KATY LEDERER writes about common office challenges.
Q: I lead a small team. I have an office with a door. My team sits outside my office, in
a cube setting. Their noise drives me insane. One team member wears multiple
bangle-type bracelets and types furiously.
The other team member eats 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 ear buds, 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?
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 jewellery and
smack their lips, but they steal too many pens and call in sick when they are actually
But just because it is 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 too absorbed is known in
corporatese as “flow”.
Buy a pair of fancy headphones and visit a doctor. But humour 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
To tune out all those sounds you hate, tune in to work you like to do. 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 semi-retired and spent more than 20 years in senior leadership at high-profile
private sector entities. A former 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 workers that this
person was abruptly removed from his position and is now out of work.
I am hesitant to respond because there it is possible that this person was let go for
A: You owe no one in this world a reference.
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 point in favour of your impression that he has terrible
If that 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.
Q: I work closely with two different teams at my company. Often my colleagues 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. Frankly, it makes me uncomfortable. Is there a
polite way to ask that I stop being treated as a middleman?
A: Absolutely there is a polite way to ask that you stop being treated as the
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?”
Q: I work a student job on campus where I set my own hours. I have been interested
in one of my colleagues for about 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
A few other people know about the situation. 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.
A: My over-the-table advice is that, of course, you should immediately stop 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 colour
and memory. Remember “no” means “no”.
This article first appeared in The New York Times.