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. I don't want to meet with my controlling co-worker
I have a colleague who does basically the same work I do -- we're in the same unit, have essentially the same job functions, and the same bosses, and we share an assistant. More important, we're in the same pay grade. I have been in this job longer, but she is older and has more work experience in general.
We have several progress meetings with our various bosses, but she wants the two of us and our assistant to meet once a week to give each other status updates. She generally likes to be the one in charge, and I cannot shake the feeling that this is another attempt by her to exert control and set herself up to be in a position of authority over me. These meetings may very well be useful, but I don't want to be a part of them.
Why not just be straightforward with her and say that you don't think the weekly meetings are necessary and ask what problem she's trying to solve with them? If she can make a reasonable case that the meetings will be useful, then you really should go ahead and try having them. But you can preempt any attempts by her to use them to exert control over you by exerting some control from the outset yourself -- for instance, send around an agenda beforehand, start off the discussion, or take the lead on wrapping up. In other words, act assertively like an equal, not someone she can push around.
Alternately, if the meetings really won't have value, it's fine to just say something like, "I think everything is going smoothly, so rather than adding in another weekly meeting, let's just plan to talk ad hoc when we need to." But don't resist the meetings just on principle, or you risk appearing obstructionist or unhelpful.
2. I can't do my new job's required travel
I accepted a new position with a wonderful agency about two months ago. When the position was posted, there was no mention of extensive travel. If that had been mentioned in the job ad, I never would have applied, because I have small children. During the interview, travel was not brought up and I didn't ask (I didn't know I needed to).
Now I've been here for two months. This job requires extensive travel and overnight stays. I haven't really voiced my concerns, just simply let my supervisor know that if I have to travel, I would need to be back at 5 p.m. the same day. So far it's only been day trips, but the overnight travel is a huge issue for me. My manager asked if I could go on an overnight stay next week, and I told her no, that it was not enough notice. She agreed, but told me that I'm required to take the trips in the future. How do I address this?
All you can really do here is be straightforward. Meet with your manager and say something like, "I'm concerned about the work trips you've mentioned. It didn't come up during the hiring process that this job requires overnight travel, and I wouldn't have been able to accept the job if I'd known that. I have young kids and am not able to do overnight travel. I really love the work here and hope there's a way to work this out."
Also, is there anything you can offer to do instead of the overnight trips? Covering for others who are gone? Some undesirable work that no one else wants? Be aware, though, that if travel is truly an extensive part of the job, management might not be able to waive that requirement, which could mean that the role isn't the right fit for you right now. (And yes, it's awful that they didn't mention this during the hiring process -- and particularly unfair if you left another job to take this one.)
3. How can I keep staff meetings from turning into debates?
I work as a manager in a retail environment. Each day, we have small group meetings to share information, whether it's new processes, upcoming events, expectations, or new products with the crew. The meetings are led by a supervisor or manager. I lead about nine of these a week (for various shifts). I do a great job for the most part, but the problem I run into is that the crew love to get on their soapboxes and share their side of the story when I am introducing a new system or expectation. I want to be perceived as a good listener, so I let them say their piece, but I feel like it puts me on the spot for a response. Honestly, sometimes I just don't have a response to what they are saying. I'd like some tips on how to respond when this happens.
Also, these meetings are only about five to 10 minutes long because of the fast-paced environment of the store, so when people get on their soapbox, it takes up valuable time when I could be sharing other information. Again, it is an expectation from my boss that my people see me as a great listener, so I need a way to quiet them down when I have other issues I need to get the crew up to speed on.
Well, keep in mind that you don't just want people to see you as a good listener; you want to actually be a good listener, because that's part of managing -- as well as retaining good employees. Plus, you'll make better decisions when you truly hear people's input (which means not just tolerating their input but actively seeking it), and your staff will be more likely to support those decisions when they feel their input has been heard and genuinely considered, even if the ultimate decision goes a different way.
But that said, it's reasonable that sometimes you just need to relay information quickly. So I'd say something like, "If you have thoughts about this policy or a suggestion for improving it, please talk to me separately so that we can stay on track here and finish quickly." But then you really need to hear people out when they come to you outside of these meetings and not make it impossible for them to talk with you.
4. My manager hires new people without consulting the rest of us
I work in a team of four full-time employees. We are a small web and software development team. My boss didn't bother asking for our input on the last hire, nor did he ask us to sit in the interview. He didn't even tell me that he chose someone. I only found out because there was someone new when I returned from a conference. But when I was hired, my future co-workers sat in my interview.
He currently has a position open, and the way I found out is through our job listings online. What is your thought on this? I find it demonstrates he has a low opinion of us.
As a manager, it's good practice to involve staff members in hiring processes, because it can help you make better decisions -- because candidates may reveal different information to would-be peers than to you, or staff members may simply pick up on different things than you do. But certainly plenty of managers hire without doing that; your manager isn't terribly unusual in that respect, and it's not a sign that he holds you in low regard. (There might be other signs of that, of course, but this on its own isn't one of them.)
But why not ask him if you and your co-workers can play a role in the hiring process? You don't want to sound like you're asking for decision-making authority, of course, but you could point out that it could be useful to have additional people assessing the top candidates, as well as that you're in a good position to answer candidates' questions about the day-to-day of the work.
5. I don't want to be the backup driver for an oversize company vehicle
A couple of years ago, I agreed to be trained (by a professional) as a backup or substitute driver for an oversize vehicle my business utilizes. At first, I thought it would be a fun change of pace compared with my daily desk job duties, but I've grown to dread it and become anxious every time I'm asked to drive. A couple of very minor accidents have occurred while I've been at the wheel, and I worry that one day something more serious might happen.
My manager is aware of these incidents and my increased dislike of driving, and her response has been "How can we make this easier?" or "There's no one else who can do it." Since we can't make the vehicle smaller or the streets wider, I feel like it's hopeless. Just practicing more isn't going to cut it either, in my opinion. My manager says the company will ultimately train more people, but it has yet to pursue it and we've recently been left with a number of staff vacancies. The other day it occurred to me that even though the business's insurance would cover an accident, if it was deemed my fault, I could end up with a traffic ticket and a black mark on my DMV record, right? This is just going to make me worry even more! How can I successfully back out of an assignment like this?
Say this: "I appreciated the opportunity to give it a try, but after several accidents, it's clear to me that I can't safely drive this vehicle. I'm not comfortable risking my safety and the safety of others, or the black marks on my driving record, so I need to permanently step down from doing it."
If she pushes back, say, "I understand, but it's become a safety issue. We need to get another backup trained, because I'm not comfortable doing it. I'm sorry about that -- I wish I were."
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.