Here’s a question – what do Rob Walker and Elizabeth Garone have that I don’t have? I mean, apart from impeccable journalistic credentials, caring hearts and a selfless desire to help people.
What Walker and Garone have are newspaper columns that answer the critical problems of working people. Together, they are the Miss and Mr. Lonelyhearts of the business world. I don’t have that kind of newspaper column. I also don’t have that kind of respect from readers. The only people who write me want to sell me vacant lots in New Mexico, or miniature cheerleader look-a-like dolls. [Really, you buy just one and you never get off the mailing list.]
But a fellow can dream, can’t he? And if he can’t dream, he can make snide and snarky comments about the answers Garone and Walker regularly ram down the throats of the pathetic losers who are their readers.
Like “Anonymous,” who wrote to Walker’s “Workologist” column in The New York Times, complaining about “The Boss Who Asks Too Much.” Here’s the problem: “Recently, my C-suite level boss has compelled staff members to interrupt their work to drive him to meetings, or even to the airport. We’re a public agency with a lean staff and plenty to do. I want to avoid having to say yes to this request/assignment.”
The real reason Anonymous is afraid of acceding instantly to the boss’s demand is his fear that if he dared to suggest that his time would be better spent doing his actual work, the boss would blow him off, insisting that whatever it is he’s paid to do, serving as chauffeur is far more important.
Incredibly, the “workologist” sees the situation in the same way. “This certainly does sound like a dubious – and rather odd – use of agency resources,” he replies. “You’re right to question it, and, ideally, to make it stop.”
Bad, Workologist! Bad!
As anyone who has been in the working world for more than five minutes would know, Anonymous is one lucky ducky. “Grab any opportunity you have to be alone with the boss,” would be my response. “With any luck, there will be a massive traffic jam on the way to the airport. It’s the perfect time to spread nasty gossip about your co-workers, and schmooze your way to a promotion with the kind lavish flattery rarely heard outside the court of Louis XIV.”
You tell me – am I right or am I right?
Garone, head question answerer at The Wall Street Journal’s Career Q&A, is equally clueless when it comes to the real world of work. Her lead letter writer in a recent column, identified only as “San Francisco, California,” is agonizing over how to “tell your senior manager that they use a catch phrase too much in conversation. Phrases like ‘well obviously,’ ‘you know, and my personal favorite, ‘to be honest’ can cause them to disengage with their audience and diminish their effectiveness as speakers.”
Well, obviously, to be honest, you know anyone listening that closely to what their managers say should increase their dosage of Lexipro, or tequila, or both. It’s a serious health risk to listen so closely to the nonsense your manager spouts.
Of course, Garone doesn’t see it this way. “Your concerns are well justified,” she says, “but you’ll want to put a lot of thought into how you approach your manager on this topic.” Amazingly, career coach Jodie Charlop agrees with her. “Any time you are offering unsolicited advice you run the risk of alienating versus helping,” she says. “It adds to the complexity if there is a power differential.”
A power differential? Pal, you’re an AAA battery and your manager is the Hoover Dam. But what do I know? According to Garone, the right solution is to “find a safe setting and ask permission to talk about something you’ve observed in your informal conversations.”
Clearly, there is only one safe setting to have this conversation – in the car while you drive your boss to the airport. Be cautious, though, of what the outcome might be.
Your manager might respond positively to your caring criticism. “Thank you for pointing out my lack of skills as an orator,” she could say. “I appreciate your honesty.” But what you’re most likely to hear is “I do apologize for offending your delicate linguistic sensibilities. Perhaps I can come up with a catch phrase you don’t hear very often. How about, “You’re fired!”
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at email@example.com.