Q: I have a female colleague with whom I enjoy a friendly working relationship. One thing happens like clockwork the first time I see her every day: She says: "Hi. Ohh, I love your outfit!" and then looks me up and down for a few awkward seconds while I fumble to change the topic. I am generally good at accepting compliments, but come on — there is no way my twin sets and pleated slacks wow her every single day. I have the odd edgy-fashion inspiration, but some days I knowingly arrive at work with dog hair in my sweater.
This is not brown-nosing — or, if it is, it's misdirected, because we're peers and I have no control over her career path. Do I tell her how awkward it makes me feel, or just say thanks and ask about her weekend?
A:"Why, thank you. I was considering a beige cardigan, but maroon really makes the yellow Lab accents pop."
Whether it's a backhanded compliment or just a quirky habit, you're better off treating her gawkward greeting the same as any "good morning." For giggles, you could see if her reaction varies when you're sporting a leopard-print jumpsuit.
I'm curious: What does she wear? Maybe she's hoping you'll return the compliment.
Q: I've been working with "Jane" for two years and always really liked her. Several months ago she got angry over a misunderstanding, and I couldn't convince her she was mistaken. We act civil, but co-workers say she has told them I've said nasty things about them.
I recently encouraged her to apply for a promotion and said she'd be great at it. Our manager overheard, so I told her privately that Jane is mean, difficult, and a jerk; that I would feel awful if she were promoted on my account; and that I only encouraged Jane to kiss her rear end. The manager thanked me and said she saw things differently now, and even appreciated my take on getting along. Unfortunately, Jane still gets better treatment than I do and might get that promotion. What can I do?
A: When you pucker up near someone's posterior, you're lucky if your own words are all you end up eating.
It's possible to be civil ("Good luck") without being insincere ("You'd be sooo good at it"). Even if you were just trying to smooth things over with Jane, your confession probably has your boss feeling around her own back for a knife handle. Whether Jane is promoted or not, it's probably best give this toxic situation the kiss-off and find a job where you can work on paying your co-workers more than lip service.
Karla L. Miller writes an advice column on navigating the modern workplace. Each week she will answer one or two questions from readers. Miller has written for and edited tax publications for 16 years, most recently for the accounting firm KPMG's Washington National Tax office. You can find her on Twitter, @KarlaAtWork.