Editor's note: 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. I don't like to share my personal life with my co-workers.
Early on in my career, I had a couple of very bad experiences with forming friendships with co-workers. After those experiences, I decided that I wouldn't befriend my co-workers anymore. I consider myself friendly and outgoing, and I have a lot of friends outside of work, but am starting to feel that it is hurting me in my career. I try not to let my co-workers know too many details of my personal life, but I am still friendly, if that makes sense. Another reason I don't share too many details is because I have been unfairly judged (i.e., young and unmarried, childless, religious) in my past jobs.
My manager asked me recently why I don't like to share my personal life, and I gave him an honest answer (i.e., bad past experiences, unfair judgments against me, etc.), and I have the feeling that he thinks I'm weird. Am I being too cautious, or is this a smart strategy?
A bit overly cautious, probably. You certainly don't have to share details about your personal life if you prefer not to, but if you don't share anything, you do risk coming across as cold or odd, which can impact things you care about at work. Why not share things that are innocuous and unlikely to cause you problems -- such as that you went to the beach with friends this weekend, or that you follow a particular sports team or that you share your co-worker's love of a TV show? You don't need to open up about religion or your relationships; just stick to neutral topics of the sort you might discuss with, say, your dental hygienist.
2. My co-worker won't let me help with the work my boss asked me to do.
My boss decided that I should be a part of the social media team. I learned as much as I could on how my organization uses social media and checked out all the guidelines. I realized some of the stuff we're doing and posting doesn't exactly go with my organization's guidelines. I set up an informal meeting with my co-worker who leads up the social media team to discuss this. I even brought a printout so she could review it. She shut me down and shut me out. Since then, she's been pretty chilly toward me. She continues to do whatever she likes. In front of our colleagues, she appears receptive to my ideas but when it's the two of us, she couldn't care less.
Going to my boss isn't an option, as she has a very hands-off approach. She doesn't do conflict management. My co-worker probably doesn't know what my role is supposed to be, since my boss isn't one for giving directions of any kind. How do I handle being shut out by a co-worker for a team project?
Well, yeah, if your co-worker doesn't know that your boss has asked you to work on this, it's not surprising that she didn't react well to you sitting her down and telling her what she should do differently in work that -- as far as she knows -- you're not involved in. Ideally, you would have started off differently, by telling her that your boss has asked you to work on social media with her and asking how you can best become involved.
At this point, I think you need to go back to her, apologize for not giving her the full context earlier, and explaining what your boss has asked you to do. If you continue to encounter resistance, then you'd need to go back to your boss, explain the situation and ask for advice on how to proceed. (And I hear you about your boss, but she needs to know that there's an obstacle in the way of the work she's assigned you.)
3. How can we screen out job candidates who just want to work here for the "cool" factor?
I work at a small creative media company that is considered "cool" in our industry and tends to attract job candidates who want to be associated with our brand and company. But when they realize it's not all fun and games, they either lose interest or discover they aren't a good fit or that they don't actually possess the skills that they said they did.
After one such hire, we're trying again to advertise for our first receptionist / office manager position, a crucial yet junior role in our business. Leaving aside any potential issues with our hiring policies or company culture, what sort of questions/puzzles/brainteasers can I ask in our online application form or phone interview that can potentially screen those candidates who are motivated by providing great work and service, rather than those who want a "cool" name on their resume?
This isn't really the place for puzzles or brainteasers. You might, in certain hiring situations, use those to test a candidate's critical thinking, but they're not suited to ensuring that people are interested in your company for the right reasons. Instead, you'd be better off probing into their past experiences -- what have they done successfully in the past that's hard? Do they have a track record of the skills and traits they'll need to be successful in the role? What do their references say about them? That's going to give you far more useful information than letting them define their own interest level for you.
In addition, make sure you're being explicit about the reality of working for your company--even playing up the downsides if people are typically blinded by the upsides. Talk about the hard or boring or unglamorous elements of the job and gauge their reactions. Most people aren't going to say "Oh, then I'm not interested," but you'll be able to tell a lot from how they do react: Are they really processing what you're saying or are they clinging to their blinders about your work?
4. How to welcome a transgender employee.
My workplace has recently hired a transgender woman. I personally think this is awesome (as far as I know, she's our first transperson), but I'm wondering if I should reach out to her and make the extra effort to be welcoming, or if this is creepy and invasive.
I don't work directly with her, and am unlikely to see her very often, but we do have some non-work interests in common and she seems to be someone that I'd actually like to know, socially. I also know that our workplace has a particularly awesome Ally group (as in, Ally and everyone actually in the LGBTQIAA-etc. spectrum) that she might find useful.
However, we have not been Officially Told (I was doing a quick Google on some of my new colleagues and found a website profile that mentions that she is transgender). I'm not sure if she'd like it to be brought up, as it isn't really relevant to her job and as far as I can tell, nobody has given her cause to feel unwelcome or in need of support.
If you think she's someone who you'd like to get to know better, you should absolutely reach out and be friendly and welcoming. But you can do that in the exact same way that you would with any other co-worker; there's no need to make it about the fact that she's transgender or to bring it up on your own or otherwise make a big deal out of it. Just be welcoming to her, and you'll have accomplished your mission.
5. Giving your interviewer a thank-you note on your way out of the interview.
My question is about handing thank-you cards to people immediately after interviewing with them (literally after shaking hands before you leave the office). My husband was told this was done a few years ago where he's currently interviewing, and they were impressed with the originality. I personally think it's strange. Can I please have your thoughts?
Yes, it's strange. It makes it look perfunctory and not genuine (since you were planning to do it before you came in and it had nothing to do with the content of the meeting). It also negates one of the points of a thank-you note, which isn't really to say thanks but to follow up on the conversation and reiterate that you're still interested.
From the interviewer's perspective, the thank-you note doesn't just signal manners; more importantly, it signals interest. Interviewers want to know that the job candidate went home, thought about what was talked about, digested it all, and concluded that they're still enthusiastic about the position. That's what getting a thank-you note conveys -- as long as enough time has passed for that to be realistic.
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.