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Marie G. McIntyre

Q: I share an office with an extremely nosy woman. "Jenna" is good friends with our manager and has a reputation as the department tattletale. She constantly monitors my activities and asks what I'm doing. My job involves spending a good deal of time online, so she may think I'm goofing off.

Jenna also appears to be jealous of my friendship with other coworkers and frequently asks me about their personal business. She doesn't get along with most of these people, so I suspect she's pumping me for information to give the boss.

Although I love my job, I'm becoming paranoid about my office mate. What should I do?

A: Kindly remember that you are not required to share information just because someone wants it. That's rule No. 1. Rule No. 2 is that you can usually divert an inquiry without being rude. Your goal with Jenna, therefore, is to respond in an amiable manner while revealing nothing of importance.

When she asks what you're doing on the internet, say something like, "Oh, it's another boring project." If she presses you further, reply that you don't have time to explain, but it's really not very interesting. If you consistently provide nebulous responses, eventually she will stop asking.

When Jenna probes for dirt about your colleagues, the best response is to be completely clueless. Simply smile and say "I really have no idea" or "I haven't heard anything about that", then change the subject.

You certainly don't want to alienate someone who is buddies with your boss, so just be sure that all your conversations with Jenna are pleasant, friendly and vague.

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Q: I have unintentionally created a big problem with my manager. Unfortunately, I have doubts about his technical skills and feel that he needs more training. Since I didn't want to tell him this, I decided to take some of my technical concerns to his boss.

His boss escalated our conversation into a formal discussion with human resources. As a result, my manager is now aware of my feelings about his technical ability. I didn't intend for this to happen, so how can I repair our relationship?

A: Complaining about the boss is always a risky proposition, so anyone considering that step should carefully weigh the potential benefits against the potential cost. Even if your concerns are valid, your manager probably feels that he has been sandbagged. Since this was not your intention, the first step towards recovery may be a sincere statement of regret.

For example: "I want you to know that when I talked with your boss, I wasn't trying to get you in trouble. I had no idea that he was going to get HR involved. In the future, I can assure you that I will bring any concerns directly to you. I hope this misunderstanding won't adversely affect our working relationship."

After that, just give things time to settle down. As long as you keep communications positive, your manager's resentment is likely to fade.

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Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and author. Send in questions and get free coaching tips at www.yourofficecoach.com.

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