Dealing with savvy and not-so-savvy bosses

Vera Held

January 1, 2013

Q: I purchased the $80 park permit for our end-of-summer “bonding” barbecue. The email invite said each person pays $5, guests included. Mid-afternoon, I asked my boss “Betty” for the $80 refund. She said, “Oh! How can we ask them for $5 when we invited them?” I just stood there and waited until enough money had been collected to reimburse me. Because only 25 of the 50 people who came actually paid, Betty asked the “payers” for $10 each. We all refused. Is she mixed up, incompetent or what?

A: Barbecue boss Betty neglected her duties and fiscal responsibility. Details had been spelled out, so collecting $5 per person at the barbecue’s onset should have been a breeze. Not only did you need to be reimbursed, but I assume others did as well for purchases related to food, drinks and for picnic and activity supplies. Had all 50 paid the $5, Betty still would have had to dip into reserves. She also “punished the payers” by asking them to pay double. Parlay your knowledge of inept Betty to your job and team. This gal’s thinking (or the clear lack of it) could well spiral your department downward.


Q: It’s rude to speak another language when you know the other person won’t understand it. Ten different languages are spoken in our office but only by staff when they work in their small teams. Our manager “Ralph” insists on English when the whole department is together. Is this standard practice in Canada?

A: You’ve got one savvy manager. In Canada’s multicultural mosaic, we speak abundant languages in addition to English and French. Ralph gets that. It’s natural for people to speak their mother tongue, so he encourages it — with healthy, professional limits. Petty, insecure people, however, purposefully exclude others from conversations to isolate them by playing the “language solidarity card.” What makes your workplace and other Canadian workplaces rock is that Ralph simultaneously ensures diversity and inclusion. Bravo!


Q: I’m 50, going through a nasty divorce and after a 15-year absence have just returned to law in a new role as a legal assistant. I’m thrilled my old law firm took me back; I badly need the money and I want to do a good job. But this former legal secretary is scared and overwhelmed. Do you have any suggestions?

A: Speak to the right person and ask for regular training on a daily basis. A combination of job shadowing and hands-on mentoring will provide you with the catch-up skills and data you need.  Example: you could job-shadow mornings and train with a colleague afternoons. Show your employer just how eager and committed you are to making things work. Read. Take an online course. Focus. Ask questions. Give 200 percent. Add value. Don’t allow the divorce to interfere with your work. This is your big second chance with a law firm that believes in you, trusts you and respects you. You go, girl.

About the Author(s)

Vera Held

Vera Held is a coach, facilitator, speaker, writer, PR consultant, and the author of business best-seller How Not to Take it Personally. Send your tough workplace questions to Vera at

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