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updated: 4/21/2013 8:18 AM

When a carrot feel more like a stick at work

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Q: Two months ago, I was promised a promotion at work. I have yet to see a title change or salary increase. My boss told me my promotion has been approved, but, because of turmoil in other departments, organizational changes and a tight budget, I need to wait. I don't think he should have promised it to me in the first place. I've been fed lines about how I need to build my reputation with some new responsibilities first so that other departments will respect me. While I'm miffed and losing motivation, I want to stay for the promotion so I can build skills I need to move on to another position elsewhere. I've taken on more responsibilities on top of my regular duties and will be taking on even more once this promotion happens. How do I firmly ask for this promotion to take place? Can I ask to be compensated extra for those months that I was told I was getting this promotion?

A: Two possible interpretations:

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1. The boss is dangling a carrot to wangle extra work out of you.

2. The boss is telling the truth about the promotion, turmoil, budget and building your reputation.

Either way, my advice is the same: Act as though you already have the title.

I don't mean start bossing people around or spend your nonexistent raise upgrading your wardrobe. I mean start thinking about projects you'd be managing or changes you'd like to make. Then start developing skills and relationships that will help you meet those goals.

It's not unheard-of for promotions to take months or for candidates to prove themselves by taking on a temporary extra burden. If it becomes obvious that you're never getting your teeth on that carrot, you can always start looking elsewhere -- with a resume fattened with your newly acquired experience.

Of course, if you see promotion just as a means to an exit, go ahead and demand it, plus retroactive pay for the waiting period. That should force a quick decision from your boss -- but probably not the one you're hoping for.

Q: Annual drive for a large charity is at hand. My company "encourages" donations and distributes pre-filled donation forms. Last year I was asked seven times. I feel I should not have to explain why I don't donate, or list who I do contribute to. One colleague gives $5 to get them off his back. That feels like a wimpy way out to me.

A: "Thanks, I've already been asked" with a smile -- then turn back to your work. Polite, enigmatic and discouraging of further discussion. And give poor Five Buck Chuck a break; his response is equally valid.

• 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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