Question: Whenever I meet with my manager, whether it's in private, on the phone, or in a meeting, he always puts me on the spot. If I answer a question to his satisfaction, he keeps digging deeper until I get to the point where I sound like I don't know what I am talking about. I get nervous whenever I speak with him, and I don't know how to deal with this.

Answer: Although your manager puts you on the spot, it sounds like you are putting yourself in a difficult spot. You can easily and accurately predict your manager's behavior when you interact with him. Namely, no matter what you say or do, he's going to drill down until he gets you to the point where you are confused, uninformed, and ultimately embarrassed.

However, since this aspect of your manager's behavior is so easy to predict, you can take proactive steps to deal with it. One such step is called "the what-if game." The idea is that prior to any interaction that you may have with your manger, you should come up with the most difficult questions that he could possibly ask. Once you have established them, the next step is to develop and even practice the best answers.

As part of this approach, you can ask some of your closer co-workers to help you determine the questions as well as the answers. By being highly prepared, you will feel far less nervous when you communicate with him, and your responses are far more likely to accurately and effectively handle his questions. He can go ahead and drill down, but that will not bother you because you already know the drill.

Question: Our company had not given out raises for several years until recently. I heard that some employees got substantial increases, and a few got nothing.

I got a raise, but it is so tiny that I hardly noticed it on my paycheck, and my manager said nothing about it. I feel like telling the company that they can keep this insulting increase, but I need whatever I can get. What do you suggest?

Answer: Although you are dissatisfied with the amount of your raise, the larger issue is that this raise simply appeared in your paycheck. Your manager apparently provided you with no upfront communication or feedback about it, and that is a managerial mistake. In fact, that may well be one of the key underlying reasons why the raise is so dissatisfying to you.

For example, if your manager had given you some recognition, along with information about the company's strategy and objectives in providing selected raises at this time, you probably would have been more satisfied with this increase, in spite of the dollar amount. The lack of communication associated with raises, especially small increases, tends to send a message that management does not care much about the employees, especially in terms of the employees' needs, accomplishments, and performance.