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Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: Recently I’ve gotten a new manager, and with that, the bar at my job has been raised. The problem is that I work with the general public, mainly over email, and I have a lot of trouble relating to the emotions of our customers owing to my psychopathy, and with that my performance is suffering. How do I tell my boss that I’m a full blown emotionless psychopath?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a good person, I have a moral code but I have no sense of empathy and I don’t feel emotions the same way others do. When I broach this subject, people get scared (thank you, movies). I’ve been here a long time and she wants me as a senior member of the team, but I don’t have the emotional spectrum to do that. How do I explain to her that I need to be in the junior positions, I need to move on to find another job (in or out of the company), and she is asking something of me that I cannot provide? How do I get it across to her that I am a functional and moral psychopath with an extremely low emotional intelligence and I’ll never be what she wants me to be?

A: Well, don’t use the word “psychopath.” I’m not sure you actually are a psychopath (there’s more to the definition than not having empathy), but even if you meet it to a T, describing yourself that way is going to scare the shit out of people.

Instead, what about framing it as EQ? You could say something like this: “I’ve found that I’m best at X and Y, and not at A and B. The direction you’d like me to move in requires fairly high EQ, and I know myself well enough to know that it’s not a strength. I’d like to stay in roles like X or Y, even though I know that will limit my ability to move up. Would you be willing to talk about moving me to a role focused more on X?”

Q: I am currently interviewing for my dream job, and I made it all the way to the final interview. I gave them my three references, two of whom were contacting by my potential employer. Shortly after sending my references, one of my references emailed me AFTER she agreed to be a reference, to explain that she may have to speak to the fact that I left my job before my contract was completed. This person is fully-aware that I was working for her directly after completing undergrad, on the other side of the country, and that the job was all-around a poor fit. I contacted my potential employer to have my reference changed, and to be honest, I am both sad and disappointed by the actions of my reference, which I was forced to remove.

Can you please tell me what you would have done in this situation?

A: I totally get why you’re taken aback but … the flip side of this is that if the job was a poor fit, you don’t want to use this person as a reference anyway. Your references should be people who can speak glowingly of your work. As crappy as this feels, your reference did you a favor by letting you know that she didn’t feel she could do that — and it doesn’t sound like a totally surprisingly message, given the circumstances you describe at that job! It would have been better if she’d let you know earlier on and that was her big error here, but sometimes people have trouble delivering that kind of message, especially if they feel put on the spot or need to think over what their assessment really is.

I’d say just let her know that you appreciate her candor, and then reflect on who stronger references might be.

These questions are adapted from ones that originally appeared on Ask a Manager. Some have been edited for length.

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