Advice for dealing with both loved ones and difficult ones at the office

Smart ways to handle doing business with family, idea thieves, and wrong-name callers

As the space between work and not-work becomes ever more blurred, questions about how to do this thing we plug away at for 30 or 40 or 70 hours a week become all the more expansive. In Work Flow, we delve into the novel dilemmas created by the new ways we work, as well as timeless questions about ethics, gender assumptions, and toxic work situations (and how to escape them). How we work is an important component of how we live—and we’re here to help you do better at both.

Something messing with your flow? Unload your work problems here, and you’ll not only feel heard but you’ll also get unbiased, real-world advice. (That’s something your work sibling/spouse just can’t offer.) Tell us everything:

I’m considering going into business with my dad. He really needs/wants my help and I want to do it too, but I’m cautious. Any advice as to the potential pitfalls of this arrangement? How do I make sure we don’t end up hating each other?
The good news is that you’re concerned about pitfalls, which means you’ve got a far better chance of avoiding them. It also sounds like you and your dad trust and like each other, which is a good foundation for moving forward with your plan. As with so many things, communication is key. Sit down with your dad and formulate a plan. Have a direct, honest conversation about all of the various permutations of this arrangement, good and bad, and agree how you will handle things, then write it down. What are your duties and expectations? What are his duties and expectations? What are your goals? How will you both be paid for your work? Should you expect raises, and in what time frame? How much time will you be on the clock? Is this your main thing or your side gig? What boundaries can you set up to make sure you still enjoy family time when you’re not on the job? What happens in the case of an argument or a disagreement about how to do something with regards to the company? What if one of you changes your mind and wants to leave the business and do something else? If the business fails, what happens? What if it’s a huge success, and one of you wants to sell and the other doesn’t? And what do you see happening in the next 10 years that might change how you feel (e.g., might your dad retire? Do you want to start a family?) Finally: Are other family members going to want to join the business too… and how will you decide who to let in?

Also write down your job descriptions, and what you hope your jobs might entail in the future. If you find that you’re having trouble speaking directly or honestly about any of this, well, that’s a signal that you need to work on your communication before moving forward with your business plan. At some point in this discussion period, find a business lawyer whom you both trust and can run things by. This person may also serve as a handy mediator if necessary.

Do your research, not just about the business, but about the working arrangement. Do you have friends who’ve gone into business together? Ask them how it’s worked, what they recommend, and what they have to share. (According to the Harvard Business Review, “Some 70 percent of family-owned businesses fail or are sold before the second generation gets a chance to take over. Just 10 percent remain active, privately-held companies for the third generation to lead.”) What makes the successful ones (from Walmart to your neighborhood bar and grill) different? The more research you do, the better you’ll have prepared yourself for the good stuff—and the bad, which isn’t quite so bad if you’re prepared.

If you do move forward and what you’ve agreed upon changes, this is a good thing —it’s part of growth! Be flexible. Schedule weekly or bimonthly meetings to go over where you are and how you feel. Oh, and make sure to keep having non-work fun together; that will strengthen your communication and bond in other ways, which will help you get through any rough patches. Remember: Business opportunities abound, but you’ve only got one dad.

What should you do when a coworker (or, worse, a superior) steals your ideas or takes credit for work you’ve done? It’s happened to me at various points in my career, and I usually just suck it up because I don’t want to seem like I’m not a team player or like I’m tattling.
One thing to remember is that the ideas stealer or the credit taker generally gets their due in the long run, when they run out of credit or ideas to “borrow.” But who has time to wait for that? Do what you can to cut them out of the situation. Don’t share your good ideas with them! (Maybe share some bad ones?) Email or tell your boss directly about what you’ve come up with, and make sure you’re logging or journaling what you do so you have a record if necessary. In the past, there have been times when I’ve sent status emails to supervisors listing what I’ve figured out or done for the day or week. That makes you seem very on top of things in general, which is also handy when it’s time for a raise or a promotione, andit’s something your boss can look back on as a record of your successes.

Another thing you can do is become such an expert at your job that everyone comes to you first, so there’s no chance of anyone else getting the glory. Or, be so public about your ideas that everyone knows they were yours.

Then there’s the cheerfully direct tactic: If you’re in a meeting, say, where a coworker tries to present your idea as their own, try interjecting with, “Oh, I was so thrilled I was able to help you out with that idea!” or “Remember when we were brainstorming about those possible solutions the other day? I had a feeling this one would do the trick. Did you also try ‘XYZ’?” Be kind, but also tell the truth. And don’t let a coworker take advantage of you because you’re afraid of seeming impolite. Defend your territory and your expertise without coming off as defensive, and most bosses will get it.

This is trickier when it’s your supervisor hogging credit—some bosses may even consider this their fair due, since you’re their report—but log the work you do, and if you must, start communicating with your supervisor’s boss to let them in on the truth without “tattling” or pointing fingers. If you feel you’re on good terms with your supervisor and you like your job, you might broach the topic with them privately by saying, “Hey, it would mean a lot to me if when you’re presenting my ideas, you note that I came up with them.” If they get defensive or shut you down, you can move forward accordingly, potentially by having a confidential talk with HR.

A woman at my office constantly gets my name wrong—like a shade off of what it should be, think Annie instead of Anna—in emails. I think it’s a power move of some sort (we’ve worked together for years). What can I do about this?
It may be a power move, she may just be forgetful, she might have your name stuck incorrectly in her brain as some weird fluke, or she might be a totally manipulative name-jerk! But it almost doesn’t matter what her reason is for getting your name wrong. What is important is that each and every time you should feel completely free to correct her: “Actually, it’s Anna, not Annie,” and then move on to addressing the email itself.

Because you’ve worked together for years and this keeps happening—I’m not sure if you’ve ever addressed it before?—a quick in-person chat, in which you say, “Hey, Susan [or whatever]. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but my name is Anna, not Annie, and it really is important to me that people call me by the correct name,” would be warranted. Then, if she continues to call you by the wrong name, start calling her some slightly off variation on her name, like Slusan or Sansu. Petty, maybe, but sometimes you need to walk in another person’s incorrectly labeled shoes to really see the error of your ways.

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