How to survive dangerous questionsRoger Quinn ▼ | Sunday August 29, 2010 6:01PM ET
We all hear from our parents the saying that goes something like "Think first, talk later", but thanks to education we tend to forget that. Our professors are telling us during all those years to be honest and speak straight to the point, clearly and with arguments.
Indeed, honestly is a good thing, but the real question is how to form our answer to make both sides happy. And to make things clear: we don't want you to lie, we just want you to tell what's necessary and nothing more. It's like in the Army: You should know everything you need and nothing more.
First, a bit of psychology. You know that there are people that like to shoot the messenger. If your boss is the kind of person who shoots the messenger, be sure that you are not that messenger. As is the case in the nature, your survival comes first. It's better to set up somebody else, like an underling or (better yet) a rival, to take the heat. Figure out how to sandwich your bad news inside their presentation.
Now, imagine the question you should answer and you know that your answer will make your boss ineffective. We are sure that you can imagine or you are even encounter such situation. Your boss is a human being and subject to human emotions. If your boss is about to make a big presentation or make an important deal, it is not the time to reveal unpleasant truth that might distract him from successful execution. Don't lie, just leave that information for the more appropriate situation.
Next, here is the situation you certainly know and you know it's very dangerous: "Do I look fat in this?" Indeed, yes, you can hear similar question at work. Some bosses have a habit to ask about their appearance. They may be proud of their new suit or just insecure how they look, but no matter what the reason our advice is: Lie like a dog. If you are not a fashion consultant this question has nothing to do with your or his work. So forget all advice about truth and honesty, paint it with stellar colours and leave him happy.
One of the most dangerous situations is when your boss asks "for an honest opinion". Remember: you can count on one hand all bosses in the world who really want your honest opinion. When you translate that in English, it sounds: "Tell me that I'm right". And you probably already now that bosses love to be right. Most of the time, such question has to do with the boss's pet project.
If the boss isn't likely to be persuaded by anything you say - and vast majority of them are not - your best bet is to be complimentary, even if you think the idea is utterly stupid. Let his boss tell him that, he can do that with no consequences.
When your boss asks you about your religion, politics, personal life or sexual orientation, you have no obligation whatsoever to be honest here. There's no law that can make you talk about those details.
Now, you won't answer "It's none of your damn business", the better version is "I work on workdays, Sundays, holidays, and I work so hard for this company I have no time for a personal life, much less a sex life." That will leave your boss with "Well, ahem..." and he'll leave the room.
We'll repeat once again: your survival is the priority number one, anything else goes after that. Sometimes you need a smart answer and sometimes you need a pure and straight lie. And that's also the part of the office life. ■