Thursday, February 10, 2011

How to Answer a Loaded Question

Dear Madame L,

I've received an email message from a person who wants to know about my current employer. This guy wrote, "Is he good to work with? Is he hands-on and helpful, or what is his supervisory style? I've already applied for the job, but I haven't interviewed with him yet. I saw your name on the web page so I thought maybe you could help me."

Here's the problem: The boss this guy is asking about is NOT a good manager, is very difficult to work with, and has alienated many of the people who have worked for him. But if I tell this person the truth, it will almost certainly get back to my boss.

The guy also wrote, "If you'd like to talk on the phone, I'll understand," and gave me a cell phone number to call. 

I Googled his name, and he appears to be a real person who could plausibly be applying for a job with my company. I know a phone conversation would be "safer" than an email message, but I think even that could turn against me at some time in the future.

Because here's the thing: Nobody will ever tell the truth about this boss. No one told me! I understand why, of course, because they didn't dare say anything negative, because their---our---getting any job in the field any time in the future depends on a good recommendation from him. So we all grin and bear it, and hold in our frustration.

I think I'd be doing this guy a favor by steering him away from the job. On the other hand, what if he's the one person who finally gets along with the boss and enjoys the work? What should I do? I'm completely ----

---- Stumped and Anxious

Dear Stumped,

You've analyzed the situation perfectly, and you already know the answer. So Madame L guesses you were just wanting permission, which Madame L hereby gives:

Do nothing. Absolutely nothing. You do not have to reply to this message. You do not have to call this person.

In fact, your not replying is exactly the answer the guy is looking for: If your boss were a good one whom you think other people would enjoy working for, you would feel happy to reply to the message, maybe even invite the guy out for lunch to talk about how much everyone likes working there and loves the boss.  Your lack of reply says the opposite, as succinctly, and without risking your job or future, as possible.

And now Madame L has a question for you: Why are you still working for that boss? Snap on your water wings and jump ship as fast as you can.

Madame L understands that it's hard to move on in our current job market, but she suspects that what's keeping you in your job is a bit of inertia, which she urges you to fight.

Finish whatever project you need to finish so you can move on, and finish with such a flourish that you'll receive high accolades from your boss.

Madame L promises that there will come a time, maybe a year from now, maybe ten, when you'll look back with a little bit of fondness on your current situation because of the perspective of time and distance you will have gained. 

Please keep in touch and let Madame L know how it's going.

Your friend in circumspection,

Madame L

1 comment:

AskTheGeologist said...

I think we're talking about someone with a Jerk Coefficient of about 27 (the normal range is 0 - 1.0). Right?