Career Q&A | By Marie G. McIntyre, McClatchy-Tribune Newspapers

Give office busybody respect, but not information

Q: I share an office with a very nosy woman. "Tricia" is good friends with our manager and has a reputation as the department tattletale. She constantly monitors my activities and asks what I'm doing. My job involves spending time on the Internet, so she probably thinks I'm Web-surfing.

Tricia seems jealous of my friendship with other co-workers and frequently inquires about their personal business. She doesn't get along with most of these people, so I suspect she's pumping me for information to give the boss.

Although I love my job, I'm becoming paranoid about my office mate. What should I do?

A: Kindly remember that you are not required to share information just because someone wants it. That's Rule No. 1. Rule No. 2 is that you can usually divert an inquiry without being rude. Your goal with Tricia, therefore, is to respond in an amiable manner while revealing nothing of importance.

When she asks what you're doing on the Internet, say something like, "Oh, it's another boring project." If she presses you further, reply that you don't have time to explain, but it's really not very interesting. If you consistently provide nebulous responses, eventually she will stop asking.

When Tricia probes for dirt about your colleagues, the best response is to be completely clueless. Simply smile and say, "I really have no idea," or, "I haven't heard anything about that," then change the subject.

You certainly don't want to alienate someone who is buddies with your boss, so just be sure that all your conversations with Tricia are pleasant, friendly and vague.

A stealth promotion can create problems for all

Q: The owner of our business wants to put me in a management position without telling the staff that they report to me. He's afraid that if he officially makes me the boss, some "old-timers" will be upset. He says that if I lead meetings, approve vacation requests and participate in performance reviews, employees will automatically begin to regard me as their manager.

Before joining this company, I was a plant manager for 12 years, so I know how management works. If the owner goes through with this plan, I will be held accountable for results, but will have virtually no control over the staff's performance. Isn't he being somewhat unrealistic?

A: Your timid boss apparently believes that by giving you a stealth promotion, he can avoid some difficult conversations. Perhaps you should point out that poorly defined roles could lead to much greater problems.

When reporting relationships are ambiguous, employees have to deal with unclear expectations and confused priorities. The eventual result can be chaos and conflict.

If the owner hopes to benefit from your leadership ability, then he needs to tell the staff why he is putting you in charge.

Give office busybody respect, but not information 02/16/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 16, 2011 3:30am]

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