DEAR HARRIETTE: I got a call from one of my former employees who intends to apply to business school. I am so happy for her. I remember her as being a very nice, consistent person. She did a good job when she worked for me, but it was so many years ago that I don't remember details.
I immediately agreed to help her, but now I'm at a loss. Is it wrong to ask her to remind me what she did when she worked with me? I am embarrassed that I don't remember. -- Forgetful, Washington, D.C.
DEAR FORGETFUL: By all means, contact your former employee and ask for highlights of her experience with you. You need not be embarrassed. She is reaching out in hopes that you can help her cross a significant hurdle in her career. If she's smart, she will be thrilled that you asked, because it gives her a chance to tell you the things that stood out for her and that she thinks are relevant for this school.
In the future, you may want to keep notes on your employees and write synopses for yourself after they leave so you don't have to rely upon memory.
DEAR HARRIETTE: A woman I know fairly well, whom I call a friend, told me that she just had major surgery. She didn't reveal what it was, but during the course of the conversation, I figured it out. I didn't ask her any questions or let on that I knew, because it's none of my business. What's weird is that she seems to want to keep the details secret, but she keeps talking about her recovery.
I'm not sure how to support her. I don't want to get too deep in her business, but when she keeps saying stuff to me, how do I respond and keep her confidentiality? --Sensitive Subject, Syracuse, N.Y.
DEAR SENSITIVE SUBJECT: You may want to ask your friend how you can best support her. You can be a friend by bringing her food, flowers or a good book, and by occasionally calling to make casual conversation that doesn't prompt her to provide too much information.
She may be someone who appreciates a good listener. In that case, you can agree to be a silent sounding board. If she starts to ask for your input, you can ask if she really wants to talk about her condition or if she's just venting. You can also change the subject if you feel that either of you has crossed a line.
Recovering from an illness or major surgery can be traumatic, and not just for the person who underwent it. Loved ones can suffer as well. You can take care of yourself by recognizing how much information you can hold onto before it feels like a burden.