@Work Advice: The powers of persuasion

August 9, 2012

Reader: I am preparing a paper for an international conference. My boss, who has been helping me with editing, consistently makes a “correction” I know to be wrong: inserting double spaces after every period. I don’t want to submit this paper in my name with errors. I feel awkward calling his attention to it, but I worry he will distrust me if I remove the spaces and he notices. How can I get rid of this error while maintaining a good relationship with my boss?

Karla: Okay, co-workers, ’fess up. Which of you sent this?

In the business writing classes I teach, the most contentious issue is spaces between sentences. (Use one.) Another hot topic: dealing with a boss who insists on changes you know are wrong. (Weigh need to be right against need to be employed.)

You could forward him Slate columnist Farhad Manjoo’s January 2011 article-gone-viral, “Space Invaders,” and say, “This says we shouldn’t use double spaces anymore. Isn’t that weird?” He may grudgingly let you undo his “corrections.”


Karla Miller, the Magazine's @Work Advice columnist (Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)

If there’s no persuading him, try appealing to a higher authority: the conference organizers. Ask for their style and formatting guidelines. They may even reformat submissions themselves; your boss can hardly blame you for that.

If the organizers don’t have a style guide (eek!) or are themselves two-spacers (augh!), you may have to let it go. Anyone who scorns your work because of a formatting gaffe can take it up with your boss. (Set up a conference call, and get some popcorn ready.)

Reader: I’m moving from my first job out of college to another division within the company. While I’ve performed well overall, one thing is dragging me down: my lack of personal relationships at work. I don’t have friends in my division as most of my colleagues seem to; as an introvert, I find socializing with colleagues challenging and exhausting. I worry that the longer I’m here without making friends, the stranger and more standoffish I seem. This might hurt my career — plus, I’m lonely. Any practical suggestions for how to give off a friendly-but-professional vibe?

Karla: Learning any job takes effort and energy. If it helps, think of extroversion as just another job skill to master — not a wholesale personality shift.

Small talk, albeit shallow, is a classic lubricant. Learn who your co-workers become off the clock. Ask after their kids/pets/vacations (non-creepily). Seek their advice.

Notice others. Hold elevator doors. Bring goodies to share. Make a habit of “Good morning,” “See you” and “Have a good weekend.” Smile with your eyes. Attend work-sponsored events, just for an hour.

Finally, give it time. Solid reputations and relationships take years to develop. And true friendships at work are rare gems. But being known as friendly, competent and pleasant to work with? That’s golden.

Karla L. Miller is ready to hear your work dramas and traumas. Send your questions to wpmagazine@washpost.com. You also can find her on Twitter, @KarlaAtWork, or Facebook, www.facebook.com/KarlaLMillerAtWork.

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