When You’re Stuck in the Middle of a Workplace Battle

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I recently had the opportunity to bring three provisional junior members into my team, with the option to progress them to permanent roles after a year if I can demonstrate their importance to the business. Depending on budget, there might be room for only one or two to progress.

I’m assessing them on their productivity as well as contributions in other areas. All three are hard workers with great attitudes and high productivity, and I’m currently building business cases to keep each on board permanently. I’ve also received unsolicited praise from three senior managers for one of them in particular — who happens to resemble a young Michelle Pfeiffer. These individuals are all older straight men, which is unfortunately the main demographic here at the upper levels.

“Michelle” has in no way behaved unprofessionally — she’s made strong professional connections across demographics — but I’d be remiss in ignoring my suspicions that these men were at least subconsciously motivated by more than professional respect. It feels unfair to the other two junior staffers to offer this praise the weighting it would normally merit but unfair to Michelle to ignore it. Help.

— Anonymous

Be careful. You’re essentially engaging in the same type of behavior you rightly disdain from your older straight male colleagues. Are you really suggesting that you might penalize your employee because you assume she is receiving positive professional feedback because of her appearance?

People have biases, particularly where looks are concerned. My mother loves to remind me that we eat with our eyes first. This is something of a mixed metaphor but I think you get my point. Entire books have been written about the advantages beautiful people enjoy in the workplace. I appreciate your being mindful of this dynamic, but if Michelle is indeed performing well that’s what you should focus on. To compensate based on what you perceive as unfair praise is a slippery slope to head down. You absolutely mean well but you have no way of knowing if the men praising her performance are really only praising her looks.

Is it possible? Of course. But it’s not fair to punish her for their childish misogyny, if that’s truly what’s going on. All three candidates deserve to be treated equitably. Don’t overthink this.

Earlier this year, I went on a few dates with a guy I liked and thought things were good until he ghosted me. I accepted that he wasn’t that into me and moved on, though I was hurt by the lack of communication.

Fast forward six months: he’s introduced as my new co-worker. He had known I worked at this small restaurant and even said, “Hey, I’m glad you still work here!” I honestly don’t mind that he works there. I’m happy to help him when he asks work-related questions. However, he often tries to talk as if we’re friends and has not addressed our past or the fact that he ghosted me. How do I tell him I was hurt when he ghosted me and that I wish to only discuss work matters?

— Anonymous

Being ghosted feels terrible. Without warning someone disappears and you have no answers. In some ways, this is a fortuitous situation. You have been presented with an opportunity for closure. If you really do want to address this with the Ghost, ask him if you can speak before or after work in a neutral location. Share your feelings and the terms you would prefer for your relationship moving forward.

But before you do that, I want you to really think through what you’re hoping to get out of such a conversation. What good will come of it both in the short and long term? You will unburden some of your hurt, but it might complicate what seems like an amicable professional relationship.

Do consider letting this go, not because he deserves to be let off the hook but because you seem to be in a good place and he doesn’t deserve any more of your mental energy. In the meantime, may the next guy you date be the man of your dreams.

Roxane Gay is the author, most recently, of “Hunger” and a contributing opinion writer. Write to her at [email protected].