TOO OFTEN IN THE PINK
Q: I seem to have no control over my blushing and am concerned that, recently promoted to chief economist at my company, it makes me look unprofessional, over-emotional or an open book. What should I do?
A: It would be facetious to suggest that a chief economist who reads like an open book should be deeply reassuring to their company. The trouble is, blushing may also suggest that the blusher has something to hide - which is presumably not so welcome.
So far (as you will have noticed), my answer has conformed to the sad convention about blushing. To the sufferer, it can be a deeply distracting affliction, sapping the confidence and the self-esteem; while to colleagues and friends, insensitive creatures all, it's just a bit of a laugh - an excuse for a tease. So forgive me.
If your blushing is causing you serious distress, you should start by seeking professional advice. Talk to your GP if you've got a sympathetic one, but don't exclude alternative treatment. I've heard of cases where hypnotherapy has helped, for example.
The only other tack - which requires superhuman quantities of chutzpah - is to draw attention to your blushing whenever you feel a good one brewing up. Tell people you blush. Warn them to watch out for it. Say: 'Wow, that was a good one.' It's coming close to asking the impossible and you may find the very thought of it unbearable. But if you think you might just manage it, give it a go. Someone I know tried this trick - and was almost disappointed to discover that he never blushed again.
A KICKING FROM THE REFEREE
Q: I was forced to resign as finance director of a small manufacturer because I disagreed with the way the owner was running the business. One of its suppliers offered me a six-month contract to review their financial processes. Since then opportunities, however seemingly promising, have come to nothing. I'm now told my former employer is giving me unenthusiastic references. What should I do?
Don't let suspicion eat away at you: start by trying to establish the truth. If someone has told you that your former employer is slagging you off in his references, then that same someone should be able to get hold of a copy. And if it contains lies or demonstrably misleading implications, then at least you know your suspicions are well-founded.
If the evidence is there, go back to the supplier you did the financial review for. He may be in an invidious position himself - but show him the reference and ask him if he thinks it's full and fair. If he agrees that it's not, ask him a final favour: when next a promising opportunity presents itself, is he prepared to have an off-the-record word with your new prospect?
I expect you've also considered deleting all references to your time with the small manufacturer from your CV - but that might raise more questions than it answers. Only if your former employer's references are clearly damaging should you knock on your lawyer's door. Above all, make heroic attempts to avoid exuding bitterness: bitter people interview extremely badly.
ONE OF THE LADS, RELUCTANTLY
Q: At my company there is a strong culture, led from the very top, of drinking at lunch time and after work. Alcohol at lunch wipes me out and, after work, I want to go home to my family. But I'm a senior manager and I don't want to seem standoffish and damage my chances of promotion. What should I do?
A: However difficult it may seem, what you should do is what your instinct tells you to do: if alcohol at lunch time wipes you out, skip it. Tell anybody who's interested that alcohol at lunch time wipes you out. If you like to get back to your family after work, do so: if only because the alternatives are too grisly to contemplate. You either stand there in the pub, clutching half a lager and laughing unconvincingly at other people's rude jokes; or you quite unconsciously transmit such strong signals of superiority and disapproval that you won't even get Brownie points for having joined in.
Nothing is more obvious, nor more dispiriting for others, than someone who is not naturally one of the lads pretending, with limited acting ability, to be one.
You will already have spotted the snag. The culture you describe is 'led from the very top'. From this it is clear that your big boss, who is possibly even the owner, continues to need the company and security of a loyal group of courtiers - or sycophants, as you may more accurately think them to be.
So if it is really true, and not just a product of your troubled imagination, that the ability to stay late drinking with the boys is a non-negotiable qualification for promotion, then start reading the classifieds. But talk to the big banana first. If you're good at what you do - and you seem to be - my guess is that a clear understanding between you and the boss will suit both of you. You continue to be a valued senior manager for him; and he makes no unreasonable demands on your own social time.
You will, of course, have to learn to take the inevitable boring badinage in good spirit - or at least pretend to. But that's a small price to pay for seeing the kids into bed every night.
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.
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