Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues-everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
Here's a round-up of answers to five questions from readers.
1. Reforming a tyrant manager
I've seen several posts from you about how to deal with a boss who is a bully or tyrant. My question for you is how can I, as an HR Director, address an issue like this with the supervisor who is being the tyrant? I've spoken with the supervisor about the appropriate behavior that we expect and what needs to change, and I honestly think the supervisor wants to do better but can't see the behavior and the effect it's having on employees. Are there coaches out their who do this kind of work? It feels like a fundamental change in a person that is beyond being "teachable" at this stage in life.
By the way, the person's manager is wholeheartedly on board and pushing for the change, and we are both communicating that there are severe consequences (including possibly termination of employment). We are just trying to figure out how we can support and train this person who seems not self-aware.
You're already on the right track by addressing it forthrightly and laying out consequences if the behavior doesn't change. You should also set a fairly quick timeline for when you'll be re-evaluating things, so that it's clear that the situation is high priority and serious.
There are indeed executive coaches who will work with people like this. You want to find one who's particularly blunt -- avoid touchy-feely coaches and go for someone who will be direct and not pull any punches, and one who's willing to take this on with a pretty short timeline, because you don't want this dragging out for months. Can a coach help someone like this? Potentially. If the person isn't inherently mean and is just oblivious to the effect of her actions, there's hope. But if the issues are tied up in fundamental character problems, ego, etc., it's a lot harder and you'd want to be prepared for the possibility that you can't let this person stay in a management role.
When you evaluate the supervisor's progress, make sure you talk with the people she manages, and make it clear to them that they can give you feedback safely, without any repercussions from the manager herself or from others in the organization (and make sure you mean it). That's the best way to get the information you need.
2. Interviewers who won't deviate from a list of questions
I was wondering if you could comment on something I've experienced in the interviews I've had lately, both first round and second round. Whatever group I am talking with comes prepared with a list of questions they have clearly worked on together as a group. They proceed to ask each question. I answer. There is no follow-up question, or anything, just "thank you" and "who is next?" I understand asking all the candidates the same questions, but I can't believe I said nothing that warranted a follow-up. When I am interviewing, I usually have a couple questions to follow-up on almost anything a candidate has said, even if it just to ask them to elaborate on some point. I found it a bit frustrating as a candidate. What is your take on this practice?
It's bad interviewing. It happens when an employer mistakenly believes that the only way to treat candidates "fairly" is to ensure they're all asked precisely the same questions and no others. But it's bad practice, because the way you get beneath the surface in interviews and really understand how someone operates is to ask follow-ups and more follow-ups. That's how you really learn how someone thinks and operates. In fact, if given the choice of doing an interview consisting solely of five questions and tons and tons of follow-ups on those questions or an interview consisting of 30 questions with zero follow-ups, I'd pick the one with five questions. You need to probe in an interview. The practice you're describing is too rigid and leads to bad hires.
(Plus, different candidates will have different things that you want to probe into. The issue of follow-ups aside, you can't even start out with one set of questions for everyone -- a core list, yes, but not a complete list that will work for everyone without any deviation.)
3. Fired for refusing to break the law
I was recently let go from a job because I refused to preform some illegal tasks for them. They wanted me to alter legal documents after they had been signed, then photocopy them so you couldn't tell that they were altered. During any future interviews, when they ask me why I no longer work there, should I tell them the truth, that I was let go for not preforming illegal tasks? I've always been told not to talk bad about former employers during the interview because it makes you seem like a complainer. What are your thoughts?
It's true that you shouldn't badmouth former employers in an interview, but in this case there's no way around the truth. I would simply say, "Unfortunately, I was let go after I declined to falsify legal documents." Most interviewers will be horrified by what happened to you -- and any who aren't are ones you don't want to work for.
4. Turning down an offer from a former boss
A few months ago, a former boss of mine -- who I like and respect very much -- offered me a job at her current employer, working under her. After meeting with her about it, I decided that the position was not a very good fit for my personality and not really in my area of interest. I thanked her for the offer and politely declined. Flash forward to today, and she's asked me again to consider the still-open position. I don't want to hurt her feelings or come off as ungrateful. I also don't want to lose her as a professional reference as I pursue a position that's a good match for me. How can I gracefully decline this second offer?
Just be straightforward: "I so appreciate you thinking of me for this, and I would love to have the chance to work with you again! However, I don't think this is quite the right fit; I'm really interested in staying in (area of interest). I'll let you know if I think of anyone who might be right for it though."
Unless she's utterly unreasonable, you're not going to lose her as a reference simply for not accepting a job with her. She doesn't feel you're obligated; she's just hoping you'll want it.
5. How should I refer to the person who suggested I apply for a job?
I work in the freelance translation / editing field and live in a country where the English speaking community is quite small and close-knit. I've actually gotten quite a few freelance jobs through non-professional networking (i.e., meeting someone by chance in a bar and chatting over a few beers), but those have usually been direct contact with the person who would like to hire me. A situation has come up where a mutual friend has suggested I contact a person for a job, but I am unsure how to mention this friend in my cover letter, when our relationship is purely non-professional and I don't want to actually use the phrase "drinking buddy." Is it appropriate to just say "My friend X suggested I contact you..." or should I be clearer about the extent of our relationship?
The person you're contacting doesn't need to know whether your relationship is based around drinking or eating fondue once a week or sitting in a dark room holding seances together. Just say "my friend X." In fact, you could even leave out the descriptor altogether, and just say "X suggested I contact you."
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