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posted: 10/7/2012 7:42 AM

Work advice: Detail-oriented, yes; obsessive, no

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Editor's note: Karla L. Miller writes an advice column on navigating the modern workplace. Each week she will answer one or two questions from readers.

Q: I have a part-time job on the side (evenings/weekends) as a medical transcriptionist. One Saturday, the business owner who provides most of my work emailed to ask if I could take a "quick job" for Sunday. I said I might be available but would have to know the size of the job, as I already had plans I couldn't cancel. Minutes later, I received another email from her, obviously intended for the would-be client. It said:

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"We can do it. Just send me more details ... lol ... as the person doing it has OCD ... is a stickler for details. She's awesome but drives me crazy with details."

Now, I am a stickler for details -- you want that in a transcriptionist -- but I don't have obsessive-compulsive disorder. Even if I did, I don't think it is remotely appropriate to tell a prospective client that your employee is "great but mentally disordered." OCD is not something you should make light of or disclose without permission. Furthermore, I don't think my simple request was unreasonably picky!

I thought I was respected by this woman. This job brings in only a little extra income each month, but I have used her as a work reference. Should I confront her about what this error revealed about our relationship? Or should I simply keep in mind that I'm dealing with someone not very professional?

A: In hindsight, the best response would have been to immediately return her misdirected email with a simple, "I think this was meant for (Client)." Satisfying for you, (ideally) mortifying for her.

In any case, I don't think her goof reveals much about how she feels about you or your work. I'd say she was using "OCD" as a casual layman's shorthand for "detail-obsessed" -- not as a literal medical diagnosis.

What this situation does highlight is the troubling way she covers her own heinie. Eager to win the client but lacking the foresight -- or the professional ova -- to ask about the scope of the job, she deflected the blame for a reasonable request onto a faceless third party: you.

Then she still agreed to take the project before getting those details! If it turned out to be more work than you could handle with your previous commitment, would she have told the client you had flaked?

Can this working relationship be saved? I think so, if you bear in mind that you're dealing with someone who changes faces like TV channels. To protect your reputation, you might have a professional reference checker -- or even a friend -- call for a reference and specifically ask how detail-oriented you are. The owner's response will tell you which face she'll show when your livelihood is on the line.

• Karla L. Miller has written for and edited tax publications for 16 years, most recently for the accounting firm KPMG's Washington National Tax office.

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