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'm afraid a co-worker will find my emails trash-talking her

A co-worker was let go as part of a large layoff at the Fortune 500 company where I work. I recently found out that when people are let go, the employee's manager receives access to the terminated employee's email account.

I went back and read some of my email exchanges with this employee over the past year or two, and there is a pattern of us complaining about his manager (who I also work with but don't directly report to). This manager tends to call in sick a lot (especially on Mondays and Fridays), attends many off-site meetings and conferences, and "works from home" but doesn't appear to be really working, and we regularly emailed back and forth about how unprofessional this is and what a slacker the manager seems to be.

Yes, I know I should NOT have been using my work email to write this kind of thing, but what, if anything, should I do now? Just assume that the manager isn't going to go that deep into "Sent Mail" and find this stuff? Or preemptively apologize or somehow do some damage control? Our director loves this manager (despite the chronic malingering) and if it gets back to him that I have been complaining like this, he's not going to be happy.

Green responds:

Ugh. This is not a great spot to be in. If you preemptively apologize, you'll draw attention to something that might never have been spotted otherwise, so I think your best bet is to leave it alone and hope nothing is noticed or said.

The good news here is that a) this isn't your manager (this would potentially be a lot worse if it were), b) the complaints you're making probably aren't ones the manager wants to bring to anyone's attention (if indeed she's a slacker, she likely doesn't want to highlight that fact for anyone she could complain to), and c) if she's that much of a slacker, she's not likely to spend a lot of time digging around in your former co-worker's email anyway. So basically, sit tight and hope this doesn't go anywhere, and resolve never to risk it in the future. If it does get brought up, apologize and say that you realize you handled your concerns unprofessionally and won't repeat it again.

2. My co-worker keeps interrupting me while I train her

I work in an in-house legal department and manage a billing system that is used by the attorneys and their admins. I worked with this system in a previous job and was hired because I am an expert. The training for the system users has gone well with the exception of one admin in a different office. She asks a question and then interrupts me as soon as I start to answer it. She doesn't listen; she gets defensive. I'm trying to be very careful to not blame her for mistakes but instead use the mistakes as learning opportunities for the future. Instead of listening to the answer to her questions, she starts to tell me why what she did wasn't wrong or that it wasn't her fault or that she had been instructed to do it that way.

I have been careful to not snap at her, but I'm sure she can hear the annoyance in my voice once I have tried to explain something for the fourth time because she won't stop interrupting me. I'm going to guess she thinks I am annoyed that she hasn't mastered the system, but I'm annoyed because she is being so rude. How can I stop her from interrupting me without sounding like I'm her mother scolding a toddler? It's not my job to teach her manners, but at the same time, she is being rude and wasting my time.

Green responds:

From least direct to most direct, so you have some options, depending on your comfort level: "Oh, just give me a minute to finish what I was saying." ... "Please let me finish." ... "I've noticed you ask me a question but cut me off before I can answer." ... "I don't know if you realize that you often talk over me. Please let me finish what I'm saying." You can try the softest of these and then escalate as needed, or you can start right with the most direct.

That's for when it happens in the moment. You might also consider a bigger picture conversation with her that goes something like this: "I've noticed a pattern now that you talk over me when I'm explaining the system to you. This is preventing me from relaying information you need to learn, so I need you to stop interrupting me when we're talking." And if that doesn't solve the problem, then you really need to mention this to her manager, who should know this is happening.

3. Should I apologize for taking feedback badly?

My boss is great most of the time, but she got me in the office as soon as I walked in today and lectured me about staff training. I was in a particularly bad mood and basically sulked and moaned about "having my coaching questioned," which she didn't really do. Should I apologize with a "bad day, won't happen again" vibe?

Green responds:

It's hard to tell based on the limited information here, but probably. Sulking and moaning are generally not great moves, and complaining about having your actions questioned when your boss is giving you feedback generally doesn't make you look great either. One way to approach it is, "I wasn't as receptive as I wish I'd been when you talked to me about staff training the other day. I've thought about what you said, and I'm taking the feedback to heart, particularly X and Y. Thanks for talking to me about it, and I'll be vigilant about not getting defensive in the future."

4. An employee keeps bugging me to interview someone

I am the first point of contact for hiring at my company, so I get a lot of employee referrals. Although I am not the final decision maker, I have a pretty good idea what the hiring manager is looking for in each position. Recently, an employee referred a friend for a sales position, but I know the hiring manager would not consider this candidate for a number of reasons. I've been doing my best to see if the candidate could fit into another position, but there doesn't seem to be a fit at this time.

The employee has asked me three times when I plan to call his referral, and I've told him each time that the referral is not qualified for the position and I am not planning to call, but he keeps insisting that I call "just to talk." I don't have time just to talk if I know I am not bringing in a candidate for an interview. Do I call just to satisfy the employee and let him know I called, we talked, and there was not a fit? Or do I need to word my rejection more clearly?

Green responds:

You need to be more clear. And don't call the candidate just to satisfy the employee who's referring her; that's a waste of your time and the candidate's, and it would be inconsiderate to mislead her like that. Say this to the employee who keeps pressing you: "I appreciated the referral, but Jane isn't the right match with any of our current openings. I've sent her a rejection email to let her know." And do send that rejection email, which will give all this some finality.

5. Using vacation time on days that my company ends up closing early

Occasionally our company closes early the Friday before a long weekend or the day before a holiday -- say 3-ish -- and everyone gets full pay. But if I have a scheduled vacation day, I am charged a full eight hours. Does this pass the smell test?

Green responds:

Yes, that's pretty normal. You're using your vacation time in exchange for a sure thing -- the certainty that you have that time off.

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

Published on: Feb 11, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.