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A co-worker has been out of the office for three times as many days as she is entitled to this year, and our easygoing boss is oblivious. I’d like to point this out in the interest of fairness. But I don’t want to insult his leadership–or appear to be a petty, vindictive tattletale. Anonymous, New York

Hmmmm. For some reason, your quandary reminds me of how my older daughter used to feel compelled to tell us when she thought her little sister was doing something wrong. To be helpful, of course. Naturally, it was more complicated than that: By adopting a “parental” role, she was finding a socially acceptable way to tell on her sister and thereby get her in trouble.

It’s a parent’s responsibility to correct their children, not a sibling’s. And it’s your easygoing boss’ job to monitor attendance, not yours. That said, it may be that her absences don’t bother him as much as they gnaw at you. You should try to figure out what’s behind your desire to “point out” your colleague’s attendance record to the boss. Are you envious of her ability to be loose with the allotted days–or of your boss’ laid-back manner? Disappointed that you’re not getting credit for your own strict adherence to the rules? It may be embarrassing to admit any of this to yourself, but you have a shot at learning something if you do. If instead you go to the boss with your “helpful” vacation-day tally, you may indeed be seen as petty or vindictive–just as you (wisely) fear. Relax and get back to work. And think about asking for some extra time off.

I often find myself rolling my eyes in front of subordinates at some directive from above that I consider foolish. I think I’m a good manager in most ways, but I occasionally worry that this may get back to my boss–or, worse, that I’m just avoiding doing the hard thing: expressing my opinion to my superiors. Anonymous, Washington, D.C.

I think you’re right on all counts: It will get back to your boss (if it hasn’t already), and you’re probably afraid to deal more constructively with directives that don’t make sense to you. But there’s more: It also sounds as if you’re signaling your own ambivalence about maturing as a manager. And what would this mature person do? Come up with an alternative to a misguided policy–and communicate it to senior management. It’s true that the occasional irreverent comment can convey to your subordinates that no one–including you–is beyond criticism. But in not containing your contempt for authority, you’re quite possibly acting in a self-defeating way to prevent yourself from becoming a more senior manager.

Ask yourself if you’re more interested in the fleeting pleasure you get from mocking your superiors or in advancing in your career. You don’t want the last laugh to be on you.

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How does one handle rumors? As a manager, I’m sometimes entrusted with secret information – news that I later hear being spouted by employees, none of whom I’ve told. Once it’s out there, perhaps semi-accurately, what’s my obligation to tell my staff the truth? When everyone is nervous about layoffs or reorganizations, for instance, I feel uneasy about withholding what I know. – Anonymous, New York

For managers, secrets come with the territory. They’re a fact of corporate life, so you needn’t feel guilty about knowing what others don’t. Nor should you feel obligated to correct any whispered misperceptions, especially if that would betray the confidences you’re expected to keep.

Rumors, too, are part of the corporate fabric. In fact, despite our tendency to talk of them pejoratively, they’re a kind of viral communication system – and often remarkably accurate (or at least, as you say, semi-accurate). So it’s a good idea to pay close attention to them as a way of taking the pulse of your organization. Indeed, because people at the very top can be isolated by virtue of their roles, you might even let your own boss know about the hearsay and anxiety you’re picking up. The longer rumors go unchecked, the more they take on a life of their own.

I can relate to your temptation to set the record straight, especially when it comes to big changes that can affect people’s lives. As an adviser to CEOs, I have conversations about sensitive topics that can’t be discussed with anyone else. While the secrets have far-reaching implications and others may know that I’m privy to them, divulging the information – even to correct false rumors – would damage my ability to serve as a confidant.

YOU CARRY a similar burden as a manager. My advice: If someone asks you if a rumor – big or small – is true, be honest about the position you’re in. Try something along these lines: “I’ve been involved in those discussions, and I know it’s hard to stay focused with all this uncertainty. But I’m just not free to talk about it.” I think that’s better than lying about whether you know what’s going on. You probably wouldn’t be believed anyway, or your denial might just feed the rumor mill.

It’s understandable that those who aren’t in the know try to read between the lines of what you say and do. Accept this, monitor what you reveal, and empathize with those who wish they could get inside your head.

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I’m a recent college grad, interning at a company where I have a hard time expressing work concerns with my bosses – about feeling poorly treated or not included, things like that. I wind up complaining to friends or calling my mother (who tells me to go to graduate school). What, realistically, can I do? – Anonymous, New York

An internship is as good a time as any to learn how to deal effectively with the more powerful among us. As a start, it’s not a bad instinct to unburden yourself to friends. It relieves pressure and occasionally yields sound advice. But you need to be able to handle these situations on your own. And the challenge is to do so without being labeled a complainer or a victim.

Tip No. 1: Temper your youthful idealism with pragmatism. Remember that this stint is supposed to help you get a start in your career. It’s not about fighting workplace injustices. Indeed, if your model of benevolent authority is a supportive mother, you might need to adjust your expectations of the boss.

Meanwhile, compare notes with other interns and entry-level employees. Your experience may be the norm rather than a sign of disrespect. Being excluded from certain meetings, for instance, comes with the territory. If you’re still convinced that there’s unfair treatment afoot, approach your manager with a question, not an accusation: “Will I eventually be able to attend the planning meetings?” Or: “Can you suggest the best way for me to give better presentations?”

And now – since it’s intern season – some advice to managers: Young people take all experiences to heart, so their reactions may seem intense at times. Cut them a little slack. (Think back to your own early days.) Interns may also find it hard to strike the right balance when it comes to confidence – puffing up to overcompensate for anxiety or timidly fading into the woodwork hoping to be overlooked. Rather than getting annoyed with these defenses, consider the therapeutic value of assigning your interns real work (not make-work or gofer chores), no matter how small a piece of a project. That, combined with an offhand “nice job,” when it’s merited, will help them find the appropriate level of self-assurance. (Don’t gush or express surprise at work well done. That’s for an indulgent aunt or uncle, not someone whose respect they want to earn.)

Finally, because it involves effort to bring along an intern, you shouldn’t take one on if you’re not prepared to make the investment. Remember that a good experience goes beyond what your summer employees learn about your industry. It determines the message they’ll export about your company.

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An executive at one of our key client companies frightens everyone: She seems to be in constant battles. I’ve been avoiding her. But since she awards the contract each year for the service we provide, I want to tell her about some of our new offerings–without becoming a cowering yes-person (which is apparently how others deal with her). What do you recommend? – Anonymous, Los Angeles

It’s understandable that you want to steer clear of this client out of a natural desire to protect yourself. But as you point out, it’s in your best interest to work with her.

Here’s something to think about: One of the most underutilized weapons in the arsenal against bullies is telling them the truth about the way they make you feel. This executive’s intimidating style is likely a kind of armor, a personality trait she’s developed to keep everyone at a distance, protecting her from feelings of vulnerability and intimacy.

Paradoxically, labeling that behavior as scary and admitting that you are afraid can defuse even the biggest bullies. It makes them self-conscious and (if you’re lucky) a bit apologetic–emotions that represent progress in the case of such people.

What do you think would happen if you said, “Lady Macbeth (or whatever her name is), you may not realize this, but lots of people, including me, are afraid to talk to you because you tend to jump all over an idea before hearing it out. I’ve got some new services I’d like to tell you about, but I’ve been reluctant to do so even though you’re one of our best customers”?

Hearing the truth about what her behavior evokes in you may even provide this executive with a self-revelatory moment. If not, it’s at least likely to give you a window of opportunity to convey your message until the wall goes up again.

I have a female co-worker who’s a little too friendly. Usually, I can ignore it, but the situation is starting to get uncomfortable. – Anonymous, Houston

There must be an epidemic of avoidance going on. Just as the previous questioner’s instinct was to sidestep the bullying client, you’re ignoring the seductive colleague. And that may be part of the problem: Even the language of your question – “a little too friendly” – suggests this. If your reaction to her is as vague as your description, she may think that you’re giving her a green, or at least a yellow, light. Unless you want to stay uncomfortable, you’re going to have to have a real conversation with her. Start with something like, “I could be misinterpreting things, but….” And take it from there, clearing up any ambiguity while making sure she knows you like working with her.

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Letting off steam is part of the culture in my high-pressure industry. But one colleague – a great guy, well-liked – drinks so much at our after-work get-togethers that we’ve all become uncomfortable. He doesn’t get obnoxious, just really drunk. I’m worried and would like to say something. But I don’t know if I’m being prudish and I don’t want to single myself out from the group. – Anonymous, New York

You’re not being prudish. There’s no holier-than-thou attitude in your account of things. So assuming that you won’t take a moralistic stance with this colleague, I think you’d be doing him a favor by talking to him.

It’s a serious problem, but there are solutions. So if you and your colleague have a history of openness, you should take him aside and express your concerns privately. (Don’t do this at the bar; you want to elicit a thoughtful response, not anger or extreme embarrassment.) Try saying something like, “I may be overstepping my bounds, but I’m really concerned about what happens to you when we all go out drinking.” Acknowledge that you’re not an expert but that you’re worried he may have an alcohol problem. Suggest that he might want to ask his doctor to refer him to someone who knows about these things. I admire your desire to help: It takes courage to express these kind of worries, especially when you fear it might alienate you from your peers. My guess: If they find out you’ve had this talk, your co-workers will be secretly relieved.

A senior person at my company abuses people verbally, picking particularly on one junior employee who has asked me for advice on how to handle it. Human resources is aware of the problem and is supposedly counseling the offender, but the behavior hasn’t stopped. What can be done? – Anonymous, New York

It’s hard to know why this dynamic sometimes takes hold. But verbal abuse is never justified, and as long as it continues, the junior person should keep HR informed and not worry about being a pest.

Some companies bring in a coach to counsel such a manager. But that process takes time. Bringing the two people together to work things out “therapy-style” can also help, but only if the session is facilitated by a skilled professional. If that feels unsafe to your co-worker, he or she should graciously decline. Meanwhile, it’s the company’s job to protect the more vulnerable employee–by threatening the senior person with dismissal or shifting the junior one to another position.

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A promotion is usually cause for celebration and pride. But for some, it’s a source of deep anxiety, so scary that it eclipses life-altering occurrences like the death of a loved one or divorce. That’s what almost 1 out of 5 business leaders said in a recent survey when asked to choose their “most challenging” life event. What can you do if landing on a higher rung has left you miserable?

There are several ways to understand why your promotion may paradoxically be undermining your confidence. For one thing, you may feel, correctly, that no one has prepared you for your new role. That’s fairly common, if my experience with Corporate America is any guide. Someone has judged you qualified and ready–and pretty much left it at that. To get the support you need, you’re going to have to set pride aside and ask for it directly. In a face-to-face conversation with the person who made the decision to move you up (don’t use e-mail, which can get passed around), say that you’re excited about your new opportunity and that in the interest of living up to expectations, you’ll be asking for help. Be as specific as possible.

It’s also helpful for you to understand the complex emotions that can be stirred up by success. The more these anxieties are acknowledged and normalized, the less they will interfere with the transition to your new position. For instance, it’s important to admit that along with the gain, promotions involve losses. You lose the comfort of a familiar role and the relationships that went with that. You may also harbor fears of being exposed as an imposter (revisiting the childhood dread that spurs those dreams about taking a test while totally unprepared). It’s not unusual for the newly promoted to worry that their inadequacies were just hidden before and that they’ll now be suddenly revealed. Another common reaction: guilt. A promotion means becoming boss to former peers, or defeating other contenders, after all.

THESE STRANGE, uncomfortable feelings will pass with time. That’s another thing to remember. Meanwhile, since some of your old buddies might now be your direct reports–or because you might not want to reveal vulnerability to anyone at the office–you’ll need to be able to tolerate the relative aloneness of facing your new challenge. And the best way to do that is to share your feelings safely, with an external confidant: a professional or a trusted former colleague. One of the worst mistakes executives make on being promoted is to compensate for the stress by denying their feelings and believing they know everything they need to know. Such denial is a good way to undo your one step forward with a step backward.

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My company is writing a new contract with an offshore vendor, completing the negotiations during upcoming meetings. Our previous agreement included performance-linked penalties and bonuses, but this vendor always refused to admit to errors. Is there a way to word the contract so the supplier doesn’t lose face by admitting to mistakes, while still protecting ourselves? And how can we make the talks agreeable to both sides? – M.H.S., Hawthorn Woods, Ill.

The world would indeed be a better place if more people could admit to making mistakes. Alas, we won’t hold our collective breath waiting for that to happen. The inability–or refusal–to admit errors often grows out of fragile self-esteem, a reflexive need to externalize responsibility rather than owning it, or a macho cultural norm that equates fallibility with weakness. The capacity to admit that one has screwed up is, in my view, indicative of one of the healthiest levels of psychological functioning.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let’s talk about your vendor. Assuming these denials aren’t simply a business ploy, your instinct to help the supplier save face is a smart one. But I’m a psychiatrist, not a lawyer, so you don’t want my advice on how to write an agreement. It wouldn’t hurt, though, to talk to your attorneys about what you’re trying to accomplish here. A lawyer I know says it can be provocative, for instance, to “pile it on” in a contract, repetitively enumerating all the ways a supplier could fail.

In the end, the face-to-face negotiations are where you stand to make the most progress, or mistakes. Without attacking the other party’s integrity or pride, you should be honest about your view of past performance, making it clear that you’re evaluating things in the context of a continuing relationship.

Start with, “We’d like to revisit the way each of us assesses performance.” Then raise the question of whether the criteria have been explicit enough. Does the offshore location make it harder to communicate standards? Should a process be started to address that? (If you decide, mutually, to initiate on-site visits, make sure the person your company chooses for this is good with people.)

You might also try to create an incentive for the vendor to be more forthcoming about problems–by acknowledging, for instance, that in your industry the occasional error is unavoidable. If it’s appropriate, mention that your company, too, has to make it up to customers when you don’t meet standards. This might “normalize” mistakes for your supplier, offering a face-saving way to take responsibility–and to shoulder the costs of the errors.

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We have an employee who turns every interaction – work-related or not – into a conversation about her. She’s otherwise good at her job, but folks are beginning to avoid meetings with her or task forces on which she serves. “She sucks the air out of the room,” a co-worker complained. Is there a polite way to stifle this behavior? – Anonymous, Seattle

This employee’s need for attention may arise from old experiences of emotional deprivation and neglect. She compensates by greedily forcing others to focus on her.

That’s understandably annoying to colleagues, who are obviously losing patience. (The word “stifle” gave you away.)

Since the current strategy, avoidance, doesn’t seem to be helping, you’re going to have to confront her about this.

That doesn’t mean merely hinting. Correcting this sort of person indirectly (“let’s get back to what we were discussing”) won’t work. She’s likely to experience such comments as interruptions of her monologue. Instead, someone – preferably her supervisor or a colleague who has enough of a relationship with her so that constructive observations aren’t rejected out of hand – should talk to her privately.

Politely but firmly, tell her that her work is valued but that she may not realize how much she turns the subject to herself. Explain that “it derails conversations, and people have started avoiding you because they feel you don’t listen.” You’ll need to keep your contempt in check. Otherwise, she may make that the subject of your talk, once again hijacking the discussion to meet her needs.

I just left a job where my boss constantly put me on the spot, frequently demanding, for instance, that I settle disagreements between him and someone who was also my superior. What should I have done? – Anonymous, Los Angeles

You’ve already taken steps: You left. Others stuck in this dynamic might begin to address it by asking themselves if they are subtly offering themselves up as pawns – as a way of feeling at least a bit important. And a boss like this? Maybe he can’t take responsibility for difficult or uncomfortable encounters. Maybe he takes sadistic pleasure in a making a subordinate squirm.

Whatever his problem, if you get into this situation again, try appealing to your superior’s ego while enlisting his guilt: “I need your guidance. I’m in an awkward situation here, trying to mediate between the two of you. How would you advise me to handle it?” It’s a long shot, but if your supervisor has enough empathy to see the problem he’s created, it can make a difference. If not – well, sometimes we have to accept the unlikelihood of change in someone on whom we’re dependent. And separate from them.

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I work in the investment business and want to understand more about the psychology of making deals. I notice that even seasoned negotiators, who have a knack for figuring out what makes a person tick, sometimes get it wrong. Can someone with psychological training analyze a target at a distance to provide an edge in talks? – A.G. Newmyer III, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

The answer, in my view, is yes. My colleagues and I have been helping clients develop psychological profiles of executives involved in high-stakes mergers-and-acquisitions talks and other negotiations for many years. We find that having an understanding of the mind of the person sitting across the table can make all the difference.

Business talks are essentially psychological processes. Nobody ever says yes to the first offer. Why? Not just because it’s bad business but because to do so would show weakness and submission, intolerable feelings for most people. When seasoned negotiators “get it wrong,” it’s often because they’ve miscalculated the other party’s emotional attachment to what they’re giving up, whether that’s something they own or money itself. Or they assume their approach will lower the other party’s resistance to saying yes, when in fact it increases it.

Applying dynamic insights, provided at a distance by a trained clinician, can unlock even the thorniest of business interactions. An analogous situation is that of a patient who describes his wife to his psychoanalyst. The analyst may never meet the wife, but as the analyst speaks with the husband, they jointly develop an understanding of what makes the wife tick, and this, in turn, can help the husband relate to her better.

Now substitute CEO A for the husband and CEO B (the potential acquiree) for the wife. CEO A has various interactions with CEO B in meetings, at industry events, on the golf course, or through phone and e-mail contact. In discussing those interactions with me, we can figure out how CEO A can better size up CEO B. The psychological portrait that emerges, while inevitably imperfect, is often good enough to make a difference in negotiations.

Your question touches on an interesting controversy: Psychiatrists got into trouble when one of them made a damning diagnosis from afar of Barry Goldwater during the 1964 Presidential race, deeming him unfit for office because of what was considered his paranoid behavior. The subsequent backlash caused the pendulum to swing too far in the other direction, with shrinks avoiding such bold pronouncements ever since.

That’s too bad. A psychoanalytic assessment, even of someone you’ve never met, has a positive role to play not just in personal lives, but also in business dealings and even in helping to choose a President.

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In part because of my husband’s work relocation, I’m entering a new industry. I’m bringing the same skills (in marketing) that made me a success in my previous 10-year career, but I’m having a hard time landing a job and I can’t seem to stop worrying. I’m up half the night, thinking that I won’t stack up against the competition – or that when I do get a job I won’t be successful. The list of anxieties grows as my confidence falters. How can I get control over feeling that I have no control? How can I cope with the uncertainty that comes with embarking on a new career path? – Anonymous, New York

I’M NOT CONVINCED that it’s simply the new career path that’s keeping you up at night, stressful as that challenge can be. There may be more going on deeper down, and I’d like to help you address both levels.

Your first task is to turn your marketing skills on yourself when thinking about applying your talents to the new industry. Remember that marketers who have been successful (like you) can typically promote just about anything. They just have to get up to speed about their products and their customers.

You’re not starting from scratch, in other words. In fact, you’ll undoubtedly bring valuable perspectives from your previous career into whatever new field you choose.

To be sure, it’s normal for your self-esteem to take a hit as you try to break into a new area: You’re accustomed to success, after all, not to uncertainty or rejection. It will pay to remind yourself that you can’t be a success right away (so don’t demand that of yourself) and that this period of relative demotion won’t last forever.

AT THE SAME TIME, you might want to consider whether your feelings of loss of control also stem from the degree to which your professional fate depends on your husband’s work assignments. This can cause understandable anger – a resentment you may be struggling to suppress, perhaps because your mate had no control over the move he had to make. It’s precisely this internal conflict that makes you try to disavow your feelings. And when such emotions go underground, they can reappear in the form of severe anxiety or other behavioral symptoms. Find a way to express your feelings about the move without making your husband feel guilty about the relocation. Getting that on the table may provide just the relief you need as you dive headfirst into your job search.

If you approach your worries as nothing more than a career transition problem, you’ll miss these underlying issues. And chances are, that will only intensify your anxiety, making an already challenging transition even more difficult.