DEAR J.T. & DALE: My co-worker is a professional dancer. She loves music and listens to it all day at her desk. She wears earphones, but it’s so loud I can hear it. I can’t wear headphones to do my work, so I’m distracted. What’s a nice way to ask her to turn it down? – Kylie
J.T.: Just be honest. Say: “I hope you won’t be upset, but I need a favor. I have trouble concentrating when your music is playing. Could you turn it down a bit?” It’s not like you are asking her to turn it off completely. I’m sure she doesn’t even realize it’s that loud. You are doing her a favor and saving her hearing!
Dale: That should work. But let’s step back and look at the big, noisy picture that is the new workplace. (Yes, even pictures are noisy these days.) Odds are, you’re going to spend part of your career working in an open office, full of constant distractions. For me, someone who spends part of each day writing, I used to seek out a quiet, isolated place to work. Inevitably, I would be interrupted, prompting frustration and irritability. Then I started doing work-related travel while still having those writing deadlines. So, grumpily, I forced myself to write while on airplanes. However, I eventually admitted to myself that this was an excellent way to pass the time. Soon I started writing in airports and cafes and just about anywhere else. Here’s the point: Somewhere along the way, I stopped being annoyed, and instead found myself taking pride in being able to work anywhere. All I had to do was retune my ego, and the maddening distractions became elementary challenges.
Dear J.T. & Dale: I’ve got a job offer with a startup that pays more money but is a risk. Meanwhile, my boss has been telling me for two years that I’ll be getting a promotion soon. However, the last person who went to management and told them he had a better offer was shown the door. What should I do? – Harry
Dale: Remember in English class discussing “dramatic irony,” where the audience knew something one of the characters did not? That’s you, as you go to your boss in perfect negotiating position. You set up a meeting and ask about your promotion, without bringing up the other offer (which would merely activate the automatic lock on your boss’s mind). Then you sit back and enjoy your negotiating advantage.
J.T.: Yes, I would go to your boss and ask about the status of the promotion: Ask how long before it will occur, and if he can put in writing the steps you need to take to earn it within the next six months. If he can’t commit, then you know that it’s likely not going to happen soon, and you can leave and take the startup job without wondering “What if?”
Dear J.T. & Dale: I just started my first job. I’ve been here four months, and I hate it. How long do you have to stay at a job before you can move on without hurting your professional reputation? My mom says at least two years. – Drew
J.T.: There’s no set rule. Honestly, you are so early in your career that if you switch now, it won’t hurt your reputation. But it’s important that next time you choose wisely. Find a job where you can try to stay at least two years in order to gain skills. Companies hire people who have experience at solving problems and adding value; it’s hard for them to believe that you’ve gained valuable experience if you keep jumping jobs.
Dale: Yes, you get a free pass on the first job out, and to some extent on the next one. But J.T. is right about that second job: It isn’t so much that another short-term job will hurt your reputation, it’s that unless you spend some time there, it’s like a college course you didn’t finish – you won’t get any credit, and you’ll keep starting over.
Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm jtodonnell. Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with AgreementHouse.com. Please visit them at jtanddale.com, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.