Last week I was on a radio show that I’ve been on a bunch of times. It is a major radio station in a major city. The host likes me because I say inflammatory things like, “If your boss is terrible, stop complaining and start looking for another job.” Then listeners call in and tell me I’m an idiot, and in general, they sound like the audio version of Yahoo comments (scroll down).

So we were going through that routine. The topic was presidential candidates and I said I love Michelle Obama because she is not constrained by societal expectations. Then I talked about how she dated Barack when she was supervising him. I also talked about how she recently quit her huge job as an attorney in order to take care of her family during the campaign, even when the baby boomer media is still complaining about women who do this; Michelle didn’t care.

The host of the show said she thought you should not date people you supervise: It’s not fair, they don’t have the ability to say no, etc.

By then, the phone lines were lighting up. “Lighting up” is radio lingo for the process whereby the producer of the show answers the phones, finds out what the person wants to say on air, and then cues up three or four interesting callers. This way, when the host gets a call, she knows it’s going to be decent because the producer has already screened it. The producer’s job is to get a wide range of callers, talking about a range of topics in a way that will engage other listeners.

The first call was from a guy who said, (I am summarizing) “I agree that you shouldn’t date someone you supervise, but I think it’s a different circumstance with Michelle Obama because there are so few good black men to date.”

Silence. Not for long, but any silence on the radio seems long. What went through my mind was that I am not black and cannot comment on what it’s like to be black and dating and I should keep quiet.

The host said, “Well, Barack is a very good catch. Good for her!”

But I am always on the alert for bad talk for women masquerading as feminism, so I said, “Well, Michelle is a great catch, too.”

In hindsight, I should have said something like, “That comment is racist. There are men of every race who are good catches and men of every race who are not good dating material.”

When Don Imus was fired, I remember a flurry of past guests on his show who admitted to saying nothing on-air when he said something racist. I remember telling myself that I would never do that.

But I have to tell you that it’s hard to believe it’s happening when it’s happening. On a national radio show, there are a lot of checks in place to make sure racism doesn’t happen on air: The producer screens calls, and the host can say something if it’s bad (I said clitoridecdtomy on-air one week and she immediately apologized to listeners and told everyone I’d never say that word again.) And, if all that fails, presumably advertisers will ditch the show, and it will fail, because no one wants to be associated with racism.

So what happened is that in the split second that racism was happening on the radio, I didn’t trust myself that it was happening, and I didn’t say anything. And I see now that the way racist ideas go main stream is that the producer gives them air time, and the outspoken host and guest talk about women’s issues instead of the real issue that is race.

This will not happen again with me. I will speak up when something is racist.

Being ready for racism reminds me of teaching kids to say no to drugs. If you tell kids “Just say no,” it doesn’t work, because they don’t trust their own decision- making skills. What the drug educators have found is that if you talk about trusting your instinct about what is a positive decision and what isn’t, then in a bad situation, you’ll trust yourself to say the right thing.

Carmen Van Kerckhove conducts diversity training for businesses, and she wrote a great post about the best response to a racist joke. You’ll be surprised by the advice. I was. It’s a great post because it teaches us how to understand, at a core, why the joke is wrong. Instead of “just saying no” to a racist joke Van Kerckhove deconstructs the situation to give us our best response.

I have a solid understanding of women’s issues, so I was ready with a response for the idea that Michelle Obama was lucky to find a date. I was not ready with a response to there are no good black men, because I didn’t trust my knowledge of racism.

But this is what I know: The core to stopping racism is to understand it, and then trust the understanding. That’s how we can be ready to call out racism as something wrong when we need to.

I wrote an article for Wired, about some of the fastest growing jobs and how to prepare for them in college. Part of this Education 2.0 package was an article by Natali Del Conte about which social networking tools students should use.

In general I think college kids should prepare for the work world by learning to make friends with a wide range of people on campus and lay off the books. But maybe that’s because I found that the time I was getting straight A’s in college was the time I was learning the least.

Ode magazine has a great little article this month about the importance of generosity. A study that has been following people since the 1920s reveals that your ability to give to others is a big indicator of how happy your life will be. (Paul Wink of Wellesley College, oversees the study today, and he wrote a book about it, In the Course of a Lifetime.)

One of the most interesting findings is that teens who scored high on generosity were healthier and happier half a century later. So the best advice about what to do in college might be to develop a strong ability to give.

Like all positive traits in this world, we think we have more of it than we do. (A great example of this phenomenon: Business Week reports that 90% of young workers think their performance is in the top 10% of all workers.)

These are five traits that people who are givers usually exhibit:

1. A sense that you can make a difference in the world

2. Empathy that enables you to truly feel the suffering of others

3. Belief that you are someone who can get things done

4. Spiritual faith in the world – -either traditional religion or an eclectic altruism

5. A focus on doing good that endures beyond your lifetime

Even if you don’t have these traits, the good news is that you can just start giving, and you might get these traits as you go. Try doing five acts of altruistic giving in one day – it’ll shift your outlook, according to Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of psychology at University of California at Riverside,

So maybe the best thing college kids can do for themselves is go to class less and help people more. And this is probably true for those of us going to work each day, as well. After all, when it comes to crafting a life, spending time on what really matters is half the battle.

When I was a kid, there was money everywhere. My great grandpa was a lawyer for the Chicago mob in the 1920s, and today, my dad’s generation is still living off that money. Sometimes I wonder if the key to being able to squash materialism is to have a lot of it as a kid. I’m not sure. But let me tell you this: I grew up with a laundress and a housekeeper and unlimited cash from a drawer in the dining room.

When I went to college my parents cut off my money. I think this might have been normal at the time. I remember crying. Really. Crying over the fact that I’d never be able to shop at Lord & Taylor. But it didn’t take long for me to see that people don’t wear Lord & Taylor skirts to class. In fact, I realized that most people don’t wear Lord & Taylor skirts anywhere because some of those skirts could feed a family for a month.

1. Test the meaning of money by doing stuff that’s scary.
One of the first things I did after college was sell three strings of pearls to get myself to Los Angeles. I was really scared when I did it, but in fact, the only time I missed those pearls was when my mom asked where they were.

When I was making a lot of money, I had great work clothes and a BMW (hey, I lived in LA), but that was about it, in terms of splurging. I kept an inexpensive apartment, and people used to tell me I was nuts to live there when I had so much money. They told me I was uncomfortable with success, and I worried they were right, but I stayed there. In hindsight, I realize it felt safe to live somewhere I could afford if my company went bankrupt. Which it did.

2. Put a bunch of stuff in storage to see what it’s like.
When I moved from Los Angeles to New York City my husband and I rented a 500-square-foot apartment. We told ourselves we’d only be there for a year, until we got more settled in the city. So we put all our books in storage, most of our furniture, clothes that were not in season and everything we wouldn’t be using in the next three or four months.

The only way I could put the stuff in storage was to tell myself I could go back and forth every week getting stuff I missed. We ended up staying there six years. We took almost nothing out of storage.

I quote Daniel Gilbert all the time about how we can adapt to anything. Gilbert says that we think some changes will be terrible – like losing a limb – but in fact we are great at adapting to circumstances that don’t change. This is true of putting stuff in storage. You quickly learn to live without it.

3. Understand the concept of aspirational clutter. Get reality and throw stuff out.
When we had a baby, we thought we would move for sure, but 9/11 was too traumatic. It didn’t feel like the right time to move. So we threw stuff out, and we learned a lot about how what you keep in your small apartment is a statement about your values.

So much of what we hold on to is what we wish we were using — objects that commemorate a life we aspire to but do not have. The six books we bought a year ago and haven’t read, for example. We don’t want to admit that we’re not making time to read, so we save them. The treadmill is another object that is loaded because if you throw it out you’re admitting to yourself that you’re never going to use it. Keeping it, even unused, maintains your dream of getting into shape.

In fact, we had to think very hard about every single thing we let into the apartment, and we instituted a rule that if you brought something in, you had to take something out. Maybe other New Yorkers in small spaces had this rule, too, because there is always really good stuff left on doorsteps in New York City.

Then we had another baby. And that was it. With four people living in 500 square feet, I started having recurring dreams about living in a bigger space and I’d wake up to be disappointed that it was only a dream. I decided the small space was driving me crazy, and I started compiling research about where to move.

4. Know this: You could dump everything if you had to.
And then we got bed bugs. We didn’t know that much about them but we captured a bug and checked it on the Internet. When I left the landlord a message to tell him we had bed bugs, our usually completely inaccessible landlord called me ten times in one day. I should have known we were in big trouble.

In fact, our whole building had bed bugs, and maybe the whole city. There is a lot written about bed bugs. There is an epidemic in the United States at all levels of the economic spectrum. (Our bed bug expert said that the worst clients he had were up and down Park Avenue because they felt they had been assaulted by the dirty underclass.)

Bed bugs bite you in your sleep. We had two kids under four years old, and I started staying up all night keeping the bugs off them. Finally the landlord paid for a hotel (about $300 a night in NYC) while we negotiated with him about what to do.

The bugs and their eggs could be in anything in the apartment made of fabric or wood. Here’s how long the bugs can live without food: eighteen months. There is no way we could starve them. We had to poison them. And the only way to do that is to get them to come out of hiding and walk through the poison. The only thing they’ll come out for is human blood.

How would they get human blood? We had to live in the apartment. What do people on Park Avenue do? The staff lives there while the family goes to the summer home or a hotel. What do the not-rich people do? Use themselves as bait. That’s what our neighbors did.

We tried using ourselves as bait for one night, and every bug (by now there were forty or fifty a night) went for the kids. I developed near complete insomnia, always fearing that the kids were getting bitten as soon as I shut my eyes, even in broad daylight when the bugs are asleep.

The bed bug expert said that the most common thing he sees is that people move, but they won’t give up their stuff, so they take the bedbugs with them. We had two kids bitten everywhere. We took no chances and we took with us only things that could be boiled in hot water or thrown in a hot dryer – to ensure no bugs. We took from that apartment less than half of the size of a small U-Haul truck. We left almost everything.

5. Throwing stuff out is not wasteful.
In Madison, we started with just about nothing. Sort of like college kids. You think that throwing everything out is so costly and such a waste of money. But in fact it taught us how little we needed most of the stuff we had, which made us buy much less going forward.

While we have bought a lot since we got here, the years in New York City taught us about living in a small footprint (we still have one of the smallest two bedrooms around) and losing all our stuff to the bed bugs taught us that we didn’t really need much after all.

People often ask me how was I able to switch careers so many times (professional volleyball, corporate marketing, entrepreneurship…) And how have I been able to do so many high risk things (for example take a 70% pay cut and start new as a freelance writer when I had my first baby and was supporting the family.) The answer is that I had very little to lose.

It’s a cliche for a reason. If you have a very low-cost lifestyle and very few physical things that you treasure, you cannot really imagine a rug being pulled out from under you because you don’t own that great a rug anyway.

People think that what’s holding them back from taking risk is some big financial idea of stability and well being, but it’s really fear of losing your comfortable material life, whatever that is. Mine is so spare that I can easily replace it, even if we got bed bugs again.

Which we won’t. Because we had our new house treated before we moved in; even big risk takers draw the line somewhere.

When you are trying to figure out your next career move, the company match is more important than job match. This is because the people who are happiest at work are doing what they do best, every day.

You can be a janitor and use your strengths, and you can be an associate at one of the very best law firms and not use your strengths. This is not about your IQ, it’s about your core personality, and matching the needs of your core personality to a company’s needs. “Don’t use past skills to get a future job” says, positive psychologist Senia Maymin. “Use your strengths. A job should be more about what excites you and less about what you’ve done”

This is good advice, but it requires having a solid understanding of yourself and of what companies have to offer.

A book I’ve been waiting all year for is Recruit or Die by Chris Resto, Ian Ybarra and Ramit Sethi. This book tells companies how to recruit young talent. (The first thing I like about this book is that now we can stop arguing about if employees hold the stronger hand in the recruiting process. They do. And every time people tell me that I’m nuts for saying that employees are forcing corporate America to change, I can just point to this book.)

Recruit or Die explains that the companies who get the best employees year after year do so by selling themselves more than selling the job, and the recruiting process is a time to show the candidate who the company is. When there are tons of candidates for every job, only top-tier firms do this. In a market like today, where workers are in high demand, any company that will survive has to do it.

As a candidate, this book is a peek into the secret world of your suitors. You should understand the range of ways that forward-thinking companies recruit so you know how to judge the company you’re talking to. This will help you to match your strengths properly with a company’s.

One of the most important things to notice in the recruiting process is that the best companies don’t use money as a recruiting tool. It’s not that they think you don’t care about money. But they know they cannot differentiate themselves with money. Because you probably have a lot of friends who make the same amount of money you do; your pay range is not going to make you feel significantly different about your life because the happiness that money brings you is always relative to the people around you.

Recruit or Die is also gives us a good way to understand career possibilities. For example, the book recommends that companies do things like send you a congratulatory card or gift basket when you finally take the job. This is small, yes, but it sets the tone for gratitude going forward – and a culture of gratitude can almost single-handedly make a great work experience.

So how do you get to know your strengths? Here are two tests to take – either one will tell you your strengths and each takes about 30 minutes: Signature Strengths Questionnaire and Gallup StrengthsFinder .

And how do you figure out what company is a good match for you? You know how you go on dating sites and before you answer any ads, you read a bunch to see what the possibilities are? Use Recruit or Die like and get educated on what the market has to offer before you offer yourself.

Today’s workers have three, clear priorities: Flexible hours, work that leads to personal growth, and the ability to spend a lot of time fostering personal relationships.

These are not the characteristics of jobs that typically attracted the best candidates. Most lawyers have terrible hours, most doctors have little flexibility, and most consultants sacrifice personal time for time on the road.

So, what’s left? What are the dream jobs today? What are the career paths that challenge assumptions of conventional success but achieve the top priorities of today’s workers: Flexibility, personal growth, and fun co-workers.

A big piece of the dream career path is to get out of doing entry-level jobs by taking a career path that allows you to jump. Some people start companies in their dorm rooms so they have good experience on their resume by the time they graduate. Some people freelance after graduation so they can find good work for themselves, prove themselves, and then get a mid-level job when they look for an employer.

Some entry-level jobs are still good, though, because the company offers so much in exchange. These jobs are inflexible and demanding, but they provide a couple of years of high-level, intensive training. Examples include being an analyst for an investment banking firm, going into a structured training program at a company such as Procter & Gamble or General Electric, or going to a top-tier consulting firm that makes mentoring and training high priorities.

Doing these jobs is almost like going to business school but, instead of paying for it, you get paid. And then you leave.

Today’s dream jobs are different than those of the past, but just as competitive — tough to position yourself for and tough to keep. Take the example of bloggers. Some, like Heather B. Armstrong at dooce, or Darren Rowse at Problogger, do a great job of supporting themselves and their families with their blogs. They have flexible, interesting work, they learn a lot, and work in a community they really connect with. But the percentage of bloggers who can do this is very small.

Working at a venture-capital firm or a hedge fund is also a great way to go. Good hours, fun work, great money. But very few people will be good enough at what they do that these sorts of jobs will be open to them.

If you cannot figure out how to get to the top of a field, figure out how to keep your options open. The worst career track for today’s worker is one in which you’re stuck — where career change would require you to start at the bottom again. Multidisciplinary, knowledge-management paths give you flexibility to move among disciplines and departments. Careers that are brain-intensive but not time-intensive allow you to work on developing your next thing while you’re doing your current thing. These are dream jobs because they allow you to create work around the life you want to lead.

And, of course, don’t forget entrepreneurship. The reason so many young people are starting companies is not because jobs are hard to find; it’s because dream jobs are hard to find. But starting your own company allows you to work with your friends, pick your own hours, and learn on a very steep curve.

So, what does this look like in real life? Take a look at Nataly Kogan’s career. She started out working for a top-tier consulting firm. Then she got a job at a venture capital firm. And today, at age 31, she has founded her own company, Work It, Mom — fittingly, a community for women to figure out the answer to their own dream job after they’ve had kids.

Kogan is a great example of someone with a dream job because the job doesn’t feel steady. She’s at the beginning of a wild ride through entrepreneurship. There used to be a smugness to the partner at the big law firm or the brain surgeon with the de rigueur, stay-at-home wife. The people with dream jobs today don’t know where they’ll be 20 years from now — or even next month.

Even those who may appear to already have their dream job may be scheming to move on to their next one — at a start-up, for example. Google is a big matching service for smart people who have ideas and smart people who want to work on a new idea. A huge number of Google employees are waiting to go to a start-up founded by someone they know inside the company.

We do not have a finite set of respectable jobs anymore. We do not have a single path to the American dream anymore.

What we have is multiple paths that converge on flexible, rewarding work that accommodates a personal life. And we have paths that do not get you to that.

The dream job of the new millennium plays to your strengths. So find them. Because that dream job will not unfold in front of you like a 1950s-era corporate ladder.

You need to go after the dream job every day of your career if you want to get it.

Do you remember the Y2K hoopla? It was a five-year buildup of massively over-hiring COBOL programmers to take care of the impending doom of computers not being able to handle the new millennium. People worried the switch from 19xx to 20xx would crash computers far and wide and we wouldn’t be able to do essential things like charge stuff on credit cards.

The clock struck twelve. The century changed. Nothing happened.

I feel like the same thing is happening with the hoop-la over the baby boomer exodus. HELLO OUT THERE! Do the people who write the press releases about baby boomer retirement not understand that this is the most overleveraged generation in history and they will work till the day they die?

The new glass ceiling is the gray ceiling. And how do you get a leadership job from baby boomers when they won’t get out of the way? Act like them. Sure, this means working 60 hour weeks, because that’s what baby boomers do. But it also means exhibiting the leadership qualities that baby boomers look for when they promote people.

Jo Miller teaches people how to make the shift into corporate leadership positions. She conducted interviews with more than 1000 people and she identified the 12 skills that are most essential to have if you want to get promoted into leadership roles. Her top four are:

1. Exuding an aura of credibility and authority with your presence

2. Making your accomplishments visible, instead of working hard and hoping the work will speak for itself.

3. Becoming a person of influence

4. Building a powerful network with the key players in your organization.

To see how many of the 12 skills you have, you can take this test.

Jo focuses on coaching women because she says that men do these things more intuitively than women do. She teaches a seminar on how to get these skills at companies like Intel, she has an online course, and she does one-on-one coaching for people who want to develop these skills.

This week’s Coachology offer is 90 minutes with Jo. You’ll be a good match for her if you are in a corporate job and you want to get to the next level but you are sort of stuck. She can help you get unstuck. You should already have good emotional intelligence because that is what it’s going to take to make the changes Jo will recommend that you to make.

If you’re interested, send an email to me with three sentences saying why you want to work with Jo, and she’ll choose a winner. The deadline is Sunday, August 5.

There’s been a lot of media focus on how the workplace has changed since Generation Y came on the scene. But what about Gen Y women?

From the moment baby boomers joined the workforce, women made it their mission to create a fair playing field for everyone. But after decades of feminists plowing down the boys’ club, today’s women enter a totally different kind of workplace and need totally different advice for succeeding.

What should the new rules be? Here are five ways to get the conversation going.

1. Date co-workers.

I can see how 40 years ago, when it was still legal to ask a woman what her husband thought of her career, it would’ve been bad to date co-workers. Back then, women felt powerless in the workplace.

But today, young women feel they have equal power to men. And they aren’t deluding themselves — women and men receive equal pay in business until they have children (after which woman are penalized for having kids more than men are). So men and women approach dating at work as equals.

The bigger issue here is that if you’re working 40 hours a week, you’re more likely to meet the people you want to date when you’re at the office. If you tell yourself that all men at work are off-limits, you put yourself at a huge disadvantage.

And if you want to have children, you need to make getting married a higher priority than your career. This isn’t some radical statement — it’s backed by a lot of research, not the least of which is that you can’t tell your biological clock to wait while you refuse to date all the men you come in contact with.

So the adage to not date men you work with is totally antiquated. It assumes that women aren’t equal to men, can push back childbearing indefinitely, and should put their career ahead of getting married. All of these are bad assumptions.

2. Show some flesh — but just enough.

If you had any doubts about the power of looking like a girl at work, check out Hillary Clinton’s new look. No one’s more studied in the art of the female image than Hillary, and her new appearance is much more feminine.

This isn’t surprising, though. There’s a wide body of research that shows that women are received better when they hit that magic point between dressing like a guy and dressing like a harlot.

For instance, Yale psychologist Marianne LaFrance found that medium-length hair is best for looking smart; too long is too sexy, and too short is too boyish. And Debra A. Benton, author of “How to Think Like a CEO,” says that dressing too much like the guys is what high-ranking men say holds back high-ranking women.

Hitting the midway point applies to makeup as well. If you wear too much, you look like you’re trying too hard, but if you wear none, people perceive you as disinterested, according to Sherry Maysonave, author of “Casual Power.”

3. Expect harassment, and stay cool.

A recent segment on New England Cable News reported that 46 percent of summer interns will be harassed. And most professional women will experience some form of sexual harassment in their career — some studies even say as many as 80 percent of them.

It’s clear, then, that most women don’t report harassment. But it isn’t because they’re scared — it’s because they’re smart. The laws are very clear on what companies should do to respond to harassment claims, but they aren’t very clear on how to define when a woman has been illegally fired for reporting harassment.

The careers of most women who report harassment suffer, even if the company works hard to do the right thing. The law is too far behind the times, so don’t report harassment.

Instead, have a plan. Know that you need to tell the guy you’re not interested if you’re not. Know that you won’t get a lot of protection from human resources even though they tell you they’ll protect you. And finally, know that just because you encounter harassment doesn’t mean you provoked it. You can wear a shirt that shows a little cleavage and not be accountable for the fact that most 40-year-old guys will take a look when you walk by.

Wear the clothes that you feel comfortable in, because people who are true to themselves at work perform best. But take heed from the research above: You’ll do best if your clothes fall somewhere between frumpy and revealing.

4. If you have to go to business school, go early.

Here’s how things used to be: You graduated from college, worked for three to five years, went to business school for two years, then graduated and got the job of your dreams.

The problem with this scenario is that you’re in your late 20s by the time you start working in your chosen profession, and most women want to start having kids by their early 30s. So, if you leave the workforce right after joining it, you really compromise your ability to leverage your hard-earned degree.

So business schools are accepting candidates earlier. Of course you still have to have good credentials to get in, but it’s no longer essential to have the requisite number of years of work experience between college and business school. Business schools will officially say that the change in policy is to attract the best candidates, but unofficially, the change is to attract the smart women — specifically, the women who are aware of the great biological clock rip-off that business schools were in the past.

5. Tone down your work ethic.

For the last decade, girls have earned better grades and better SAT scores than boys, and they’ve had higher graduation rates, too. This persists through college.

After that, men catch up in the workplace. This isn’t because they start working harder, it’s because what they’ve been working at all along — multitasking with their video games and socializing with their friends — is what the workplace values most. Getting straight A’s is, after all, widely understood to be an unreliable indicator of how well you’ll do in your career.

So stop being the overachiever who does each assignment perfectly. Instead, start focusing on the stuff that really matters at work, like productivity skills and getting along with people. But don’t be too much like the guys — because we know that’s no good, either.

Yesterday I was interviewed on The Morning Blend. Here’s a video of the show. Topics include how to leave stuff out of your resume, why you shouldn’t pay your dues, and how to deal with a boss who says no to your requests.

I am always harping on how important it is to be nice. I have written about how you will be happy at work if you have three friends there, you will get promoted if people like you and you should try to be more likable no matter how likable you think you are right now.

A recent study by SkillSoft tells which factors employees see as most important to their wellbeing. Here’s the list:

1. Flexible working hours
2. Working with people I like
3. Having enough annual leave
4. Having time off on short notice
5. Enjoying the job
6. Getting along well with colleagues
7. Feeling liked by my colleagues
8. Getting along well with my boss
9. Being trusted by my boss
10. Having a clear understanding of my goals

Five of these top ten factors of workplace happiness have to do with interpersonal relationships. So it seems that most people understand the importance of being well liked at work.

But not everyone knows how to achieve this. And to be fair, it’s not easy. Being well liked at work means taking a lot of risks, and when it comes to deciding to make a risky move, we are inherently reticent. Daniel Gilbert’s research shows we are way better at seeing the downside than the upside.

Good social skills start with being vulnerable. If you want to create a relationship with someone, you need to open up a little piece of yourself so they can see inside and find something to connect with. Some relationships will be close, some will be casual, but all will be based on you figuring out how to open up just a bit. Keith Ferrazzi gave a great step-by-step approach to this process in his book, Never Eat Alone, and he gave the Cliff’s Notes version when I interviewed him. But the bottom line is that in order to make a real connection with someone, you have to take a real risk.

Most of the mail I get about social skills at work is from people who feel like they’ve messed up. When it comes to social skills – and any skill, really – you can judge your own competence by how well you manage yourself in a mess.

Eric Dezenhall is a publicist who specializes in managing situations where someone has messed up and the author of the book Damage Control. He says, “So much of crisis management comes down to basic likability. Do we like you?” Dezenhall says mental gymnastics to craftily shift the blame have unimpressive results. “It doesn’t matter how smart you are. What matters is if we like you.”

When things go wrong, the first thing you should consider is apologizing. Saying you’re sorry is powerful. “The public is enormously forgiving of genuine contrition,” according to research about bouncing back from a career mess by Jeffrey Sonnenfelt at Yale School of management. For example, medical malpractice suits go down significantly when a doctor is willing to apologize for a mistake.

However an apology only works when you are truly sorry. Dezenhall points out that an apology made just to make a problem go away often does more harm than good because it is, in fact, inconsistent with who you are and not believable.

This advice brings to mind the reaction to my panel discussion at BlogHer last weekend. Not during, but after. The room was totally packed, and there were questions flying the whole time, and I answered questions how I usually do: Short and direct.

Later I saw the online aftermath of the panel, and there were a few bloggers who were very upset.

Of course, no matter what I say there are always a few people who are upset. And some weeks there are a few thousand people upset. In general, I read the comments, learn from those that I can learn from, and move on. I asked some friends what I should do about the unhappy BlogHer bloggers. All my friends told me to ignore it. “It doesn’t matter,” is what they said over and over.

It is at this moment – when you find out that someone doesn’t like what you’ve done – that determines how well liked you are at work. You can’t bow to every complaint about what you do, but you do need to get good at figuring out which people to address and which to ignore. Both decisions are risks.

Here’s what I learned from the criticism about me at the blog Suburban Turmoil: It is more effective to be short and direct in writing than it is in person. The comments section on the blog post complaining about me was already boisterous. So I thought I might get trounced again for adding my own comment. But I took a chance and apologized because I could do it with honesty.

On the other hand, I received nearly 100 personal emails from people attacking me for the last column I wrote on Yahoo Finance, and I am ignoring them. Well, except for this one, which I can’t resist publishing, from Eduard Bauer:

“Please stop giving horrible advice. Your detachment from reality is hurting the American economy.”