Q: In my previous job, I basically committed career suicide. I gossiped, backstabbed and yelled at important people. I assumed my co-workers were out to get me, even though I had no proof. I eventually realized that I was creating my own problems, but changing was difficult as long as I was in the same environment.
After finding my present job three years ago, I worked hard to avoid conflicts, improve my behavior, and become more politically astute. Unfortunately, however, one of my former colleagues has now joined our staff, and I'm afraid she will tell people about my past. Should I go to her and make amends or just wait and see what happens?
A: First, let's give you a hearty round of applause for taking a long, hard look at yourself and making some difficult changes. Very few people manage to be that objective about their own behavior.
Regarding your former co-worker, I don't think you have much to worry about. After experiencing the "new you" for three years, your current colleagues are unlikely to put much stock in ancient gossip. Nevertheless, if the two of you have a history of conflicts, you should invite her to join you in making a fresh start.
For example: "When we worked together before, I know that I was not a very nice co-worker. However, in the past three years, I have really made an effort to become a better person and a more helpful colleague. My hope is that we can have a good working relationship this time around."
After that, make every effort to live up to your words. If this co-worker is equally mature, your rocky past will soon be forgotten.
Manage a manager's flip-flopping style
Q: Our micromanaging boss makes it difficult to accomplish our team goals. When we start a new project, she never discusses her expectations or her vision of the end result. She often shifts direction on a whim, leaving us feeling that we've done a lot of work for nothing. Do you have any suggestions?
A: Actually, your boss sounds more like a flip-flopper than a micromanager. Flip-flopping managers are either afraid to make a decision or constantly distracted by new ideas. Their chronic vacillation wastes a great deal of time and drives employees absolutely crazy.
With a flip-flopper boss, three strategies can help to save your sanity. One is to ask a lot of questions at the beginning of a project. This not only will help you understand your manager's objectives, but may also help her clarify her own thinking.
The second strategy is to schedule regular check-in meetings during the project to review progress and ask your boss for feedback. This allows you to see if you are on the right track and get an early warning of possible changes.
Finally, you must simply accept the fact that you have an indecisive manager. If you fail to adapt to her management style, she will sense your irritation and possibly change her mind about you.
The office gift-giving dilemma resolved
Q: You recently answered a question related to purchasing gifts at the office. In my department, we have a gift-giving procedure that has worked well for many years.
Whenever there is a retirement, wedding, or other special event, we circulate a large envelope with everyone's name listed on the front. People check off their name to show they received the envelope, then add a contribution if they wish. No one ever knows who contributed, so there is no pressure to participate.
The envelope also contains a card, which anyone can sign regardless of whether they make a donation. The person who started the collection then buys an appropriate gift with the money that was received.
A: Thank you for sharing a creative solution to a common workplace dilemma. Your "anonymous envelope" sounds like a great way to avoid many of the problems related to office gift-giving.