I Just Work Here

References, and how to avoid giving them

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A bad co-worker has asked you for a recommendation. Should you turn him or her down? (Alex Mares-Manton, Asia Images / November 11, 2011)

"There's a company for everyone," Schawbel said. "Tell them you'd only feel comfortable recommending them for the right opportunities. Say, 'Hey, I think you'd be a better fit for a different type of role.'"

There's no easy way to do that, but by kindly offering an honest assessment of the person's strengths and weaknesses you can help that person avoid mistakes.

I believe it was me who once said, "You don't give a kid medicine because it tastes good." Just keep that completely useless phrase in mind, and everything should work out fine.

Q: How do you deal with a co-worker who thinks that because they have been there longer and are older, they know more than you about how best to do the job?

— Anonymous, via email

A: I imagine there are many elves at the North Pole who have similar thoughts about Santa Claus: "Just 'cause you've got that fancy beard and have been doing this forever doesn't mean you know the best way to make a wagon, chubby."

It's a dilemma. We're generally taught to respect our elders, but the reality is, people who haven't been in the same job half their lives often bring some clearer thinking and innovation to the table. And the people who have been in the same job a long time rarely embrace change.

The key, as is so often the case, is striking a respectful balance.

Oregon-based career coach Dorothy Tannahill Moran gave me several suggestions for deftly handling a veteran co-worker.

First, humble thyself. Though you think your way is best, it's always worth listening to another person's approach. You might find they do know more than you do, or there might be something helpful in their suggestion.

Next, keep in mind that when someone gives you advice, it's usually coming from a good place. They want to be helpful, and workplace relationships are built on a foundation of support and idea sharing. If you're dismissive, it's just going to create tension and, possibly, hurt feelings.

Finally, ask the veteran whether he or she has seen anything wrong with your work, any specific part of your performance that isn't up to par. You might find there are areas that need to be addressed. Or, at that point, it might be clear the two of you have different ways of doing things, and you can explain why you work the way you do.

The key in all this, Moran said, is to never let the discussion get confrontational.

Unless you're dealing with Santa. That guy's a total prima donna. (Just kidding, Santa! Please bring me a new iPhone!!)

TALK TO REX: Ask workplace questions — anonymously or by name — and share stories with Rex Huppke at ijustworkhere@tribune.com, like Rex on Facebook at facebook.com/rexworkshere and find more at chicagotribune.com/ijustworkhere.
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