Q: I had a chat with a colleague in the office kitchen about two months ago and she started asking me questions about gardening. I consider myself knowledgeable and so gave her some advice. This has evolved into an almost daily session with her. I didn't mind at first but the word has got out that I'm green fingered and I'm being accosted left, right and centre by people with questions about growing vegetables and how to keep blackfly off their roses. I'm flattered but am also starting to feel taken advantage of.
JEREMY SAYS: This is why doctors and lawyers often conceal what they do for a living when meeting new people at parties; otherwise they get pinned into corners and expected to give free professional advice to total strangers.
What you need to do is construct some sort of notional division between your day-to-day work and your 'gardening consultancy'. So I suggest you design a mock poster and put it up on your office notice board. It should say something like: 'Maggie's Gardeners' Question Time. Every Thursday 5.30-6.30 in the main meeting room (or Coach & Horses).'
So next time you're ambushed in the office kitchen, you can just grin and say you'll be only too pleased to see them on Thursday evening. Nobody could take offence at that. And if your 'consultancy' begins to become too burdensome and you still feel you're being taken advantage of, you could always suggest a seedling or two (or maybe even a drink) as payment in kind. Don't give it up altogether: you enjoy it too much.
- Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. His book Another Bad Day at the Office? is published by Penguin at £6.99. Address your problem to Jeremy Bullmore at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.
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