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THE QUESTION

I work for a magazine. My editor has a favourite journalist whose work is poor and which I often have to fix. She often speaks to me in a condescending manner, sometimes shouting at me, but I have ignored it and tried to accept that there are some people I just won't get along with. My immediate supervisor, however, overheard me talking to colleagues about how one of the fights upset me and decided to take it to my editor.

The girl in question is the editor's favourite – more than once a colleague has warned me about her "golden girl" status. So when I was called in to discuss the fight, she sat next to me and lied about the way she spoke to me. My editor took her word over mine and called me a malicious, vindictive story-spinner who was trying to sabotage my colleague.

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My boss now has an extremely low opinion of me and I don't know what to do to rectify the situation. I can't say anything against her favourite, because she doesn't believe me. How do I deal with this?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Billy Anderson

Founder of the Courage Crusade, Toronto

How badly do you need this job? Personally, I could not work with a manager who called me a malicious, vindictive story-spinner. I'd be gone. But maybe you don't feel you have that flexibility.

In terms of Miss Favourite, steer clear of her as best you can. If that's not realistic, kill her with kindness; always be polite and helpful so she has nothing more against you.

Secondly, your boss. How well do you trust your HR person? You could ask them for advice. However, don't go to them to point the finger. That doesn't make you look good. Explain your present challenge: You feel you got the blame for something that wasn't your fault, and you're now concerned about your boss's opinion of you. Do not share Miss Favourite's name. You're there to come up with solutions, not to avoid responsibility. Ask if they have any advice for how to restore your reputation.

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Or, you could approach your boss directly. Again, do not blame. Say something like, "I feel like the situation with so-and-so caused you to lose some faith in me. I'm not sure what went wrong but I want you to feel confident in me. Can we talk about this? I'd love any advice you may have."

If your boss reacts in a caring and supportive way, there's still hope. If she does not, it may be time to start looking for another job.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Heather Faire

Human resources executive, Atlanta

An office conflict can be like a fire. You can choose to keep it safely contained, put it out and minimize the damage. Or you can fan the flames, cause it to spread and end up with self-inflicted burns.

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Regardless of what you do, there are two lessons you can learn from your situation. You were told not to mess with "the favoured one" more than once, but you ignored the advice. Lesson one: When veteran firefighters tell you how to avoid a fire, listen to them. You also chose to gossip with others, instead of going to someone in authority who could intervene and help. Lesson two: When you encounter an unwanted fire, adding more fuel is not going to help.

With your reputation charred, now is the time to cool down. The first thing you could do is apologize to "the favoured one" and to your boss for engaging in office gossip. That might serve to let the smoke blow over while you spend your time doing great work to earn back your boss's respect. You could reach out to your human resources representative for advice and support. You might ask for a transfer and try to rebuild your reputation and credibility elsewhere at the magazine.

Or you might want to brush off your résumé and look outside the magazine for a fresh new start, where you can put this experience, and the lessons learned, to good use.

Got a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that mine field? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com. Your confidentiality is ensured.

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