How sad that these childish executives have trapped you in the middle of their silly spat.

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Q: I seem to be caught between two high-level managers who really don’t like each other. One is a director, the other is a vice president, and I am an assistant to both. Whenever the director stops by my desk to chat, she makes critical remarks about the VP, which puts me in an uncomfortable position.

The VP doesn’t talk about the director, but he often forwards her emails with a comment like “Isn’t this ridiculous?” I usually just respond with an LOL, but I’m not sure if that’s appropriate. How can I handle this so that I get along with both of them and keep my job?

A: How sad that these childish executives have trapped you in the middle of their silly spat. But since you’re not in a position to correct their conduct, you must master the art of being responsive without taking sides.

Your VP’s snarky emails are the easier task, because it’s probably safe to ignore them. When he shoots off these caustic little messages, odds are that he doesn’t expect a reply. In fact, he may forget about them as soon as he hits send.

The director’s conversational zingers present a greater challenge. While you needn’t reply to every comment, remaining silent will sometimes seem rude. In those instances, just acknowledge the remark with a brief, neutral response, and then immediately change the subject.

Let’s say, for example, that the director criticizes a presentation made by the vice president. To avoid agreeing or disagreeing, you might simply say “Well, that’s interesting. By the way, I need to ask you about this expense report.”

Should either of these juvenile managers push you to take a stand, calmly point out that your job is to assist both of them to the best of your ability. Perhaps that will encourage them to reflect on their behavior and start acting like professional adults.

People should never wear perfume to work

Q: My friend “Mary” is undergoing medical treatments which cause her to be sensitive to odors. The perfume worn by several of our coworkers makes her sick to her stomach. When she told our supervisor, he said there was nothing he could do.

After Mary went to human resources, the HR manager directed the supervisor to tell people to stop wearing scents. This helped initially, but now some have resumed their old habits. Instead of enforcing the ban, our supervisor moved Mary to an
isolated section of the office. She feels like an outcast, but hates to keep complaining. What should she do?

A: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. People should never wear perfume to work. With the exception of those who sell them, nobody has a job in which fragrances are necessary. Many co-workers and customers find the odor offensive, and some are actually allergic.

Given Mary’s medical condition, eliminating scents might be considered a requirement under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Perhaps this is why the HR manager issued a clear directive that your inept supervisor is now choosing to ignore.

Since Mary is reluctant to renew her complaint, perhaps you and other sympathetic co-workers could appeal to human resources on her behalf. That should result in a quick resolution of the problem.