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Part I: Soups (supervisors) are giving me indigestion

Dear Office-Politics,

Issue #1 In our office protocol it is established that the “soups” or supervisors are the go between for us and the techs. However, I get emails from the techs questioning what I am working on.

In addition, I received this email from an individual who will be my boss as of July 2, 2007. “Techy was just trying to ascertain that you would have the systems you need for Sunday. Why not just answer her?”

I don’t get it. Should I answer this email if so, how?

Issue #2 I am also wondering if there is a polite way of keeping soups out of my personal life. They keep walking around asking everyone.

Soups giving me indigestion

dr. gregory ketchum

Dear Soups giving me indigestion,

If I get you right, and I think I do, I can see the conundrum facing you. Being a former practicing psychologist I immediately recognized this as the “old double bind crazy-making-mixed-message-theory of how to make your employees nuts!”

In my experience in the corporate world this is usually pretty effective at actually driving you nuts, which sounds like the way you might be feeling. This is going to require that you and I work very closely as a team to free you from this bind.

Of course, this is not a deliberate attempt to drive you crazy, but rather is just one of those situations that come up when you’re working with other people. Your “soup” may not realize that s/he is sending you a mixed message so one of the ways you can address it is to simply bring it up to your “soups” attention. This situation is perfect for using the “Columbo Approach” as detailed in my post, “Subordinate keeps jumping over my head…

The essence of the Columbo Approach is to take the attitude of a student or learner who is seeking information and clarification. In approaching your “soup” you might lead with, “Hey Soup, I received your email suggesting that I get back to Techy myself. I’m certainly happy to do that, but I’m a bit confused as the way we normally operate is to go through our “soups”. Has the protocol changed? Is this a one-time event? If you could help me understand this I’d certainly appreciate it.”

On the other hand you could just keep it simple and answer Techy directly and chalk it up to a one-time event and if it happens again, then you can play Columbo to your “soup.” Either way, you sound like a very competent person and I have no doubt you will resolve this successfully.

Now, what’s up with “soups” walking around and asking everyone about your personal life? Are you a covert CIA agent or something in your personal life that everyone is dying to know about? I doubt it and just kidding there. On this one I’d follow the KISS philosophy (keep it simple silly!) and not make a big deal about it as the bigger deal it seems, the more people want to know. So, what do we do to make your personal life a non-issue? You go first and tell me what you think and then I’ll tell you what I think. Well, since we can’t really do it that way, here’s what I believe that you’d say.

“Ok, Dr. Greg, here’s how I’m going to handle this. First, I’ll tell my friends and associates at work that I’m simply a private person and believe in keeping work and personal life separate. Next, if I get a question about my personal life from a “soup” I’ll politely let them know the same thing. Now, Dr. Greg, I know I can’t control if other people ask questions about my personal life, but I do believe if I put that message out there on a consistent basis about being a private person, eventually they’ll lose interest and stop asking. Further, Dr. Greg, that’s the best advice I’ve ever given myself! How did you do that? You are a genius!”

Well, Soups, thanks very much for the great compliment, but really it was all you and I’ve got complete confidence that you’ll handle both of these situations with grace and aplomb

Thanks for writing Office Politics.


Dr. Greg

Dr. Greg Ketchum, dubbed the “Frasier of the Cubicles” by the San Francisco Chronicle, is a former clinical psychologist-turned CEO and media career coach. He presides over an executive talent firm, providing coaching and recruiting for executives and Fortune 500 companies. A unique mix of psychology and coaching expertise gives Dr. Greg a great understanding of people and what it takes for career success. Combined with his keen insight into today’s job market, and infused with his trademark quick wit, Dr. Greg challenges Office-Politics readers to reach for career success on their own terms — and to have a good time doing it.

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