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0820 Performing Poorly at Work

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 820: Performing Poorly at Work.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 820. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Our website is eslpod.com. You know what to do. Go there. Become a member. Support this podcast.

This episode is a dialogue – what a surprise! – between Cora and Doug about not doing your best at your job. Let’s get started.

[start of dialogue]

Cora: What’s up with Rob? He hasn’t been himself lately.

Doug: You’ve noticed, too, huh?

Cora: Yeah, he’s been missing work and letting things slip through the cracks. I’ve been cutting him some slack and filling in for him, but things haven’t improved.

Doug: I know what you mean. I’d never known Rob to drop the ball on anything until recently. I heard a rumor that he’s having financial problems.

Cora: No, not Rob! He has more clients than anyone around here.

Doug: Well, he’s been off his game for a while now, so some of those accounts might have gone up in smoke.

Cora: Are you going to have a talk with him? Maybe you could help.

Doug: Me? Why me?

Cora: I thought you two were pretty tight.

Doug: We’re friendly at work, but we’re not really friends. The last thing I want to do is to snoop around in his business.

Cora: But maybe he’s just waiting for a shoulder to cry on. You might be just the person to get him to bare his soul.

Doug: Spoken just like a woman! You all think we men are waiting to bare our souls and let our emotions out. Just leave Rob alone to solve his own problems.

Cora: Spoken just like a cold-hearted man!

[end of dialogue]

Our dialogue begins with Cora saying to Doug, “What's up with Rob?” “What's up” means what's going on, what's the problem? What's the issue with Rob? “He hasn’t been himself lately.” “To not be yourself” means that you're acting in an unusual way, a strange way. You're acting differently than how you normally act. You may say to someone he hasn’t been himself. He’s been very sad or depressed. Normally, he’s very happy. He hasn’t been himself.

Doug says, “You’ve noticed, too, huh?” You’ve also noticed, Doug is saying. The “huh” at the end is sometimes used to ask a question when we've made a statement.

Cora says, “Yeah, he’s been missing work,” he has not been coming to his job, “and letting things slip through the cracks.” The expression to “slip” (slip) through the “cracks” (cracks) means not to do everything you should be doing, especially the little things, because you're not being careful, you're not paying attention to everything.

Cora says, “I've been cutting him some slack and filling in for him, but things haven’t improved.” “To cut someone some slack” (slack) means not to criticize someone or not to be hard on someone even though they're not doing what they're supposed to be doing, not judging someone even though they're not doing a good job. You're not judging them as you might otherwise. You're perhaps not punishing them the way you would in a different situation. That’s what “to cut someone some slack” means. While Cora is cutting Rob some slack, she’s also been filling in for him. “To fill in for someone” means to do someone else’s job for a short period of time, to help someone when they can't be at their job. So, you're supposed to work at a grocery store and you can't be there one day and you're supposed to work, you ask a friend to fill in for you, to substitute for you for that day. Cora says, “Things haven’t improved.” Things haven’t gotten better.

Doug says, “I know what you mean.” I understand you. “I’ve never known Rob to drop the ball on anything.” “To drop the ball” is an expression meaning not to do something that you are supposed to do, not to meet your obligations, not to do what people expect you to do. Doug says, “I heard a rumor that he’s having financial problems.” “I heard a rumor” (rumor) means I've heard something that people have said that it might be true, it might be false – I don’t know. Another word we might use here is “gossip” (gossip). Gossip or rumors are things that people say that nobody really knows if they're true or not, usually they're interesting things, often bad things about people. We talk about gossip for famous people or about famous people, rumors. Some people say that she’s going to get a divorce or some people said that he is breaking up with his girlfriend. Those would be rumors. You're not sure if it's true. It might be true. (I'm not breaking up with my girlfriend because I don’t have a girlfriend.) Doug says that Rob might be having financial problems, not enough money.

Cora says, “No, not Rob! He has more clients than anyone around here.” A “client” (client) is another word for a customer, especially a customer that has a long-term relationship with your company. Often we use this term when we talk about services, selling people not physical things but, say, accounting services or legal services we may refer to someone as a “client.” Well, Rob has a lot of clients. Cora says, “… more clients than anyone around here,” meaning anyone here at this company.

Doug says, “Well, he’s been off his game for a while now.” “To be off your game” means not to be performing as well as you normally do, not to be doing as well as you typically do. He’s been off his game for a while now, meaning for some time, so some of those accounts, some of those clients, might have gone up in smoke. “To go up in smoke” (smoke) means to disappear, to stop existing. “Smoke” is of course what happens when you burn something. It's the white, gray, or black substance that goes up into the air, that’s smoke. “To go up in smoke” means to be burned up, literally, but really here it means simply to disappear, not to succeed.

Cora says, “Are you going to have a talk with him?” Are you going to talk to him about this? “Maybe you could help.” Doug says, “Me? Why me?” Cora says, “I thought you two were pretty tight.” “Tight” (tight) here means to have a close relationship with another person, someone who is a very, very good friend who you give personal information to, who knows you very well. “Tight” has several other meanings in English as well. Take a look at our Learning Guide for those.

Doug says, “We're friendly at work, but we're not really friends.” You can be friendly with someone by being nice to them, but that doesn’t mean that you are their friend, that you actually consider them your friend. You're just being nice. Doug says, “The last thing I want to do is to snoop around in his business.” “To snoop (snoop) around” means to try to find information about someone without the other person knowing what you are doing. We might say to spy on or to investigate in some secret way. Doug says he doesn’t want to snoop around in Rob’s business, meaning in his life. Even though we say business here, we really mean his personal matters, his personal life.

Cora says, “But maybe he’s just waiting for a shoulder to cry on.” The expression “a shoulder (shoulder) to cry on” is used to describe someone who is willing to listen to another person’s problems. So, you have a friend and your friend broke up with his girlfriend and now he’s sad. Actually, his girlfriend broke up with him. She ended the relationship, and now he’s sad and you go to a bar and you have a few drinks and he tells you all the details of what happened. This happens to me every once in a while, a friend of mine – used to happen – a friend of mine would break up with a girlfriend and then they would tell me all their problems, everything that happened, everything she said, everything he said – you understand. That’s to have a shoulder to cry on. You are the person they go to to cry on, that is, to tell their problems to. Your shoulder, of course, is the upper part of your arm and sometimes, for example, a woman may cry on a man’s shoulder by putting her head on his shoulder if she’s sad about something.

Cora says, “You might just be the person to get him to bare his soul.” To “bare” (bare) means to take something off, to remove something, usually your clothing. We talk about someone being “bare naked” meaning having no clothes on. “To bare your soul” (soul), however, means to share your most personal thoughts to another person, to tell someone your most secret fears and secret thoughts.

Doug says, “Spoken just like a woman,” meaning Cora is talking like a woman might talk. He says, “You all,” meaning you women, “think we men are waiting to bare our souls and let our emotions out,” our feelings out. “Just leave Rob alone to solve his own problems.” In other words, men, we don’t like to talk about our deep personal problems with other men. That’s what women think we should do, but we're men. We don’t do that, do we men? Real men don’t cry. That’s what they say.

Cora says, “Spoken just like a cold-hearted man!” Someone who’s “cold-hearted” (hearted) is someone who doesn’t have a lot of sympathy or empathy for other people, someone who isn't able to understand other people or doesn’t feel badly when he does something wrong to someone else. That would be a cold-hearted person. Back in the 1980s, Paula Abdul had her song “Cold-Hearted Snake.” A “snake” of course is an animal that crawls on the ground and moves back and forth. To call someone a snake would be a very insulting thing, someone who is secretive, someone who deceives you, someone who lies to you, so she had this song:

He’s a cold-hearted snake

Look into his eyes

Oh oh, he’s been telling lies.

Cold-hearted snake, Paula Abdul. Sing that today at your work.

Now let’s listen to the dialogue, this time at a normal speed.

[start of dialogue]

Cora: What’s up with Rob? He hasn’t been himself lately.

Doug: You’ve noticed, too, huh?

Cora: Yeah, he’s been missing work and letting things slip through the cracks. I’ve been cutting him some slack and filling in for him, but things haven’t improved.

Doug: I know what you mean. I’d never known Rob to drop the ball on anything until recently. I heard a rumor that he’s having financial problems.

Cora: No, not Rob! He has more clients than anyone around here.

Doug: Well, he’s been off his game for a while now, so some of those accounts might have gone up in smoke.

Cora: Are you going to have a talk with him? Maybe you could help.

Doug: Me? Why me?

Cora: I thought you two were pretty tight.

Doug: We’re friendly at work, but we’re not really friends. The last thing I want to do is to snoop around in his business.

Cora: But maybe he’s just waiting for a shoulder to cry on. You might be just the person to get him to bare his soul.

Doug: Spoken just like a woman! You all think we men are waiting to bare our souls and let our emotions out. Just leave Rob alone to solve his own problems.

Cora: Spoken just like a cold-hearted man!

[end of dialogue]

She’s never off her game. All of her dialogues are wonderful. That’s the wonderful Dr. Lucy Tse I'm talking about. Thank you, Lucy!

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again here on ESL Podcast.

English as a Second Language Podcast is written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan, copyright 2012 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
to not be (oneself) – to act in a strange and unusual way; to act differently than how one normally acts

* Ever since Perry started high school, he hasn’t been himself.

to slip through the cracks – to not do something through neglect; to not pay attention to something, usually because one was busy doing other things

* I was so busy working on these essays that somehow the math assignment slipped through the cracks and I forgot to do it.

to cut (someone) some slack – to avoid being critical of someone; to loosen the standards for someone; to not judge someone as harshly as one judges other people; to not expect as much from someone as one expects from other people

* Of course it’s inappropriate to cry at work, but cut her some slack! She’s going through a divorce.

to fill in for (someone) – to do someone’s job for a short period of time; to help someone by taking some or all of that person’s responsibilities for a period of time

* Trent wanted to go to his son’s soccer match, so he asked me to fill in for him for a few hours.

to drop the ball – to not do something that one was supposed to do; to not meet expectations

* If you drop the ball and forget to renew your driver’s license on time, you’ll have to pay a fee and take the test again.

rumor – something that people say, usually about another person, but that has not been proven and may not be true; gossip

* I heard a rumor than J. R. and Dawn broke up. Is that true?

client – customer, especially a customer who has a long-term relationship with the company

* Does your consulting firm have any clients in Australia?

off (one’s) game – not performing as well as one normally does

* Would you mind doing the presentation for me? I’m feeling off my game today and I don’t want to make any mistakes in front of an audience.

to go up in smoke – to fail; to disappear; to not succeed

* After the tornado destroyed their home, it was difficult for them to accept that everything they had worked for had gone up in smoke.

tight – in a close relationship with another person, sharing personal and private information and thoughts

* We were tight as teenagers, but we grew apart in college.

to snoop around – to investigate in a secretive way; to spy; to try to find information about someone or something without letting other people know what one is doing

* How could you snoop around and read my diary? That’s private!

a shoulder to cry on – a phrase used to describe someone who is willing to listen to another person’s problems and provide comfort without judging or providing advice

* If you need a shoulder to cry on, I’m here for you.

to bare (one’s) soul – to share one’s most secret, personal thoughts with another person

* It’s a lot easier to bare your soul when your parents aren’t around!

emotions – feelings like happiness, sadness, anger, joy, fear, etc.

* When Freida heard the news, she experienced a range of emotions from fear and disbelief to relief, and finally, sadness.

cold-hearted – without sympathy or empathy for other people; unable or unwilling to understand or be interested in other people’s feelings

* This city is full of cold-hearted people who refuse to help other people.

Comprehension Questions
1. According to Cora and Doug, what is wrong with Rob?
a) He’s developing arthritis and keeps dropping things.
b) He isn’t performing as well or as reliably as he used to.
c) He doesn’t like his job and wants to find a new one.

2. What does Cora mean when she says, “I thought you two were pretty tight.”
a) She thought they were good friends.
b) She thought they were related.
c) She thought they worked in the same office.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
to drop the ball

The phrase “to drop the ball,” in this podcast, means to not do something that one was supposed to do or to not meet expectations: “Shane really dropped the ball when he forgot to bring the rings to the wedding.” The phrase “to have a ball” means to have a very good time or to have a lot of fun: “We had a ball at the concert.” The phrase “on the ball” describes someone who thinks very quickly and is performing very well: “Wow, you were really on the ball during that press conference! Well done!” Finally, the phrase “to get the ball rolling” means to start a project or to make something start happening: “Getting the first few people to sign up was tough, but that got the ball rolling.”

tight

In this podcast, the word “tight” means in a close relationship with another person, sharing personal and private information and thoughts: “It’s unusual for a man and woman to be as tight as those two are, without being more than just friends.” When describing money, “tight” means scarce and never having enough money: “Money has been tight for the family ever since Benny lost his job.” When describing time, “tight” means not having enough time available in one’s schedule to do all the things one wants or needs to do: “My schedule is pretty tight on Wednesday. Can we meet on Thursday instead?” Finally, the phrase “in a tight spot” means with problems, or in a difficult situation: “If they don’t sign the contract today, it will put us all in a tight spot.”

Culture Note
Employee Privacy Rights

There have always been many questions “surrounding” (around; about) people’s right to “privacy” (the state of having secrets or independence, without other people knowing too much about oneself), and particularly in the “workplace” (where people work). How much information should “employers” (organizations that offer jobs to people) be “entitled” (allowed and expected) to have about their employees? Such questions have become increasingly important and complex with the “rise” (increasing use) of computers in the workplace, as many employees use their “work computers” (computers provided by one’s employer for one’s job) for a mixture of personal and business use.

In general, employees have to “relinquish” (give up; agree not to have) some of their privacy in the workplace, because employers have a right to know whether their employees are working as they are supposed to. But does that mean that employers can closely “monitor” (observe; watch) what their employees do throughout the day? Should employers be allowed to listen to and “record” (make a copy of) employees’ phone conversations and read their employees’ emails?

Workplace “surveillance” (the use of video cameras to see what people are doing) sometimes leads to “disciplinary actions” (punishments) and even “termination decisions” (decisions to fire employees). Sometimes employees “challenge” (fight against; argue against) those actions and decisions in court, arguing that the way the employer gathered the information was a violation of the employees’ right to privacy. Courts are still trying to “sort out” (deal with a lot of information and organize it to find a solution or answer) the details in balancing employees’ right to privacy and employers’ right to monitor their employees.

Comprehension Answers
1 - b

2 - a