Lynne Curry: Honesty is the best policy ... in chest hair and job skills

Question: When my boss's wife left him, he went off the deep end. He started wearing tight shirts he leaves unbuttoned to mid-chest, showing inches of chest hair. He doesn't say anything gross about his personal life but he's let us all know he's on every night and hopes we'll set him up.

I've tried to ignore his chest hair but it's sort of right in my face when we're having a meeting. I'm also worried his new look is hurting our store's image with the young, hip customers we're trying to attract. I tried the indirect route, telling him it caught some customers' attention after I heard them laughing about the hairy old geezer (he's 50). He took what I said as a compliment and actually strutted around the store.

I'm scared to say anything more because he has a temper. None of the other people in the store want to say anything either -- we all kind of shudder and give each other looks.

When I talked with the floor supervisor, she closed her eyes, shook her head and said since his chest hair wasn't creating a sexual harassment problem, she wasn't going to touch the situation. I was thinking I'd write him a letter and see if everyone would sign it.

Answer: Don't let fear make you cruel. While your boss needs to button up and stop asking for matchmaking, hitting him with a petition is overkill.

Who in your office has the best relationship with your boss and is the most willing to speak up? Who can say what needs to be said directly and respectfully? That's the person who needs to let your boss know he needs to stop baring his chest in multiple ways.

If it's you, or if you're the only one who feels brave enough to take the risk, arrange a private conversation with him at a time he's not stressed out. Tell him what you like and respect about him. Let him know you realize he's going through hard times.

Then, ask him if he's okay with you being honest about a touchy subject. If he says, "Yes," say the truth in a kind way. You can carry this off without losing your job if your boss realizes you have his best interests at heart.

Don't broach this topic if you truly fear you'll lose your job or if you regard your boss as a joke. A speaker's intent when delivering negative personal information colors what a receiver hears. At the same time, someone needs to say something - or to leave a copy of this article in a convenient location.

Question: I'm tired of working hotel jobs and wanted an office job. I'm great with people but haven't had much experience with computers. When I recently interviewed for an administrative assistant job and the interviewer asked how competent I was with Word and Excel, I fudged and told her I was familiar with both. I haven't used Excel and I've just done simple things with Word.

The interview went well and she offered me the job. I start Monday.

What can this company reasonably expect of me and what are their obligations in terms of on-the-job training? I learn quickly.

Answer: What will you do or say when the skilled person your employer thought she hired doesn't walk through the door Monday?

Getting and keeping a job are completely different matters. If you'd said you learn quickly and your employer hired you based on your people skills, you wouldn't have a problem. Now, your employer has a problem and it may become yours. I can't think of an employment relationship that doesn't at least begin with some level of trust. Employers trust new hires to have the skills they say they possess; new employees trust they'll be paid as promised.

You asked about "their" obligations - yours include telling the truth.

Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at