Q: I lead a small team. I have an office with a door. My team sits outside my office, in a cube setting. Their noises drive me insane. One team member wears multiple bangle-type bracelets and types furiously. The other team member devours his lunch at his desk, smacking and crunching his food before licking his fingers.
As their boss, I try to be kind and supportive and accessible. Short of keeping my door shut and wearing earbuds, do you have any other suggestions?
I’m also going to visit a doctor to see if I have misophonia. These issues carry over into other spaces — home, for example — and not just work. Or maybe I just hate people in general? — L., Austin, Texas
A: I don’t blame you for thinking that you might hate people in general because let’s face it: People can be very hard to like. Not only do they clank their jewelry and smack their lips, but they steal too many pens and call in sick when they are actually hung over.
But just because it’s hard to like people doesn’t mean you have to hate your job. In fact, most workers deal with their hatred of people in the office by becoming as absorbed as they can in their work. This state of being thus absorbed is known in Corporatese as “flow.”
Buy a pair of fancy headphones and have a visit with a doctor. But humor me for a minute and think about your “flow.” Why aren’t you able to get into it? Are there too many disruptions? Is the work you are doing not the kind of work that interests you? Are you actually hung over?
To tune out all those sounds you hate, tune in to work you like to do. And by all means, close the door at work. Your employees will be fine without access to their boss for a few hours. They’ll probably be relieved to get a break from whatever weird noises you surely make.
Q: I am currently semiretired and spent over 20 years in senior leadership at high-profile private sector organizations. A past employee has reached out for a LinkedIn recommendation. This individual always had his eye on the next level of promotion and resigned twice under me to accept such opportunities. Although a pleasant individual, this person would make questionable decisions that required cautionary discipline at times.
When asked for the LinkedIn reference, I found out through past co-workers this person was abruptly removed from his VP position and is now out of work. I am hesitant to respond as there may be the potential that this person was let go for complicated reasons. — Anonymous
A: This is exactly what email was made for: to make it easy to never respond. You owe no one in this world a reference, especially of the meaningless LinkedIn variety. Don’t write back or say you are too busy at the moment. If this person doesn’t get the hint, that is just another data point in favor of your impression that he has terrible judgment. And if this makes you feel guilty, remember that, contrary to the wishes of our collective unconscious and the dramatic finales of narratives of corporate greed, slimy operators like this guy usually end up just fine.
No way third way
Q: I work closely with two different teams at my company, and often my co-workers will go through me when they need something from the other team. (No part of my job description could be interpreted as being a liaison between teams.) It ends up wasting a lot of my time and, frankly, makes me uncomfortable. It feels like I’m always the messenger in danger of getting shot. Is there a polite way to ask that I stop being treated as a middleman? — New York City
A: Absolutely there is a polite way to ask that you stop being treated as the middleman, and you already know what it is. Schedule a meeting with the supervisors of both teams and say exactly what you’ve written here: “It is exciting to be part of this collaboration between both of your teams, but being a liaison per se is not part of my job description. Can we set up a more direct channel between your two groups?”
The key with this interaction, as in all interactions, is to be the opposite of defensive and keep all feelings out of it. What you’re requesting is perfectly reasonable; now request it. And remember: Triangulation in politics might be an effective short-term strategy, but in the long run, it mortgages your platform to special interests. Don’t do it.
Q: I work a student job on my campus where I set my own hours. I have been “in love” with one of my co-workers for, like, a year now, and he knows it. (Because I told him. While he still had a girlfriend.) He’s single now, but no moves have been made, and the outlook isn’t good for the moment. A few other people know about the situation, but not everyone. If he’s not telling anyone what’s been going on, what proportion of the office is it appropriate for me to blab to? Luckily I graduate soon, so this whole mess will be over in a few months. — N., California
A: My over-the-table advice is that, of course, you should immediately cease and desist in speaking about your feelings about this or anything else in the office. It is strictly unprofessional to do so.
My under-the-table advice is to really enjoy this unrequited crush. Take it from an old person, that intensity of feeling is one of those things that fade along with hair color, memory and the ability to sleep for more than a couple of hours before padding down the stairs to make some tea before rearranging your absolute mess of a silverware drawer.
I gather from your letter that you have stopped short of stalking this person, which is good. So toe that line and feel your half-ecstatic/half-torturous feelings. If some of them overflow into the office gossip pool, don’t feel too bad. But remember: “No” means “no.”
Katy Lederer is the author of three books of poems and a memoir. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.