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 new employee argues even when he's wrong.

I have a newly hired employee who is bright and creative. This role is a new one for him, and it requires him to interface with the same people regularly, both internally and externally. 

He has a habit of arguing that he is right even when he is shown to be wrong or just refusing to entertain a different point of view. To give just one example, he argued that his spreadsheet was perfect even though I'd found input and formula errors it. It was a complex worksheet so errors are likely to happen -- that is why I was looking at it with fresh eyes. He argued I was wrong until I showed him the raw data compared with the worksheet. His excuse was that he had taken a cold tablet but otherwise it was perfect, except it wasn't -- I found more errors in my second review. This happens frequently.

Others have commented on this habit and he has already alienated another senior person. We have a client that he cannot work on for the same reason. He has been here less than three weeks. I admit this gets my back up so I am need a script to address this calmly explaining why this (not malicious) habit could hinder his growth.

Green responds:

It should get your back up. It's a serious problem -- one that shouldn't just hinder his growth, but one that probably needs to be deal-breaker if he doesn't fix it. You sound a bit like you're downplaying it (noting that it's not malicious, etc.), but he's doing this after only three weeks on the job and is already unable to work with one client! Those are big deals that mean that you're well into "this might not work out" territory, and I urge you to see it through that lens.

I'd say it to him this way: "When I give you feedback or correct your work, you're often resistant to taking the feedback and argue with my corrections. I need you to be receptive to my feedback, not push back on it. The same thing is true when you're getting input from others, like Jane or Bob or clients. This is crucial for succeeding in your role and will prevent you from succeeding here if you don't change it immediately. Can you do that?"

If you don't see an immediate change, you don't have the right person in the job. These are bad, bad signs.

2. Employees keep stealing food for meetings.

We have a number of conference rooms in our large building that various departments book, and they often order catered meals for the meetings they hold. Is there any way to avoid the problem of random employees helping themselves to food that wasn't ordered for them?

This morning, the breakfast ordered for a group was consumed almost entirely before those actually attending the meeting arrived. Before I take such drastic steps as sitting by the table with a yardstick to whack the offenders (the worst food thieves are well known) or locking the doors to the conference rooms, do you have any advice for me?

Green responds:

This problem is weirdly widespread, and sometimes shame works for it. Since you know who the worst offenders are, have you spoken directly with them and told them that they need to stop taking food that isn't meant for them? If you haven't, do that -- and mention that the meeting organizer looked bad because all the food was gone. Locking the conference room doors isn't a bad idea either, if that's not impractical to do. But if it continues after you speak with them, at that point it's a pretty flagrant sign of disrespect -- they've been directly told not to do it and are doing it anyway -- and you'll have to decide how seriously you take that. (I would take ignoring direct instructions pretty seriously.)

3. Can I let employees know I'm willing to be a reference for them?

I have an employee who just told me he is leaving for one of our competitors. That's too bad and I'll miss him, but he's also an excellent employee and I wish him the best. I recognize that he can't stay at one place forever, and this new opportunity is higher pay, more responsibility, and more closely aligned with what he wants to do -- basically, a better opportunity for him all around.

He told me that he had an issue when they made him an offer. They wanted a reference, but since this is his first job out of school, and he's been here for almost five years, he doesn't really have anyone to give him a reference.

I would have given him a recommendation. Is there a way I can let my current employees know that they shouldn't be afraid to ask me for one going forward? It's a weird thing to offer, and I don't want to put in their heads that they should be looking for a new job. I just want them to know that I know that it's a totally normal thing, no hard feelings, and I'll help them out if I can. Is that strange?

Green responds:

No, it's not strange! It's a great thing to do.

One way to do it is to find a natural opening for it when you're talking to people about their professional development and future goals. There's often a spot in those discussions when you could say, "By the way, I hope you won't leave us any time soon, but at whatever point you're thinking about moving on, I'd be glad to be a reference for you. You do great work, and I'd be glad to vouch for that if you ever need me to." (Obviously, say this only to people whom you could give glowing references for.)

However, there's a big caveat here: When you're telling people it's OK to be open with you when they're starting to job search, you have to be really careful not to penalize them for it. You're probably thinking, "Well, of course -- I'm not going to make them leave that week or anything like that." But there are more subtle forms of acting on the information, ones that can be very tough to resist. For example, if you know someone is actively job searching, are you really going to invest in developing them the same way you otherwise would? What if only one person can be sent to a conference -- are you going to pick the person who's about to leave? What if you have to lay off staff -- will you be influenced to pick that person by knowing they might be leaving soon anyway? What if it's been months and the person is still around -- will you start getting antsy to find their replacement? These aren't questions with easy answers (and different managers will answer them differently), so make sure you think through this kind of thing before inviting your staff to be fully candid with you about job searching.

4. I want to stop networking with a vendor.

Last year, I hired and managed a vendor for skills we didn't have in-house. After we made a decision, I informed the rejected vendors and one of them asked me to lunch. His business was fairly new, and he wanted to pick my brain about their proposal and other projects our company was working on. We developed a friendly relationship and had coffee a few times.

I have since moved on from that company, but he reached out to me to connect again. Before I had been focused on an area relevant to his field, but I now focus on an unrelated area. He knows this. Even if I had a client lead for him, the reality is I have never worked with him, so I would feel uncomfortable recommending him to a colleague. I'm afraid we are wasting each other's time and I don't know how to politely decline. How can I address this in a kind way?

To preempt any questions, yes, I am a woman, but he is a happily married father and there is no romantic interest here.

Green responds:

Some sales people work this way -- cultivating as many business relationships as possible in the hope that it will eventually lead to sales or referrals. But they're used to being turned down, so you're unlikely to hurt his feelings by declining future coffees.

That said, it might not feel clear whether these are business invitations or social ones, and so you might worry that if you decline him on business grounds, he might suggest getting together just to catch up. Given that, I'd just respond to the next few invitations by explaining that you're swamped at your new job and rarely can get away for lunch.

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