UK: WHAT'S YOUR PROBLEM?

UK: WHAT'S YOUR PROBLEM? - FADING FOREIGN HOPES

by JEREMY BULLMORE.
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

FADING FOREIGN HOPES

I moved to my current job because I was told that there would be opportunities to travel overseas and use my languages. There are - but my boss always seems to nab them, leaving me to do the donkey work at home. Is it worth sitting it out? I have tentatively raised the subject with my boss, who appears sympathetic but fails to deliver.

A lot of life's knottier problems creep up on us gradually, bit by bit, and there's rarely an obvious, clear-cut moment that prompts us to say: 'Right! Enough of this! Things have got to change!' So we give things another chance, mutter: 'Next time I'll really give them a piece of my mind!' - and, of course, drift and discontent continue.

When faced with one of these insidious, creeping predicaments, the best thing to do is to decide, well ahead of time, on a clear, measurable trigger moment for yourself. Write it down and then (unless something happens to change the game) stick to it. In your case it should probably be the number of months that have passed since you joined with still no overseas trip to show for it. But it has to be a number - not some ill-defined feeling of frustration.

When that number comes up, send a note to your boss. I know it sounds formal but you need it to be in writing and you need to be precise. Keep the heat out of it. Don't sound huffy. Just say that an important contributory reason for your taking the job was the opportunity it promised for travel.

Now, X months later, your languages, an important part of your qualifications, are growing rusty. You can't afford to let your market value diminish any further so, with regret, you'll soon need to move on.

Last tip. Write the note now. Then read it back to yourself and see how it sounds. It'll help you discover just how important travel really is for you - and whether you really would ditch your current job in order to get some. If you wouldn't, stop whingeing and get on with it.

CHRISTMAS PRESENCE

I have just been made up to the board and do not want colleagues to think I've got superior by leaving the Christmas party too early but, equally, they'll probably let their hair down more once I've gone. The etiquette is all new to me. What's the best course of action?

Over the years, presumably, when you were younger and just one of the boys, you must have witnessed other new directors facing up to the same predicament. Can you remember how they did it?

My bet is you can't - because it's not nearly as defining a moment as you think. You imagine all eyes will be on you because you're acutely conscious of your new and exalted position. Well - they won't be. You're right, of course, to give it some thought, but you'd be wrong (and overly self-important) to agonise about it.

Test yourself against these two extremes: 'Just because I'm now a director, don't think I can't get as pissed as the rest of you'; and 'As I'm sure you must realise, it would be most unseemly for someone of my seniority to become in any way ribald'. You don't need me to tell you to avoid both.

Forget about etiquette, behave naturally, and aim for a reasonably early night. That should see you safely home.

MR KNOW-IT-ALL

One of my fellow directors (who is also a friend) is articulate, professional and successful but always has to know the answer to everything and leaves me and others feeling irritated and somehow diminished. He never seems to be able to admit he might be ignorant or wrong about anything or subject to normal vulnerabilities. As a result, I am finding it very difficult to maintain a proper relationship with him.

Are you sure this unattractive person is a friend? And, if he is, are you sure you're being fair in your description of him?

You tell me that he's 'articulate, professional and successful' and leaves you and others 'feeling diminished'. My first and unworthy suspicion is that he leaves you feeling diminished simply because he's better at some things than you are and quite a lot more successful.

'No, no, no!' I hear you cry. 'It's not like that at all! He's a smug and self-important shit!' So OK, cool down now. I accept your verdict - but only on condition that you stop pretending (to me and to yourself) that he's your friend.

You know perfectly well that you do not like this person - but you seem reluctant to say so out loud in case it smacks of envy and sour grapes.

There - you've said it. You should be feeling better already.

Abandoning any pretence at friendship frees you up in two ways. First, you can redefine what you call a 'proper relationship'. You don't have to go on being matey through gritted teeth. No more dutiful drinks after work or shared family photographs. You can be just as civil as you need to be in order to work together. And secondly, you can now mock him lightly from time to time about his relentless omniscience. If he finds that an unfriendly act, that's fine. He's no friend of yours, remember?

And if the mocking works, and he mends his ways, and becomes an altogether more likeable person ... who knows? You might even find a friend - but a real one, this time.

Jeremy Bullmore, former chairman of J Walter Thompson, is now a director of Guardian Media Group and WPP.

Please address your problems to him at:

Management Today, 174 Hammersmith Road, London W6 7JP.

Or e-mail: management.today@haynet.com

Regrettably no correspondence can be entered into.

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