@Work Advice Contest: Live Q&A challenge

Oct 17, 2011

Our four remaining @Work Advice contestants -- Abbey Kos, Cindy Coe, Karla Miller and Michele Woodward -- helped you solve your workplace problems in our live chat challenge.

Read the transcript, then vote for your favorite contestant before 11:59 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Oct. 18.

Hi everyone -- I'm excited to be here and ready to answer your questions. (Though unfortunately I can't promise any cartoons this time.) Let's go!

I'm here! And ready to take on your toughest question.  Your thorniest issue.  Your messiest work situation.  Bring. It. On. :-)

Hi everyone! I'm excited to be here, seeing the Post Live Online chats from the inside. Those who saw my Round 3 video entry will be glad to hear that I got a whiff of my own medicine this weekend: I had a burger with raw onion for dinner, and my husband asked me to pass him the Vicks. Touché.

Hi, everyone!  Cindy here.  It's Monday morning (yuck), so by now you probably have a truckload of problems ready to go.  Let's hear 'em!

You've landed your dream job - you're doing the work that makes you tick, that you're passionate about. The job fulfills you and you're receiving rave reviews from your CEO and your board. The result? Emotional exhaustion. How does one manage the exhaustion that comes from working your dream job?

First, congratulations on finding that dream job -- it's like spotting a unicorn in the wild (both rare and exhilarating).

But let me guess: are you staying connected to this job 24-7 since it's something you're passionate about? Even though it's a dream position, it's still only one facet of your life. Think about how you've treated work when it's just a job, not a vocation, and implement some of those lessons learned.

Take breaks. Turn off the smartphone. Remember that you're a person with a whole life, not just your job -- no matter how amazing that job may be.

What's to be done about a boss who thinks it's hilarious to mark you as the odd-man-out in a company filled with other-minded voters? (Or so they imagine!) I'm pretty tired of being chuckled at as "our token lib."

Ah, you're feeling the isolation of being singled out, labeled, held up as different.  There's also a whiff of people thinking you are predictable and stick with a party line.  Not very fun or respectful.

Sometimes it helps to see things from the other person's point of view.  Perhaps what's really going in is that they enjoy a feeling of solidarity in their own political views.  Maybe they don't mean to single you out, but that's what is happening.

To ease out of the situation, try to steer conversations away from politics.  If someone begins discussing a candidate or position, try not to argue the other side or engage.  Instead, try to move things back to business, gently.  And of course, do remember not to provoke a political discussion yourself by bringing up your own views.

As tempting as it may be to bring up the latest Saturday Night Live skit, it's probably not worth it.

Oh Wow..I just found out yesterday that there is a rumor around the office that I've been having a year long affair with a married man at my company...Completely false! He's not my direct boss, but he is a senior member of our executive team. We've had nothing but a friendly working relationship, and the ONLY times I've seen him outside of the office is at other company events (happy hours, holiday parties, a couple of co-worker's bday parties). I have no idea how the rumor got started, but I found out through a colleague/friend of mine who overheard the rumor and figured out they were talking about me. He flat out asked the gossipers if it was me they were referring to, they admitted it, and (bless him) made it clear that he's a good friend of mine and its not true. But as you know...that will not necessarily stop the rumors. I have NO idea what to do, and I'm freaking out!! Help.

Truth always kills gossip.  Always.  So right now might be time for a little truth in your office.  Have you read the book Crucial Conversations by Patterson?  Great book.  And probably really useful for you right this very minute.

First, you have to understand the scope of the gossip.  What's the story going around?  What's the common theme?  Who has the biggest mouth? 

Now, depending on who is behind the rumor, you have a couple of choices about strategy.  If the bad-mouther is the office bully, then start with your own biggest allies and get them up-to-speed on the truth, and engage them to help you squash the rumor.  Ultimately, the bully will have no audience and will move on to another target.  That's the way they roll.

If the gossip-spreader is not a bully, then take him or her aside - "I've heard this rumor and it's attributed to you, and I want you to know that not only is it not true, but it's really harmful to me.  If there is something you and I need to discuss, let's do it now."

Best case, it's a misunderstanding and you've cleared it up.  Worst case, the blabber gets mad.  So what.

The worst thing you can do is keep your mouth shut.  Even if you are the most conflict-avoider in the history of mankind, keeping quiet and hoping it will all go away will only ramp up the freak out.  Truth - early and often -  makes gossip go away.

A casual friend of mine applied for a job at a nonprofit agency with which I have a professional relationship, so the hiring manager asked my opinion of her. I truthfully said she is smart, motivated and good with kids. However, I'm facing a moral dilemma over what I didn't say... The job is doing drug and tobacco prevention counseling with grade school kids. The problem? This friend used to be a pothead, and I know without a doubt she was still puffing (though maybe not as often) as of a few months ago. I haven't hung out with her in a while, so I want to assume that she's cleaned up her act now that she's job-hunting, but I don't know for sure. I want to give her the benefit of the doubt, but this puts me in an awkward position. Do I say something? Or just hope she has to take a pre-employment drug test?

I would keep fingers crossed that your friend "MJ" has to take a drug test. But in the meanwhile, you might confirm with your friend that she's ended her habits, and let her know that while you spoke highly of her as a friend, if she is in fact doing anything that could affect her performance, you will have to say something to the hiring manager.

Her past behavior could actually help her with the job because she'll know where the kids are coming from--provided she's not showing up with munchies and bloodshot eyes herself.

When you say "pothead," do you mean an everyday habit or a once-in-a-while indulgence? There's a big difference between serious stoners and people who might be, uh, a little bloodshot at a party.

If your friend is sincerely invested in this job, though, odds are she'll commit to any Just Say No mantra she'll have to espouse. Someone who's smart, motivated and good with kids isn't likely to show up to the job under the influence.

Since you haven't been asked to comment on her drug use -- either past or present -- it's probably best to let this one go. You don't want to ruin her chances if she's truly cleaned up her act, and if she hasn't, she'll get caught sooner or later.  Let her be the one who gets herself into trouble, not you.

What 's a nice way of saying to your boss that you don't want your picture taken at meetings?

I don't suppose you can get away with claiming you're in the Witness Protection Program?  Nah, too easy to google.

Seriously, it may depend on why you don't like to have your picture taken and also why he wants to take your picture.

If you're just shy or worried that you're having a bad hair day . . . it is probably not worth the confrontation.  Everyone takes bad pictures.  Heck, pictures with my eyes closed is part of my charm!  You could try not to view the pictures so you don't get that hot flush of embarrassment we all get when we look at a group photo. Instead of worrying about the embarrassment, remember instead that when someone wants you in a photo, it is because they value your presence.  That is a whole lot better than being ignored, right?


The other thing to keep in mind is that he might be taking the pics for a legitimate business reason.  You could ask him why he is taking the pics.  If it is for business, you could leave it there.  If it is for personal use, you could ask that he not post them on facebook or tag them without running it by you. 

The next time he pulls out the camera, you can gently ask if you can take the pic so he can be in it.  If that doesn't work, cheerfully ask how come he is taking pics.  So long as you're friendly and cheerful, he probably won't be offended or annoyed by the question.

I think my supervisor may be jealous of me. Recently she has taken to calling me the "junior team member" and says, "you don't know what you are talking about" when I make a suggestion on how to improve the work environment. She has a lot of experience in one area which I would like to learn from her. My work experiences have been more diverse so I feel I bring a different perspective and can comment based on my experiences. I am younger than her. How can I deal with someone who may be trying to cut me down due to their insecurities? How do I know if I have read the situation correctly?

The Golden Rule Of Surviving Office Life is this:  Always make your boss look good. 

So that means, having great ideas in meeting which - intentionally or not - make your boss look out-of-the-loop, or like a dope... you gotta knock that off. 

It's one thing if the meeting is just between the two of you.  That's the perfect place for you to give her the benefit of your expertise and experience.  But in a large room with a lot of senior people where you pipe up with a "relevant comment" when your boss is not saying a word? 

You gotta knock that off.

Follow her lead.  Learn from her.  Help her do her job better.  Let her light shine.  Because when it does, she will be so grateful to you that she will take you to her next job, or provide a wonderful reference when you're ready to leave.

I have a co-worker who is always negative about our boss. She often complains about him to me. Admittedly, I used to engage in these discussions with her because I had my own issues with the boss but I have worked on them with him and am now in a comfortable working relationship and while I still see major shortcomings, I can generally deal with them and I have come to realize he respects me and appreciates my work even if he isn't good at expressing that. My co-worker, on the other hand, has a fairly poor relationship with the boss and I would say both are to blame for that. I am a positive person generally and get tired of the negativity. Do I address it with her directly or do I just let her vent and not say much (which is what I generally do)?

Sounds like it's time to play a few rounds of Devil's Advocate!

Friend: "I can't believe Boss told everyone how I screwed up that account."
You: "Well, he didn't actually mention your name. I don't think he intended to embarrass you--he just wanted to get input on how to resolve it."

Friend: "Boss totally hates me."

You: "Yeah, I know, he's kind of brusque. I used to feel that way too, but then I realized he's just not very good at giving praise when it's due. Actually, I heard him say yesterday that you're a real go-getter."

Keep empathizing, without bashing. Eventually, she'll either come around, or she'll quit coming to you to complain and find another Debbie Downer to hang out with.

My supervisor routinely talks AT me. All the time, about work, her personal life - for 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes at a time she can go on and on without eliciting a response from me (not even a nod). She frequently cuts me off if I even attempt to say anything. Co-workers have joked that she could be talking to a wall and it wouldn't matter. This happens every day, and it happens to other co-workers (I have discussed this with them). Today, she was talking at me on the phone for about 20 minutes, and at one point I indicated my frustration with a sigh. She asked "why are you being like that, what's wrong" and I finally stated " I'm sorry, but you are talking at me right now". She then hung up on me. FWIW, she's fifteen years older than me. What can I do? Ugh.

There is a certain personality type that talks to think.  In Myers-Briggs Type Indicator language, these folks are Intuitive Thinkers, and they can go on, and on, and on.  And on.

The key for you is to realize that your supervisor is probably using the time with you to process her thoughts, and while that's her preference, it doesn't seem to jibe with her.

If your organization has an HR department, think about going to them and asking for a communication seminar, or a Myers-Briggs workshop, where your whole team could learn more about each other and pick up some communication skills and rules.

When you have those rules in place, it's so much easier to say, "Carol, you have been talking for 5 minutes.  Under the rules, you have to take a breath and listen to me for 5 minutes." 

And, honey, the sigh thing.  I know it's frustrating, but passive agressive is just as unpleasant as runny gums.  Make a pledge to yourself right here, right now.  You work on addressing your problems directly and immediately, and keep your sighing for the next George Clooney flick.

Dear "MACK," First off, congrats to all of you! I'm happy you've all made it to the finals. Now to my problem. I work with a woman with whom I have also been close friends outside of the office for about 15 years. Recently, she sent an e-mail to the management team - which we are both on - disagreeing with an action I took. That was not a big deal, but the e-mail had a strong odor of "who do you think you are" in it. It took my breath away, and I haven't been able to think of her as a friend since then. She apologized in a very casual and brief way the next day, and our work relationship will function as before, but it's been 10 days now and I still haven't had any contact with her as friends outside of work, nor do I wish to. Am I wrong to let the work brouhaha affect our non-work friendship?

Wrong?  I don't think so.  What you are is pretty daggone human.  The real question for you is this - is she a "friend-friend" or a "situational friend"? Situational friends spark due to some shared interest or activity, but take away that mutual thing and there's nuthin'.  So what is the relationship like for you? If you could architect it, what would you create?  If you do want an ongoing friendship, then how about going back to her to ask some clarifying questions?  Tell her that you read a message hidden within the message and wonder if there is something the two of you need to discuss.  And then listen.  Carefully.  What she says will tell you whether she's a friend-friend, or a situational friend.  And you will be much better off for that knowledge.

First, I would go back and do a cold read of that email. Often, your personal state of mind can affect how you perceive the sender's message, projecting your tension and stress where there wasn't any. Her words may seem more neutral to you with a little time and distance.

Then again, she did apologize, which implies she might have intended to lay down some of what you picked up.

As Michele says, it's completely human for you to let something like this color your personal relationship. But a fifteen-year friendship is not necessarily something to throw away over one incident--unless she has a history of this kind of undermining, slap-now-kiss-later behavior. Think a bit about your history with her, whether you get anything out of your personal friendship with her, and whether that's worth preserving. If it is, a coffee talk may be in order. If not, just keep it businesslike and professional in the office from now on, and see where that takes you.

Not that you asked, but in future, when someone publicly disagrees with you on something and copies a bunch of people, it doesn't hurt to take a few hours or so to think about a response, then send it out calmly defending your action--without getting personal. That lets you take control of the situation, instead of feeling like you've been smacked down with no chance to respond.

Thanks for the congratulations -- and thank you for writing in. :)

Are you sure you want to end a fifteen-year friendship over a single e-mail? That's a pretty big move for a situation that might not be as bad as it seems. Her crappy message may have been motivated by anything -- a grumpy morning, a failed attempt at humor, a bad interaction with someone else.

Especially since you've been friends for so long, there's no good way to end the personal relationship without seriously affecting the professional one. Take a deep breath (once you get yours back) and sit down with this woman. Tell her how her message and half-hearted apology made you feel. But then offer your own apology -- for stewing 10 days without bringing it to her attention.

I think this is one of those times when you have to force yourself to do the gracious and appropriate thing, even when you don't feel warm and fuzzy emotions at the moment. 

Your friend probably didn't handle this right.  In fact, I'll bet if she had the chance to do this over, she would handle it in a more sensitive manner.  I would also guess she is feeling a little awkward or embarrassed or even guilty about what she did.  After all, she hasn't made an effort to reach out to your to suggest an outing, right?  She is probably avoiding you just a bit.

I would suggest you drop by and ask her out for lunch (or coffee, or whatever seems natural).  When you get there, force yourself to be your usual friendly self.  When the moment is right and the tension has eased a bit, you might raise how you are feeling a bit put out and embarrassed about the email.  Be prepared to say exactly how you think it should have been handled ("Next time, give me a call and let's discuss before you raise it with others.  That way I can walk back my idea on my own if that's appropriate"). 

The goal of the little meeting should be for her to know that you want to get past this so you can continue to be friends.  Be alert to acknowledge her concerns, and be prepared for a bit of defensiveness -- she likely has her reasons for reacting as she did and will probably share them. If there is confusion about areas of responsibility, this would be a good opportunity to get that sorted out.

I know you probably don't feel like reaching out in this way, as your ears are still ringing from that email.  It's not easy to be the bigger person sometimes.  If you make the effort, however, I think the warm and fuzzy feelings will come.

I work in an office (non profit) that tends to throw a "celebration" for everyone's life altering event. Once a month we celebrate the monthly birthdays, recently we did a shower for a co-worker who is having a baby. Each time the powers that would be, send around a minion with a checkoff list of who has contributed to get money to buy a cake for the birthdays, but often goodies for other events. We're also encouraged to support the purchase of little Bobby's band pizza sales and little Jane's Girl Scout Cookies. It's the "we're a family" office mantra. I finally hit the wall. I'm a single, thirty-something guy, who happens to be of the homosexual variety, and we just got the notice that a co-worker is engaged and we're having a bridal shower at work. I can't take it, even if we don't contribute financially, we're still expected to attend the gathering. The baby shower was bad enough, sitting around listening to shared experiences of motherhood and childbirth, but now I'm at the personally affronted stage. I asked our HR person if she felt these types of gatherings at work single out people who aren't in relationships and went further and asked if I will get the same treatment, if and when my state recognizes my hypothetical gay union. She didn't think that everyone would feel comfortable recognizing a same sex union. Am I wrong here, I'm not exactly comfortable talking about childbirth or celebrating a wedding when I can't have one. I'm not a curmudgeon, but I'm a little tired of being forced to celebrate others when I'm not getting the indication that a celebration for me would be reciprocated. Do I bite the bullet and play nice, or am I justified in being a little miffed?

From one gay professional to another -- I totally feel your pain. It sucks when it seems like the whole office is reveling in an easy, heterofabulous lifestyle and you have to fight tooth-and-nail for the same things.

Your two options -- bite the bullet or be justifiably miffed -- aren't mutually exclusive, though. Even the straighest among us still roll their eyes a bit when the fifth baby shower rolls around. Attend the parties, eat the free cake, judge privately, but don't make the events your personal social justice campaign. It's just not worth it.

The battle that IS worth fighting is your office not feeling "comfortable" recognizing a same-sex union. It's 2011, LGBT folks are everywhere, and the least your colleagues can do is throw you a bash if (and when) you tie the knot. Tell your HR person that "comfort" isn't the issue; equality is. If your work's good enough for them, so should your joys be -- just as everyone else's.

I have a co-worker who complains about any unnecessary noise. The thing is, he can't drink anything without making slurping noises. You can hear it across the office. I really want to tell him he makes more noise than the rest of us put together, but I don't really want to start WW III.

Maybe just call playfully across the room, "Hey, how's the cocoa? Sounds delicious!" If he's in the habit of calling out everyone else, he can't really complain when  the spotlight is (or radar dish) is turned on him.

My new company is having a holiday party (it's in November, which is why it's already on my mind). My boyfriend sometimes has a difficult time knowing when to stop drinking, particularly when he's nervous. He also enjoys dancing, badly. I started with this company in August. It has been expressed that we are all expected to attend this company function, but I worry about whether to invite my boyfriend because I keep picturing all of the times that he's ended up noticeably drunk and embarrassed me. So, do I tell him about the event? Do I invite him? Or should I see if a girlfriend can go? Mortified

I don't suppose you can arrange to have all the lampshades removed from the venue beforehand?

This is tricky because it involves the overlap between romance and work.  "Tricky" perhaps isn't the best word.  Maybe "sucking bed of quicksand" would be closer.

I think it depends on just how close you are with this boyfriend. 

If he is your One And Only True Love, then you have to grapple with this head-on -- especially since you will likely face a lifetime of embarrassment if you two are permanent.  (We can have that discussion later, over Mojitos). In that case, you will need to sit down with him and discuss a plan.  Be honest about your concerns and see if you can get a "No Liquor" pledge.  If not, have him arrive a bit late and leave a bit early.  If it's a carefully choreographed cameo appearance, he will be less likely to be noticed.

If he is the flavor of the week, then I think you can safely have him skip the party entirely.  Attend solo, or with a girlfriend if you prefer.

Look on the bright side.  Perhaps this discussion will be just what he needs to see that you are serious about these issues and that he needs to change if he wants to be with you.

If, as Cindy says, you are serious about this guy and in the kind of relationship where you would each expect to be invited to each other's work events, then you are serious enough to tell him your concerns about his behavior. Maybe he can agree to alternate his cuba libres with plain Dr. Peppers to keep himself in check.

If you do attend with him, keep an eye on him, and be ready to grab coats and say your goodnights when he's telling Phil from accounting how he's the oooonly one who understands him.

Then, as you're driving or cabbing it home, think long and hard about whether you're prepared to do this kind of nanny duty at company parties for the rest of your life.

For the XXXth day in a row, I've been called antisocial by co-workers for not joining them on their daily lunch run. I'm trying to save money and eat healthier by bringing my lunch, and the hour away for lunch is an hour I'd rather spend at home or with my friends. I defend myself every day and it's getting old. Why does being a team player mean I have to eat BBQ with a bunch of guys who I don't care to socialize with?

Hold on . . . you'd rather spend lunch at home or with your nonwork friends, and you "don't care to socialize with" these guys? It's starting to sound like the antisocial shoe fits, no?

If you don't care about what they say, keep on keeping on. But would it hurt to spend one to four hours a month with them? Just say "hey, I brought a really good lunch today and am looking forward to eating it, but if you're going to a carryout place, maybe I can bring it along."

I would also take it as a compliment that they *want* you to join them. It beats sitting at your desk seeing everyone going off happily together and ignoring you.

Just tell them exactly what you told us: "I'm trying to save money and eat healthier by bringing my lunch." It's true, it's concise, and it's also a lot nicer than your other reasons for not joining them (you don't actually like them much).

Would it really be the end of the world to join them once every couple of weeks, though? Even if they're not your kind of people, they are your colleagues and it's clear they'd like to spend time with you. Bite the bullet (and the BBQ) every once in a while and they'll likely leave you in peace.

Do you have any advice for handling a co-worker/subordinate in the workplace who refuses to speak? Many in the office believe she is helplessly shy, but in the four years that I've worked closely with her (sharing an office exclusively), I've come to see her reticence as manipulative. Her refusal (or inability?) to volunteer any information, or contribute to even a pleasant social conversation, stifles brainstorming sessions as well as collegial interactions at work. I'm not a chatterbox myself, but I do appreciate greetings, small-talk, and ideas now and then, especially from a worker who is very talented and competent otherwise. How would you broach this issue with the employee, as a colleague and a manager?

Lemme ask you this: what's not getting done because she's so shy?  Is her work effort slacking?  Is your ability to collaborate with her compromised?  Or would you just prefer she was more... like you?  Sounds like - for whatever reason - she's set some pretty firm and clear boundaries around what she will do and say at work.  And if her work product isn't affected, then there's nothing there for you to complain about.  Really.  One of the most liberating things you can do in the workplace is accept and even celebrate the differences between people. 

Hey, wait a minute!  Maybe there's something for you to learn about this quiet, reserved co-worker.  Maybe what vexes you is that she's capable of setting boundaries.  Wonder how good you are in that area.  My friend, the writer Martha Beck suggests a great exercise.  She calls it Perseverate On Your Enemies.  Sounds fun, huh? Take a piece of paper and write down everything - everything! - your co-worker does to totally tick you off.  Hold nothing back.  Hedge no bets. Lay it all out.  Got it down?  OK.  Now the really fun part: go back through the entire list and note where your co-worker is doing things you'd never allow yourself to do. 

Ha!  Got ya.  Our strongest reactions usually come from seeing someone do something we wish we had the nerve to do.  Isolate those things for you, and then work to bring them into your life.  Bet your relationship with your co-worker turns a 180.

Occam's razor: what seems most likely? (A), your devious coworker rules the office with a silent fist; or (B), you're dealing with someone who clams up more than the average colleague?

Give her the benefit of the doubt, and try to engage her one-on-one. Will she go to coffee? Chat over lunch in your private double office? As the person nearest to her at work, you have a great opportunity to draw her out of her silent shell.

If she truly is being manipulative, though, perhaps she's a painful introvert in an office full of more gregarious personalities. Make sure she has adequate time and space to be as quiet as her nature demands, and she may just surprise you with a few well-timed bits of conversation.

One of my co-workers recently developed a crush on me, which I don't reciprocate. Normally this would be simple (if a little awkward) to resolve, but there's a problem: shortly after I learned of the crush (and before I'd told them I didn't feel the same), this co-worker was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease. Now this person is fighting for their life and sending me occasional "I miss you" messages. Telling them now feels like kicking someone when they most need support, but I don't want to mis-lead them, either. Help?

Well, how do you feel about this co-worker? Do you like the person as a person?  As a friend?  Are they pleasant?  Are they fun?  Could you look to how you do feel ("he's a good guy"), rather than how you don't ("no warm fuzzies"), and relate to your co-worker on those terms?  Even say, for instance, "Dude, I'm glad to be your friend and happy to bring you this Kindle to read while you're having treatment."  In this situation, remember:  Be the person you can be proud of being, regardless of whether your co-worker lives or dies.  Ultimately, that's how you're going to feel good about yourself.

You have on your hands an unwanted romantic entanglement coupled with the need to be compassionate.  A delicate balancing act, to be sure, but not an impossible one.

You co-worker is saying she misses you, but she hasn't crossed any boundaries into "Fatal Attraction" territory -- yet.  For now, you don't have to cut off contact completely.  You just have to make your communications businesslike and discourage the crush as much as possible.

For that reason, I think it would be appropriate to give measured responses to the co-worker's messages.  To "I miss you," you could reply with "I've been worried about your condition.  How is everything going?  My thoughts and prayers are with you, and I hope you can overcome this challenge quickly."  That sort of response would be a bucket of cold water on any lingering romantic feelings while also being true (hopefully!) and polite.

Should the messages veer toward romantic, you can rebuff these with a reminder that you're not friends in that way.  Then follow that up with more discussion of her condition, which is undoubtedly on her mind.

The one limitation I would suggest would be to avoid personal contact.  You might get in over your head if you offer to visit her at home or drive her places.  Try to keep your involvement at a safe distance (order takeout delivery to her home at your expense) until she is feeling better.  Then you can discourage the crush a bit more directly.

I have a co-worker who dislikes me intensely. After six years of trying to see his side of the story, admitting fault when warranted and making friendly overtures, I've concluded the relationship is beyond repair.  We have the same job description but I am ten years younger and better at our work, which management realizes and therefore gives me opportunities not extended to him. Other than this one guy, I have good relationships with everyone else at the company, so I do not think this is me. I'm wondering what advice you have for dealing with a co-worker like this. I recently learned from a secretary that he had a meeting with our boss in which he explained that he feels his career has suffered because he quietly does his work and is not a "horn tooter" like others--meaning me! I can accept that there are some people you just can't win over, but what do you do when you fear someone is actively trying to sabotage your career? I think management will see through this, but I'm worried.

I'm sorry things have gone this badly with your co-worker.  It sounds like the relationship really is a sour one and I'll take your word for it that repair is out of the question.

In that case, I would say the best defense is to continue to bang out great work.  Be civil to this co-worker and take care never to say a word against him.  If he really is struggling and being overshadowed, it isn't surprising that he would target the person who he feels is stealing his thunder.  That is small comfort to you, but it's probably your reality for right now.

I do want to slow your roll on one thing, however.  Unless this secretary you mention was actually in on the meeting, her statements might not be accurate.  In fact, they may be wildly inaccurate.  That the secretary is so eager to come to you with what she supposedly knows is a sign that she may be someone who is simply stirring the pot.

I would suggest you try to put what the secretary told you out of your mind.  You don't know that anyone is out to get you at all, let alone what actions that phantom enemy might be taking.  Rather than look over your shoulder, you probably would do better to just continue being a solid citizen as you have in the past.

How does an experienced, educated (master's degree) woman who is a veteran find a job that is challenging and enjoyable? - @

I just spoke to a group of 150 women military officers on this very topic!  It was inspiring to see so many talented women ready to take the next step into civilian life. Plus, they looked great in their uniforms!  Two things to consider: 1) what are your best strengths, and 2) how can you use these strengths to solve the problems of your future employers?  Let's say you're a logistics specialist, and can manage truckloads of stuff moving from place to place.  Guess who really needs that skill set?  Amazon.com.  Their HR team told me that they have a corporate commitment to hire 25% veterans throughout the company and desperately need experienced military types - especially in logistics.  Employers today are hiring because something's not working, something's not getting done. They are hiring because they're in pain.  Identify the pain you can easily solve, and then identify companies with that pain.  I suggest trying  The Connector Strategy.  Use it and you'll have a new job in a moment.

Well, it depends on what you're interested in! You're educated and dedicated, which is an asset in every field I can think of. Figure out what you'd like to focus on (is it somehow military-connected, or separate entirely?) and then start sending those applications out.

The tricky part of moving from the military AND academia to a business-based job, though, is making your résumé shine. Make sure you clearly state how your skills fit into a business landscape. (For example: if you wrote a 60-page thesis, emphasize your experience with long-term project management and comprehensive research.) Good luck, and hooah!

I work in a large company. A man here, a director of sorts, is terrified every time he sees me. He hardly knows me. I started working here a few months ago, when we were introduced, he acted oddly. Now whenever I see him, I say hello, but he averts his head as if I am invisible. When he is near (not too often), and has to address me, he looks at the ceiling or rolls his eyes. The few times I had to email him, he never replied. I can't just go ask him what the problem is, because when he sees me coming, he runs in the opposite direction, literally. At a meeting about two months ago, where he and I sat opposite each other, he acted so miserable , staring at me when he thought I wasn't looking. I'm just an average-looking woman, very friendly. I wonder if he might be gay, but nothing explains his strange behavior. All the people who work here think he is so very nice. I don't understand; he acts like he can't stand me. When I have discussed this with a few people, they tell me it can't be true, he is a wonderful person. Is there a clue I'm missing?

Having a massive crush on you would explain his strange behavior. That, or you have a football-sized goiter you've neglected to mention.

His not responding to emails is unprofessional, though, and it's hurting your productivity. I recommend copying your boss or other coworkers (as long as they're relevant) on your work communications with him. That way, they can see if he's being unresponsive, and they can chime in and help you if you're trying to get a real answer out of him.

By the same token, try to engage him in conversation when you have another coworker near you, so you have a witness to the odd behavior.  Maybe if he's in a crowd, he won't feel such pressure at dealing with you alone.

Good luck--and give yourself a little more credit, huh?

I find myself inserting personal stories and details into conversations at work lately. I started in this job a few months ago and really like my team, we often chat over lunch or during the day. I've never been a terribly guarded person, but lately after a conversation, I find myself thinking "Why did I just say something that personal/detailed/embarrassing?" My co-workers share, but not the extent that I do. Maybe it's because the people on my team are quieter and less outgoing that I am used to, but super friendly - they often start the conversation topics. How do I stop doing this? Or at least stop feeling so awkward afterwards?

I have a hunch, and you'll have to tell me where I'm wrong.  Here goes:  You desperately want to be liked.  Maybe you're a people pleaser and can't completely read this group yet, so you keep talking, talking, talking until you get some cue or reaction.  But the group is likewise learning about you. And, boy, what they're learning!  I imagine sitting across the table and wondering, "How far is this kid gonna go?"  Kinda like watching reality TV.  But you feel awkward afterward, right?  Sorta like the post-break up gallon of Haagen-Dazs - all sticky, ill and stupid.  So, here's an idea:  stop talking.  Planning on being a better listener so you can learn more about your co-workers, and what makes them tick.  And realize that time is your friend.  Do good work, be of service to others, be fun, and you will earn the thing you worry about.  You will earn their love and affection.

I have been at my company for three years. In the last year, there has been a great deal of upheaval in my department due to resignations, and reorganization. Many of us have taken on new responsibilities and have had to do our work with minimal supervision while management has been in a state of flux. I have a coworker who started about seven or eight months ago. We are on friendly terms, we get along personally, but our work doesn't overlap much and we have different supervisors. One of her responsibilities is to update a database that tracks our projects (only a few people have access, and I am not one of them). Recently, I asked her if she could look up a project from three months ago. She shrugged her shoulders and said she hadn't entered the information. Since then, I've picked up on a few other hints that lead me to conclude there's a very good chance she hasn't updated it, ever. Her predecessor trained her to do it, and I think everyone assumes it's being done. Her previous supervisor quit a month after she arrived, and it is very possible no one has checked up on this task. If the database isn't kept up to date, there will be serious problems at the end of the year. It doesn't affect my work directly, but it is an important tool used by my department. Should I tell my boss what I suspect? Should I talk to her first? Her boss? Keep my mouth shut? How should I approach it?

I'm not usually a fan of the "tattle to the supervisor" tack, but this sounds like a case where it might be good to email a question to her asking for specific information, and copy her supervisor as well as the other folks who have access to the database. That gives her an opportunity to say "let me get back to you with that information," and then she can scramble to start doing her job in private. If she ignores your email, and increasingly urgent followup emails, you have a digital trail to follow--with witnesses--when the Jenga pile comes crashing down. With luck, it won't get to that point.

I just found out that my boss's teenage child was diagnosed with cancer. After the initial wave of shock and sadness, it occurred to me that I'm up for promotion soon, and my chances are heavily dependent upon my boss being there to advocate for me (just the way it works at our company). I'm appalled at myself for even starting to worry about the selfish implications of terrible news like this. Any suggestions for addressing the torrents of guilt I'm now feeling?

As a good therapist will tell you, "there's no such thing as a bad feeling." It's completely human to focus on how a situation will affect you, regardless of the issue at hand.

Go ahead and forgive yourself. Actions are what matter, not thoughts, and just because you've had a selfish one doesn't mean you're a bad person.

If you'd seriously like to atone, though, why not organize some sort of inter-office event to help your boss's family? A casserole collection, a card signed by all, or (if appropriate) a donation drive to help with expenses can alleviate your angst while lending a hand to the family in their time of need.

To get ahead, help your boss in this difficult time.  Ask her, "What can I take off your plate?"  and "Let me handle that" will go a long way toward building a strong and solid relationship - so when your promotion is up, your boss can say, "I could never have made it through the last months without you.  I am going to bat for you with the promotion just like you went to bat for me."  Good karma, baby.

I had a similar thing happen.  My boss' son was killed in a car accident, right around the time of evaluations.

What I did was be my normal self, on a personal level.  I treated him the same way I would anyone who was dealing with horrendous grief.  You know what those things are -- be kind and sensitive, acknowledge his pain, don't pry.

On a professional level, I did every single thing I could think of to take responsibilities off of his plate.  I just up and did things exactly the way I knew he wanted them done.  I made it a priority to get the work done well and put in the extra time to make that happen.  As he began to emerge from his grief, he never said thank you or acknowledged what I had done.  I didn't need that -- it was understood. 

So.  My advice would be to step up your work performance, with a goal toward easing his burden as much as possible.  Do this not because you hope you will get ahead.  Do it because it is the right and humane thing to do.

Nothing to add to my co-advisors' excellent advice, except: Treat your boss as you would treat any coworker with the same problem. Give support or space as indicated, lighten the load, express sympathy or be businesslike as it seems appropriate. And don't feel guilty for worrying privately about your own interests. If you have an opportunity to speak up for yourself at promotion time, mention that your boss probably has some thoughts but is going through a rough patch right now--surely they will all understand and can circle back when your boss is feeling more ready to focus on business.

A few weeks ago I was told by upper management that I'd soon be sharing my office with a new employee. I accepted this in stride because, until this point, I've been lucky enough to have a solo office...which is uncomon in my building. I like my new office mate pretty well, in fact we have a lot of things in common. The problem is...she's loud. By nature of her job, she's on the phone almost constantly during the day and is VERY loud on the phone. When she's not on the phone she's the type of person that talks to herself...so esentially she's ALWAYS TALKING. I, on the other hand, have a reading intensive job that requires a lot of concentration. I could approach my boss and say it isn't working out, but I'm afraid of offending anyone, and really the alternative is that I would move into a cubicle. Would it make more sense to approach her about the volume of her voice, or is that an unacceptable sort of thing in the work place?

It's always appropriate to speak up for yourself and what you need.  And you need more quiet - or at least less loud, don't you?  The best time to raise the issue is immediately after she's hung up from a particularly loud convo.  That's when you say, "Helen, I'm sure you have no idea how loud your conversations get, but it's really distracting for me.  I wonder if you could just take it down a notch?"  And smile.  It doesn't have to be a confrontation if you don't make it so.  Choose to make it more like a sharing with her of how you work best.   And if that doesn't work, invest in a good set of noise-cancelling headphones and listen to music while you work.  That's the way I managed through several jobs, believe me.

One of my colleagues thinks it's hilarious to hang fake bull testicles from the trailer hitches of large vehicles in the employee parking lot. (Mind you, I work for a publicly traded, Fortune 500 company headquartered just outside Chicago.) At times, the offending articles also make their way into our offices, for "laughs." I find all of this extremely offensive and juvenille. We have a collegial office, but I feel this goes too far. Am I being overly prudish?

Wow, that kind of behavior takes a lot of . . . chutzpah.

I was hoping you'd say you work at a rodeo. No such luck.

What does your boss think of this barnyard behavior? Are you comfortable enough with him or her to discuss your beef in private? Make it clear that you don't mind a little clowning around and don't want to buck the general attitude, but you're tired of getting roped into these puerile gags. They're distracting and damaging your productivity--and others'.

If the boss is part of the pudenda posse, well . . . you might want to steer this conversation down the hall to HR.


It's definitely juvenile, but maybe not a battle that's worth fighting. For better or worse, the -- ahem -- rubber balls are part of your office culture.

Why not fight jokes with jokes? Make a sign: "THIS IS A TRUCKSTICLE-FREE ZONE." Tape it to the outside of your office and make it clear that no bull puckey is permitted beyond your door.

Hi, MACK. I'm the OP for this question. Thank you ALL so much for taking the time to give me your ideas. Karla, the "cold read" of the e-mail is a great idea. I have it memorized, so I just had to reread it in my head! And yes, I did wait and then send out an extremely measured response to all. Michele, your suggestion for looking at the type of friendship we have - friend-friend or situational-friend - was helpful. Abbey, good point about her having a bad day. In fact, she was wicked put out about something someone else did, and she took it out on me, but from my perspective, that just makes it worse (more unprofessional). Cindy, you are a better person than I; I feel that by not making an issue of this at work, I took the professional high road, but that's as far as I can travel on this . Thanks again to all!

Hey OP! Sounds like you've done all you can. I still suggest printing the email and reading it aloud to yourself, in as neutral a tone as possible. Sometimes the things we experience take on the "flavor" of our emotions at the time. But again, sounds like you've done all you can to resolve this issue for now.

Thanks for following up, OP. You did take the professional high road, and that's what truly counts. (But maybe someday, inroads back to your friendship...or at least a towpath...might show up, too.)

You always win when you do something you can be proud of.  Always.

"Cindy, you are a better person than I."

Can I frame that and hang it over my desk?

Seriously, I've had great results by just taking people out for coffee.  You'd be surprised how many things a mocha capuccino can fix.

Thanks for the great question, Mack!!

One of my co-workers loves to chat it up while we're in the ladies room. If I'm washing my hands, that's one thing, but once I've entered the stall, I'd like a little privacy. I can't exactly ignore her questions while I'm in there, but the thought of saying, "I'd be happy to talk to you once I've finished up" just seems awkward. What should I do?

Dozens of responses have popped into my head, but here's the only one suitable for sharing:


(emerge from stall when ready) "I'm sorry, you were saying...?"

"Susan, I can't concentrate in the ladies room.  Can you wait a minute until we can get out in the hall and I can give you my full attention?"  And then plan to potty solo as often as possible.  :-)

You're on the right track, but why not add a little humor? "Hey, can you give me a sec? I'm pretty good at multitasking, but not necessarily in here!" Your meaning will be clear, even if it's jokey.

(And, ughhhh, don't break your statement down into bullet points -- nothing worse than a potty conversation that starts with "number one" and "number two!")

Ho boy.  So many jokes flying through my head all at once!

This is one of those times when your hearing should most definitely fail.

When you hear the first question, just say, "Pardon?"

When she repeats it, say, "Pardon?"

If by now she hasn't figured out that your hearing fails when you are, um, occupied, then you can say, "Let me drop by your office in a minute."

And no, I wouldn't want to be a fly on the wall the next time this happens!!

I work in a department of 8 people. Most days, they go to lunch together. They're nice people, but I spend all day with them, and I prefer to spend my lunch break meeting friends who work nearby, running errands, or just getting some alone time. Plus, I don't really like large group lunches or the places at which they often choose to eat. How can I be the one person who consistently turns down their invitations without seeming like the office misanthrope?

Collective workplaces can be challenging, and bucking the collective can really influence your work experience. Here's how you do it: You can say what you need to say, out loud.  "Hey, I love having lunch with you guys, but I can only do it one day a week/every other week/whatever because I use that time to run errands and take care of my mom. I know you understand."  Then, the collective wisdom becomes, "Oh, Cheryl is doing Meals on Wheels today, and can't join us for lunch" rather than "Cheryl hates us.  She never comes to lunch!"  You can influence the thinking of the group.  Influence it for good.

I think the answer is to avoid being the person who "consistently" turns down invitations.  You will need to accept some too.  Pay attention to how often you accept versus decline, and make sure you're accepting as much as you can tolerate.  If you track it, you will know for certain that you aren't drifting too far in one direction or another.

And remember, you will get bonus points anytime *you* suggest getting together and make the arrangements.  This will also fit your schedule a little better, so it won't cost you time you would rather spend in a different way.

I get depressed - diagnosed, organic, post-years of (very useful) therapy and probably on anti-depressants for life. I have a roster of tricks I use to stay on an even keel: I eat pretty well, work out a lot, give myself time and space to recharge when I need it, etc. If it's in you, though, sometimes it pulls you under. I have accepted that this is a part of my biochemistry, and I remind myself to just ride it out, that if I keep doing the right things it will pass. My husband is incredibly supportive and patient, but it's really hard to deal with at work. It's obvious to everyone something is going on, and I don't want to air my health issues if I don't have to. I usually just say I'm not sleeping well, or at all, and try to keep my distance from everyone for a few days, but the subterfuge is exhausting, and it's hard to muster the energy to pretend things are fine when they aren't. Any ideas on how to handle well-meaning colleagues who really don't need to know all of the gory details?

Coping with depression is difficult enough, and as you say, it is doubly difficult when you feel like you cannot simply say what is wrong and what you are doing about it.

In a way, you can view it as supportive when colleagues inquire about how you are feeling.  As you say, they are well-meaning.  They care about you and they can see that some days are different for you.  It is only natural to ask.

Still, I think you have been doing the right thing by not putting your diagnosis and treatment out there for all to see.  Doing so would lead to a lot more questions (and unsolicited advice), which would sap your energy and patience even more.  There is also the chance that those co-workers who are less versed in mental health issues would start to treat you like a ticking time bomb.

I think the best thing is to find variations on the approach you are already using.  You've been saying you're not sleeping well.  That's good.  You might also say things like you're feeling a little blue.  You're under the weather.  It's one of those days.  That way you are acknowedging what they have seen, but you are not inviting further discussion.

It's not fair that you have to carry the burden of depression and also shoulder the weight of brushing aside well-meaning questions at a time when you'd least like to answer questions.  Hopefully, once people hear the same litany of explanations, they will perhaps accept that you are the way you are and will stop asking.

What do you do when a co-worker doesn't get that you don't want to be friends? He's a nice guy and at first I was happy to grab lunch occasionally, but it turned out we just don't have that much to talk about. I turned down the next few lunch invites hoping he would take a hint, but instead he ratcheted up the invites--lunch, after work drinks, etc. I kept declining and suddenly rather than asking it was declaring; "I'll do lunch with you today." I began feeling like I had to sneak around, running out the door when I saw him heading to the bathroom. Eventually, I began using my lunch break as gym time and he seemed to back off for a while. Well, now he is constantly trying to figure out when I'm headed to the gym "and I'll join you." I don't like working out with anyone anyway, but his trying to force himself into my breaks is really weirding me out and I don't know how to stop it. If I had any indication that this is a result of a crush it would make a little more sense but I don't think that is the case -- I don't get his motivation. Coming right out and saying "I don't want to be your friend" just seems rude. Is his behavior extremely odd to just me? Please help! Thanks!

I'm all about boundaries, baby.  So what's a boundary you could set with this guy?  One you can say out loud?  For instance, "Dude, for me, lunch is my down time and I'm just going to go solo."  Or, "Man, I need some time to myself."  Whatever you say, it has to be said with a firm, declarative tone.  Ending your sentence with a figurative question mark (which seems to be a common trait among speakers today) will completely undermine your intention.  So say it strong, say it firm, say it kindly.  And move on. 

I will begin working for the federal government next Monday after 6 months of unemployment. Do you have any tips for getting off to a good start?

There is a fantastic book called The First 90 Days in Government, written by Harvard's Michael Watkins.  It's a step-by-step primer on what you can do to insure success in the first 90 days - when you have the most lattitude and opportunities.  Get the book, and follow it religiously.  It's that good.

Congratulations on your new job!

My suggestion is to relax.  Yes, you've had a period of unemployment, and that is unnerving. You probably feel a little rusty after six months.

Remember, however, that you were hired because they like you, they really like you.  They want you there.  They are willing to give you money so you will be there.  They could have picked someone else, but they picked you.  You have nothing to worry about.

Be yourself.  Remember names.  Smile.  And count your blessings!!

I have a co-worker who dresses in a very scandalous manner every day. Her attire makes me uncomfortable and detracts from the work environment. How can I ask her to change her dress without making both her and me uncomfortable?

Unless you're her parent, you really can't.

This is where an office-wide memo from the boss or HR about workplace-appropriate attire comes in handy. If the company handbook doesn't have specifics, maybe you could talk to HR about adding a chapter prohibiting tube tops and Daisy Dukes.

What to do when the office bully is the boss and has the tacit support of his/her boss?

Make like a swan. By which I mean: Smooth on the surface, paddling like crazy underneath.

Specifically, keep your head above water and let the bullying slide off your back as much as possible. In the meantime, start making some ripples in other departments. Get to know supervisors of other groups who know and like your work and would be willing to either bring you on board or give you a nudge to a friendlier shore.

Hi, I work for a very small company (15 employees) in an even smaller office (6 of us are here regularly). I started a couple of months ago and feel like I haven't been taught anything. My boss, the company president, has been giving me tasks to keep me busy while we wait for new clients (for which I will be responsible for handling), but every time I try to ask him a question about our product to try to learn more, or how a possible new client deal is going, he goes off on a tangent for 30 minutes and doesn't answer my question. I'm starting to feel like dead weight and in danger of being laid off if we aren't successful obtaining new clients--how can I tell my boss my concerns if I can't even have a conversation with him? There's no HR department and no one equal to or above him to talk to.

Why wait for the boss to lasso a client?  Could you go out and get business yourself?  A great client you would love serving?  The benefit of making a little rain is that the boss will sit up and look at you a little different.  You will be seen as a little more capable, a little more forward leaning, a little more of a player.  Make your own work, and you'll be a lot happier.

What do you do when you may be confronted to homophobia in workplace? One of my male collegues seems often taken aback when I'm "acting gay" (calling myself 'queen', wearing non-gender-conventional clothing, giving people flyers about mariage equality...) - nothing inappropriate. Thats is who I am and I don't want to change how I express myself. But his reactions annoyed me so I confronted him. He answered that he doesn't particularly appreciate me b/c he thinks I'm selfish and "always turning everything into a drama". He added that he "would like me to be more professional" and that a lot of co-workers think the same. I don't think it's true but I start to wonder - is that homophobia?

I don't know if it is helpful to toss around labels like "homophobe," in this context anyway.

It sounds like this co-worker is trying to signal you that he feels you are crossing professional boundaries.  I'm afraid that, based on the examples you gave, you really may be dancing on that line.  Giving co-workers fliers about any political or social issue is not a great idea in the workplace, no matter how deeply you believe in the issue.

I think your goal in the workplace regarding your sexual orientation should be "acceptance."  If your co-workers treat you the same as everyone else -- meaning they accept you, your dress, your partner without hesitation -- then their behavior is in line.  I suspect if you don't press, they'll surprise you.

Don't get too caught up in labeling the situation -- focus instead on working through it. What's tempting to label homophobia may actually be misunderstanding between colleagues.

Calling yourself "queen" and your gender expression are one thing, but the political flyers are another entirely. Politics and the workplace rarely mix well, so you may want to cool it on the literature. (Does anyone else paper the office in flyers?)

Talk to your coworker and find out more about what he meant by words like "selfish" and "drama." Can he point to specific instances? If so, take a good look at what he has to say -- he might have a point. (Or he might not, but you can refute his assertions if you have examples.)

The best employees are ones who are engaged, excited, collaborative and level-headed. If you can be all these things -- in a pair of size 12 stilettos -- I bet you'll see opinions around the office start to change.

Hi, I am a very friendly person, and many of my coworkers love to come to my cube and chat. I have a very hard time telling them I need to get back to work. Can you please help me with some kind, witty things I can say to let them know that although I am enjoying our conversation and would love to continue chatting, I just can't afford to? I've never been good at saying no. Thanks!

Sure thing! And what a good problem to have -- how to cut short fun time with people you like. You lucky duck, you.

"If I don't get this project finished by lunchtime, I'll have to pack up my office all afternoon. Can we chat about this a little later?"

"I think I just saw my boss give me the stinkeye. Let's finish this tomorrow morning!"

"I'm so sorry, but I have to knock a memo out right now -- I can hear it calling my name from waaaay down in my flagged items list."

One of my favorite tactics is to stand with my coffee cup or papers in hand and start walking to the kitchen/copy machine while winding up the conversation. It gets them out of your workspace and breaks the conversational cycle.

If the person is still clinging after you refill your mug or make your copies, stop by the bathroom with a "sorry, I have to go now." If you're followed in, see my advice above about bathroom conversations.


You might get a lot of exercise, but this is a good way to scrape off those productivity barnacles. Good luck!

First, make sure your cube is set up so your back is to the opening - it's harder for people to interrupt you when they can't see your face.  Second, own your extroversion and make sure you're up and connecting with people during breaks and lunches.  This may satisfy both you and your co-workers, so interruptions will be less frequent.  Finally, be firm.  I know - hard.  But say, "Hey, can we connect after 2pm?  I'm crashing on the Framastam contract right now."  Have a number of these phrases at your command, and you can happily balance chat and work.

The good news is that you're a nice friendly person that everyone enjoys.

The bad news is that you're a nice friendly person that everyone enjoys. 

Which means you have to have extra skills at moving people along.  This will happen in the office, at bars, at cocktail parties.  People may just glom onto you, and you need to be prepared.

In the office, standing up when they arrive works well.  They know they are distracting, and there is a certain formality that will make them leave sooner.

Also, if the conversation drags, you can leave your area and run an errand.  Most folks won't follow.

If this fails, you can look repeatedly at your watch.  But if you really can't shake them, there is a nice way to get them to leave: "It was great to talk to you, Sally, but I wouldn't want to keep you too long." If you can make it appear that you don't want to hog their time, you won't feel guilty about the brush-off.

Our organization has undergone a major overhaul in the last few years and I am now one of the oldest women in the organization. the "new" management is in their early 40s and isn't shy about saying things like "Baby boomers just need to get out of our way." Recently I heard that while our business unit leader has praised my work, he's also wondered aloud to the staff "why doesn't she just retire?" I am 58, I need to work -- and I've been making the company a lot of money. So how do I take this on?

It's tempting to urge you to look up an employment lawyer for a possible "hostile workplace/age discrimination suit"--but as many workers with legitimate claims can attest, that's a long, expensive, exhausting road that often leads nowhere.

Keep making the company money, and keep touting your accomplishments (or, if you haven't been touting up until now, get toutin'!). Respond to questions about retirement with a cheerful, "Oh, but I'm having too much fun!" If you see younger workers struggling, quietly step in and help mentor them, if they seem open to it. That way, you're making yourself invaluable to both the senior and junior sets.

Make the business case.  Whenever you talk with your superiors, make sure you are appropriately claiming your successes.  One thing I have noted among women, but especially among women who came up before Title IX, is that we tend to self-efface to such a degree that nothing's left.  And if we don't own our accomplishments, who will?  The Millenium generation?  I think not.  Imagine you're... Meg Whitman.  Tell the story about the revenue you've generated, the deals you've engineered, the successes that are yours - and tell it the way Meg would.  And watch the boys in the office sit up a little straighter and start to see you as the player you are.

Boy, where did the time go? 


They're giving me the hook, so I have to run along now.  Thanks so much for the awesome questions, everyone!

Wow, the hour's up already? I wish my regular workday went this fast! (Just kidding, boss.) Thank you all for your great questions (including the one I don't think I'll ever mooooooove on from), and I hope I was able to help!

Wow, these have been great questions!  Thanks everyone for bringing your hardest issues.  And I also want to thank Abbey, Karla and Cindy - my co-finalists - for such great advice, intelligence and fun.  You are all terrific and I hope we have the chance to get together when this thing is all done!  Thanks, too, to The Washington Post staff who've made this entire contest a job.  Here's to a great event!

Thanks so much, everyone -- I loved talking with you and I can't wait to see what comes next.

In This Chat
Abbey Kos
Cindy Coe
Karla Miller
Michele Woodward
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