Do I Tell My Boss That I Love Him?... Should I Trust Research--Or My Gut Instinct?
(FORTUNE Magazine) – DEAR ANNIE: I have a problem that is the exact opposite of sexual harassment, and I just have to ask you about it. What would you do if you were me (young, single, female) and you had been in love with your boss (older, male, married) for several years? We get along very well, but he doesn't suspect how I really feel about him. Should I tell him that I love him? Quit and then tell him? Or what? HEARTSICK
DEAR HEARTSICK: Oh, dear. This could get very messy. First of all, let's clear up a big misapprehension. If you tell your boss you're in love with him, it is not necessarily "the exact opposite of sexual harassment." If (as seems likely) this news would be unwelcome to him, it very well might be considered harassment, regardless of the fact that he outranks you. Do you want to take that chance? And beyond the harm such a decision could do to your career, just think how uncomfortable it would be for the two of you to work together once you have bared your soul.
So do not tell him. If you really feel you can't stand to suffer in silence, then quitting (without revealing why) might be your only option. But before you do anything rash, Susan Leeds, a managing director in human resources at the Ayers Group in Manhattan, suggests you get a life outside the office. Says Leeds: "It sounds as if you have some personal issues to work out, including why you have spent 'several years' being hung up on someone who is so obviously unavailable. You need to get back in control of your own life and get over this--possibly with the help of some short-term professional counseling." Good luck. And let me know how this turns out, would you?
DEAR ANNIE: I was fired recently in a manner that I think was unreasonable and unfair, and I'm trying to decide whether to sue. But most of the reading I have done seems to indicate that an employer can terminate someone "at will." If that is true, then what exactly does the phrase "wrongful termination" mean? CONFUSED
DEAR CONFUSED: I talked to several lawyers for you, and I doubt you're going to like what they said, but here goes. "Employment at will" is indeed the dominant principle of U.S. labor law, meaning that your employer can sack you anytime for any reason. "Most Americans just don't buy this," notes James Nagle, a partner in Goodwin Procter & Hoar in Boston. "They think any firing that isn't 'fair' should be called 'wrongful.'" Juries often agree, which is why it is sometimes (though rarely) worth suing even when the law is against you.
But a great deal depends on the circumstances in which you were fired, which, alas, you haven't told me. First, there are some exceptions to employment-at-will, notably if you were covered by an employment contract or a union agreement that spelled out how and why you could be canned.
Another exception: If your employer fired you in violation of public policy, i.e., in contravention of antidiscrimination laws (age, race, sex) or because you fulfilled some civic responsibility like serving on a jury.
Public policy is a standard that varies widely from state to state--for instance, you can't be fired for smoking in the office in Kentucky, but you could be dismissed for the same offense in California--and, says employment lawyer David Skidmore from the firm Frost & Jacobs in Cincinnati, " 'public policy' sometimes gets used as a catchall for situations that fall outside the other exceptions."
In other words, talk to an attorney in your state and explain what happened. "Be honest with your lawyer," urges Skidmore. "Don't try to make your story fit one of the exceptions to employment-at-will if it really didn't, because nothing is worse for your career--or your bank account--than a fabricated case that unravels in the courtroom." He's seen a few of these, and they are not pretty.
DEAR ANNIE: What do you do if you have an important business decision to make and the available research doesn't help--that is, there are as many facts supporting one choice as the other? Do you try to stick to one set of facts or go with your instinct? Please answer soon. UNDER THE GUN
DEAR UNDER: What a fascinating question. It's worth noting that psychiatrists and psychologists dating back to Jung and Freud have made detailed studies of the role of "gut feelings," or intuition, in decision-making, and a day at your local library (or an Internet search) would turn up reams of research on how business people develop their innate intuitive skills (or fail to).
But you're in a hurry, so I called Michael Ray, who teaches creativity and innovation in the graduate business school at Stanford and is co-author, with Rochelle Myers, of a great book called Creativity in Business (Doubleday, $12 paperback). Of particular relevance here is a chapter in it called "Practical Intuition," wherein Ray dispels some common myths about intuition--one being that it is based on emotion and is therefore unreliable.
"Another word for intuition is 'recognition,' which literally means 'to know again,' " says Ray. "When you've worked long and hard to build experience in any given area, the right decision often comes very quickly as a sort of emotionless recognition" of factual information that has perhaps been partially forgotten by your conscious mind. Ray also says that, in situations such as you describe, where key facts are contradictory, intuition is "mistake-free": "Since equally good reasons exist to support either choice you make, you'll probably have no trouble explaining--or defending--your intuitive decision on a logical basis."