Q: We recently hired a new attorney who is constantly putting herself down, calling herself stupid and apologizing for asking questions. I’m a direct person, but I don’t want to just say, “Stop apologizing and being so tentative,” because the last thing she needs is more criticism. How can I best help her?

A: What I want to know is, how did law school not eat her alive?

I recently discussed ways to respond to this kind of reflexive cringing and self-deprecation (Sorry, your feedback to chronic apologizer is all wrong), but I’m revisiting the topic because I want to mention a sleight-of-word technique I’ve seen used (and begun using on myself) to good effect: repeating her statements, but flipping the negative to positive.

She: “I’m so stupid for asking this basic question …”

You: “I wish more people were humble enough to ask that essential question.”

Of course, you’re not obligated to take on that degree of emotional labor. But if you’re not in a position to give direct feedback, this kind of subtle coaching might inspire her to try detoxing her own inner narrative.

Karla L. Miller offers advice on surviving the ups and downs of the modern workplace. (Courtesy of The Washington Post)
Karla L. Miller offers advice on surviving the ups and downs of the modern workplace. (Courtesy of The Washington Post)