What to Respond When Tricky Question are Asked

John Krautzel
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Having a job puts you in close quarters with bosses who may ignore social cues and ask awkward questions that make you uncomfortable. Since you can't avoid co-workers forever, sharpen your communication skills and learn constructive ways to respond to tricky situations. A few simple strategies can help you stay calm and deflect awkward questions that frequently come up at work.

1. What Do You Think of My Performance as a Manager?

Whether a boss wants your personal feedback or the opinions of your teammates, be careful about how you answer this awkward question. Good bosses might have a genuine desire to improve, but some managers are merely going through the motions or digging for dirt about unhappy co-workers. Launching into a list of complaints is likely to put a target on your back, especially if your manager's real goal is to get praise.

Play it safe, and ease tension by starting on a positive note. Compliment your manager's greatest strengths, and then tactfully offer feedback. For example, "You're great at organizing and delegating big projects. I think we can get even better results if we plan more checkpoints to stay on task."

2. Can You Take on Extra Work?

Getting slammed with work no one else wants to do is never fun, and you come across as a pushover if you continually say "yes." Instead of letting the boss take advantage of you, be upfront about your work capacity and provide options for how to move forward. For instance, "I'm happy to focus on Project C if it's a high-priority. However, I'm already managing Projects A and B that are currently due this week. These projects need to be reassigned or put on hold if you want me to deliver the quality you've come to expect."

Of course, you're free to do extra work to score brownie points. Taking the initiative on undesirable projects can make you stand out, but don't make a habit of accepting more work than you can manage.

3. Are You Job Hunting?

Job hunting is personal, and you're never obligated to discuss these awkward questions with your boss. But it may be in your best interest to be honest. While managers hate losing a wonderful employee, many are happy to help you reach the next level of your career.

Give a brief reason why you're ready to move on. Maybe, you're relocating, shifting roles or pursuing a more challenging career. Remember, managers are human and have been through similar experiences. Your boss may be understanding of your goals or even offer a raise or promotion to keep your around.

4. Who Are the Team Slackers?

The last thing you want is a reputation as the work tattletale. Everyone works at a unique pace with differing levels of productivity, and it isn't your place to spread biased opinions about co-workers. Deflect awkward questions by making it clear you value the contributions of your teammates. You can say, "I believe efforts and results are more important than individual work styles."

Strong communication skills are your greatest tool to navigate difficult conversations. When you repeatedly handle awkward questions with tact, a smart boss may eventually back off altogether. What are the most awkward questions a manager has ever asked you? Share your experiences in the comments.

Photo courtesy of Allan Watt at Flickr.com


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