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 to deal with a loud co-worker
I have been at my job for a month and a half. My co-worker plays music at her desk, and I find it to be very annoying. I really wish she'd use headphones, or better yet, turn off the music, but I'm not sure how to ask her to do so.
A few weeks ago, I told her that her music made me want to dance (I know, I know...passive aggressive) and she immediately turned it down (not off) because she said it meant that it was too loud. Unfortunately, even with it turned down, it was still a distraction.
She also said that people had complained about her noise level (including music?) in the past, and that I should let her know if it ever bothers me. She's popular within our team, so I'd hate to get on her bad side. I'm starting to think I will have to suck it up and live with this since I hate confrontation.
Aggghhhh! No! Even though you think she is the one causing the problem here, it's actually you! She has turned down her music in the past when she thought it might be bothering you, and she has explicitly told you that you should let her know if it bothers you. So why, why, why aren't you just telling her, as she has asked you to do?
It really doesn't have to be a big deal: "Hey Jane, you mentioned I should let you know if your music is ever bothering me. It actually is distracting me a bit, so I wonder if you could try using headphones when you're listening to it."
If you want to soften it, you could say, "I actually love your music, but it makes it hard for me to concentrate."
But seriously, invitations to speak up don't get any clearer than this one. Speak up, and stop stewing over this.
2. Working at a job where the rules change constantly
I am new to a position as a state employee. How do I handle being at a large organization where no one seems to have answers to the simplest questions or you get conflicting answers?
You don't need receipts to be reimbursed for travel but when you hand in the travel voucher you are asked, "Where are your receipts?" I am accused of having attitude when I remind the person I was told I did not need them. It is very frustrating and the rules change constantly. There is no leadership and HR is absolutely no help. How do I deal with this frustration on a daily basis? I am reconsidering this position.
You pretty much have to decide if you're willing to put up with it because you like other parts about working there well enough or not (whether that's the work, the pay, or whatever).
But one thing I can tell you is that if you're being accused of being snippy, you'll get better results if you don't let your frustration show--particularly at someone who might not be responsible for it. There's a big difference between "Jane told me I didn't need receipts" said in a defensive or annoyed tone and "Oh! I'm sorry--Jane didn't think I'd need receipts--do I?"
3. A great candidate applied for a job, but I never saw her application
Recently, a senior person outside our organization that I respect inquired about a position for which I was the hiring manager. I encouraged her to apply before a certain date if she was interested. She never replied to my email, nor did I get an application from HR, so I assumed she wasn't interested.
I hired a great person, but as our HR manager and I were going through the applicants so that we might send out rejection notes, I learned that this senior person did apply through normal channels but her application was never forwarded to me due to an HR oversight!
HR was very apologetic to me, but I feel terrible as this person and I move in the same circles, and we may want to engage her for a consultancy in the future (not to mention she would have been a great candidate and deserved to be fairly and fully considered). Any advice on how I can give the candidate a fair response that also preserves our professional relationship?
Be straight with her: "Jane, I never saw an application from you so assumed you had decided not to apply--and then was horrified this week to learn from our HR manager that you did in fact apply and due to an HR oversight the application never made it to me. I'm absolutely mortified by this. If I had known you applied, I would have been thrilled, and you would have heard from me right away! We've already hired for the role so I unfortunately can't undo the error now, but I wanted you to know what happened (and that I'm making sure there are no such errors in the future). If we have future openings, I'll be sure to reach out to you personally."
And then really delve into how this happened and how HR is ensuring it won't happen again. You only learned about it this time because you happened to know the candidate, which makes me wonder if other great candidates aren't being sent to you too. Sure, occasional mistakes do happen; people are human. But you should look into this enough to determine if it truly was a one-time error or evidence of a more systemic problem with how they're screening résumés.
4. I interviewed with a cold
I'm seeking a job in a different city. One interview made it to the point where they flew me out to their city (in my industry this is not standard).
Right before the interview, I got a cold. Nothing truly debilitating, but I definitely qualified as "sick." I decided that I did not wish to cancel all of the travel arrangements over a cold, but when I showed up to the interview, I knew that it was possibly evident in my voice and that I'd likely need to blow my nose two or three times (which was a correct guess).
I didn't want to draw attention to being ill, so I opted to just shake hands. However, had any of my interviewers been hardcore germaphobes, it might have backfired. Should a similar situation happen again, is there an easy way out of hand shaking without drawing too much attention to "I'm ILL"? I want to avoid coming across as weak (particularly in an interview).
In general, if you think you're contagious, you should reschedule. But if you go anyway--and I can understand why you did in this case, since there were travel arrangements involved (and if the cold wasn't terrible, I think that was reasonable)--you need to take precautions to avoid infecting others, including not shaking hands.
You can simply say, "I'm not going to shake your hand because I've had a very mild cold--I feel fine but I don't want to risk you getting it." That doesn't look weak; it looks considerate.
5. Handling an upcoming work trip when I'm about to resign
My current manager wants to schedule a work trip out of state for me. However, I am currently in negotiations for a position with a different company. I expect to start with the new company before/around the time that this trip is to take place. I have tried suggesting that someone else go in my stead, but she isn't budging. What do I do?
Proceed as you would if you weren't expecting to take a new job. Until you have a firm agreement with the other company (meaning an offer that's been made and accepted, with all terms agreed to, and a start date), you have to proceed as if it might not happen. If it does (and hopefully it will), then at that point you can talk with your manager and figure out how to handle the trip.
But it's generally a bad idea to make work decisions on the assumption that you'll be in a new job soon, until that is actually 100 percent confirmed. And once that happens, your current job will survive. They'll cancel the trip or send someone else in your place, and this is a normal cost of doing business. The exception would be if they were, say, planning to send you to Alaska for a year or something else very long-term.
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.