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STRESS TEARS AT THE OFFICE

Q: I'm a middle manager at a company in turmoil. Lately, I have been getting contradictory directives from top management, while getting no cooperation from other managers and support groups such as marketing. Higher-level managers make changes to directives I'm managing without telling me. After a morning of dealing with three separate incidents of this type, I went to a meeting in which my input was discounted by a clique of three other managers. My boss was also there. Suddenly, tears were running down my face. I stepped out to get a grip and returned several minutes later, calm, but the tears continued. It was mortifying. I don't know what to do now - apologize? Pretend it didn't happen? My boss has not mentioned it.

A: I view stress tears - as opposed to tears of joy or grief - as nature's way of releasing tension when escape is impossible and a throat punch is inadvisable. I've seen them ambush otherwise stoic professionals, and they're about as easy to stop as sweating or blushing.

Unfortunately, some workers and managers consider anyone who sheds tears at the office unprofessional, even manipulative. In your case, tears were an understandable response to trying to function professionally when communication has broken down, leadership is scattered, and it's every manager for him- or herself. If they mean anything, it's that you need to learn new ways to perform in this dysfunctional office.

You did the right thing in the short term by stepping away from the meeting and returning calmer, if still tearful. Staying and sobbing your way through an argument would have been worse. You also could have asked to postpone the topic, in the interest of having a more productive discussion.

Your boss' silence may be the result of discomfort or indifference or sympathy, but I'd be surprised if yours were the only tears he or she has seen lately. You can regain your confidence, and your boss', by calmly asking for help managing the current chaos: "As you saw the other day, I'm getting frustrated with the conflicting directives preventing me from doing my job effectively. I need some advice on how to get consistent guidance so I can meet our goals." Focus on the turmoil - not on your tears.

If this was a one-time event, you should be able to own it, learn from it and move on. But if you repeatedly find yourself fighting tears, it might be a sign that you need to run away from this circus.

Informing on resume copycat may also reflect badly on you

Q: I work in a small field in ethics and compliance. Two years ago, I left Firm X to join a company where my career had more growth potential. One of my former co-workers, wanting to make a similar move, asked for my resume. I hesitated because I had worked hard on it, and I was concerned that she might just copy it. The requests continued for several months, and finally I gave it to her.

Months later, she told me she'd found a great job opening at Company J and asked my opinion of her resume and cover letter. She had copied verbatim the portion of my resume describing my job at Firm X. I replied that the resume looked "awfully familiar," and she responded: "It should. We did the same job." I said I wasn't comfortable with her copying my resume and asked her repeatedly to change the Firm X portion. But she would not confirm that she had changed the resume.

I am considering letting Firm X know about this exchange, in case Company J calls them for a referral. She has used a stolen resume to apply for an ethics and compliance job. Not only do I find that ironic, I believe she should be held accountable, and her prospective employer should be made aware. Is it reasonable to relay this information to my former bosses?

A: Well, she performed consistently with your expectations, so you can't say you weren't warned. Next time, don't cave to someone you have reason to mistrust, on the first request or the 20th.

So much for the obvious-in-hindsight advice. I'm more ambivalent about your future course. If you know that she falsely claimed some of your accomplishments as her own, snitch away - but copying a straightforward job description, albeit lazy, barely registers a "meh" on my outrage-o-meter, and I'm not sure that Firm X or Company J will see what she did as a hangin' offense. Your personal investment in this matter belies your purported pursuit of justice. I don't know who would come off looking worse: her for cutting corners, or you for trying to take her down.

I understand. She's looking to profit from your hours of effort without shedding any sweat of her own, and you hate to see her get away with it. I suppose you could mention it, if your copycat's name comes up while you're chatting with a Firm X colleague. Word does get around in a small field. Just be warned that the word may not be any kinder to you.

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