How to Beat the Troll In the Nearby Cubicle

Q: I’m coming up on my first annual review in my new job and I’m really nervous. I’ve got a good relationship with my boss and our clients, and delivered on the projects I worked on. But there’s one guy in the department who’s been here forever and doesn’t like me. Since the company does “360-degree feedback” reviews, I’m afraid he’s going to tank me. Any tips to help me survive the review and not get fired? 

A: Oh my friend, I’m so sorry. The “360-degree feedback” concept might have made sense before trolls discovered the power of anonymous online comments. What could have been a forum of global civility quickly devolved into epic online brawls where the likes of TrojanMan takes down SeaweedMonster because of their different views on worldly matters like poppy seed bagels. It’s hard enough knowing that SeaweedMonster is somewhere out in the world waging war against the lowly poppy seed. But it’s a whole new level of fear when he might be the guy three cubicles down.

On the other hand, anonymity offers some advantages, assuming everyone plays by the rules. A good manager will know how to use the information constructively and weed out those comments that serve no purpose. We’ve all worked with the guy who sucks up to the boss and then puts his feet up and goes back to YouTube as soon as the boss leaves the office. How’s the boss ever going to know about that if we don’t out him in those reviews?

But back to you. First, be judicious and professional in your comments about your colleagues. Don’t try to throw your own SeaweedMonster under the bus first, a tactic that will almost surely backfire and is exactly the unsavory behavior you worry about from him. Be professional and specific; speak to work performance and collaboration, not personal habits or pet peeves. Give the boss information he can work with.

Second, go in prepared. Think of it as a meeting with your college career counselor, not your high school principal. “I don’t like performance reviews because they take a relationship between two adult business people and turn it into a parent/child relationship,” says workplace writer and thought leader Liz Ryan, author of “Reinvention Roadmap: Break the Rules to Get the Job You Want and Career You Deserve.” She recommends retooling the thought process – at least on your part – as a dialogue between two colleagues and what might enhance that working relationship. Just as you would prepare for a client meeting, prepare for annual review meetings with the boss by looking over your calendar and journals week-by-week, identifying challenges, wins and hiccups. Refresh your memory on specifics and be ready to speak to them. Ryan also recommends looking ahead: What challenges do you want to undertake, what projects or positions interest you?

When you and your boss focus on the workload and what the future can look like, any petty or negative comments from the 360 will likely diminish in value. And above all, remember this: if SeaweedMonster’s poppy seed war still gets traction, despite your stellar performance, they don’t deserve you.

Q: After you berated those of us who despise networking events, I decided to suck it up and get out there. The good news: I actually met a few interesting people, including someone in a similar field with whom I’d love to collaborate on a project. We talked for 20 minutes about joining forces on a media campaign supporting our shared issue and everything seemed copacetic. The bad news: I emailed her the next day (right before Thanksgiving), and while I’ve already broken most of my New Year’s resolutions, I’ve still not heard back. So much for the power of networking, eh?

A: Now don’t go blaming me for your ghosting new friend. First, you got out there and met new people! Second, just because you’ve already broken your resolutions doesn’t mean she’s forgotten you.

We’ve all been there – patiently waiting for that email response that must be hiding in the internet’s lost-and-found. I did some research on standard business etiquette regarding email response time and came across two things: first, there is no consensus on how quickly one should reply to emails (or even if replies are necessary), and two, a 2015 study by USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering concluded that of those emails that get responses, 50 percent of those responses are sent within 60 minutes; after 48 hours, you can kiss that response goodbye. And teenagers on average are the quickest to respond to emails if they actually respond at all.

Now, USC’s School of Engineering is top-notch, and this report is cited repeatedly as the definitive and most recent data source on the subject. But here’s the thing: None of that rings true for me. If I responded to every email I receive within 60 minutes, that’s all I’d do all day. Second, I triage my emails, sometimes leaving a few for several days before I can give a thoughtful reply (as the editor of this magazine will certainly attest); and third, none of my three teenagers have ever relied on email as their source of communication. If, for some archaic reason, I send them an email and expect a response, I have to remind them to check their email to ensure they even see it.

Why does any of this matter to you? Because it confirms one thing: Who knows why you’ve not heard back? Maybe your newfound friend got a job offer in Tahiti and took a one-way flight out of here. Maybe she’s been in the midst of the holiday fog, family drama and postholiday fatigue. Maybe there’s been a tragedy in her life, or she’s been fired. Maybe she realized she’d had one too many cocktails and never wants to work with you on this island or any other. Maybe she genuinely didn’t get the message.

Whatever. If the collaboration is still a good idea, do what we’ve always done in business: Follow up. Be professional and appropriate (which, translated, means don’t go all passive-aggressive on her about her email habits). Send a follow-up email (preferably forwarding the original one) and try to reinvigorate the discussion. Or better yet, pick up the phone and call her. It was human interaction that sparked the idea in the first place, remember?

Whatever the outcome of your emailgate, get back out and network again. If she really has ghosted you, you’ll need to find a collaboration replacement for your excellent idea. And maybe this time you’ll find someone who participated in that USC study and will promptly reply to your email.

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