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. My employee ignores instructions

I took a promotion nearly a year ago that put me in a management position over my previous peers. One of the women who reports to me has been with the company much longer, and commonly disregards requests I make of her (and the team). Recently, I asked my team to begin using our interoffice instant messaging tool to ensure the team is able to contact other team members quickly; many of us work remotely from each other, so we don't have the option to yell over cube walls or walk over to chat.

This woman did not respond to my request and has not implemented it (it's been a week). What can I say to her to ensure that she does it, while also letting her have a chance to share any concerns she has? What if she still just won't implement after we've discussed?

Green responds:

Well, the bigger issue than the instant messaging tool is that this employee commonly disregards your requests. That's not OK, it's a big deal, and you need to address that forthrightly.

If that weren't the situation, and it was just about the IM'ing, I'd say to just ask her what's up, because maybe there's some reason that she especially hates IM or finds it distracting, and maybe you'd even find it compelling once you heard her reasoning. In that case, I'd recommend saying this: "Is there a reason you haven't turned on your instant messaging after I asked everyone to start using it last week?" Then, if you weren't swayed by her response, you'd say this: "I hear you. I do want everyone using it because we need to be able to communicate quickly, especially with so many remote people, so I need you to keep it on." Depending on the circumstances, you could add, "Let's try it for the next few weeks and see how it goes -- if you're hating it at that point, we can revisit it then, but I'd like you to give it a shot."

But this isn't about IM. This is about an employee who regularly ignores expectations, and that's really what you need to be taking on. That's a conversation where you say, "This has become a pattern, and it's disruptive to our team. I need to be able to rely on you to implement the things I request. That's a requirement of your position here, and if it continues not happening, it will jeopardize your job." And you need to mean it when you say that, because you cannot responsibly keep someone on who regularly ignores what you tell her.

2. My employees keep socializing with their old boss

I manage 10 people on my team. The previous manager left all of our projects somewhat of a mess and did not supervise the group at all. Now I am stuck fixing everything. My employees, however, have met with him socially several times, and are now inviting him to their work anniversary get-together. They also allowed him into the office to look at one of their computers, even though he no longer works there. I know I can't tell them not to socialize with him on a personal level, even though they've all known each other less than a year and I don't understand why they would want to anyway. I am incredibly bothered by their continued association with him. Should I let it go?

Green responds:

Yep, you definitely shouldn't try to control whom they talk to outside of work. It'll make you look petty and controlling, and it's likely to really poison how you're seen. You shouldn't refuse to let them invite him to this work event either, if you'd normally allow another non-employee to attend. However, it's perfectly reasonable not to allow former employees access to your company's computers (!), and you should put a stop to that and make it known that that's a security issue.

3. I offended people at a staff meeting by saying my staff works the hardest

At a recent staff meeting, I said in a light way, "My staff are the hardest working staff here!" Of course, the other managers could have immediately said the same thing about their staff, but a couple of managers were absent and the others, including the director, did not speak up or to join in with compliments. Instead of people making light of it, other staff were angry, as if I was insinuating that they didn't work hard. Of course, I did say that everybody works hard, but others were then trying to defend themselves on how they work hard, and the director was like, "Well, you're digging yourself into a hole."

Obviously, I will never try to praise my staff in staff meetings anymore since people are highly sensitive. I tried to apologize to a couple of the staff who report to another manager, saying that they are valuable members of our department and that I appreciate them, but they are still upset at me. One won't speak to me even after the apology. The more I think about it, the more this situation is like the "everybody needs to receive a trophy" sort of situation. What is your suggestion in smoothing this over?

Green responds:

I think everyone here is overreacting. Your original compliment to your staff was well-intentioned but not particularly thoughtful, given that it inherently meant that others in the room were not as hard-working. So that was a misfire. But the people who got upset about it are way overreacting -- this should have been a "roll their eyes and move on" situation. It doesn't warrant their not speaking to you; that's ridiculous. And you're overreacting by saying that you'll never praise your staff in staff meetings anymore; that's not the message to take away here. You can praise your staff in all kind of ways, without comparing them with other teams.

Ideally, you would have addressed it on the spot by saying something like, "That obviously didn't come out right. Everyone here is hard-working. I'm especially proud of my team for doing X, Y, and Z." That moment has passed, and apparently people are refusing to accept an apology now, so I'd look for an opportunity to give sincere public praise for their work in the near future. (And if they don't drop this within a few days, you may need to go talk with their manager and ask what's needed on your side to put this to rest, because it's ridiculous for your office to allow this to become a thing that interferes with work.)

4. Explaining how you know a co-worker when you don't want to share the real answer

I started a new job a couple of weeks ago and just finished training. Today, my former trainer dropped by my desk and mentioned that he had found out that I knew someone working on another floor and asked (in a friendly way) how I knew that person.

The thing is, I run a regular kink discussion group/workshop with a local nonprofit. It's just adults getting together to talk and learn new things, but it is something sex-related that is not usually discussed at work. I know the co-worker from there.

I lied in my answer, claiming I knew the person from university, but I wonder if there is another way to answer this question. (Or any other perfectly innocent question where an honest answer would lead to NSFW topics.)

Green responds:

Vague is good in these situations: "Oh, we've known each other casually for a while." (Few people are going to follow up with "yes, but HOW DID YOU MEET ORIGINALLY?") Or "We have some mutual friends." Or "I can't even remember now how we met, but I think we hang out in similar circles."

5. Saying that you have to talk over a job offer with your spouse

What are your thoughts on telling a potential employer, "I will need to talk this over with my husband/wife" when considering a job offer? Does it sound too dependent or is it just honest?

Green responds:

It's pretty common to say "I'd like a few days to think it over and talk with my spouse."

That said, there's no need to say it. People without spouses also ask for time to think over offers. It's fine to simply say, "I'd like to take a few days to think this over. Could I get back to you by Friday?"
 

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