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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Constructive Criticism

Dear Sue: I've been at my job for 8 months as an eye assistant to an ophthalmologist. I thought my job performance was good until my boss informed me that I either have to change the way I am or find another job.

Apparently, there have been complaints about me from my coworkers. I was told that I am not aggressive enough, too quiet, lack enthusiasm and seem unhappy with my job.

My boss told me that I needed to somehow learn to become aggressive and change in 6 weeks or find another job.

Is it right for someone to tell you that you need to change the way you are? I really like my job and don't know what to do. Please help.

- Stumped

Sue Says: If the way you are affects your work and productivity, then it is acceptable, within reason, for you to be asked to change the way you are.

As difficult as it is to hear the type of feedback you have received, consider it a blessing. Many people never discover the real reason they were let go or passed over for a promotion. This is an opportunity for you to take a good look at yourself and make some changes that will help you at this job and any others you may have in the future.

It is possible that you lack the skills to become the type of person they want you to be, but it sounds as though the complaints you have heard can be overcome.

Although you say you like your job, for some reason, it isn't showing. Perhaps you can question your boss further about the specifics of these complaints and ask for any suggestions he can make that will help you be more effective.

Attitude plays an enormous role in a person's overall effectiveness. You say you're happy, but how do you show it? One of the simplest business tools available to all of us is a smile - do you smile at others?

Do you show an interest in other people by asking questions? Do you speak so quietly that people have a hard time hearing you?

Studies have found that ninety-three percent of what is believed about us is comes from our nonverbal communication. This means that the way you say something is even more important than the words you use.

Make a conscious effort to stand up tall, speak loudly and clearly, and project more enthusiasm. It may feel awkward at first, but soon can become a natural part of who you are.

There is always the chance that you aren't able to adapt to the person they want you to be. You may find that you will be more comfortable in a position that doesn't require you to be more aggressive. But you'll never know until you try. Use this as an opportunity to learn more about who you are, and to grow and change. I hope you will write me again in 6 weeks and let me know what happens!

Dear Sue: My boss is constantly joking around and is basically pretty unprofessional. He has crossed the line with me more than once.

He jokes with me in a rude and hurtful manner. His good friend, who shows up at the office often, crosses the line with me as well. They ask me about my personal life and my fiancÚ and then jokingly cut it up.

This "joking" has gotten to the point that I am thinking of quitting. I do not know how to handle it. Do you have any suggestions? I don't want to seem rude or unfriendly to them. When I've said things about their rudeness they stop for a while, but it always starts up again. What can I do besides quit?

-Searching for an Answer

Sue Says: I hate to tell you this, but chances are if you leave this job, you may find yourself working for someone else who treats you in the same manner. Although your boss and his friend sound quite insensitive, whether knowingly or not, you are allowing them to treat you this way.

Do you laugh at his jokes out of politeness? Do you say something about their rudeness, but allow it to continue?

Consider talking to your boss now, before it happens again. Sometimes addressing the issue when it isn't happening can be more effective. Whether you say something now or not, the next time he talks to you and you begin to feel violated, tell your boss in no uncertain terms that when he jokes with you in that fashion, you feel most uncomfortable. Then tell him (don't ask him) to stop. If he starts up again, tell him again how his conversation is affecting you. If necessary, let him know that his behavior has even caused you to consider quitting. And, if he doesn't stop, then I suggest you look for work elsewhere.

Dear Sue: My boss just announced his resignation, which will be effective in 90 days.

He has made it clear that he will be the boss until the day he leaves. I admire and respect him and want to do all I can to make him as successful as I can.

I want to apply for his position, but don't want to hurt our relationship. Can you help me?

- Cautious

Sue Says: The reason your boss is leaving is because he resigned. He wants to leave, so going after his position should not pose any kind of threat to him. Chances are he won't care that you want to apply for his position. After all, he made the decision to make it available!

You have ever right to apply for his job and if you decide to inform him of your intentions, he may even help you. But, you know him best, and need to decide if it is better to tell him now or later.

Apply for the position you want and when you do decide to talk to your boss, tell him what you have told me and you shouldn't have any problems! Every boss should be lucky enough to be respected and admired by his or her employees!

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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