Your priority is to swiftly pivot from whatever the perceived trouble (old or new) may be to making a strong case for your reliability and overall value.

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Q: I work for a large corporation with multiple layers of management. Some years back I attended a town hall-style video presentation in a darkened movie theater. I sat in the front row — and dozed off. As I was walking out, a senior executive glared at me, and then my ID badge. No one ever mentioned the incident to me. And since then I’ve been diagnosed with a sleep disorder and successfully treated.

More recently, however, I made a request to be transferred to another position, which would have been beneficial for me. The request was denied.

When I asked why, the manager in charge gave an odd response, suggesting that another higher-up wasn’t convinced I could be “counted on.”

That higher-up reports to the senior executive who glared at me for dozing off. So now I’m fairly certain that I am being blackballed because of that incident. Is there anything I can do? — Christopher

A: Let’s acknowledge that dozing off in a company meeting is, in fact, a really bad look. That executive’s reaction could have been a lot worse than a glare. Still, I wonder if that incident is really the root of your current problem — or if it’s getting in the way of resolving this situation.

In a company with lots of management layers, it can be a challenge to figure out how any decision is made. And it’s very easy to start imagining motivations. So what you really need to do is press the manager you deal with directly.

If a boss says some other executive thinks you can’t be “counted on,” you need to clear up that ambiguity. Don’t turn this into a fight or get defensive. But point to evidence (your track record, past reviews, whatever) that you can indeed be counted on, and insist on clarity — from your manager or the executive in question. Vague feedback does no good, and you deserve to hear what the issue is, so you can address it.

Questioning is better than, say, blurting out: “This is because of the time I fell asleep in that meeting, isn’t it?”

Perhaps, if you believe your direct manager wants to help you, you could float that theory and seek advice about how to proceed. But maybe there is some other issue at work here, in which case a reminder about that one won’t help.

Besides, at this late date you’re in an odd spot: If you were concerned about that earlier incident, you might have dealt with it more effectively at the time — or at least when you got the explanatory diagnosis. Bringing it up now suggests that you felt so bad about it that you … never followed up with anyone for years afterward? Not very compelling.

Right now, your priority is how to swiftly pivot from whatever the perceived trouble (old or new) may be to making a strong case for your reliability and overall value to the enterprise. Maybe that new position would have been “beneficial” to you, but management is interested in what’s beneficial for the company. That’s how you need to frame what happens next.

Submit questions to Rob Walker at