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 four questions from readers.

1. My employee keeps trash-talking herself

I manage an employee who engages in constant defeatist self-talk, even though her work is stellar. It's clear that she is a very anxious person and that's distorting her view of reality. But it's frustrating and upsetting as a manager. Every interaction, even routine ones, is about her feelings: Instead of "Should I deal with Ticket X or Ticket Y first?" it's "I'm so sorry to bother you, I know this is a stupid question, sorry, but should I deal with Ticket X or Ticket Y?" Ignoring it hasn't worked ("Ticket X, thanks!"); reassuring hasn't worked ("You're not bothering me and it's not a stupid question"); and even raising it in her otherwise excellent performance review hasn't worked. She just ends up apologizing for the fact that she's apologizing.

Seeing her name in my inbox and imagining the cascade of self-hatred that's going to preface a perfectly reasonable request gives me a knot in my stomach and is making me dread working with her. Is there anything I can do to make this better?

Green responds:

How direct have you been about it? You raised it in her performance review, but was it framed as "this is a work problem and you need to change it"? Or was it more "please don't feel you need to apologize so frequently"? My hunch is that it was closer to the latter, because that's what people tend to do, and so it's time for the former. Frame it not as concern for her feelings, but as a work-related issue that's making it difficult to work with her. That might feel harsh -- but it's the truth, she deserves to know that, and softer approaches haven't worked. You'll be doing her a favor if you're honest about it because this has to be impacting how she's perceived in your office.

So: "It's difficult to work with you when you constantly apologize for routine work questions, and I'd like you to focus on stopping that." And then give a few examples to help her envision what she should be doing instead: "For example, when you bring me a question about prioritizing, please just say, 'Should I do X or Y first?' Don't tell me it's a stupid question." And assume you'll need to do some ongoing coaching, too, since this is ingrained behavior that won't change overnight. So when she criticizes herself next time, say, "This is what we were talking about. Do you want to say that a different way?" (And, yes, she might reflexively apologize in response; cut her some slack there while she works on it.)

If you're very direct and frame this as a work-related issue she needs to change and it still doesn't change, then you can conclude you've done all you can. But until you try this, I wouldn't assume it's a lost cause.

2. Job candidate wants an update, but I'm not sure of my answer yet

For a position that I am hiring for, I did a first round of interviews with nine potential candidates. From there, I narrowed it down to five, whom I asked to complete a short sample project. Yesterday I invited the top two candidates back for a final interview. I am hoping one of these two people will end up being the right fit for our team, but just in case, I have not yet sent rejection emails to the other three. It's possible I may still go back to look at them again if these top two people don't work out.

Today my third-ranked person emailed asking for an update. I'm not sure if I should let her know now that she did not make it to the final interview stage. Should I just say we are still reviewing projects and will get back to her in a week or so? Just not respond at all right now so I can wait and see how things play out with these top two? I want to be respectful of her time and the energy she's put into this process, but I also don't want to let her know she's my third pick if I do end up coming back to her.

Green responds:

Don't leave her hanging with no response! Say something like, "Thanks for checking in. Because of schedules here, things are taking a little longer than I would have liked, but I'm hoping to be back in touch with you by X. I appreciate your patience!" That will give her a sense of when she can expect to hear something but without sharing internal details that you don't really want to share.

And it's totally OK not to explain she's your third choice. Some candidates would like to hear that kind of thing in order to have a better understanding of where things stand, but you're not obligated to get into that level of detail. You're going to get back to her pretty soon with what matters, which is a yes or no.

3. Receptionist keeps buying me coffee and won't let me pay

We have a small office with five employees. Only two of us are there at any given time, a technician and a receptionist. The technicians are paid significantly more than our support staff, and the support staff are supervised by the technician on duty. When it's slow, our receptionist will sometimes offer to run across the street and get coffee for the two of us. I can't go, because there are customers waiting on repairs. She always pays for both coffees, even when I offer to give her cash for both.

I know the more senior person typically pays for small treats like coffee and such, especially if there is a pay differential, so is this something I should worry about? I never initiate these excursions, and usually will offer to pay for both coffees. Last time she said, "No, I insist it's my treat." My thinking is to not worry about this, keep offering to pay, and graciously accept and say thank you when she offers to go get coffee. Is that reasonable, fair, and kind or do I need to do something else?

Green responds:

It's true that as the more senior person, you shouldn't let her pay all the time -- but it's also true that when the more junior person is really pushing to pay, it would be ungracious to refuse every time. But I do think you should pay at least half the time so that she's not regularly buying you coffee.

Try saying, "It's so kind of you to get these since I can't leave, but I can't accept if you don't let me pitch in. So I insist on this time being my treat, and maybe we can switch off in the future." If she pushes back, try just leaving cash on her desk with "I absolutely insist!"

4. My contact added me to a Facebook group for moms in my field -- and it's horrible

I work in a field in which women are still a big minority. Early on, I met a woman who was slightly ahead of me in her career who has become a friend and mentor. One thing we had in common was that we were both still figuring out how to balance our careers and family lives.

This year I went on leave to have a baby. Around this time, my friend added me to a Facebook group that she belongs to for moms in my field. I imagine she viewed this as a support network, but it has been anything but that. Members of the group aggressively insult people who take time off, slow their careers, or even respond slowly to emails while on maternity leave. I'm wondering if I should tell my friend about this. I don't want to make her feel bad or come off as overly sensitive. But I don't think she should add new moms to this group without some warning.

Green responds:

How often do you speak to her? If you're fairly close and speak frequently, definitely say something! You could say, "To be honest, the Facebook group hasn't been for me. I've found a lot of the members are really insulting to women who take time off or even unplug during maternity leave. I've found some of what I've read there pretty unsettling!"

If she's a very casual acquaintance and you don't talk much, it might not be worth reaching out just about this, especially if she enjoys the group herself. That said, since you consider her a mentor, you could ask her about her take on it, using language similar to the above but also asking, "Have you encountered a lot of that kind of thing in the field more broadly, or do you think it's something about this particular group?"

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to