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 roundup of answers to five questions from readers.

1. Do I have to help someone I can't stand?

"Monica" is a few years younger than me and is a friend of my parents through a church community. Simply put, she irks the heck out of me. There are a number of little things she does that get under my skin, so I just try to avoid her in my personal life.

At my most recent former job, Monica ended up interning while she worked on her Master's degree. She talked over people, interrupted my director while he was talking to vendors, and offered up ideas as solutions -- all starting on her first day. Even though I tried to work with her in a professional manner, I just can't get past being annoyed with her.

I am now at a new firm in a new position, working with someone who thinks the world of Monica. Monica is now applying for a job with this new company. I don't expect to be working directly with her, so I think I can keep up my keep-to-myself policy and not be overly annoyed with her. However, she just messaged me on LinkedIn asking for advice as she prepares for her interview. How terrible would I be if I just ignored her request for help? 

Green responds:

I'm not a fan of ignoring a direct request like this from someone you know, but I also don't think you're obligated to help her get a job at your company when you don't want to work with her. One option is to reply with something like, "Unfortunately, my schedule is packed this week and I don't think I'd be of much help, but good luck!" Or you could wait until after the interview and reply that you realize it's too late to be helpful. Neither of these will feel especially kind, but you're really not obligated to help her get a job when you don't think she would be a good co-worker.

The bigger issue here is that you have legitimate, work-related reasons for not thinking she'd be a good hire and you should be sharing them with the hiring manager. If I were the hiring manager, I'd absolutely want to know what your experience working with her was.

2. Co-worker has drama-filled calls with his girlfriend 10 times a day.

I share an office with two people, Sam and Bob. Bob takes multiple phone calls from his girlfriend each and every day. She normally calls at least 10 times a day, and she will sometimes call as often as every 15 minutes. The volume of the phone calls alone would be bothersome, but the phone conversations always seem to be drama-filled, and frankly are embarrassing to be forced to listen to. Bob does not have a cell phone, so these calls are going to his desk extension. I thought I might be off base in being so annoyed by this, so I checked with my other office mate, Sam, and he is just as annoyed as I am. Not only are the constant phone conversations awkward and embarrassing to overhear, it really breaks our concentration and is hindering our productivity during an extremely busy period for both of us. I already wear headphones, but it's not enough. We really would like him to stop talking to his girlfriend all the time, but we can't seem to come up with a good way to ask him to stop accepting phone conversations from her. How can we ask him to stop the phone calls while preserving our working relationship? If he says "I can't" or makes some excuse as to why he "has" to accept her calls, thoughts on what we can say?

Green responds:

Be direct! "Bob, it's hard to concentrate when you're on personal calls so frequently during the day. Could you take them outside of our office?"

If he says he can't, then say, "It's at the point where it's disrupting our ability to work, so we do need you to come up with a solution." If you want, you can add, "Sorry, I know this kind of thing is a pain when you're sharing space with people" -- but still hold firm.

You're clearly in the right here -- he's disrupting your shared work space multiple times a day, and it's reasonable to ask him to stop.

3. Talking to a new hire who's been frequently out of the office.

We are a five-year-old, fast-growing company, and we hired a new employee on full-time as director of marketing. He has four direct reports and is responsible for managing a team of 10 people. Over the past four months, he frequently emails same day asking if he can "leave early" to do something with family, and he has come in "late" several times for a variety of issues -- car problems, sprinklers broke (so there is flooding in his yard), kids were late getting up, etc.

He is doing a good job so far -- we are close to hitting demand targets -- but my concern is that his frequently being out of the office will have a negative effect on the rest of the team. He is in a leadership position in the company, and constantly coming in late or leaving early does not set a good example, in my opinion. I don't want to come off as inflexible. How would you recommend I handle this situation?

Green responds:

The first thing to think about is whether it really does matter. If he's performing at a high level (I'm not sure if "good" means that or if means something closer to "OK"), why does it really matter? But if he's more OK than great, or if it's making him less accessible to people than you want him to be, those are legitimate reasons to be concerned. In that case, you should be straightforward about explaining that: "Bob, I've noticed you've been out of the office a lot -- leaving early, coming in late, or taking days off at the last minute. This is a role where you need to be here during business hours most of the time, because there's so much interaction with people throughout the day, and it can be tough when you're not around when someone needs you."

But make sure it really matters. If it doesn't actually impact his work or other people's, giving this kind of flexibility can be a good way to retain good people (and you should offer it to all high performers whose jobs wouldn't be impacted by it, not just him).

4. Recruiter wants to prep my references.

The recruiter I'm working with for a position requested they speak to all of my references, to "prep" them before handing over my list of references to the employer for them to call. Is this normal?

As some background, the recruiter has scheduled a prep meeting with me before every step of the interview process. So, I had a one-hour prep meeting before my one-hour phone interview with the hiring manager, then another 30-minute prep meeting before a 40-minute phone interview with the VP. Even though I think the prep meetings are overkill and I feel like I'm being treated a bit like a child by the recruiter, I'm willing to put up with it since I think the role is a great fit for me, is a nice pay bump, and has a distinct advancement path. But I think it's asking a lot of my references to have them be coached/prepped by a recruiter first. If this is not a normal thing, how do I politely tell the recruiter this without ruining my chances at the position?

Green responds:

No, it's not normal. I'd say this: "My references are busy, and I'm not comfortable asking them to take the additional time for a prep call. These are people who I need to be able to call on in the future, too, and I don't want to use up too much of their time now. I know they're happy to be references for me, but I don't think they'd be thrilled to be asked to spend time prepping for it. And really, I feel the employer and I are best served by them being candid with reference checkers."

5. Reaching out to an employer multiple times after applying.

I recently applied for a position at a product design firm and I felt and still feel that it is a great fit for me. After a couple of days, I found that the hiring manager is also on LinkedIn. He listed his email on his page and I sent him an email stating I had applied for the said role and that I am really interested in speaking to him. That was last week.

I still haven't got any response from the team, so I emailed the support email for the company. The person responsible told me that my application was indeed received and that I would hear back from the team should there be mutual interest. I'm getting pretty impatient that it's close to two weeks and I haven't heard back. Should I send a LinkedIn email to the hiring manager to reiterate my interest in the position? Is that too pushy? Should I just stay put? I know you've said to move on the second the application has been sent, but I really want this position and it's driving me nuts!

Green responds:

Whoa, no, do not continue to email them. You have expressed your interest -- three separate times. That's two more than you should have. They know you're interested, and now the ball is in their court, and they'll move on their own timeline, which might be very, very slow. They might not contact you at all. But you've done your part, and now it's up to them to decide if they want to talk further with you.

If you reach out again, you risk being an annoyance and getting rejected simply for being too pushy. Being driven nuts by the wait is not a reason to do things that will sabotage your chances. Move on, move on, move on.

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.

Published on: Mar 12, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.