We spend more time with the people we work with than almost anyone else, but nothing in school or family really prepares you to handle those business relationships. As a result, we can often feel clueless about how to act or compelled to do things we really don't want to do (like share a bed with a co-worker on a business trip!). Enter, management guru and Inc. colleague, Alison Green. 

Green's latest book, Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-stealing Bosses and the Rest of Your Life at Work comes out today, and I got the chance to read it early. If you have a manager, are a manager, or someday hope to have a job, you should read it. Unless you're a management guru yourself (not self-proclaimed, mind you), the information is valuable in navigating sticky situations that we all run into.

Unlike other management books that focus on principles, Green teaches the principle and then gives sample dialogues for just about every situation imaginable. Here are a few of her main points.

The Power of "We"

When you want to point out something that really needs addressing--like a legal or ethical problem--but you know your boss won't take it well, Green suggests harnessing the power of "we." For example, she advises if your boss wants you to "fudge some data" you could try this dialogue:

"I really don't feel right entering data we know isn't accurate. I think we could get in real trouble if it ever came out, and it would be a huge blow to our credibility. But I think we could get the correct data by Monday. I know that's two days late, but I'd be much more comfortable explaining the delay to the board than putting incorrect data in there." 

By using the "we" it gives the message that everyone is on the same team and you're looking out for the good of the company not saying, "I can't believe you would put in inaccurate data!"

For Goodness' Sake, Speak Up!

Green points out that many issues can be solved just by bringing them up. Managers do want to know what is going on so they can fix problems. We joke that it's easier to ask forgiveness than permission, but that's not always the case. Sometimes a head's up can make everything okay. Here's Green's sample dialogue if you're going to miss a deadline:

"I'm concerned that I might not be able to meet the deadline for the piece on dinosaur aficionados. I've just finished the research and am about to start the draft, but it's due at the end of the week and I also have that all-day strategy meeting tomorrow and the follow-up that will come out of that." 

By giving your boss information before the deadline is missed, you're giving her options and saving her potential embarrassment.

Handling Office Romance

Lots of people get involved romantically with co-workers and it doesn't always work out that well. So, it makes sense that you might want to avoid it altogether. Or maybe you'd just like to avoid it with this person. But, saying no can be awkward. Green gives us several ideas:

"Thank you, but I'd rather keep things between us professional."

"Thank you for the invitation. I'm not interested in dating, but I enjoy working with you."

"Thank you, but I don't date coworkers." (This one has the potential for awkwardness if you do later end up dating a different coworker. You're allowed to change your mind, of course, but factor that in if you choose it."

Having these phrases prepared can smooth over what could be an uncomfortable situation.

The whole book is full of things you can do and say to make your work life easier. It's easy to read and filled with examples. It's practically an encyclopedia of how to handle difficult work situations. Highly recommended.

Published on: May 1, 2018