Job Chat

Be Professional While Still Being Cordial

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Adapted from an online discussion with career advice columnist Lily Garcia.

QWashington, D.C.: What is the best way to change the dynamics between co-workers without creating enemies? I have been working with a woman for close to nine years and am tired of the pettiness, bullying and violation of privacy. I am no longer interested in after-hours socializing. I have stopped speaking to her, but now she is becoming very mean-spirited. I want to keep things strictly business and cordial.

What's the best way to deal with this?

AThere is nothing wrong with keeping your workplace relationships strictly professional. If this is an abrupt change from your past behavior, however, it is understandable for your co-worker to be hurt or confused. Over time, she will adjust to your new attitude and her resentment will fade. For the moment, I worry that you may have gone too far to the other extreme. Remember that being even-tempered and professional is not incompatible with being friendly and courteous. You can be kind to your co-worker without implying that it is okay for her to continue to meddle.

Arlington: I left a senior middle-management private-sector position a few months ago for a federal job. At this point, I feel that federal service is not for me, and I desire to get back to the private sector. What is the best way to discuss this with prospective employers?

You should work on identifying the specific reasons why you think that federal sector work is not for you. Then come up with a way of expressing these ideas so that you do not appear to be disparaging your current (federal) employer. For example, if you do not enjoy working in a hierarchical or structured environment, say that you enjoy having the freedom to accomplish objectives through informal relationships across departments.

Washington: My brother just graduated with his master's degree and is looking for his first job. He has autism, which makes it extremely difficult for him to perform well in an interview setting. He did very well in school but has little work experience. He gets many responses to his résumé, but once he gets to the interview stage, no one will give him a chance. How should someone in his situation approach an interview?

I am no expert on autism, but I imagine that your brother could benefit from the services of a trained professional who could help him to come up with some adaptive behaviors.

Short of getting professional help, another, perhaps more controversial, approach would be for your brother to reveal to his interviewer that he has a disability that affects his ability to interview effectively. If he chooses to do this, he will need to be prepared to explain what sort of accommodation would allow him the best chance of participating successfully in the process. In this regard, the advice of a professional expert in autism would be helpful.

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