When you can't give your boss a timeout

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I love my job. I work with a great team, I really enjoy what I do, they value me and I contribute to something that really helps people. But. I am currently in the middle of many personal problems with my family. Without going into too much detail, some very unpleasant things have been said and done. I have distanced myself from my family so I can fully analyze my thoughts and feelings around these events and decide what boundaries are necessary to move forward.

So how is this wired to work? My boss asks me a lot about the time I spend with my family. I try to offer superficial comments about how good it was and how well they're doing, but my true feelings on the subject are always simmering beneath the surface. My boss means well and I don't think he's being inappropriate, but I don't know how to communicate a family rift. If I suddenly say, “Please stop asking about my family,” I know he'll be worried after keeping up the charade for so long.

– Anonymous

I am very sorry to hear about your family estrangement. Family divisions are very difficult and language is often inadequate when it comes to explaining what is happening, how it affects you and what you need. Your manager clearly means well, but you need time and space. I would suggest telling him that you appreciate his kindness in asking about his family, but that things are difficult right now, you'd rather not talk about it, that you're doing as well as can be expected, and that you hope he can respect this. . Perimeter. Sometimes you have to be direct and honest about what you need.


I work in a creative job within the government. We're a small team, but we have a lot of influence and room to maneuver because our production is powerful, superiors love our work, and we save the government millions of dollars each year. My dilemma: We all have very specialized jobs and some of my colleagues seem to ignore my work and contributions. They feel that their work is more important (even though superiors have said otherwise) and it is a constant battle every time we start a new project.

I have raised the issue with my boss, who promises change, but is also averse to conflict and therefore nothing changes. I feel demoralized on every project, even though I receive high praise from management. Should I raise the problem again with my manager? Go over his boss? Take it to the top? Should he just start looking for a new job where my skills and contributions will truly be valued? Or should I work my way into management (and I have the qualifications to do so) and get rid of all the colleagues who annoy me?

– Anonymous

More information would help here. How does your colleagues' disregard for your contributions affect your work? And if your bosses appreciate your work and tell you so, why do you care about validation from your colleagues? Certainly, we all want to be recognized and valued for our professional contributions, but why are you considering taking this to the top?

Before doing anything drastic, raise the issue again with your manager and be clear about what the problem is, how it is affecting you, and what the ideal outcome is. You shouldn't have to solve this problem yourself, but sometimes it's helpful to give managers a gentle nudge in the right direction. If all else fails, then yes, you should go into management and fire all your enemies. (I kid. I kid.)

Roxana Gay He is the author, most recently, of “Opinions: A Decade of Argument, Criticism, and Minding Other People's Business” and is a contributing opinion writer. Write to him at workfriend@nytimes.com



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