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 tell my boss to stop commenting on my food and my weight?

I recently got a new job in a new city and I love what I do. 

Recently I have lost a bit of weight. My boss has made several comments about how I'm so skinny and how she wishes she could diet like me. Really all I have done is started running again, because my schedule finally affords it. We ran into each other one morning while I had a coffee in one hand and a brownie in the other, and it was, "Look at you and your diet!"

Long ago I had some serious body issues and never really felt comfortable in my skin until a few years ago. These comments, whether about my weight or diet, have really started to affect me. I'm tracking my weight and I'm constantly thinking about how to cut calories. Luckily, I can recognize the slippery slope I'm headed towards, but I don't know how to address it with her. I'm uncomfortable going directly to her, but our office is so small, we have no HR person and the next higher up is our executive director.

How do I go about asking her to please keep comments about my weight to herself without admitting to serious problems in my past AND keeping our relationship professional? Our one office space is entirely women, and it is becoming apparent that it is a frequent conversation.

Green responds:

Try saying this: "I'm trying very hard not to let myself think about diet and weight too much, so I'd appreciate it if you didn't comment on my weight or my food. Thanks for understanding!"

And this is a public service announcement out there to everyone who works in an office with other people: Don't comment on your colleagues' bodies, weight loss, or food choices. Even if you think you're complimenting someone, they may not take it that way (and people lose weight for all kinds of reasons, not all of which are positive), and you never know what issues someone might be dealing with around food and weight.

2. How to follow up on a promised raise

I worked as a pharmacist assistant in during school, then had to move to another city. After a year, I came back to the same place and when discussing the paperwork, my manager told me that he would increase my pay rate, which I wasn't expecting at all. I was happy, who wouldn't be? But I got my first paycheck today and the rate is the same as what I had before.

Although I'm not working for money (it's more for experience), ever since my manager told me that he'd adjust my rate, I was expecting a raise, so now I'm disappointed. How should I approach my manager?

Green responds:

Just be straightforward! For example: "Hey Bob, you had mentioned that you were increasing my pay rate this year. I just got my first check and don't see the increase on there. Is there something we need to do to make it go through?"

Assume it was an oversight and go from there.

3. Shouldn't this recruiter be...recruiting me?

A recruiter recently reached out to me via LinkedIn for a senior level position that sounds pretty interesting. There were a number of email back-and-forths to arrange an initial meeting, and I was given a job description and the name of the company that was hiring, but that's about it.

When I got on the phone with the recruiter, his first question was, "Why are you interested in this position?" and continued with a few more questions along those lines. I had done a little internet homework, so I was able to answer why I was considering, but that was not what I was expecting. I was looking for him to tell me more about the position and, you know, try to recruit me. Instead, he acted like I had searched him out. Is this how it works nowadays?

Green responds:

Well, sometimes. Sometimes these calls are true "recruiting" calls--as in, the recruiter is pitching you the position and trying to get you interested in it. But much of the time, they'll operate as if you already established interest when you expressed willingness to talk after seeing the job posting. Sometimes that makes sense, depending on exactly what was said in the earlier exchange. (And keep in mind that recruiters don't necessarily do heavy recruiting in the job-pitching sense of the word--often the title means more "person who identifies candidates, screens them, and shepherds them through the hiring process" than "person who will actively recruit you to be interested in the job.") But other times that approach feels off, as it did in your conversation.

If it happens again, it's reasonable for you to say, "Well, to be candid, I'm not sure if I am interested. I was curious to talk with you more after you reached out to me, and I'd like to learn more about the role."

4. Managing someone who doesn't want to move up

I'm a fairly new department head with two direct reports. This is my first experience managing full-time staff, and I'm curious if you have any advice for how to lead these two employees with very different career goals. One reminds me of myself and is very ambitious and interested in advancing in her career. Because she wants to take a similar path to mine, I find it easy to mentor her and teach her how to be a leader in our field.

My other employee is very competent but is not interested in advancing outside of her current position. I have no issues with that because she's an asset to our department, but I'm struggling with how to provide her with a similar level of mentorship/direction that I give to my other staffer. She's good at her job and doesn't ever want to leave, so I don't know what I should be pushing her towards. Perhaps I'm overthinking this, but I want to develop myself into an effective leader for all personality types--not just those who remind me of myself. Any suggestions?

Green responds:

It's really good that you're thinking about how to adapt your approach for each of these staff members, rather than applying a one-size-fits-all solution. In this case, though, it sounds like you need to go even further with that--rather than trying to figure out what to push your "happy where I am" staffer toward, perhaps you shouldn't push her toward anything at all. Is she great at what she does? Is she happy to stay where she is for the foreseeable future? Is your company OK with that? If all the answers to those questions are yes, just let her do what she's doing. You don't need to push everyone toward something.

On the other hand, if she's good but not great at what she does, you could help steer her toward great. Or if your company has more of an "up or out" culture, you'd want to be candid with her about that.

Either way, be explicit with her about your thinking so that she understands why you're taking the approach that you are, and also let her know that if her aspirations change in the future, she should talk with you so that you can jointly formulate a different approach.

5. I'm getting conflicting instructions at work

Recently, I've been assigned a very high priority project, which is fantastic! My problem is that my immediate supervisor and her supervisor--the director of the organization--are both giving me directions on how to proceed. Generally, that wouldn't be a problem, but since their directions are conflicting, it puts me in a position where knowing which one to follow is sometimes paralyzing. Generally, I have been following the directions of the director and wondered if that is the smartest move because it does not please my immediate supervisor at all.

Green responds:

You need to bring the issue to the surface and ask how to handle it. For example, say this to your manager: "Jane asked me to do X, and I know you had told me to do Y earlier. I'm not sure how to proceed." If she insists that you should do it her way and that you should ignore her boss, say this: "I'm uneasy ignoring direct instructions from Jane. If you're sure I should, I'd at least like to send her a quick email and explain that we talked about this so that she doesn't think I'm just ignoring her."

Or you could also raise it in the moment to your manager's boss when she tells you something that conflicts with instructions from your manager: "Cressida told me to do X earlier. Would it make sense for me to grab her for this conversation so we can figure out what to do?"

You could also raise the larger pattern by saying something like: "I've noticed that I'll often get different input from you and Jane, and it's leaving me unsure how to proceed. What's the best way to handle that so that we're all aligned on how I'm moving forward?"
 

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