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 am a fairly new accounting supervisor. Most days, I am completely overwhelmed with projects, data requests, and constant deadlines looming overhead. I am trying to work more efficiently by delegating more projects and workload, but I have one employee who comes into my office several times daily to offer "updates" on the progress she's making with things I've delegated to her. Sometimes she will just come in to ask a very trivial or elementary question about something she should know the answer to. Once she's in my office, she lingers as if she wants the conversation to continue--sometimes just standing there while I try to ease out of the conversation and return to my work. It can be a little awkward getting her to take the hint and leave.

Having someone constantly appear in my doorway unnecessarily derails my productivity. Of course it's important to be accessible to my team, but her constant interruptions are stressing me out -- I'm trying to save time by delegating, but the updates and hand-holding are greatly offsetting the time savings. She's a very sensitive person and secretly I think she just wants constant affirmation (which I always try to provide). Also I'm a "softie" and don't want to hurt her feelings.

How do I explain I really don't need or want so many progress reports--just give me very infrequent high-level updates or a finished product? Help.

Green responds:

The biggest thing to know here is that as her manager, part of your job is to give her clear, direct feedback when you want her to do something differently. If you ever find yourself feeling annoyed or frustrated with someone you manage, take that as a flag for yourself that you need to give clearer feedback about whatever is producing the frustration. Of course, in a situation where you've already given plenty of clear feedback and the behavior hasn't changed, that's a flag that you need to escalate the seriousness of the conversation and possibly contemplate whether you have the wrong person in the job. But in this case, it sounds like you haven't done step one yet -- which is telling her what you'd like her to do differently.

Sometimes managers -- especially new managers, but often more experienced ones too -- neglect to have this conversation because they feel awkward about it. I suspect that's the case here: you feel awkward or even rude telling her directly to cut this out. But you're actually doing her a great disservice by allowing her to continue annoying you like this and not letting her know you want it to stop. (Imagine if you were doing something every day that was annoying your manager and she didn't bother to tell you. You'd be mortified, right? So it's kind to speak up. It's also your job as her manager -- but it helps to remember that you're doing her a disservice if you don't.)

So explain to her -- clearly and directly -- that you want her to stop interrupting you so much and to start making more decisions on her own.

You shouldn't become totally inaccessible to her, but it's reasonable and smart to set up different channels for communicating, and to give her clearer guidance and what you do and don't need to be updated on and she should figure out for herself rather than bringing to you. For instance: "Jane, I'm swamped, and I'm finding I need fewer interruptions during the day. Let's set up one weekly meeting to touch base on things you need my input on. I'd appreciate it if you can save things for that meeting, unless it's truly time-sensitive. Also, I don't need regular updates and X and Y -- just a quick overview once a week when we meet is fine. And I'd love for you to try to find answers to questions like A and B on your own; if you get stuck, come to me, but it will help me if you try to solve those things yourself first."

And then enforce it. If she continues to interrupt you with things that she should either handle on her own or save for your weekly meeting, be direct: "It sounds like this isn't urgent. Can it wait for our meeting on Thursday?" Or, "This is the sort of question I'd love for you to find a solution to yourself. What have you tried so far?"

And if necessary: "We talked a few weeks ago about decreasing the number of times you're popping by with updates and questions during the day. I haven't seen much change. What can we do differently to make that happen?"

Remember, a major part of your job as a manager is to set clear expectations and give feedback, and you're going to need be direct and matter of fact about it. I'd take your discomfort in this situation as a flag that you've got to work on getting more comfortable with that!

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

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