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. How do I talk to my coworker about body odor?

I'm close with a coworker and happen to know that she's suffering from very bad depression. I'm very proud of her for getting through it as well as she is.

Here's my dilemma - in the last few months, she's developed a definite problem with body odor. I think it's likely to be related to her depression, since I know she has trouble gathering the energy to do even basic tasks. I'm concerned that it may damage her professional reputation - I know some of our coworkers have already complained about what they think is her flakiness, and the fact that she's not been as put together as is expected in our industry (visibly rumpled clothes, that kind of thing). Should I say anything to her? And if so, what would you recommend I say? (As a side note, I don't think this is due to cultural differences in diet or anything like that.)

Green responds:

If she's a friend and you believe she'd want to know (most people would, for what that's worth), yes. Exactly what to say will depend on your relationship, but it could be less awkward to make it about laundry rather than her actual body. You could say something like this: "I hope you don't mind me telling you this, but I've noticed an odor from your clothes lately that didn't used to be there. It might be that you're washing or drying your clothes differently than you used to. It's hard to noticed stuff like that about yourself, so I thought you'd want me to tell you."

Or you could be more straightforward, although most people really struggle with directly telling people they've got B.O. But if you're up for it, you could say: "I want to be a good friend and tell you that I've noticed lately you've had a smell you didn't used to have. Normally I'd ask if everything was okay, but I know you're going through a really tough time and figured this might be related to that. I'd count on you to tell me that if you ever noticed it about me so I hope it's okay that I'm telling you."

2. When you didn't meet all your goals for the year

Do you have any advice for how to handle the annual review when we did not meet all our goals for the year? My goals were all long-term projects that required a lot of time outside of my day-to-day responsibilities. I had no idea how to schedule those projects across the year to get time dedicated only to them (new goal for next year). Of my six goals, I completed three, almost completed one, halfway completed another, and got barely started on the last one. I still accomplished an awful lot, but how should I discuss the goals I did not achieve this year?

Green responds:

If I were your manager, I'd want to know your assessment of why you didn't meet the goals. Was it because we explicitly agreed that we'd push some of them back in favor of other priorities? Or did workload simply get in the way, and if so, did you warn me previously that that was happening or is this the first I'm hearing of it? (If the latter, that's a problem -- although I'd also have dropped the ball by not checking in on those goals until now.) Was it a stretch goal that we always knew was going to be tough, or is it a core duty that's fundamental to success in the job? All of those factors matter, and you can help things by addressing those questions proactively ahead of time -- laying out "here's what happened with this and why."

3. Old owner keeps dropping in

I run a branch location for an equipment dealer in the Midwest. This location was a single dealership and was sold to a multi-location dealer about two years ago. They brought in a manager from another location to run this one until a permanent manager was hired (which is me).

The previous owner will not go away. Except for times when he is gone on multi-week vacations, he will come by the dealership 2-3 times a week. Every time I feel like I'm making progress with employees, he comes in and knocks us back to the "good old days." It's very disruptive, and he's even gone so far as to have hats made for employees and customers with the old dealer's logo on it. Is it wrong for me to tell him he's no longer welcome here and ask him to leave?

Green responds:

Nope, it would be reasonable to ask him to stay away. I wouldn't frame it as "you're no longer welcome here" though; that's pretty adversarial. Instead, say something like, "Having you come by so frequently when we're moving forward with new ownership is creating a distraction and making it harder to rally the employees around our new management. I'm sorry about this, but I need to ask you to stop coming by. I appreciate you understanding."

4. Our boss keeps taking holiday gifts meant for the whole office

I work for a small office of 14 employees. Every holiday season, companies we deal with, as well as some clients, will send in or bring gifts to the office -- things like gift baskets filled with goodies, cookies, thing of that nature. The people who bring the gifts to the office will announce that the gift is for all of us for our hard work, and they are clearly addressed to our company name and staff. But, after they leave, my boss will take the basket into his office and bring it home or re-gift to someone else. This bring down office morale tremendously. Should we say anything to the boss about him taking the gifts?

Green responds:

Does one of you have good rapport with him? If so, that person should tell him that he's demoralizing everyone by taking gifts clearly meant for the whole staff. If no one really has a good rapport with him, you could speak up in a group (which makes it less likely that one person will be scapegoated if your boss is a jerk).

5. If I get an offer, can I ask if I was the first choice?

I am a finalist for a position that I would like to get at another company, but I can take my time to look a bit more as my current job is satisfactory. The recruiter was supposed to call me last week to let me know the outcome of the finalist interviews and if they would be making me a job offer. She called, but said some of the interviewers were traveling and so they could not all come together on their decision. She said she would let me know by the following week. I believe this means they made an offer to the other candidate, who asked for more time to provide a response. I would not say anything now, but if she calls and offers me the role, can I ask if I was the first offer? It matters to me in terms of fit with the hiring team.

Green responds:

No, I wouldn't ask that; it will come across oddly. And I also wouldn't let yourself believe it will matter in terms of fit; if they end up offering you the position, it's because they'd be happy to hire you. Employers often have multiple great candidates they'd be happy to hire; just because someone else was the first choice doesn't mean there will be fit issues if they ultimately end up hiring you.

Also, I wouldn't interpret the recruiter's statement as indicating they're actually waiting on another candidate; I'd take it at face value. What she said -- that she needed longer to coordinate people's schedules for decision-making -- happens all the time, especially at this time of year. Believe her, and know that you're falling into some over-thinking traps here.

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

Published on: Dec 2, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.