MT Special: What Not To Say 3

The third instalment of author Mark Vernon's ten tips on how to deal with awkward office situations.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Office life places people cheek-by-jowl. Often, the intimacy is good, nurturing personal friendships and professional success. But it can also bring surprises – sometimes hilarious, sometimes grave. Mark Vernon looks at ten difficult moments: what’s at stake, and how should you react?

5. Infatuation

I used to be an Anglican priest. Of all the many things they taught us at theological college, one stands out: people fall in love with priests because they are figures of authority.

Sigmund Freud put adoration of father-figures – be they politicians, priests or patriarchs – at the heart of his psychology. In fact, he thought that people – men and women – are hopelessly attracted to authority. Which explains why folk fall in love with their bosses every day of the working week.

Such situations are embarrassing for all concerned. Those who spot love taking hold across the water-cooler cannot understand why it is going on, but those who find themselves infatuated can think of little else. Those who sense that they are the object of such affection may feel amused, then flattered, and finally panicked.

The trick is to try to stay real. Romance across the corporate hierarchy may well be unwise. If it does turn into love, most would advise keeping your personal and professional lives separate.


6. Promotion

‘Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies,’ wrote Al Gore – perfectly capturing why the announcement of promotions in the office can be so sticky. Envy is an ugly feeling and it is one that only saints avoid. Indeed, 21% of employees believe they should be promoted immediately, and a further 23% within the next six months, according to Investors in People, the organisation that promotes improvements in working life.

Then there are the questions that managers must answer – from ‘Why not me?’ to ‘Why them and not me?’

A couple of things are key. First, demystify the process. Have clear guidelines about promotion and the process, and communicate them to employees without obfuscatory jargon. Phrases like ‘be a team player’ or ‘think outside of the box’ say everything and nothing. Second, employers can create a culture in which promotion is not the be-all and end-all: contentment and challenge can be just as important as a raise.


We'll be revealing two more top tips every day this week. And for more of the same, check out Mark’s latest book, What Not To Say, which is published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

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