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Southern California Job Market : Challenges Of The Working Life : Onward And Upward : How To Bend Truth In Recommending A Bum

September 18, 1988|ROBERT BURNS

One of the worst moments a manager experiences is being asked to recommend a former employee whose performance was less than exemplary.

What can be said about Wanda, for instance, whose attendance record was so bad that most of her colleagues thought she was employed posthumously but were afraid to let payroll know?

Robert Thornton, a professor of economics at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., offers an unusual out in the "Lexicon of Intentionally Ambiguous Recommendations" (Meadowbrook). A LIAR recommendation for Wanda could read, "She's not your normal everyday employee." Every other day, maybe.

Thornton said the book came out when a colleague was writing a reference for a very good student. He closed with the line, "I can't recommend this person too highly," which, of course, could be interpreted in a number of ways, some of which aren't too flattering.

The only serious lesson from his book, Thornton says, is to be very careful about double meanings.

A few of LIAR's recommendations, and their hidden meanings:

A man like him is hard to find.

He disappears frequently.

She was always high in my opinion.

She was often seen smoking a joint.

Most of us had rather good impressions of him.

. . . but there was this one guy who could mimic him perfectly.

He's a man of many convictions.

He's got a record a mile long.

I am pleased to say that she is a former colleague of mine.

I can't tell you how happy I am that she left our firm.

He's a difficult man to replace.

He'll sue if you try to fire him.

He takes a lot of enjoyment out of work.

. . . and ruins it for others, too.

She merits a close look.

Don't let her out of your sight.

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