@Work Advice: When your boss thinks you’ll blab


(Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)
August 8

Reader: What do you say when a boss doesn’t want to send you to a meeting or let you speak with a VIP because she thinks you can’t keep your mouth shut?

I’ve worked several years in a competitive industry. We often are approached for “partnerships” that my boss has no interest in, though she wants to know what the other business is thinking.

Several times she has remarked that I “want to be so helpful” that I “tell them all our business.” I think that’s untrue — and I frankly also think she’s a little paranoid. Not everyone is trying to steal our business.

I’m trusted to speak on the record and represent our business in other ways. She’s never told me that anything I’ve said at a meeting has been a problem, but every once in a while she implies this lack of trust.

The next time it happens, how can I respond? I don’t know if challenging her to come up with a specific example will work, because she’ll cite my natural general “helpfulness” or something.

Karla: Since I don’t know you, your boss or your industry, the following scenarios all sound equally plausible to me:

1. Your boss is paranoid … for no reason. Because her goal is to pilfer secrets without spilling any of her own, she assumes everyone works that way — or should.

or

… for good reason. She’s familiar with your industry’s political stratosphere, and she knows how much sensitive information can be deduced from a seemingly harmless off-the-cuff statement.

2. Your boss can’t give specific examples of when you’ve said too much because …

… it hasn’t happened — yet — but she fears you’ve come close.

or

… it has happened, but she didn’t want to call you out in front of other professionals, and later decided the incidents were too minor to rehash or forgot to bring them up.

3. You should react by …

… quietly disregarding her critiques — and continuing to establish professional connections using methods that have always served you well.

or

… inviting (not challenging) her to give you guidance and specific feedback.

If this were a Choose Your Own Career Adventure book, I’d start with the options that give her the greater benefit of the doubt: “You’ve mentioned your concerns that I overshare with competitors, but I’m not sure what you mean. At our next meeting, can you take note if I cross the line — maybe give me a discreet signal — and debrief me afterward?”

If you make a genuine, flat-hackles effort, you may learn something from her — even if it’s only that she is needlessly paranoid — or she may learn she can indeed trust you to handle things.

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

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