Managing The Trick Question
A loyal reader writes with this intriguing dilemma:

How do you respond when a manager says they understand your job can be a bit boring and repetitive? This conversation was at an informal networking event. I responded by saying it’s challenging in some aspects but there are interesting parts. Is it okay to admit it is boring?

Ah, those tricky little “innocent” questions. You can make yourself crazy with them. It’s hard not to feel you’re being tested.

In fact, what you actually said was a pretty good answer.

Do you want more of a response than that? Yes? Okay, try to keep in mind that Most Of The Time, when people are making chitchat at events, they are doing it with half a brain. If that. They are just talking for the sake of talking.

But say this manager was asking because he’s really interested. You of course have no idea why. Maybe someone else asked him about the tasks performed at your level and he’s trying to ferret out some information. Maybe he used to do what you do and he wants to talk about old times. Maybe, wonder of wonders, he’s noticed your fabulousness, wants to promote you, and needs to know if you’re interested.

Maybe, maybe, maybe. (Cue screaming and tearing out of hair.)

You can’t really know what’s in this person’s head. All you can do is to manage the moment. Here are two general rules: First, please always remember that you should never need to lie to please someone. And, second, keep in mind that just because someone asks you a question doesn’t mean you have to answer it. You can handle a situation like this numerous ways.

For example, you can give him a smile of recognition, as if to say, “You know and I know this is a deadly dull job but I’m not going to come right out and admit it,” and then go on to say something blandly diplomatic about how you understand that all tasks, no matter their level, are important to a company and should be done well. (Note: Smiling before answering any question is always a good way to stall for time while formulating an answer.)

Or you can pull the old politician’s trick of not-answering-the-question-the-person-actually-asked-but-answering-the-question-you-wish-he-had-asked. What do you want this manager to know about you? That you are eager for promotion? Then you could just say, “Speaking of jobs, I’ve heard good things about your department–specifically about X, which is an area I’m really interested in.”

The most important thing to remember: When networking with the upper-ups, look relaxed and confident. You don’t actually have to be relaxed and confident. You just have to look it.

(True, it does all sound rather political. But whaddya gonna do?)