNW in which they put themselves is that the large LDS population makes it much easier as a professional matter to avoid any need for after hours socializing – it is not a regular job requirement, and there is a strong local family focus and modest lifestyle expectations. Other people choose to live in or near big cities because there is likely to be enough diversity that they can get another job locally – they don’t have to figure out how to fit into the one of the regular joe American companies or into a Xyzian-American one from another origin – they can get work at homogeneous law firm or tech shop from their own origins or an woman run enterprise or even a traditional white shoe or boys club firm if that is their background.

  25. And as for sports, I won the departmental NCAA pool at my large Boston Company two years in a row, and narrowly missed a third when I picked Maryland a year too soon. And not because I picked pretty uniforms. It made me no friends among the guys – it was made clear that if it would be a good idea I forgot to turn in my bracket the following year.

  26. Meme,

    Exactly, you can choose to fit in or you can move/switch jobs to find a place you fit in better. But, if for whatever reason you can’t or won’t move, the best option may to be to learn to fit in.

  27. I mean, yeah you can wait forever for a cab in the suburb where they’re having happy hour, and then pay a small fortune to get home 45 minutes away. And have your car towed from the bar. Not practical at all on a weekly basis. And everybody else (stupidly) drives themselves.

  28. ” Xyzian-American” – I actually tried to pronounce this in my head while reading… then I realized what Meme meant…

    I find it interesting that we have talking about fitting in after we are hired, rather than the article’s premise of hiring those who are assumed to fit. There’s a difference. Once hired, some people are reluctant to just give up saying “I don’t fit”. You want to make the job work because you may be afraid you won’t find another (or you know there aren’t any other jobs you’re qualified for in your area). For some, it’s just not easy to make the leap from employed to unemployed (or to another company) because of something as abstract as “fit”.

    Has anyone here been on a hiring committee that stressed “fit”? For the top candidate, is the general thought “s/he will fit because XYZ”? And has that person lived up to the assumption? I’ve never been on a hiring committee, so I just don’t know.

  29. The way hiring worked at the software company where I spent 10 years, and the way it worked at both companies where my husband has worked, is that the candidate comes in and gets passed from developer to developer on the team. Each person grills the candidate with a fave set of technical questions (and those puzzle questions where you have to ferry appropriate combinations of animals across a river), and then says yes or no. So a candidate can get booted pretty quickly. At a certain point, the candidate gets passed to the tech lead, and if he or she survives that, then it is on to the higher ups. So if any of the interviewers has an unconscious bias, or cares overmuch about “fit”, the candidate will go out the door.

  30. My manager and a couple of my team-members are in WCE’s neck of the woods. It has translated into normal work hours, my manager actually apologizing to me when he found out I worked over the weeken on something he had asked me for, and plenty of expressions of gratitude for the things I do. On my rate work travel occasions, I’m the only one having wine with dinner, and there’s no expectation I’ll do my regular job all night at my hotel. I’m feeling antsy for some career advancement, but I need to really consider what I’d be leaving in terms of balance. I’m the outsider (only woman, possibly only non-LDS), but I can certainly make it work. I have my evenings free to take walks with my husband and do things with my kids, so it’s very nice, and a huge change from the decade prior to taking this job.

  31. Yes, I’ve been involved in hiring and seen great candidates get passed over for “fit” and really bad ones make the cut because “they seem like a great guy.” (Always guy.) I saw someone not get a job once because he admitted he doesn’t like baseball (fan of other sports) in the interview. He didn’t know that most of those in management were huge baseball fans. They seriously thought it was a big deal. I had trouble keeping a straight face.

  32. On the other hand, if those guys work at a place where everyone is on the 5:45 to Scarsdale and they are working till 9 – that will also put them on everyone’s shit list.

  33. Um, the only people on the 5:45 to Scarsdale are the low level staff positions. I live on that line – the people in suits tend to be arriving between 7 and 8pm.

  34. Mooshi,

    Exactly, but of you work with a group that leaves at 5:45, staying 2 extra hours may not get you the credit you think you deserve. Indeed, it may put a target on your back.

  35. “Has anyone here been on a hiring committee that stressed “fit”?”

    Oh yeah. But in the more counter-cultural way — we worry if someone is too white-shoe/prep/”normal.” Example: Managing Partner (at the time) forwarded along one resume, saying we should see if we had a slot available to interview this guy for, because the guy looked interesting — he was just coming off a stint of staying home with his kid for the first year or two. We also dinged one guy because he was an egotistical asshole in negotiating over salary — we had already made him an offer, but just stopped negotiating; we were all relieved when he went elsewhere (who wants to deal with *that* at every future review or comp meeting?).

    The thing is, “fit” can be useful, especially in day-to-day make-life-easier stuff. We have a small office here; if someone is, say, a raging egomaniac, it can make everything dysfunctional (BTDT). But it can’t be about looking for the “best” fit, a/k/a “most like you” — it just has to be about avoiding the *worst*.

  36. ” But in the more counter-cultural way — we worry if someone is too white-shoe/prep/”normal.”
    LfB – don’t you think this seems a lot like the college admissions essay – no one can have a normal boring childhood, they must have *something* to overcome.

  37. My sense is that the sorts of people on the 5:45 (which means they left their office between 5 and 5:30) are the people who decided that career advancement isn’t worth sacrificing their lives, so they don’t care who is working which hours. The typical people on that train would be office staff from CUNY, office managers in midtown companies, retail employees, help desk dudes, and maintenance people.

  38. Oh yeah. But in the more counter-cultural way — we worry if someone is too white-shoe/prep/”normal.

    I see that in developer hiring. If you’re odd people assume you know what you’re doing.

  39. I have a minor tech hijack. Recently someone was complaining about MS Office going to a subscription model – stuff is so advanced (software) or reliable (hardware) nowadays that no one needs to upgrade for a fee or replace frequently. However, I noticed this weekend that my back up drive seemed to have disappeared from the device/drive listing, even though it was plugged in and lit. I checked and the last back up was in late April. I plugged it into another computer and same result. I dug around on the internet and it seems that drives used for continuous backup (mine is scheduled hourly) have planned known shelf life (in this case 2 years or so), like water heaters. A drive used just as music/video dead storage may last longer The data is all there on the disk, and could be recovered for a fee, but the card that communicates between the computer and the disk (please excuse the lay description) just fails after a while. I used my same day Amazon Prime to get a new backup drive and it has done its work already, but I was obviously annoyed.

  40. OT: I need some advice on dealing with grandparents.

    My oldest child is much easier to deal with than the younger ones – it’s a function of both personality and age.

    The grandparents live nearby, and for the past few years have taken the oldest out for treats while leaving the younger children with me. They would come over our house a few times a week to see everyone, and then take the oldest out once or twice a week to go to a park, the library, etc.

    Now that the younger children are old enough to do some of the activities the grandparents are doing with the oldest, they want to go.

    We have asked the grandparents to alternate or take more than one child, but they only want to take the oldest.

    Recently, after an unfortunate squabble between the younger children, they now refuse to visit or babysit the younger children at all.

    (At their insistence, we had the 4 year old child evaluated by an eminent child psychologist, who pronounced the child absolutely normal. The pediatrician agrees. The preschool teachers agree, and say the child has never caused a problem in class. Other babysitters report no problems. We don’t think there is anything wrong.)

    What would you recommend doing?

    Would you cut off the outings with the oldest one?

  41. Since my Dad had an hourly job and I worked with mostly union workers in my co-op jobs, the emphasis on mandatory work socializing is foreign to me. All the companies/areas I’ve worked in have been “family friendly” and that includes understanding the need to care for children as well as others, sometimes at an undeclared cost to coworkers. One woman had a disabled adult son who needed to call her at least a couple times/day and who occasionally had appointments, etc. One man took a long lunch on Fridays and Mondays to go home and care for his Mom with Alzheimers. Officially, his supervisor/coworkers had to agree to this, but his coworkers always shortened their own breaks/lunches if equipment was in urgent need of attention- everyone seemed to think “There but for the grace of God go I.” (The atheists probably thought something analogous.)

    This post helps me realize why top professions remain so white and male, despite the academic and technical accomplishments of women and minorities. Mr WCE has been involved with a lot of hiring and the focus is always technical, with “fit” an issue only for the weird 5%. Most people from big cities don’t want to move here anyway. Probably the only issue I’ve found concerning is when people aren’t fluent in English- they miss too much of what goes on in meetings/e-mails. One of my colleagues who grew up in China has this challenge- he would be a much better engineer in China.

    This post was excellent and has been very eye-opening for me so far. The concept of “Russian software developer teams” vs. “Chinese software developer teams” is just foreign- I work with truly diverse people. I know I’ve mentioned the Christmas when the Muslim manager and the Jewish manager volunteered to share call, because they had no family obligations that week, and I just imagined the whole world was similarly supportive and friendly to people who are “other.”

  42. “don’t you think this seems a lot like the college admissions essay” — Yeah, that’s something we are maybe a little concerned about. But the reality is more like everyone just looks so generic — oh, look, it’s another grad from a mid-to-upper-tier school with a solid-but-unexceptional top 25% record and a decent-but-unmemorable writing sample. There’s just nothing interesting or memorable there. Someone who says in a cover letter “I’m looking to re-enter the workforce after staying home with my kids” gets bonus points because (a) it’s different, (b) everyone knows that statement would get an immediate boot from traditional firms, so it signals guts and a willingness to be different that we respect, and (c) he followed a non-traditional path (so, yeah, the guy unfairly gets more points for that than the girl does, although we’d totally bring her in, too, for (a) and (b)).

  43. Anon, I would tell them no more solo outings with the oldest if they are not willing to do the same with the younger ones. Unless there is a really good reason for not doing it with the younger ones, and it doesn’t sound like there is, IMO it’s really cruel to single out one child like this.

  44. Anon-
    That’s a lousy situation. Is there any reason, due to health/age/whatever, that the grandparents can’t handle 1×1 time with the younger kids? I’d probably bite my tongue if that seemed to be the case. If it’s a clear case of favoritism or some sort of critique on the younger childrens’ behavior (or your tolerance of their age appropriate behavior), I would probably be inclined to tell the grandparents it’s too upsetting to the younger kids so you need to limit the special dates with Big Kid to a much lower frequency.

  45. Anon, I agree with DD. having that continue will cause resentment within your family unit, and showing favoritism is really not a good example for adults to show children-let alone grandparents! How does your spouse/significant other feel?

  46. My oldest child is much easier to deal with than the younger ones – it’s a function of both personality and age.

    Perhaps your oldest is just an old soul. I’d venture to guess that what makes them fit in so well with their grandparents may make them fit in less well with their peers. If that’s the case, let them enjoy the close relationship they have with their grandparents.

  47. Anon: My recommendation is that you don’t allow the grandparents to play favorites. If the grandparents don’t want to have outings with all of your kids, I’d nix the outings and focus on socializing at your house.

    I don’t get their boycott of your younger children, which seems odd and immature to me. Even if kids misbehave, they are kids. They get a do-over.

    You and your spouse need to be on the same page with this.

  48. Anon, have you directly told them that this favoritism is going to have ugly consequences someday and potentially jeopardize their relationship with all of the grandchildren? Kids aren’t stupid and can spot unequal treatment from a mile away. Maybe they just need to have you spell it out for them very bluntly what this looks like from the kids’ perspectives. And if they still don’t “get it” after that, it sounds like you may need to dial back the relationship, sadly.

  49. showing favoritism is really not a good example for adults to show children-let alone grandparents!

    I’m assuming that the youngest are just too rambunctious. If they want to do fun things with grandma and grandpa then they need to learn to control themselves.

  50. Also, can you help the grandparents brainstorm some outings that might be a better fit for the harder-to-handle kids? For instance, maybe they don’t do well at a library, but could handle tagging along with grandpa to the home and garden supply store?

  51. Kids aren’t stupid and can spot unequal treatment from a mile away.

    Kids should be treated the same regardless of their behavior? Or, should well behaved kids who are respectful and who prove themselves to be responsible be given more freedoms and privileges than those who are disrespectful, ill behaved and irresponsible?

  52. The grandparents are avid exercisers and can keep up with each kid, although all three at once is a lot for anyone (ages 6, 4, and 2).

    The boycott began when the youngest accidentally hit the middle child, who thought it was on purpose and hit back hard.

    The grandparents say that we are bad parents for not teaching the middle child not to hit by now, and that it may mean the middle child has a serious behavioral problem. (Psychologist says it’s still normal for 4 year olds, though of course we try to prevent it and punish when it happens.)

    So far they have gone several weeks without speaking to us or visiting, and then last week called to say they wanted to have the oldest over. We allowed it once because the oldest child has been very upset.

    Middle child saw them and said “Grandma and Grandpa don’t like me,” so it’s clear that their message has been received.

  53. Rhett
    Those Siblings will have issues between them when the topic of grandma and grandpa comes up-why should their unequal treatment of kids influence problems with the family unit? They are the adults-they need to act like adults and at least try to treat the other kids with some regard-not discount them because they misbehaved-they are children, they are learning how to navigate the world-the grandparents should help them with their issues (if they have them), not penalize them for it-how will they ever change?

  54. Anon,

    I totally agree that the grandparents should make more of an effort. On the other hand, if you go around hitting people that may mean you don’t get to do fun stuff.

  55. Anon,

    If the youngest agree to behave is that something they can do? As we know, when you’re 4, fighting with your siblings is often a temptation you can’t resit. If they agree to behave and start fighting would it be ok for them to get a grandparent timeout for 6 months or a year?

  56. Rhett, they weren’t out doing fun stuff at the time of the fight – a grandparent was babysitting while I took the oldest to the doctor.

    I could understand it if they said they wouldn’t take a child who hit to the zoo or the playground.

    What they are doing goes much further than that – when they came to pick up the oldest, they refused to say hello to the 4 year old when the child came to the front door.

    They will not speak to him on the phone, either.

  57. Rhett- I think the whole bit about the grandparents think they are bad parents because the four year old shouldn’t hit is key here, along with the cutting off contact with the little kids. I think it’s nasty and passive aggressive, and I would be inclined to say they visit all three on equal terms or they can we none at all.

  58. If they are being that harsh towards the 4 year old, then absolutely I would not let them take the older one anywhere.

  59. they refused to say hello to the 4 year old when the child came to the front door.

    They will not speak to him on the phone, either

    That’s just crazy. Have they always been a little odd? Is maybe something else going on in terms of their aging?

  60. Mr WCE have similar issues with our [younger] twins and similarly don’t get the need to fight to create your space since we are oldest children ourselves, but it seems very normal for middle/youngest children, especially boys. Grandma went home early at Christmas because she was tired of all the fighting among three close-in-age boys stuck in the house all the time.

    If the grandparents can’t deal with a four year old hitting a two year old, it sounds like the parents need to be present. Six months or a year of “avoidance” would be an eternity to a four year old and will make the long-term relationship not-a-close-one. I don’t view this as bad, since we don’t have close grandparent relationships, just a fact- six months or a year is too long a period of time for a “consequence” for a four year old.

    You didn’t say if the children are boys or girls, but I will note that stereotypes exist for a reason. Lots of people prefer girls and quiet children over loud, rambunctious boys. I would have whichever of you is the child of the relevant parents have the conversation and then make your decisions from there.

  61. I agree with Rhett, to a point, but all this over a !!!4!!-year-old hitting a sibling??? Good grief! It’s not usually the one to say that an adult’s expectations of a child are unreasonable, but OMG! He’s FOUR!! It happens.

    That said, I wouldn’t look to use the eldest as a pawn in the ultimatum. I’d just try to talk to them, again, that this kind of thing is unavoidable from time to time, and the youngest will be devastated if they don’t get to have the same fun outings. And like Rio said, possibly different outings.

  62. “Kids should be treated the same regardless of their behavior? Or, should well behaved kids who are respectful and who prove themselves to be responsible be given more freedoms and privileges than those who are disrespectful, ill behaved and irresponsible?”

    They are 4 and 2. “Disrespectful” and “irresponsible” are basically job descriptions.

    Of course different behavior gets different consequences. But withdrawal of love/presence/attention should never be that consequence. The love has to be unconditional and ever-present, even if the “how” of the interaction may change based on age, behavior, etc.

    @Anon: The one thing I’d suggest for you is to take a look at the activities from the perspective of each kid, and not necessarily based on what your eldest could manage at that age. If he is more mature/quiet, then he may have been much more well-suited for specific things at the ages of 2 and 4 than your current 2- and 4-yr-olds are.

    Also, some grandparents are simply ill-equipped to manage sibling squabbling (my mom being one — she is genius with one, quickly overwhelmed with two). You may set both the kids and the grandparents up for success more effectively if you can come up with one-on-one things that they can participate in for each kid, within the boundaries of that kid’s interests and developmental state. So maybe take the elder to the library and the middle to the petting zoo, instead of expecting all 3 to behave happily together at a sporting event or something.

    And if they’re not even willing to do that, then ITA with the above: you need to back them off the eldest for everyone’s sake. That is punitive, damaging behavior that will only end up hurting your kids’ relationships with each other.

  63. WCE, if they take the 4 year old solo like they have been doing with the 6 year old, then the sibling fighting is not an issue. And they will also find that the the 4 year old is probably a different child is solo. As you said, it’s normal for siblings to fight to create their own space. When they are solo, that need goes away.

  64. Mostly I’m a lurker here, but this post hit home, so I’ll come out of lurking. I’m a faculty member at a university so, yeah I know about fit, and how it can be used to rule out anyone who “isn’t like us.” That could mean a variety of things, such as “did not go through our program;” “does not show enthusiasm” aka did not feign interest in stuff that does not have to do with work that the person who has been here for 30+ years finds interesting; does not have the same personality on the team aka asks appropriate work-related questions that might threaten pet outside interests of those on the search committee. When we were interviewing one recent grad, in her candidate evaluation said “well she’s never lived outside the state, so I don’t know if she wouldn’t get homesick.”

    In my position, I serve on all search committees, so I hear the verbal excuses people use not to hire someone. However, I have to say, I pulled the “fit” card once. We were interviewing a candidate from NYC-she had done a wide variety of interesting work. One of more recent projects involved successfully navigating NYC politics (anyone in the area at the time in the field would have read about it) for the work she was doing. She answered the interview questions well, but answered them in what I would call a NYC manner-not rude, but straight and to the point. Since I lived in the NYC metro area for years, her manners and answer were fine to me. We would have been lucky to get her. However, I work in the south, and there is huge emphasis on chit chat about you, your family, your neighbors, your pets, your church, etc.) I knew this woman was more than capable for the job, but I also knew if she’d been hired, there would have been questions about her “fit” and that would have overshadowed everything, including her competence for the job. We have lost several good employees because they decided to stop banging their heads against the wall in this culture. Like those folks, I am looking a new job as well.

  65. Wow. Giving a 4 year old the silent treatment. Anon, you are kinder than I would be. I would tell your children that the family is too busy to see grandma and grandpa for a while and tell the grandparents that you’re looking forward to getting together at Christmas, when the children are older.

    The grandparents can find things to do that suit each child’s personality. Maybe a walk around the block, or blowing bubbles, or a sticker book at home, or watching a favorite show together. However, they won’t. That’s their problem and Anon’s only job in this situation is to protect her kids.

  66. Unfortunately GPs do have favorites and many times it has to do with birth order of the grandkids. Many times the oldest ones can do no wrong, perhaps mostly because GPs have more of an opportunity to be with the oldest. Also, as more grandkids come along, I want to say the marginal happiness from each additional grandkid declines. Taking one kid out all the time and refusing to interact with the middle one is just not done. However, do talk to them and let them know how you feel before cutting off interaction etc.

  67. They wouldn’t even say hello to the four year old in his own house?!! I would not let any of my kids go anywhere with them unsupervised. They practice a weirdly punitive type of love that is not going to be good for any of your kids. You think the oldest hasn’t just learned that if he steps out of line, they will withdraw their love from him?

  68. I agree with DD and LfB that managing multiple kids is way different from managing one, and giving the grandparents the “choice” to spend time with each child 1:1 is probably what I would do- they sound unwilling or unable to handle the interactions around caring for multiple grandchildren. I’ve observed this in other families where the grandparents didn’t have multiple close-in-age children and never learned how to manage that particular sort of chaos.

    Also, age is a big factor. My MIL is 67 and is doing a lot of the childrearing for divorced BIL and she is just tired of kids, I think- she shouldn’t have to deal with the day-to-day nitty gritty, but life isn’t fair. My 50-something colleagues with young grandchildren are often part-time caregivers and still find it pretty manageable.

  69. Anon, please let us know what you decide to do. Best of luck with a difficult situation!

  70. Rhett, my sister and I still get silent treatment as adults whenever they are unhappy, even if the person who angered them is someone we have never met.

    It’s dysfunctional, but they will not see a therapist or change at this point.

    The oldest has now figured out that they aren’t a source of unconditional love. I guess it’s better to know that now than after 30 years of trying to make them happy.

  71. “Also, as more grandkids come along, I want to say the marginal happiness from each additional grandkid declines.”

    Lol! Not always, Louise, although your point is well taken. I swear my mother was born to be a grandmother and derived so much pleasure from each of them. She would talk about all of them equally and with love.

    Then my son came along. Thirty or so years after the last grandchild. (Obviously, my sisters were older and had their kids young, and I had my son late.) He landed right there, just a little younger than her youngest great-grandchild.* My mom couldn’t have been more delighted! She redid all the cute little things around her house listing her grandchildren– on old, faded needlepoint, the new stitching was beyond obvious. It was funny. And wonderful to see.

    And after his mother passed, my mom became the most important person in Junior’s life, even though she lived far away. I will always be grateful.

    My dad treated my kid equally too. He thought I was f-ing nuts and disliked my kid just as much as any other kid under age 18. (Because of his grandmother’s love, happily, my kid was oblivious.)

    *Interestingly (to me only, perhaps) it remained that way until my mom’s death. Since then she has had a few more great-grandchildren.

  72. Anon,

    Eww, I’m sorry. I retract my suggestion to humor them and if you feel it best maybe it’s time to return the silent treatment.

  73. My same aged granddaughters. Zazu (4) is a handful. She is the one will have broken bones and scrapes, for whom silence from the other room is a warning sign, who can get a little rough on sunny toddler Eva (21 mos) when she gets frustrated. Coco (6) is very well behaved, but a bit inflexible and not effusive. Eva is everybody’s delight right now, but 2 looms.

    My natural inclination is, of course, to favor the scamp. But even I know my custodial limits. If I know I am going to have all three of them from 4 to bedtime, I don’t try it solo. I have dealt with pickup and drop off for Zazu a lot this year, but I wouldn’t dare try an outing, whereas I was easily able to take out Coco for 5 hours on public transport to the zoo when she was still in diapers. But I did fill in at preschool closing ceremony today because of scheduling issues, and even wriggled like a snake on the floor as part of music time. I don’t find it necessary to do everything the same. However, there is no question that I love them all as they are and trust the parents (despite the green smoothies.)

    Anon has to try to protect the middle one from his grandparents’ rejection, but it appears that the grandparents truly believe that there is something wrong with the middle one, that the parents are not dealing with it, and that they don’t think that they can babysit or interact with that child unless they are given the right to chastise or discipline as they think is appropriate. The grandparents are adults. The choice of behavior and response is theirs. If they say, we will only associate with the eldest until you shape up the others, you can just say that you can’t believe they would require you to make a Sophie’s choice of doing emotional harm to one child versus another.

  74. “they refused to say hello to the 4 year old when the child came to the front door.

    They will not speak to him on the phone, either”

    I think this indicates there’s much more to it than just that he hit his younger sib once. This type of animosity to a 4yo is not healthy, and the fact that they are capable of it suggests concern for any kid left alone with them.

    It makes me wonder what else they do. Do they not give him birthday or Xmas gifts? Do they boycott his birthday party?

    I know it would be very difficult, but perhaps you should give them a chance to explain their behavior.

  75. Should either of my parents have treated my grandson other than equally than to that which they treated the others, say in a will or other things, including affection, I’d have gone batshit.

    I agree with the others that Anon. should have a talk with her parents and, absent a change in their behavior, not allow the individual excursions.

    On the other hand, I don’t see anything wrong with, “Honey, when you are six, too, we will take you to the library with us.” That is if they follow through.

  76. “Has anyone here been on a hiring committee that stressed “fit”?”

    Yes, but that was in a former job, and several bosses back in the current job, perhaps back before fit went rogue.

    In the former job, interviews were similar to what Mooshi described, with the members of the team the interviewee would potentially be joining all taking part. Besides technical competence, we’d be looking at how we thought the candidates would work with the other team members.

    The referenced article mentioned gatekeepers, which suggests that this problem is worse when hiring decisions are done by individuals, rather than committees. Some of the worst hiring decision I’ve seen were similarly made largely by individuals, like the manager who hired a Turk, and then wondered why he didn’t get along with the Armenian already in the group. The Turk was also an a-hole, something the hiring manager apparently didn’t pick up either.

  77. If there is more to the story from their perspective, I wasn’t told.

    He’s had a full work up and has some large motor delay, which we are working on, and some sensory sensitivity (not true SPD, if there is such a thing), which we address with OT.

    I am going to hire sitters for the summer, and wait and see what the grandparents do. Will keep you posted.

  78. Anon, I agree with DD, outings with just the 4yo would eliminate the possibility of fighting with sibs. Refusal to consider that would again suggest they are not being forthright with you.

  79. Oh hell no, Anon. I think it is normal for grandparents to gravitate to the child(ren) who are older and/or easier. That is certainly the case with my children’s grandparents other than my mother who adores all children. Even my difficult baby who screams 90% of the time. But, most know to act as though they enjoy all of the kids equally, and at least try to be equal. Ignoring the 4 year old and refusing to speak to him is just unacceptable. I wouldn’t let them around my kids until they cut that out.

  80. One boss said – I have a department of quirky people, who are mainly introverts and who are very good at what they do. I need someone for this position who is extroverted but also “fits in”. That means someone who can recognize their quirks and not push their buttons. Most everything else a person can be trained to do for this job.

    He was absolutely right – highly intelligent, very quirky and very introverted. It took them almost a year to warm up to me. My first “real” conversation with a male co-worker went like this. He – Everyone hates your job because you have to talk to people. How do you handle it? Me – I am an extrovert, I like to talk to people. He – Really, you don’t bother us by talking to us. Me – That’s because I know it would bother you. I know other people in different departments who are extroverts, so I go and talk to them. He just looked perplexed. Apparently, my boss overheard this as it came up in my evaluation as part of doing a good job.

  81. Anon on the grandparent issue – I would not let them treat my children that differently. However, I would likely stand up (with your spouse’s support or it falls apart) and tell them the following. We know 6 yr old loves going with you and how great a time you all have, but 4 year old is very hurt by the current situation. We respected your opinion/concerns about 4 year old and checked things out. All the professionals tell us, that while 4 year old may be more of a handful, all is normal range. We agree that agressive behavior between siblings is not appropriate and appreciate your helping us teach that in age appropriate ways. However, the current situation is causing hurt and resentment in our family. If we cannot find a solution where you can treat the children equally (based on age and personality appropriate activities and time spent), we cannot allow the hurt and resentment to grow in our family.

  82. Very interesting work situation, Austin Mom. Do you “love” or like your job?

    In my first job out of college, my fellow employees had me tagged as an affirmative action hire because I did not fit the mold. But as a student I had already started to learn how to fit in, and when I started working I made sure to talk football, play golf, and go hunting with the guys.

    Someone I know right out of college was recently interviewing with a small firm whose key employees were all (proudly) frat boys. The young executives at another firm were boarding school types. With the Internet you can find out more of this information and decide how to proceed.

  83. … and by “hunting”, I mean getting set up in a nice blind and waiting for the deer to walk by. :)

  84. We agree that aggressive behavior between siblings is not appropriate and appreciate your helping us teach that in age appropriate ways.

    I agree with everyone who says the grandparents are out of line here. Fights between siblings are totally normal. My boys are much older than your kids, and I can guarantee you there are still days when they are going to throw some punches. I like Austin Mom’s example, but I would just change the above sentence to “We agree that aggressive behavior between siblings should be minimized…” I actually think some aggression/assertiveness is totally normal and developmentally appropriate, it’s just our goal as parents is to get them to channel it the right way.

    I think it’s pretty unrealistic to think one sibling is never going to hit/punch/shove another, and the emotional games the grandparents are playing with your kids are WAY, WAY more unhealthy than the occasional punch from a sibling.

  85. I agree with everyone else who says that a four year old hitting their sibling is pretty normal. I have an almost four year old boy, who is also the middle child, and sometimes he acts out because he wants some dang attention. I would intervene with the grandparents. Of course they have their favorites, but it’s important that the kids don’t know who that is, and if a four year old is picking up on this then it must be fairly evident from their behavior.

  86. I take it these grandparents are your parents, which is why you don’t see their behavior as being quite as outrageous as some of the rest of us do. What does your spouse think?

  87. An aside. DH and I went to see Inside Out last night. We liked it very much, it is likely to make adults cry a bit, but I didn’t think it was quite the critical masterpiece that the reviewers did. I think the criticial reaction is like the reaction to the Incredibles – a mainstream animated movie which appeals to adults and that is innovative in its plot and what it tries to bring to the screen. Because it was an evening show, there were few kids. I don’t know how well very small ones will like it – it has a lot of action and great colors, so the fact that they can’t really understand the underlying story may not matter.

  88. Agreed with everyone that the grandparents are CRAZY. Not talking to a 4 yo in his/her own home? NOT OKAY.

    As a side note, DH and his brother totally fought and wrestled through high school, and our 7/5/3 kids fight and hit each other all the time. It is very very normal.

  89. The discussion reminds me of a comment from my math teacher friend’s chiropractor, here in the land of close-together children.
    Chiro: My three brothers and I were wrestling and we broke our mom’s coffee table. We had to buy her a new one.
    Friend: Oh, my, how old were you?
    Chiro: Umm, 49, 47, 45 and 43.

  90. WCE – ha! Sounds like my brothers. It never occurred to me that siblings wouldn’t fight. Mine used to be the crap out of each other. Even now they often punch each other hello.

  91. “I agree with everyone else who says that a four year old hitting their sibling is pretty normal.”

    Not only is it normal, but note that the incident in questions was not initiated by the 4yo, he responded when he was hit. Expecting a 4yo not just to not hit his sib, but to not respond when he is hit, is a pretty high expectation.

    Do the grandparents similarly shun the youngest kid? I’m wondering if their bad behavior is limited to just the 4yo, or if instead it’s more a case of not dealing well with kids in general, but 6yo is special.

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