Dazed and Confused: How to Help a Coworker Present Herself Better

Dazed and Confused: How to Help a Colleague Present Herself Better | CorporetteHow do you help someone present herself well, without insulting her personality and other innate qualities? Reader A wonders…

I work at a pretty low-key office and am friendly with the other associates I work with. Recently, my partner (who I’m also close with) mentioned off-handedly that she wondered if, as a friend, I could help K (a lower-level associate I’m friendly with) with the way she presents herself in meetings and office interactions. K is super smart—which my partner knows and has also repeatedly told her/coached her—but she walks around dazedly, she takes a long time to answer questions, and in general, just seems a little out to lunch. My theory: She never wears her glasses or contacts, so she can’t see—which translates into her looking kind of dazed in meetings. I don’t want to hurt her feelings or seem like I’m pulling rank, and I’m just wondering if you or any readers have experienced something like this—I do want to help her, I know she’s smart, and I feel like she has no idea how badly she’s coming across to others.

Ouch. I think this is a great question, and I’m dying to hear what the readers say, because I don’t really have much. I think there are people who, for better or worse, seem to go through life dazed and confused (the fictional Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter immediately comes to mind). Obviously, not all of these people ARE dazed and confused — I know some brilliant people (including some very successful ones) who dance to the beat of their own drummer. I’ve always thought that a lot of these traits were innate personality characteristics, and I think the people who’ve succeeded (despite?) those traits got in great situations where they were understood and encouraged by their superiors.

Here are some suggestions, though:

– Compliment her in her glasses. If you think it all boils down to her glasses, compliment her on them! “Oh, you look so smart in your glasses,” “You must tell me where you got those glasses, I always think you look so great in them.”
– Suggest some resources to her, such as this blog or “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office.”
– Express concern, give her friendly feedback, and helpful advice. I would time this after a meeting where she does concrete things that make her seem out to lunch, and then take her out to lunch or coffee. Try something like, “I wanted to check in with you because you seemed so out of it at the meeting — is everything ok? … As someone who really wants to see you succeed, I have to tell you you’re hurting yourself when you do these things because one of your biggest jobs right now is to convey COMPETENCE.” If possible, share some stories from your own past. “I know that I struggled with this too — college is this contemplative world, and the work place is faster-paced — you have to learn to be a little bit more organized, a little bit more Big Picture, and so forth.”  Give her concrete suggestions of what she did to concern you, and give her concrete ideas for improvement.  “For example, when you couldn’t find the section of the contract that we were all talking about?  It might have helped if you had read the contract a few times before coming to the meeting, so it wouldn’t be so foreign to you.”

Readers, what are your thoughts?  Have any of you had to change the way you present yourselves to seem more competent and put together?  Have any of you had to sit through a meeting (either as the person giving the advice or the person getting it) — what went well and what would you have changed?


  1. Chicago meetup! :

    Thursday, Sept 27 kicking off at 5:30pm (I’ll be there until at least 8pm)
    Encore Liquid Lounge in 312 Chicago (136 N LaSalle Street)
    Valet parking is $12 for 3 hours
    Thanks to everyone for all your great ideas. This notice will be reposted periodically until the day. I’m really excited about meeting you all!
    Terry (ChicagoC o r p o r e t t e at gmail.com)

    • This might be illuminating…Ellen has considered going to meetups in DC and California, but I don’t think the midwest has come up yet.

      Ellen, is this location any more feasible for you?

    • Shoot – that’s the one day I can’t go! I’m in for the next one, though.

      • Chicago meetup! :

        Is there a chance you could swing by late? Email me and I’ll send you my phone number. You can text to see if we’re still going. ChicagoC o r p o r e t t e at gmail.com. -Terry

  2. Kat – you may want to edit the question (the associate’s name, not just initial, appears 4 lines down)

  3. ChocCityB&R :

    I don’t think complimenting her in her glasses is straightforward enough if your aim is to get her to change her behavior. (Though, I’m an ENTJ and from yesterday’s thread maybe I’m too straightforward). I think that if you are friendly with her, you should just tell her straight up that she comes off as spacey, and that this is negatively impacting the way she is perceived at work. I know that if I were in a similar situation, I would be grateful that someone just came out and told me the truth and what I needed to do, rather than making vague encouraging comments. Beating around the bush might save her feelings, but it won’t help her perception at work.

    On the other hand, I also want to question the assumption that her demeanor is somehow “wrong.” I think that certain professions are suited to the spacey but brilliant types. (Think college professors.) Furthermore, a lot of spacey men get a reputation for brilliance, while spacy women are seen as flakes (I can think of a few male partners at my former firm who had no people skills and acted as if they were true aliens from another planet, and somehow that never held them back).

    • “Takes too long to answer questions” WHAT?? She doesn’t reply to email within 5 min? She takes a minute to think before she speaks? How is the time relevant, as long as the answer is solid (and the time not completely off the mark)

  4. She sounds like she’d be a great law professor…
    Also, I don’t mean to get all feminist, since we’re all cool here, but would a spacey-but-brilliant male associate get the same kind of concern?
    I guess it depends on what she’s actually doing to seem “out of touch”.

    • ChocCityB&R :

      Wow, you said what I said succinctly! I can learn a thing or two from you ;-)

      • and I was thinking you worded it much more eloquently… I’m learning how to write memos, so I guess my legal writing professor would be proud. :P

    • I worked with a spacey-but-fairly brilliant male summer associate who didn’t get an offer at my old firm. He just did not know how to relate to the partners he worked with or the associates he interacted with and I’m SURE it impacted his evaluations.

      So yes, I do think it would matter.

      • emcsquared :

        Yeah, I worked with a couple spacey male summer associates and even first/second year associates, and all of them were shown the door. Spacey seems to transcend gender (although women may be more likely to be seen as “spacey” – no idea on that).

        I’d second Kat’s suggestion in the last paragraph. Also make sure to point out some specific examples of things she is doing that are not spacey – maybe she writes a mean memo and always turns in projects on time, or comes off great on phone calls. That may help her distinguish situations in which she is likely to come off as spacey she she can try to figure out what she does differently in those circumstances.

    • Professor TBA :

      Hey…I’m tempted to be offended by that. Unless you’re saying that my new profession gives me alicense to be spacey. ;)

  5. I think this requires straight talk. Take her out to lunch, or better yet an after work drink, and level with her. Be kind, use some examples from your own past, but be direct. Complimenting her on her glasses is not likely to cut it. I don’t wear my glasses either but my eye sight isn’t so bad that I’ve ever been accused of looking dazed or confused. If she actually can’t see without her glasses, why is she walking around without them?? That seems odd. These are things you need to say to her. If you’re truly concerned for her career or your boss is, you need to tell her these things are hurting her career – I don’t think being subtle will work here.

    • I agree with this and other comments about being completely straightforward. After a few months at my first job after college, my manager sat me down and said, “You are doing great work and are well-liked by your coworkers, but I’ve noticed that you come across as too serious or angry when you are walking around by yourself. I can tell that you are deep in thought about something and don’t realize it, but it makes you seem unapproachable to those who don’t know you well.” Being approachable was important for my job. Although I got a good laugh out of the fact that my “neutral/not unhappy” face was apparently a “sad/angry” face, it helped me realize that I needed to be aware of how others perceived me, and how that affected my job/reputation. Now when I catch myself furrowing my brow when I’m thinking hard, I tell myself, “Smile!” For this and many other reasons, that was the best manager I’ve ever had and I was grateful that he didn’t sugarcoat the importance of image in the workplace.

      • Merabella :

        My sister has this neutral/not happy/pensive look. I can tell when she is really relaxed because she looks really serious. I think a lot of times people don’t realize how they are coming off to others.

        • But how do you really change this about yourself? I hate being told I have a serious face. THAT’S JUST HOW MY FACE LOOKS. I promise that I’m kind and friendly and not upset at all.

          • Actually... :

            Actually, you can re-train yourself to hold your face in a less-serious/mean/whatever manner. I did it myself as a kid after my mom accused me of frowning all the time. Obviously, you can’t change your features, but you can change the tension in your muscles, how you hold them, etc.

          • Anne Shirley :

            Did no one else’s mother pester her constantly to look pleasant when she was out and about? I always assumed this was standard training, but am now coming to think perhaps it was just my own dear mom

          • I love this! Once I was looking at a photo of a baby shower that I had attended. In the background was me, talking with a friend, looking as if that friend had told me something horrifying — like, he’d hacked up a baby for breakfast and eaten it along with his cereal. I showed it to my then-husband, who said instantly, “Oh, that’s your listening face.” Oops. I had always thought I was projecting intense interest. Now I try to smooth out my face when I’m listening – kind of weird, but better than the crazy look, I think.

        • SF Bay Associate :

          My neutral face has been called b!tchface, and not in a pejorative way. I think it comes from growing up in a city. A default “Don’t mess with me. Leave me alone.” face is a smart defense.

          • Harmothoe :

            I also have a serious face. I used to get this in my late 20’s: “Smile! You look so pretty when you smile…” and I learned that when I smiled, the world indeed smiled back. Then, I realized it made people more comfortable, and sometimes it made them too comfortable.

            I have made it a point to smile and be warm when I’m meeting / greeting people, but I draw the line at walking around consciously projecting a smiling/happy demeanor. I don’t think men are expected to appear inexplicably happy. There’s something less-powerful about constant cheerfulness.

            Is the concept that women ought to be “approachable” and “warm” the same logic that career paths them into support positions, or disqualifies them to be line executives because they “aren’t aggressive enough” or lack “strong presence”?

            Sometimes defying people’s gender expectations is a public service, even if there is a personal price.

    • Anne Shirley :

      Agreed. If you’re right, and it is just the glasses, she’s lucky it’s such an easy fix.

      • I was almost 30 when I finally connected the dots and asked people go to get the amazing glasses for their faces. I was single parenting, and frankly, was not a great judge of what looks good after my 80’s blue tortoise-shell academic-like frames were discontinued. Discovered after my 3 year old snapped them in half….

        This is my public service announcement to rate/review places where you purchase frames. Most people are happy to reward good service, and those who need to up their skills can take note! Yelp is one place where I’d look for info.

    • I walk around without my glasses because I can see people, but if I get pulled into a meeting and have to look at a computer screen from a few feet away (or a power point) then I have a problem. If it is a planned meeting then I wear my contacts that day.

      I agree that A should be straight with K and mention that her glasses are appropriate for the office (assuming they are) and that it is appropriate for professionals to wear glasses at meetings. I don’t know why, but I didn’t figure that out until I was about a year into practice. Upon reflection this is probably because half the female attorneys in Portland, OR don’t wear make up so it can be hard to look at your peers and know how to dress, and I struggle with how to accessorize when I am wearing glasses. My point here is that K may have some odd notion or insecurity around how and when to wear her glasses, which only a direct conversation would reveal.

      BTW, if anyone has tips on how to accessorize with glasses, please share!

      • No advice on accessorizing, but here’s an option if you only need corrective lenses for one thing (i.e, you’re just near-sighted or just far-sighted): switch from glasses to a single contact lens. This was one of the best things I’ve ever done, on the recommendation of an optometrist. I need glasses for distance, which used to just include driving and reading the chalkboards in large lecture halls but which gradually came to include seeing a television screen from across the room or making out the details of a person’s face on the other side of a hearing room. I do not need reading glasses, and I was constantly taking the glasses on and off depending on what I was doing. A hearing day would leave with me terrible headaches, because I could either leave my glasses on to see the witnesses’ faces clearly but strain to read documents or take the glasses off to read my notes and squint at the people across the room. Now I wear a contact for distance vision in my right eye only. My eyes have trained themselves — I basically read with my left eye and use my right for distance. No more headaches, no more where-did-I-leave-my-glasses rants (and no more wearing the old glasses that make me look like a bug when I break or lose my good ones), and I can wear off-the-rack sunglasses!

    • Absolutely this :

      Agree 100% with AIMS comment, especially if the problem truly is one of perception – that is, her work product is excellent; her responses, when they do come, are insightful. There’s a way to do this kindly and emphasize that her affect, essentially, sometimes gets in the way of some people being able to appreciate her great contributions. Whether the fault is with her or others, the result remains and she’s in a position to do something about it.

  6. I would not say ” I know college can be…” That gets my back up. It’s one thing to say “I struggled with this, too, and for me it was that…”; it’s another to say “I struggled with this, too, and I know X can be so…” because my response is “no, I don’t find X to be so…” I guess what I mean is that just because for you something was caused by X doesn’t mean that that’s true for the other person and it comes off as presumptuous and condecending to assume it is.

  7. Exercising After Surgery :

    I think it was Lalo who posted that she has recently had surgery and isn’t allowed to exercise. I am having surgery next week and am not allowed to exercise for 3 weeks after. I stopped exercising about 10 days ago for related reasons. I usually run/stretch/lift 3 or 4 times a week.

    About 1 week after I stopped exercising, I started feeling achy and stiff. Last night, I stretched for about 15 minutes, and I felt much better.

    So, Lalo, maybe consider stretching once or twice a day, if you are allowed?

    • Not sure if you will see this, but thank you for thinking of me! I cant believe that only 11 days post surgery I’m doing as well as I am! I’m doing as much stretching as I can, but just being up and walking as much as possible is soon wonders. I had a spinal fusion, so I can’t bend or sit unsupported but small leg stretches are also helping. It is really amazing how much your back does. I know that sounds silly, but every step i take and every time I move my arms I realize that it really all does come back to my core in a way I didn’t before.

      Good luck with your procedure!

  8. anon for the moment :

    Where I clerked last year, one of the clerks had a kind of reputation for being anti-social (I don’t think I ever had an actual conversation with him, for instance) and odd. It wasn’t till my year was almost up that I found out he’s practically blind (people realized he sits really close to his computer screen with the view magnified), and that this was probably a big part of his affect – like the associate above, he really couldn’t see, e.g., who was passing him in the hall or the like. It clearly didn’t affect his relationship with his judge so I’m sure his work was good, but he did come across as very …odd, and people did comment on it.

    So, 1) it does happen with men, although I understand the frustration with senior men being spacey and never being called on it, because I’ve definitely seen that as well, and 2) I think being direct would be most helpful. Maybe it can be couched in the context of just the specific setting, i.e., “Here are some things you might think about for meetings?” Rather than as a sort of all-encompassing comment about her in every setting. (I got told in a mock-interview setting once that I have a hard time making eye contact with people – which was absolutely correct – and that it comes across as off-putting, but somehow hearing it in that context was less daunting that being told, Hey, you never make eye contact and its weird – even though now I make a bigger effort in all contexts.)

  9. This probably wasn’t the answer Reader A was looking for, but in my limited experience, the best way for a space cadet lawyer to endear him/herself to colleagues is to be a huge rainmaker.

    Bring in huge piles of cash, and all (and I do mean “all”) is forgiven.

  10. It might not be the glasses. I have known a few people who I wanted to shake when talking to. I always wondered if they did too many drugs. I might not start with the glasses. I’d say, when you are in a meeting or whatever it sometimes seems like you aren’t engaged or actively listening. It would be beneficial to you if you worked on eye contact, nonverbal listening feedback like nods. It’s important to answer questions with a good answer, so here are some things I learned in Moot court to say while I organize my thoughts. . . “Yes, because. . .” “It would depend on a variety of factors such as. . . . ” “No, however. . .” “That’s a good question, let me do some research and get back to you.” etc.

    • MaggieLizer :

      These are great suggestions. If she isn’t already, then suggest she actively take notes at meetings. I’ve known plenty of incredibly smart people who legitimately don’t need to take notes, but their superiors think they aren’t paying attention because they aren’t writing anything down. Think of it like role play – partners expect good associates to do x, y, and z in meetings, so even if you don’t need to do that to get the most out of the meeting, you do it because that’s how you show people you’re engaged.

      • karenpadi :

        Second the note-taking. Sorry junior-associates-who-don’t-need-to-take-notes, but note-taking is your job.

      • Taking notes makes it SO hard for me to pay attention, and then afterwards I have nothing to go on but what I’ve scribbled down–no recollection of how anything fit together, becasue I was too busy taking notes. Seriously, if she doesn’t need them, she doesn’t need them.

        • emcsquared :

          It sounds like you take too many notes and maybe need a better system. I note only those items that directly impact what I am going to do, and draw a checkbox next to each action item. So my notes from a half hour meeting might say only:

          Imdemnity lang. v. imp.
          [ ] Draft Sec Cert
          [ ] Check lien searches.
          Client checks on property ins. status

          And I like to keep the notes in a public space (on a white board for a big meeting or between us in a one-on-one) because people tend to stop while you’re writing stuff down. Then you don’t get cut out of the conversation flow. Plus, you can say, “Great thought, can you hang onto it for a minute? I don’t want to miss it.” That is the opposite of spacey.

        • I second that – if you’re so focused on the notes that you can’t hear anything else, you’re trying to record the conversation, not to take notes. Those should be the essentials of what’s said, not the literal transcription of every word being spoken.

  11. Agree with the straightforward response. It is too bad that the task has fallen to A, since good manager should have already done this with K.

    I have to say, that if I were on the receiving end of this information, I would want it presented straightforward. Don’t sugar coat, don’t tell me “I know what this must be like,” don’t tell me I”m an awesome employee BUT…

    Just say, “I’ve heard a couple people comment on XX, and thought you’d want the feedback before it began to impact your reputation.” Rip off the band-aid. Then tell her she’s a rockstar and buy her a drink.

    As another poster has already said, my most favorite boss to date was able to communicate with me like that.

  12. karenpadi :

    Interesting post. I’m dealing with something like this now too. There is a 2nd year associate/lateral in another office of my firm. I worked with her on one project and, to be honest, her work wasn’t good. It wasn’t abysmal, but it demonstrated that her skill levels are not where they should be and that she just doesn’t think about strategy when she drafts documents. Put another way, she seems to view drafting as completing a checklist of elements instead of creating a cohesive, persuasive legal document. She knows I wasn’t impressed with her work (I tried to tame my inner INTJ with “at your level, mistakes x, y, and z are pretty common but issues j, k , and l shouldn’t be coming up in review”).

    She wants to do more work with the partners in my office and to attend an event for clients near my office. I met her in person for the first time this week. She is flighty, awkward, and comes off as being not the sharpest tool in the shed. She is not ready to meet clients but that might change with some more years under her belt and gaining some more confidence.

    I think she wants me to help her get more work from my office (warning sign: not getting work from “home”). I can’t–I have to be honest with the partners. For the time being, I’ll continue to review her work and train her as best I can. Anyone have any other suggestions or comments?

    • If I were that associate, I would be so appreciative that you called out j, k, and l as my insufficient points. If you have specific suggestions on resources to be very familiar with or examples of where points j, k and l were expertly handled, point those out to her.

      The next time she hands you a half-draft, I suggest giving it straight back to her and again indicating j, k, and l aren’t sufficient. Point her to the resources to get it there.

    • emcsquared :

      My favorite partner is the one who tells me exactly what she wants, her expectations, and then tells me what I did wrong after I’ve given it back to her. Not rude, nothing personal, just matter-of-fact. And my second favorite partner is the one who sat me down and walked me through how he processes drafting a contract after I had *seriously* botched a markup for him. Again, very respectful, and incredibly informative. Both of them made me better lawyers in 1 hour than I would have become in 10 years of bumbling along on my own.

      They aren’t always comfortable conversations, but you should give her the constructive feedback – tell her what you expected of j, k, and l, show her an example or walk her through how you would have done it, and then let her take a second crack at it.

    • karenpadi :

      Thanks! It was her first project for me.

      I tend to do a lot more commenting than redlining when I review. Her issues were more “art of lawyering” and critical thinking than anything in a book. I sent her my written comments and the next day (when she had time to review my comments), we spoke for about 45 minutes. Our conversation was more of “The issue I see with this portion is abc. How can we overcome this?” with some brainstorming to follow. We came up with a rough plan and then I gave her a list of additional things to do like “update other portion of document to support our changes” and “draft a paragraph here to explain this term or feature”.

    • Actually it doesn’t seem like the same situation at all. The OP is smart and works well, but has a slight image problem. Yours isn’t very smart and doesn’t work well, and has an image problem on top. Huge gaping crevasse there, as the OP just needs a bit of tweak to look better and yours sound like a major renovating job. It’s OK really if a flake comes off like one, then everyone knows what to expect :-).

  13. AspieNdaCity :

    As an odd duck with vision problems, I completely second ChocCityB&R’s response (well, first paragraph). I say: GO FOR IT. BE FRANK. Ask her why she doesn’t wear her glasses in meetings. Tell her *very clearly* that she looks/acts spacey, and you think that’s why. Tell her the same thing at least 3 times. Then, if she starts wearing her glasses, you know that she is coachable. However, you must entertain the possibility that there is more than poor vision going on here.

    I was often guilty of “spacey” behavior in my 20s before I realized how bad my vision was and finally got glasses. However, said “spacey” behaviour was compounded by the fact that I was (still am) just plain Weird. Odd. Eccentric. Batty. Socially Retarded. Borderline Asperger’s.
    Several times in my life “normal” people have taken me under their wings and attempted to coach me. Usually, I welcome the input. However, I often have a hard time understanding and internalizing the critique. (Seriously, I did not get that “you’re so loud” was code for “be quiet in the office.” I didn’t connect that my volume was disturbing people, and that made them dislike me. Dense, I know.)

    But there were times that I did understand the critique, but I just wasn’t capable of the change they wanted. Or, I didn’t know how to achieve it. For example, I understood what “you’re so pale” meant. I didn’t know what to do about it until a coworker plainly said “you need to wear more blush and lighter lipstick.” And after many failed attempts on my own, she finally dragged me to Bobbi Brown. I owe her my eternal gratitude for not just telling me what I was doing wrong, but showing me how to fix it.

    • This is a great reply, full of helpful concrete examples. Thanks for posting this.

    • Yet Another Anon :

      This is great advice. Sublety is lost on me as well. And if she is selfconcious about her glasses, point out other people at work that wear them (I’m sure there are some that do it and look good). If she hates her frames, point her to one of the several sites on here that have been mentioned and help her pick out a better frame for her face.

      Another thing that helped me out majorly early in my career was for someone to have a “pre-meeting” with me before we met with the higher-ups. We would meet for 1/2 -1 hr before the scheduled meeting and go over the report/presentation/etc so that if I had any newbie questions (what does this acronym stand for, what’s the background, etc) I could ask her, then I had a chance of asking or answering questions intellegently during the real meeting. If you or your partner could do this for her it might help her confidence more during the real meeting.

  14. It seems there’s a lot of focus (ha!) on whether this person can see, but has anyone asked if she can hear? If she’s hard of hearing, she may seem disengaged. If she has some sort of auditory processing problem, it may take a minute for what she’s heard to really register, if that makes sense. I know sometimes someone will say something and I will “hear” it, but it will take a second before my brain translates it. Also, if there is a lot of background noise, it can be tough for me to hear clearly. I would never do this at work, but at social gatherings if there’s a lot of loud background noise, I do tend to start to zone out a bit and just sort of nod my head and smile. It can be very tiring to constantly be straining to hear and filter out the background noise.

    • Agreed! I was afraid of projecting my issues on the initial associate, but I find that it is much easier to be in denial about high frequency hearing loss than it is to be in denial about vision loss.

  15. This. I am hard of hearing too, but not bad enough for a hearing aid. I tune out unintentionally, just to save my sanity.

    But this post clearly points out that we have been *assuming* that vision is the problem. Or cluelessness. Or Aspergers. But these are all just *assumptions* and we could be completely off the mark. Acting “spacey” is also a symptom of antidepressants, seizure medication, low blood sugar… a lot of things that are none of our business, and she may not be able to do anything about.

    Regardless, I would appreciate a coworker who straight up told me what people thought. I spent nearly a whole year with red eyes from allergies before somebody told me that I looked like an alcoholic. I made an appointment with the ophthamologist that afternoon!

    • WishfulSpirit :

      Just a thought from someone who is on psychiatric medication for depression…if it’s affecting someone’s focus enough that her bosses are noticing, her dosage may need to be adjusted. It might be worth it to ask the associate if she’s having trouble concentrating and, if she says yes, ask if she’s spoken to her doctor about it. That way she can get any help she might need without the boss violating HIPPA.

  16. Divaliscious11 :

    Luna wasn’t dazed and confused…. She completely understood everything she said!

  17. Of Counsel :

    Straightforward advice would be decidedly better. But how to deal with the junior associate’s probable paranoia? If someone approached me, I would want to know the origin of the criticism, and know that no matter how many assurances I received that the feedback was intended only to help, I’d be suspicious thereafter.

    If she has a vision problem and doesn’t wear her glasses, then she probably dislikes how she looks in them. How would saying “You look smart in your glasses” be helpful?

    I would hate to be in the position of the senior associate.

    • karenpadi :

      I think the paranoia-factor is why it’s so important to develop a “non-billable” relationship with junior associates like lunch, happy hour, or chats at the water cooler. Even just stopping at their offices on my way to the kitchen to say “How’s it going? Do you need anything?” If someone isn’t “in trouble” every time he sees me, he is less likely to be paranoid around me.

    • Oh, the paranoia. I’m paranoid enough as it is, without anyone saying anything. Just the thought of someone possibly not saying anything because it could make me paranoid…makes me paranoid…

      Idea for another day’s post: how to accept unsolicited feedback without flipping out from paranoia?

  18. Honestly – not everyone is that ambitious. People who want to be really awesome at their job tend to figure out how and other don’t mind spacing out in meetings and skirting on by. Both are fine ways to be in my book.

  19. If she is super smart but spacey, could the pause be her taking a second to think about whatever the request was? She might be able to see the question in more than one way and is parsing it to the situation at hand. This happens to me all the time. People are so imprecise with their words, or even completely inaccurate. I also don’t respond quickly because I like to give precise and measured responses.

    I was at a question and answer session with Justice Ginsberg many moons ago and she *always* took a pause, and a sometimes substantial pause, before answering any question- even some that seemed mundane.

  20. Am posting late but doing it anyway since I have a slightly different perspective. I’ve been in all 3 positions – receiver, giver and intermediary for advice on personal quirks – and am now very much of the mind that this is a lesson best absorbed when the recipient of advice is pushed to undertake some self-examination and self-diagnosis, rather than being helpfully offered the ‘right’ answer off the bat. If this sounds hard-hearted, I’d say ‘know your office’ comes up often on this site – but we forget that self-awareness and sensitivity to the personal reactions of peers, bosses and clients does not come automatically, and many young people need put some work into acquiring this particular lesson.

    I think the effective way of coaching for improvement in a personal quirk – poor presentation, bad habits in front of an audience, odd dressing etc – is to say something generic about the problem, point to role models who are performing the task to suitable standards, give the recipient room to ask a couple of questions and if necessary, conclude by asking the recipient observe the differences between her manner and that of the role models on her own.

    For example, I’ve definitely said things along the lines of “You’re seeing more clients now and your wardrobe could take a step up – X, Y and Z’s style give an idea of how we should look when meeting clients” or “You sometimes seem dazed even when you’re not – A, B and C have good demeanour at meetings, take a leaf from them” or passed messages down the line to similar effect. My advice to the Reader A would be along these lines, including stating specifically that the message comes from a partner, and to limit over-diagnosing (who knows if the glasses are an issue or not ?)

    As a corollary to this, I generally don’t think it is a good idea for peers to provide unsolicited advice on matters of personal style. It may go down well but it often does not. And if it is really detrimental to the recipient’s development, someone else whose authority isn’t in question is going to be addressing it sooner or later.

  21. Hi guys,

    I’m the reader who had the question—thanks for all the input! I am friendly with K out of the office, so I think I’ll do what you all suggest and take her out for drinks and let her know how her behavior seems to others. She’s very much her own person, and her whole take is—she works hard, she has good ideas, she knows she’s smart—so why should she try to fit into a certain role? But I do think it is the glasses—she just has this dazed look at meetings, and I truly think it is because she can’t see.

    And as far as taking too long to answer a question, what I mean is she doesn’t anticipate it when she should. It could be going over a memo and when a question comes to her, she’ll be like “uh … wait, what?” and then spend moments flicking through her papers. It’s not when she’s being asked a difficult question, it’s when she’s being asked the easy stuff, and that behavior is totally tanking her office rep.

    Seriously, thanks again for all the advice! And I feel like I’m on the same page with other posters as well—if I was messing up in a way I could fix, I’d want someone to let me know!

    • is she possibly daydreaming during the meetings, or if the topic isn’t 100% directly relating to her thinking of all the things she has to do for her next meeting/next project? I know I can be guilty of worrying too much about what’s coming next and not focusing on the NOW, even more so now that I have kids.
      One thing thats helped me with this is to take my dayplanner everywhere and keep a running to-do list, so if something comes up in my mind, I can just jot it down on the list, like “make appointment for O at pediatrician” or “email P’s teacher about X” or “make copies for 4 pm meeting !!!” then I can get back to the topic at hand.

      If she’s shuffling papers, can you help or suggest she do some pre-meeting prep? Highlighting or tape flagging important sections or writing up a one page summary of key points in advance, for instance? Nothing irks me more than when I have a meeting to go over a report which was sent out in advance and people are trying to read the report during the meeting – that’s why it was sent out in advance, people! Do your homework! Ok, rant over.

      That aside, its very good of you to let K know what her reputation is. I’m very paranoid myself of what my reputation is, I wish I got more feedback on that from people other than my boss at my annual reviews. If word around the office is that I’m spacy/bitchy/smart/a slob/smelly, I want to know BEFORE it becomes a complete issue.

  22. Texas Attorney :

    I have always dressed a bit on the casual side. That is just who I am. I hate to wear jackets. I do not wear skirts ever. I always dress appropriate in court and stuff, but I do prefer to be a bit more on the casual side. My boss, a female attorney who I am very close too, came to me at lunch one day and very nicely suggested that since I was now a partner, supervisor and client developer, I might consider stepping up my business wear a bit. She was very tactful, but she was straight up and honest. That weekend I went and bought two suits from Brooks Brothers and two from Nordstrom. I am still on the casual side (today is jeans Friday after all) but my suits are all very nice. So, I think you just be straight up with her. Start with telling her how she is great, and then suggest how she could even be greater.

  23. Could she possibly have a medical condition which makes the wheels in her brilliant mind turn a little bit slowly?

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