What Is Indirect Counseling?

Question: What is the meaning of indirect counseling?

Is your question prompted by some incident in which you were told that you were being counseled this way? Our expertise is in communication-related work questions. We don’t claim psychological clinical certification; however, we have had considerable education in psychology. Based on that, the term indirect counseling dates back to the  work of Carl Rogers and others (1950’s) who advocated that those seeking personal advice are best served by not being told how to solve their problems but guided to reflect on causes and possible solutions to problems. 

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Fired by Boss Having an Affair

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about being fired by a friend’s boss having an affair:

I was fired from Microsoft in 2004. (writing anonymously for now)

I knew it was going to happen the minute my best friend’s husband became my new supervisor. 20k employees, and he ends up being my boss. My friend and I met at our daughters’ daycare not at work! What were the odds.

He was having an affair with a woman down the hall from us. I figured it out at the Holiday Party, 2003, that was hosted at the Seahawk Stadium. I confirmed it with my friend, who had not told me yet. She had herself only just learned of it. read more

My New Hire Is Frequently In My Way

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about interpersonal distance:

I own a small biz, recently hired someone. This person always needs to be walking in the same path as me, which means she walks into me or has a near miss, at least 5-6 times per day. We work in an open space (2200 sq ft) yet if I am in one area, she needs to be in same area at the same time, and wants me to get out of her way. For example I was making something and she wanted to pass a rolling ladder that would run over my work. All she needed to do was go around another way. But I had to stop what I was doing and explain that if she did this she would destroy my work. Which she did the day before. So she stood there waiting until I told her to do something else. 

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Delayed Reviews Make Me Anxious and Annoyed

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a second review being delayed and delayed:

Hello, I have been at my current job for a year and 4 months. I graduated college in May 2016 and this is my first “adult” job. We are a relatively new (3 years), very small private company and there are only 9 of us in the office. My co-workers and I report to our Director of Operations, and she reports to our COO. I love it here- my co-workers are amazing, my superiors are very relaxed, and the work environment is super casual. The only thing that bothers me is that my supervisor does not follow through on things that are said. read more

Difficult Employee When Corrected Charges Racism

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about how do I handle a difficult employee who is creating a hostile work environment?
I have an employee that is constantly saying the company is racist. This particular employee is not a good performer and is making a hostile work environment! Every time this particular person is written up for various infractions, they scream racism. Everyone is disciplined fairly. It is not fair to everyone else who follows the rules. HR will do nothing! How can I handle this employee and make this a positive experience for everyone else in the department?

Signed Discipline’s Fair

Dear Discipline’s Fair:

You are right to seek advice when charged with racism. However unjust you think is the charge, it is wise for you to treat the accusation seriously. Therefore I have several questions for you before suggesting answers to you positively-put question of “How can I handle this employee and make this a positive experience for everyone else in the department?” You, as supervisor or manager, have a responsibility to handle such a situation, but it is not just your responsibility and you were wise to report it. Most likely there have been other things going on that have contributed to this employee not being a good performer and to making a hostile work environment! I will address that once I have directed you attention to the charge itself.

If your workplace is large enough to have a Human Relations Office, it likely has a written policy about discrimination, acts and words that cause a hostile environment and how such accusations will be treated. Have you accessed this? Has your organization trained you and others as to what constitutes racist language and acts? If you are in a supervisory/management position, have you have been informed of such a policy? Has your workplace conducted training about discrimination as to what acts and words cause a hostile environment and how such accusations will be treated?

The process of how you go about this is important. From what you say, you have reported it, but Human Resources “will do nothing.” I assume that you must have reported being accused of racism more than once to conclude the HR will do nothing. Did you spell out the specific times this individual was written up and the reason for that? Did you include the language he/she used in “screaming racism”? Did you seek advice on how to handle it when that person charged racism? Was your report in writing? Might someone from HR have spoken with the individual who was written up and made the charge? Did you inform your superior about the poor performance of this individual, of your written reprimands and that employee’s angry reaction?

I repeat that it is your company’s responsibility to treat such a charge seriously, and if this charge is brought to the EEO, that organization will be concerned if it is ignored. Therefore, you or the supervisor, who has made the write-up and was subsequently the target of a scream of racism, should take care to log the details of what occurred. Just as process is considered important in the steps to discipline and deciding how this individual will be reprimanded, re-trained and/or fired, it is equally important in resolving a charge of racism. If you have not done so already, it would be wise to prepare a dated account of what has transpired and how you handled it including dates of when, where, what, and who were involved and observed the misbehavior. Include the actual language used. But even before that account is complete, you should inform HR that of the most recent accusation of racism and request an investigation. In your request for an investigation, it may be wise to advise HR that you know a workplace is responsible to take reasonable steps to resolve and prevent such charges.

HR may then to decide if this individual has valid reasons for such a charge; it will likely interview all parties within your workplace. And it might separate the parties involved, both the individual who made the charge and the ones accused. Or it might take a less aggressive approach. You should get their advice about how to deal with this individual. She/he should be counseled and understand that such an accusation if false will not be tolerated.

Now you are confronted with answering the most important aspect of your question—that is, how to “make this a positive experience for everyone else in the department?” What is it that most likely has contributed to this employee not being a good performer and to making a hostile work environment! Let’s call that individual, Kim. Was Kim capable when hired? Was Kim trained? I assume Kim is of a different race than others in the work group? Are job descriptions clear and interaction with coworkers spelled out? How long has Kim been employed? Have you or someone helped the work group to communicate effectively as to who does what, when, how and why? Have do and don’t rules been collaboratively made about individual responsibilities, about how instructions are made and jobs are approved? –In short, does your work group function as a team? Do you have skull sessions on your goals and performance? Do you have huddles to facilitate each other’s tasks? Do you talk about how you talk to each other and about what to do when that talk has turned to gossip about each other and the workplace? Have you talked frankly as a work group with Kim, not talked about Kim, but have talked with Kim—have taken time out as a group to talk with Kim? The goal of being an effective work group means hearing and voicing what’s troubling and what’s wanted by all concerned.

I know my list of questions is long, but engaging your work group in answering such questions is probably the most effective way to confront what has been going on or has been lacking and has consequently provoked the charge of racism. Do these thoughts from a distance ring true or at least prompt you to rethink and re-frame how you might approach your central question? Feel free to compare it with other advice you get and update us about what you do. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.-
Bill Gorden

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Performance Evaluations As A Team–Boyfriend and Me

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about performance evaluations as a team: 

“My boyfriend and I were evaluated as a team and we both got raises.  
How I can ensure that the new boss continues doing that?”


I have been at my current job for 6 1/2 years now. I work as a cash accountant assistant. While this is my title I still do any job that needs to be done, i.e. cashiering, supervising, covering breaks in different areas of the store, pricing, stocking, customer service.

I happen to work with my boyfriend. My boyfriend is a supervisor for the front end ( attending to the cashiers and problems). We enjoy working together as does management because we really make a good team for closing the store each night.

Back in November I was up for my review, and our general manager at the time ended up looking not just at me, but my boyfriend and I as a team. He decided that I would get my raise, and my boyfriend would get a merit raise. While I have no qualms that we were both given raises and looked at together, I worry what happens in April when my boyfriend’s review comes up. My general manager has recently quit and we have been assigned a new one, who does not know me at all yet, as I have not had the opportunity to work with him.

I feel as though I still deserve to be looked at when my boyfriend’s review comes up in a couple months. However, I feel wrong for trying to communicate that to higher management, and especially when my new boss doesn’t know me yet. Am I wrong for wanting the same standards?


Wondering What’s Right


Dear Wondering What’s Right:

The way your former boss handled your evaluation and the subsequent raises for both you and your boyfriend was bound to get your hopes up about a potential raise for you when your boyfriend is evaluated. However, it’s not very reasonable to keep escalating the wages of only two people that way. It could ultimately give both of you a much larger salary than you would have otherwise. Being given performance evaluations as a team does not usually have an effect on everyone’s wages as well.

Perhaps the former boss had a reason to think that your boyfriend was being underpaid for his job description, so he equalized things by giving him a raise. If that doesn’t apply to you, there would be no reason to give you a raise before your next evaluation time. If it does apply, maybe your salary will be considered this time, just as your boyfriend’s was last time. However, I don’t think you can expect your new boss to handle it like the former one.

If you want to be considered for a merit raise, I think you should ask your new boss to consider it, but don’t tie it to your boyfriend’s evaluation and raise. Just document what you have done and why you believe you deserve a raise now rather than waiting until your next evaluation. You can mention the work you do to assist the supervisor of the front end team (your boyfriend). Then, you will have to leave it to your new boss to decide if that merits a raise right now.

Your question was if it is wrong of you to hope to get a merit raise as your boyfriend did. It’s not wrong, in that I can see why you would hope for that. But, I don’t think you should expect it and I think you should be prepared for it to not happen. Perhaps it will but perhaps not. You may still be given performance evaluations as a team, without having wages change.

If you don’t know much about your new boss that may mean he doesn’t know much about you. Do what you can to communicate with him and let him know your value. That way, whether your boyfriend gets a raise or not, you will be seen as an important employee, worthy of merit raises.

Best wishes to you with this issue. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe



I wrote in a question about being evaluated with my boyfriend a little while ago. I would just like to respond as things have progressed at my job. I agree with being prepared that I will not be evaluated with him, but I just wanted to make clear that at the time of my evaluation, when my boyfriend also received the merit raise, we were both already being paid the same wage.

I also agree that maybe management thought that he needed to be paid more for his job, but we were still being paid the same wage after the raises. Now, shortly after I wrote in to the workplace doctors, one of my bosses informed me that they had found a form in my old managers desk (the one that had recently quit), that was a raise for me, but he had never sent it in before he quit. So I was prorated the raise that I had not received yet for the past month before he quit. I wasn’t told what the raise had been for, and I didn’t really ask.

I really valued the advice you gave me, and it actually helped ease my mind about the situation. I believe I just needed to outside advice to confirm that I really shouldn’t expect the raise. Since the circumstances have changed, I guess my first question doesn’t hold up anymore. But I have gotten to know my new general manger, and have told him what I do around the store. I don’t plan on working at this job past the summer months also, so the issue of a raise isn’t really on my radar as much now, especially with the random raise I just received.

I just wanted to thank you and let you know what became of my certain situation. Thanks again!



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Anonymous Survey

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about attitude survey: How do I know if my boss saw my answers?

My director asked everyone to fill out an anonymous survey. I did. Then my manager calls me in the conference room to have a talk to me about the anonymous survey and has been acting negative towards me ever since. What can I do? I feel she is targeting me now because of this survey. Any advice would be great. Thanks,

Signed, Anonymous???


Dear Anonymous???:

Advice? Here’s my advice in a nutshell: Meet with your manager again and say what you have in this question. Be upfront with him that you feel now after the survey that was to be anonymous, you sense he treats you negatively. Say you want to learn how you might change if he has reasonable negative assessment of your performance. Couple this with a request that you want his advice on your career path.

That’s my short answer. It is not a quick fix, but can develop into a positive working relationship. Rationale for this synopsis of advice is lengthy. The fact is that you do not feel anonymous. Nor were you anonymous before you took the survey. In order for surveys to have ample anonymity, they must be given to a large number; I think about 20 or more, and they should be administered by a non-interested party.

Yet they can be of value if even given to a few subordinates by a superior. Positives feedback to a boss re-enforces certain behavior and negative feedback provokes reflection about one’s behavior. In your case, you interpret your director’s talk and action after the survey as aimed at your defects. This might be true depending on what was the content of the conversation with your boss? Your query to the Workplace Doctors raises questions of why do you think she is targeting you and what specifically did she say that makes you feel she is negative toward you?

You ask for advice in light of the feeling that your director now is negative about you. Before addressing that let’s suppose the survey was not given, what was the relationship you felt you had with your boss? How long had you worked there? Had you had a recent positive performance evaluation? Do you think she was honest at that time? I predict that you got at least a good and probably an above average evaluation in most categories. If so, believe them. Don’t now think she is negative unless you can elicit specific criticism of your performance, and if you can find specifics, then evaluate that; as to what is reasonable and what is not. So now what are your options?

There are several; some that are overlapping. You may think of more, but these are the those that come to mind:

-Silently fume and see her as enemy.

-Gossip with coworkers about how you think she is targeting you.

-Determine that you are overly sensitive and might be misinterpreting your boss’ behavior and decide to work so professionally that she will see you in a new light.

-Meet with her again and confront her frankly saying that you feel she is now targeting you negatively; agree with her about what she says that is reasonable and dispute about what you think is unreasonable.

-Not confront her about your feelings that she is treating you negatively but meet with her to get specifics and pledge to work on correcting those? Probably you have considered all of these although you may not have spelled them out.

In short, you can go on as if this didn’t occur and bite your tongue or you can find a constructive or destructive way to voice your feelings. Above all you will not want to allow this negative feeling to play over and over in your head like a cracked record. That could descend into an “I hate to go to work because I have a bad boss” attitude that will make you want to seek another job (of course which is also another option). This is to say, don’t become obsessed with this. Keep it in perspective. Work is not fun in itself unless you do your part to make it fun for others as well as yourself.

You will survive and will cope no matter what advice I give and what you elect to do or not do. While weighing your options, look in the mirror. Ask yourself if you have worked at this job as just a job or as a one stage on a career path. Do you like your work? Are you good at it? Might you benefit from more training within your current organization or from seeking that outside? Are you a happy camper that does all you can reasonably do to make your boss and coworkers’ jobs easier and more effective? Are you a cheerleader or a whiner who feels insecure and fears your boss? From time to time do you meet with you manager to discuss how things are going; what you do well and what needs improvement? Have you brought to the attention of your manager ways to cut wasted supplies, wasted time, wasted energy, and wasted money?

Have you suggested quality improvements of goods and services to internal and/or external customers? Also have you thought about what might make your work group and workplace more successful? Does your manager frequently lead your work group as a coach does with a team before and after a game in a skull session? Answering such questions is not done enough. Most employees, I suspect, simply work from day to day to make a good wage and hoping to have their boss’ approval and hoping their boss doesn’t know what they think if she or he is a bad boss. Your question is a sign that you are sensitive and concerned enough to work through this uneasy feeling you feel the boss has about you.

Therefore, I predict you will appreciate the implication for action and attitude of my signature sentence: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. You understand that this anxiety you have is more than an ego thing, it is realizing that work is harder when you sense disapproval. Things will go better if you communicate about it with your boss in ways that demonstrate your commitment to making her as well as your jobs more effective and satisfying, and hopefully will bring even a little fun to your work group.

Follow Up: Wow. That was a really good response. I will take your advice and do what I can to make the workplace better. The whole issue was 32 of my co-workers work from home and only 6 work in the office. I am the only employee in the office that wants to work from home and not. I think that is what gave me away on the anonymous survey. I liked your advice and now will just focus on mending the relationship(which I damaged from my boss). I agree I was too sensitive or maybe I still am sensitive. I did not even realize that until you mentioned it. Also, you were right about wanting approval from my boss. I do not want to be on my boss bad side. I will have a talk with her. I have asked everyone about this situation and you truly gave excellent advice. I will look through the archives for more insightful and inspiring thoughts. Thanks!

William Gorden read more

Unfair Workload & Snide Manager

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about workload: I work longer and harder but am criticized for inefficiency; how should I react?

My Manager is forcing a workload on me that is unfair in comparison to another worker, who he coincidentally has a stronger friendship with  a brown noser. When I attempt to hover around the subject of workload, the only response I get is that I’m not being “efficient” enough. I am confident this is not the case and can prove otherwise. I rarely have time for a lunch break over 15 mins and often need to work unpaid overtime. My counterpart coworker, in the 2 years I’ve known him, has never worked 10 minutes overtime and almost never had less than a 1 hour lunch break. Something tells me also that a constructive dismissal could be in the Manager’s cards, as I believe the workload situation will either lead to a mistake by me or provoke me to crack under the pressure.

Signed, Something Tells Me

Dear Something Tells Me:

You are sure your boss is unfair and will do almost anything to send you job hunting? Apparently, there is more going wrong than just that your boss likes your brown nose coworker. What should you do first about an unfair load and second about fearing you might be fired?

Load? You are only one person and can only do so much. If you work faster, you are prone to make mistakes and the very stress to prove you are efficient can cause you to fatigue. You say that you have “hovered” about the topic of load and that has gotten an accusation that you are inefficient. Have you considered a head-to-head time-out session with your boss? In such a session you, could spell out what tasks you do and ask for his advice on what to do to be more efficient. Also rather than to waffle about how much you have to do, you could firmly say, “Adam, I’m only one person and I don’t play around. I work hard. If you think you can hire someone who more committed and competent than I, that’s your business.”

Fear of being fired. After confronting Adam, you should feel freer. You no longer will walk on eggs and wondering if they or you will crack. You will have faced Mr. Big and stated you case. Of course, your case will be stronger if you have proof that you are committed to doing good work and adding value to your workplace, such as, you have suggested ways to cut wasted supplies, wasted time, wasted energy and wasted money. Almost every workplace has lots of fat and it takes but a little thought to find ways to make something better; ways of making co-workers’ jobs easier, ways to make the work area more pleasant and attractive, and most of all ways to improve the quality and durability of products and service to internal and/or external customers.

I hope these thoughts make sense and spur you to make your voice heard in a confident way. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Think what that might mean. It could mean you are not just seeing yourself as a victim, but are actually thinking about ways to make your coworker and boss’s jobs easier. You begin to think “we” and not just me. Why? Because you have a strong case for WE!

Do update me in a couple of weeks with a more positive story, or if you decided that you did your best but decided to find work elsewhere.

William Gorden read more

Treated Unfairly

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a resume: Recently they asked me to bring my CV; they lost it

I have been with the company for 18 years. Recently they asked me to bring my CV; they lost it. I need to know if I should bring an upgraded one or the one that they interviewed me when I start working at this company.

Signed, Been Here Done That

Dear Been Here Done That:

The fact that you have been asked for a CV may simply be that HR is updating its files. However, the fact that you wonder what is requested (who keeps one that is 18 years old) indicates that communication within your workplace could be better. You can ask which is wanted, but I recommend that you don’t ask; rather bring an updated one. Include in it tasks, projects you have done, ways you have cut wasted supplies, time, energy, and money.

This of this as an opportunity to show your commitment to your company. Also include additional training you have had, positive reviews and/or other acknowledgement of your work. Eighteen years with one company is a long time. Surely your jobs have changed since you started. List them. My best to you. May you have 18 more. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

William Gorden read more

Confidentiality During Performance Reviews

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about context of a performance appraisal  review: when I went to close the door, he said to leave it open, so it stayed half-opened, half closed.

I just completed my Performance Appraisal review with my boss this morning. In the past (with previous Managers as well as the current one), our performance meetings were held behind closed doors, for confidentiality purposes. Today was different – when I went to close the door, he said to leave it open, so it stayed half-opened, half closed. He then proceeded to open the door all the way. My reviews aren’t very negative; I barely get feedback at all. I describe my job (note: I am the only one who holds my position, in an office of 10 employees) and what I do on a daily basis, reminding him of the tasks I accomplish and even those beyond my job description as “added value” (such as assisting with computers, and software).

Everyone elses’ performance review today was held with the door closed. I feel cheated as though he felt the need to “air out my dirty laundry” regarding some tasks that fell to the wayside due to an employee being on leave (tasks I was not aware I had to pick-up). Also, he offered very few comments other than the task slip-up and nothing was given in writing.

As per previous practice, which is an organization-wide procedure, managers are to give written comments to which the employee responds. I was asked to provide comments without him having written anything – which makes me wonder if he will be adding anything that I will not have been made aware. Call me paranoid, but there have been serious trust issues with this manager in the past, as well as harassment (him yelling at me for no good reason, among other bigger issues). How can I insure his written comments reflect those received orally during the meeting? How or on what do I comment when he has not yet made his statement? (He would be the type to sneak by some negative comments, then come back to say “well, I told u…..”) I thank you for your insight!

Signed, Can’t Trust THE Man

Dear Can’t Trust THE Man:

You are right: trust matters, especially trust in a superior. Regarding the open-door performance appraisal, you can inquire of Human Resources about your workplace’s protocol. The open door for you and not others doesn’t seem right. You can also ask about being asked to respond to only his oral and no written evaluation. HR can clarify this matter, but I wouldn’t hesitate to speak to this man about this too. You have a voice and that is your way to assert your concerns; possibly a candid open or closed door session with him could begin to re-establish what is a distant boss-bossed relationship.

Performance evaluations at their best are two-way surfacing how a boss sees and wants and how the how bossed wants to be seen and wants to be communicated with. Here is a time to talk about what has not been going well and what could be better. Such a session need not be seen as adversarial, but as motivated by what doesn’t seem right to you and what you think should be the way you communicate with each other.

In short this could be a time to establish do and don’t rules about your two-way working relationship. Does this make sense? Approach it as what I call WEGO. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and that is what you want for yourself and for him, for you both to have a trusting working relationship. Sometimes there are reasons for keeping a door open, particularly when a boss has been accused of inappropriate actions. I doubt that this is the case.

William Gorden read more