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.

A reader asks:

I have been in a new job since March and receive good feedback from the company on a regular basis. I have past experience in a similar role, in the same industry for seven years, as well as being in supervisory positions for 10 years before I was laid off. Basically, management thinks I am doing a good job, and I have lots of experience.

My problem is my coworker/peer. She has been with the company doing the same job for nearly a decade. She provides lots of unnecessary personal feedback. She knows my background and that I have a lot of experience in my current role. I have spoken to her about the issue many times.

Examples of her unwanted/unneeded advice: Making sure I push my chair under the conference room table after meetings (told me this after I pushed my chair under the table), telling me to greet customers with a smile, washing my personal cup out after use, telling me how to use basic office equipment, closing the door behind me, telling me when to take lunch, and to follow certain steps that go against the training I received from management.

I promise you, I do not need to be told to wash my cup or push in my chair or when to take lunch, but the advice comes anyway. It is said in a condescending fashion and starts with, "I know I am not your boss...."

She also offers poor customer service advice and gets upset/angry when I ignore it. For example: Don't be nice to the vendors, you need to be demanding and pushy, don't try to build business relationships, customers are never right, etc.

I thought the issue was handled a month ago when we had a lengthy discussion about it. It started again the other day, and I just don't feel like I should need to go over this every month.

I need to work closely with her, as she is a wealth of information regarding our vendors and clients that is not in our system! Suggesting we put her information in the programs designed to hold the info has been met with resistance from her.

Am I going to have to constantly deal with this? Typically I would ignore it but I need to work with her. How can I help her understand the difference between being helpful and being a nuisance? She has provided me with some wonderful beneficial vendor/client info, but the personal advice is wrong, horrible, and demeaning. Is she threatened by me?

Help me nip this in the bud! She is embarrassing me in front of clients! There's no HR team. It's a small, family-owned, seven person company--and only three of us are not family.

Green responds:

Talk to her again.

I agree that it's ridiculous that the first conversation didn't solve it, but I wouldn't assume that having to have a second talk means you'll need to do it monthly. In fact, more often than not, handling stuff like this takes more than one conversation because the person's weird ways are so deeply ingrained.

Since it's a second conversation though, you can escalate the seriousness of your tone--that and the repetition means that it's possible it will stick this time. I'd say this: "Jane, we talked last month about how I want you to stop giving me unsolicited advice about how to do my job. It's continuing to happen. I do not want you telling me to push in my chair or wash my mug or when to take lunch. When we talked last month, you said you understood and agreed to stop, but you haven't. What's going on?"

After that, if it continues, you can address it right in the moment by saying, "This is an example of what we talked about."

You can also shut it down by just giving her a natural response to ludicrous guidance. For example:

Coworker: "Make sure to push your chair in!"
You: "What an odd thing for you to tell me."

Coworker: "I know I'm not your boss, but you shouldn't be taking your lunch right now."
You: "I'm going to manage my schedule on my own. Thanks."

Coworker: "You're being too nice to vendors."
You: "I've got this covered."
Coworker: "Well, I know I'm not your boss, but I would suggest being pushier."
You: "I'm confident about how I'm handling it. Please assume I've got it."


And when this gets exhausting, you can also feel free to simply ignore her. Pretend you don't even hear her. Pretend she's talking to an imaginary grade schooler who accompanies her everywhere. Or just give her an exasperated look, like the one you might give an extremely annoying sibling, and otherwise ignore her.

Will this have repercussions for your relationship with her? Quite possibly. But what she's doing now is already impacting your relationship with her, so you might as well go ahead and try to address it.

Relatedly, I wouldn't worry at all about not having an HR department intervene. This isn't something you'd normally take to HR anyway; it's more of an interpersonal issue that ideally, you'd handle on your own. But at some point, if the efforts above don't work and it's interfering with your ability to do your job, it might make sense to  ask your manager to tell her to knock it off. But you'll want to have tried to handle it yourself first.

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