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How do I start fresh with a hated boss?

Dear Corporate Governess

I attended a brainstorming session at work not knowing my kindergartener had infected me with head lice. Now one of my colleagues is scratching away, and I suspect I've spread the bugs. Do I say anything?

—Jason D., Toronto

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Dear Jason

It could be dandruff that has your co-worker itching—but you know in your heart it's not. Lice can't fly or jump, but they're still highly contagious via contact, giving a whole new meaning to the phrase "lean in." Plus, they can survive up to two days off the scalp (say, on a boardroom chair). So while they're more a nuisance than a health threat, you need to act before the scratching proliferates.

First, get over your embarrassment. As my daughter's teacher once noted, lice know no social boundary. Take your colleague aside and let him know the possible reason for his itchiness. Bugs tend to evoke a visceral response (I'm scratching even as I write this), so brace yourself for a freakout, particularly if he is unused to the regular lice drills that accompany having children. Suggest some websites that can help explain what's happening on his head. Better yet, offer him a complimentary visit to a nit-removal clinic (yes, they exist, with clever names like Nitwits).

If that seems too awkward, at least send out an e-mail warning everyone who was at the meeting—with an apology, of course. Then let it be on their own heads.

***

Dear Corporate Governess

A former boss I loved to hate is coming back to lead our division. The animosity was mutual. How do I make a fresh start with him?

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—Tyler S., Calgary

Dear Tyler

Tread carefully. The company brought him back for a reason, so in any showdown, you're the vulnerable one. It's important to keep your cool in all interactions. First, let him know you're hoping for a fresh start. That doesn't mean rolling over—it's okay to acknowledge the differences you've had in the past. And if he's a bully, speak up about how that makes you feel. No boss has the right to abuse staff. If you come close to losing it, excuse yourself to chant your mantra in the toilet or whatever, and come back ready to move forward.

Then focus on the work and any shared goals you might have. If possible, find something you sincerely admire about the man. Then turn him into an ally by asking for his advice. But be genuinely open to his help, or there's no point.

If it's still a war zone after a few months, consider a transfer or quietly start your job search. Some gigs aren't worth the therapy.

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