When you’re stuck in the middle of a workplace battle

I recently had the opportunity to bring three provisional junior members to my team, with the option to grow them into permanent positions after a year if I can demonstrate their importance to the company. Depending on the budget, there may be room for just one or two to progress.

I rate them on their productivity and their contributions in other areas. All three are hard workers with great attitudes and high productivity, and I’m currently building business cases to keep them all on board permanently. I’ve also received unsolicited praise from three senior managers for one of them in particular – who happens to resemble a young Michelle Pfeiffer. These individuals are all older straight men, which unfortunately is the main demographic here at the higher levels.

“Michelle” hasn’t acted unprofessional in any way — she’s made strong professional connections across demographics — but I’d be remiss to ignore my suspicions that these men were at least subconsciously motivated by more than just professional respect. It feels unfair to the other two junior staffers to give this praise the weight it normally would, but unfair to Michelle to ignore it. To help.

– Anonymously

Be careful. You essentially display the same kind of behavior that you rightly disdain from your older straight male co-workers. Are you really suggesting that you could punish your employee for assuming she will receive positive professional feedback because of her appearance?

People have prejudices, especially when it comes to looks. My mother likes to remind me that we eat with our eyes first. This is a bit of a mixed metaphor, but I think you get my point. Entire books have been written about the benefits beautiful people enjoy in the workplace. I appreciate you taking this dynamic into account, but if Michelle is indeed performing well, then you should focus on that. Compensating based on what you consider unfair praise is a slippery slope to go down. You definitely mean well, but you don’t know if the men who praise her achievements really only praise her looks.

Is this possible? Naturally. But it’s not fair to punish her for their childish misogyny, if that’s really what’s going on. All three candidates deserve to be treated equally. Don’t think too much about this.


Earlier this year I went on a few dates with a guy I liked and thought everything was fine until he ghosted me. I accepted that he wasn’t into me and moved on, although I was hurt by the lack of communication.

Fast forward six months: he is introduced as my new colleague. He would have known I worked in this little restaurant and even said, “Hey, I’m glad you still work here!” I honestly don’t mind that he works there. I’m happy to help him when he asks work-related questions. However, he often tries to talk like we’re friends and hasn’t commented on our past or the fact that he ghosted me. How do I tell him that I was hurt when he haunted me and that I only want to talk about work matters?

– Anonymously

Being ghosted feels awful. Without warning, someone disappears and you have no answers. In some ways, this is a coincidental situation. You have been offered the option of closing. If you really want to discuss this with the Ghost, ask if you can talk in a neutral location before or after work. Share your feelings and the terms you prefer to move your relationship forward.

But before you do that, I want you to think carefully about what you hope to get out of such a conversation. What will it bring in the short and long term? You will relieve some of your pain, but it can complicate what appears to be a friendly professional relationship.

Consider letting this go, not because he deserves to be released, but because you seem to be in a good place and he no longer deserves your mental energy. In the meantime, may the next man you date be the man of your dreams.

Roxane Gay is the author, most recently, of “Hunger” and a contributing opinion writer. Write her down workfriend@nytimes.com.