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 roundup of answers to five questions from readers.
1. How can I get employees to find answers themselves?
I've recently become a manager at my workplace and I oversee two people, both of whom are really great workers and I'm thrilled overall to have them. They both do one thing that really annoys me--when they don't know how to do something, they immediately ask. I am talking fairly inane things, e.g., how do you tell what page size a poster is in Microsoft PowerPoint or how you drag and drop a folder. They are such bright people that it really surprises me they wouldn't automatically think to search how to do these things on the internet before coming to me for help. I would like to politely suggest they do this, but I'm wondering what the right way to phrase such a thing is. Any ideas?
Be direct! This is hard when you're a new manager because it's a new skill that you have to learn, but giving feedback and direction isn't a rude thing and you don't need to sugarcoat it. In fact, you will be a worse manager if you do sugarcoat, because your employees will miss messages and have to wonder what your subtext is. Don't be a jerk, obviously, but saying things directly is not rude.
So just say exactly what you want. For instance, "I'm always glad to help when you need it, but I'd like you to try finding the answer yourself before you come to me. Have you tried Googling this or checking the Help menu of the application?" From there, if they come to you with questions that you think they could have answered themselves, ask, "What have you tried so far to find the answer?"
2. How to avoid socializing with a co-worker's kid at work
Sometimes parents bring children into work and then proceed to socialize while the kid pokes/digs/plays around the office, kind of half-expecting the other people in the office to "watch" him or her. My letter is not so much to ask you whether or not it is appropriate to bring a baby or child to the office, but about the best way of saying, "I don't care to meet your newborn" or "I will not be held responsible for your child's actions while you are not looking." I don't care to participate in fawning over someone's kid at the office, and I would like a polite way to get out of this kind of child-centered gathering. I hoped you might have a better way of saying, "I am not interested in your kid." It seems like an ordinary, "That's nice but I have to get back to work" isn't sufficient.
Nope, there's no polite way to say "I don't care to meet your child," just like there's no polite way to say, "I don't care to meet your adult guest who stopped by the office." So I'd drop any hope of that entirely. However, you aren't obligated to engage beyond an initial polite greeting, and you can extract yourself from further conversation in the same ways that you would in other contexts where you're busy--by explaining that you have something else you need to attend to.
For instance: "It's so nice to meet you! I hope you're having a good time here." Then, turn back to your computer screen, papers, etc. If interrupted further, respond politely, then add, "I have to finish this up so can't talk, but it's great to meet you, Percival!" You must use a kind tone during this, just as you'd have to use a kind tone if it were an adult guest to the office. And if a parent expects you to watch a child, say politely, "I'm going to be tied up on a project, so you should take Percival with you. Thanks!"
In other words, politely assert boundaries, just as you would if kids weren't involved.
3. I wasn't included in a meeting I'd asked to be a part of
I asked a colleague to include me at a meeting to discuss an idea of mine to complement our overall strategy for a particular project I am partially responsible for. She did not, and I received a detailed list of directions from one of her colleagues as a follow-up to the discussion I was excluded from. I am disappointed and feel undermined. What would you do in my situation?
I'd say this: "Jane, I heard from Apollo with a list of instructions that came out of the meeting on X. I was surprised I wasn't part of that meeting, since we'd talked earlier about making sure I was there." Then see what she says. Depending on her response and the context around your project, the next step could be any of the following:
- "Could you be sure I'm part of any future meetings on this?"
- "When are you likely to meet about this next? I'd like to be there."
- "Before work moves forward, I'd like to sit down with both of you and work out Y and Z."
- "Apollo's note raised some concerns about Y for me. I think we need to go back and revisit that before moving forward."
In other words, direct, calm, and to the point.
4. Hiring manager said he'd call me if his new hire doesn't work out
I had two interviews for a job. There were five of us, and two of us were asked back, me being one of them. The decision was supposed to be made after our two interviews. I was called on the phone to say I did not get the job. I was told that a last-minute résumé came in after my last interview and that person had industry experience that I did not have, and that was why I was not chosen. He made it clear that was the only reason and overall, I was great and was a close second. OK, not happy I didn't get the job, but that happens and I get the reasoning.
The manager then said this: "She will be on 90-day probationary period, and if she doesn't work out, I will call you." I said OK of course, but I was a little taken off-guard as I wasn't sure what to say. "Um, OK I hope she sucks" (because then I will get the job)? Or, "Do you expect her for fail?" Obviously I did not say either one.
I am not counting on him calling. But I am curious on why someone would say that. Just say, "Thanks but we chose someone else." Why so specific with me about a possible failure of the new hire? If she didn't work out, he could just have easily called at that point to discuss the position again.
Hiring managers, even good ones, are human--and therefore are sometimes awkward and word things poorly. But job seekers tend to forget that and instead parse every statement hiring managers make, putting far more weight and scrutiny on their words than the average person's words could ever hold up under.
This manager probably just wanted to emphasize that you really were the second choice, because it's human to feel bad when someone you came close to hiring ends up not getting the job. Or he's had new hires not work out before, and so it's on his mind that he might have a backup if that happens. Move on, and don't spend any more time dwelling on it.
5. Can you really leave a job off of your résumé?
You've mentioned that it is OK to leave jobs off your résumé if they aren't relevant to the position to which you are applying. Does this mean it is OK to have gaps in your employment history? I had always thought you need to show that you had been consistently employed.
It's not as rigid of a rule as you might be thinking it is. As with anything that you consider putting on or leaving off your résumé, you need to consider how it fits in with the overall package of your particular résumé. A six-month gap 10 years ago? No one is going to care. A three-year gap that ended a year ago? You'll get questions. You may judge that the questions are preferable to including that job, or that they're not, or all kinds of other judgments that will be specific to the details of your situation. But as a general principle, it's fine to leave a job off your résumé that you judge will hurt more than help (or that will just take up space more than help). But that judgment part is key to do -- it's OK to do, but you want to balance its impact on your résumé, not on résumés in general.
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