Q: I share an office with "Megan," who always says "bless you" when I sneeze. I think this is a silly habit, so when she sneezes, I say nothing. Recently, Megan scolded me for being rude when I failed to bless one of her sneezes. What's the best way to handle this?
A: Blessing sneezes is like saying "excuse me" when you bump into someone. Despite having no basis in logic, it has become an expected social custom. So the real question is not whether these blessings have a valid purpose, but whether the relationship with your office mate matters to you.
Megan obviously believes that blessing a sneeze signifies caring and respect, so her feelings are slightly hurt every time you fail to do so. Currently, the two of you are playing a ridiculous game in which Megan sneezes, then quietly waits to see if you will respond. Meanwhile, you sit in stony silence just to make your point. Does this not seem rather juvenile?
So here's your choice. If the relationship is important, then saying "bless you" is simply a minor courtesy that will cost you nothing. On the other hand, if you choose to stand your ground, at least help Megan understand your motivation.
For example: "Megan, even though I know it seems rude to you, I have always felt that saying 'bless you' after a sneeze is a meaningless gesture. For that reason, I never say it to anyone, so I want you to know that I am not being disrespectful. It's just something that I don't do."
If this explanation seems a bit awkward and contrived, perhaps it's because staunchly refusing to bless a sneeze is actually just as silly as doing so.
Q: My company employs a lot of people in contract positions. Sometimes these contractors are allowed to conduct performance appraisals on employees. Does this sound like a good business practice?
A: The obvious answer - and the one I expect you are looking for - would seem to be no. But you might be surprised to learn that in some situations this policy could be appropriate.
These days, organizations use contract employees in a wide variety of roles. Contractors can be found managing important projects and even holding executive positions. Some companies have actually employed contract CEOs on an interim basis.
If the contractor is a full-time manager who directly supervises a staff, then that person is the logical choice to assess their performance. Nevertheless, such a decision should always be reviewed by legal experts and approved by top management. Under any other circumstances, the practice would be questionable.
When someone else is preparing appraisals, however, it is perfectly appropriate for contractors to provide feedback on employees with whom they have worked. Including input from a variety of credible sources always increases the validity of a performance review.
Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of "Secrets to Winning at Office Politics." Send in questions and get free coaching tips at yourofficecoach.com, or follow her on Twitter @officecoach .