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Boss Troubles: A Gray-Area Behavior Problem

Boss Troubles: A Gray-Area Behavior Problem

How should an employee contend with a well-intentioned but buffoonish supervisor who over-compliments and makes her uncomfortable?

Rebecca Reisner / Business Week

December 30, 2008

Tara Conroy* winced when her new boss would tell her, “You look especially lovely today” or “You have beautiful flawless skin” even though she knew he meant well.

“Pete was always looking for reasons to compliment people,” says Tara, a sales promotion supervisor at a software company. “He was 20 years older than I was and 30 years older than most of the people on my team, so maybe it was his way of trying to be popular and fit in.”

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Instead of endearing himself to Tara and her team, however, Pete was losing their respect. “He’d thank people profusely for doing routine things, and it was just too much,” Tara recalls. “People were thinking, ‘Look, all I did was hand you the mail—I didn’t climb Mount Olympus.’”

None of the women who worked for Pete thought he was hitting on them, but the compliments caused awkwardness just the same. “A couple of times, he came into my cube when I was putting on lipstick, and he said, ’Don’t tamper with perfection,’” recalls Tara. “It made me feel self-conscious. And it was even more awkward when he complimented me on my appearance in front of other people.”

Worse, members of Tara’s team began making fun of Pete behind his back and teasing Tara about how “especially lovely” she looked.

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