Workplace Woes: The Prying Boss

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Finding yourself in a sticky situation at the office and don't know what to do about it? Morning Edition's workplace consultant, Ben Dattner, will answer selected questions on the air or at NPR.org. Please limit your question to three or four sentences.

What do you do with a boss who insists on prying and wanting to know what's going on in your private life? A listener, Kathy in New Mexico, has that question for Ben Dattner, Morning Edition's workplace consultant.

"I have come to the conclusion that my boss is clueless when it comes to boundaries," Kathy writes. "Maybe she is desperate to have friends, but I'm not being paid to be her friend. How do I handle a situation like this?"

Dattner, who is an organizational psychologist, says the first thing he would ask is — is it really just about your personal life; is it really just about being friends? Or is your boss concerned about your work output?

Below, Dattner offers suggestions for dealing with a prying boss.

Establish a positive tone. Emphasize that you appreciate his or her concern. If you begin the conversation on a positive note, it's more likely to stay positive. If you start with a negative, accusatory tone, you may inadvertently confirm your boss's concerns or suspicions, as well as hurt his or her feelings.

First, understand why the boss is prying. Is it really because the boss is nosy? Or because the boss has some concerns about the work one is doing? Asking your boss whether he or she is concerned about your productivity or the quantity, quality or timeliness of your work may move the conversation away from your personal life and back into the workplace.

Try to establish boundaries. Let him or her know that if and when you have important personal issues to discuss, you will do so. Be firm about drawing the line about what you will and will not disclose.

Don't send mixed messages. If you let your boss know that you have several consecutive doctors' visits, that makes it likely that he or she will ask you why those visits are necessary. You may want to take the morning or afternoon when you have your doctors' visits as personal time so that you don't need to let your boss know the reason you will be out of the office.

Consider why the personal prying is so irksome. Some people are able to shrug off the inquisitiveness of their bosses. If your boss's questioning seems more like interrogation, it may be because your boss reminds you of someone else in your personal life or from your childhood.

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