@Work Advice: No good way to say it. Deflecting—or not firing—casual insults.


(Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)
August 29

Thoughts on deflecting — or not firing off — casual insults.

Reader: My supervisor pulled me into her office and told me that a document I had written for her was “no good.” When I read the version she wanted me to use, I saw that her document actually was the document I sent her with a few added paragraphs. I get the need to edit, truly, but I don’t get why she’d call my document “no good” but proceed to use my material.

Karla: This is hard to answer without knowing what was in those “few added paragraphs.” It may be that your spelling, grammar and other details were flawless, but the body of your work was missing some vital organs. Perhaps your information was complete, but your supervisor’s additions gave it context and polish. Perhaps you weren’t clear on what you were supposed to achieve, thanks to a lack of experience or guidance. Or you may be dealing with someone who doesn’t know the difference between editing and imposing her own idiosyncratic preferences.

Try to figure out how the added paragraphs improved the final product; if you can’t, ask your supervisor to spell out what wasn’t working so you’ll know better next time.

In short, try not to take the “no good” label too literally or personally. Treat it as a less-than-diplomatic choice of words from someone who may know what’s “good” but who lacks the ability or patience to articulate why. Then see if you can’t still learn something from that person. Even if it seems all you’re learning is how to deliver what the boss wants, that in itself is a valuable career skill — at least until you’re in a position to make your own idiosyncratic preferences the standard.

And while you can probably count yourself lucky if “no good” is the harshest critique you encounter in your career, you should know that broad scorched-earth criticism — This is horrible; this belongs in the trash — is as often a sign of a bad guide as a bad product. A good mentor flags flaws, furnishes fixes and forgoes the flogging.

Reader 2: I am a young professional and have been in a job for six months that I did not really choose (long, irrelevant story). While the work has been okay and I enjoy my co-workers, it doesn’t really align with what I want to do long-term.

I have accepted a new position at the same company. The only problem is, it’s on the same floor — and uses the same bathroom and coffee machine — as where I work now! How do I handle this gracefully?

Karla: “It’s the best of all worlds: I’m getting an exciting new opportunity, but I still get to see you guys every day!” Further detail on the inadequacy of your previous position would be, as you say, long and irrelevant — with a whiff of scraping your boots off on the rung you just left.

Ask Karla Miller about your work dramas and traumas by e-mailing wpmagazine@washpost.com. Read more @Work Advicecolumns.

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