coworker interrupts conversations, accepting a beverage at a meeting if no one else does, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My coworker interrupts everyone’s conversations

I have a coworker “Josh,” who has a habit of interjecting himself into conversations. Frequently. And, of course, he sits right next to me in our open-office floor plan.

It’s frustrating enough when he joins personal conversations so that he can insert his opinion. For example, “Which gynecologist do you go to?” (He has no children.) But I can tolerate that since the conversation is not work related.However, it’s even more frustrating when he invites himself to join certain work conversations, particularly on projects that have nothing to do with him or his work. For example, I recently had to correct him when he answered my teammate’s question about when an assignment was due. She was asking me, since we were working on the assignment together, but apparently he felt the need to chime in even though he isn’t involved in our project. And, of course, his answer of “sometime next week” didn’t exactly match our actual deadline of this Wednesday.

The problem is so much worse when we have someone from outside our team come by to ask questions or seek expertise regarding my projects and research. Even though he works on entirely separate projects and doesn’t share my areas of expertise, he will try to answer questions himself rather than redirect the question to me or someone on my project.

This behavior really bothers me and, while I haven’t witnessed any major consequences yet, that could just be a matter time. After all, clients won’t know he doesn’t work on the project, and it could give our team a bad reputation. We report to the same boss, so I have no authority over him. We are essentially peers, but Josh was just promoted last month, so he is now technically more senior. What can I do?

Step one is to address it in the moment when it’s happening. When he jumps into answer a question that isn’t in his area, don’t be shy about asserting yourself and saying things like “Actually, that’s my project — come talk to me about it and I can answer your questions” or “No, that’s not correct. The deadline is Wednesday.”

And after these incidents, there’s no reason you can’t say to him, “Hey, if someone comes in asking about X, please let me handle that since I’m working on it and know all the details.”

This doesn’t work with the interruptions of social conversations, of course – but those are sometimes unavoidable when you’re working in an open office. Most of the time you may need to just roll with those — although if a conversation is truly personal (like the one about gynecologists — WTF?!), it’s fine to say, “Actually, I just wanted to talk to Jane about this.”

2. Should I accept a beverage at a business meeting if no one else does?

This is definitely not a very serious question, but one that I’ve been wondering about nonetheless. I, a super junior person, recently attended a meeting with an external vendor, along with my boss and his boss (who’s at director level). We were asked the standard “would you like something to drink?” question and both bosses asked for coffee so I felt comfortable doing the same. I was thinking, though, if neither of them had asked for something, would it have come across as strange/demanding/out-of-touch for me to ask something? Intuitively I feel like I should be following more senior people’s lead when it comes to that sort of thing, but I don’t know if I have a strange preoccupation with blending into the background in these types of situations. What are your thoughts/how would you feel as the senior person in this situation (assuming we’re talking about a standard water/coffee request, not anything over the top)?

It’s always fine to say yes to water, even if no one around you is requesting it.

With other beverages, though, yeah, because you’re very junior, I would follow the lead of more senior people in the room. It’s not that it would be demanding to say yes to an offer of coffee if no one else does. But when you’re very junior, you’ll usually make a better impression if you follow the lead of people senior to you, and it can look a little off if the one very junior person in the room is the only one accepting amenities. I can’t fully defend this — a cup of coffee really isn’t a big deal — but you’ll fit in with the meeting better this way.

(That said, if anyone is reading this and wondering if they committed a horrible faux paus by accepting a coffee or a soda at a meeting where no one else did, it’s not anything to be terribly worried about either.)

3. 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 occasional 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. After he was born, I experienced a lot of anxiety stemming from hormones, lack of sleep, etc. 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, even respond slowly to emails while on maternity leave. Especially right after giving birth, seeing these attitudes convinced me I wanted to quit my field and do something else. I’m honestly still unsure about going back to work in this area.

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.

How often do you speak to her? If you fairly closer and speak frequently, definitely say something! You could say something like, “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 completely during maternity leave. If you suggest it to other women, it might be useful to warn them about that element of it — 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 that brings it out?”

4. Recruiters reformat my resume

My type of job openings (technical writer) often go through a recruiter – they find my resume online and contact me about openings that might not be advertised. This is fine. However, the recruiters want my resume in Word format so they can “reformat” it. This is fine, too. But at a recent interview I noticed that the version of my resume that was given to the interviewers by the recruiter omitted the URL of the website where I store my work samples. (Oversight? Intentional? What else gets left out?) Interviewers seem surprised at this, and I always give them my version (which I bring copies of with me). Am I committing some terrible faux pas? I never tell the recruiters that I’m doing this, they probably would not approve and I don’t want to alienate them. What do you think? (Oh, I didn’t get the job anyway but I keep plugging away.)

Nope, you can keep doing that. Recruiters will sometimes reformat your resume to add their logo and/or remove your contact info, because they want the company to send all contacts through them. (This isn’t as shady as it sounds; they’re trying to avoid people circumventing paying their fee.) But some recruiters will also redo your resume to make it “better,” and their idea of “better” isn’t always great.

It’s fine to keep bringing your own copies of your resume with you and handing it to your interviewer, and many interviewers will appreciate that. It’s also okay to ask your recruiter about it if you notice that the version they sent the employer is missing key information.

5. Someone I used to manage is asking about a new job with me, and I know I won’t hire them

I am currently hiring for a position and was recently contacted by someone from my previous company that I hired and managed. They are interested in this open role but they don’t know that I am the hiring manager (the role I’m hiring for is in a different office than where I’m based). The issue is that I really struggled with this former employee. They took a long time to train and never fully grasped the aspects and tasks that the job required. When I left my former company, this employee still needed a lot of hand holding despite being on the job for 6+ months at that time. I’ve made inquiries but it appears this former employee has not made much improvement in the time since I’ve left. Coupled with the fact that I will have to manage this hire remotely, I have no interest in hiring them.

Since they do not know I am the hiring manager, the original email asked only for information on the company and role. How can I delicately handle this situation? I don’t want to be too blunt but I also don’t want to lie. Should I just ignore the email (even though my gut instinct is that would be rude)?

Don’t ignore the email; because you know this person, that would indeed be rude. Instead, answer the questions (be brief) but don’t falsely encourage them. If they’re clearly not a match in some specific way you’re comfortable sharing, it’s fine to say, “In the interest of transparency, I want to tell you that we’re looking for someone with more experience in X, so I don’t think that this would be the right match.” But if there’s not a quick and easy explanation you can give, it’s also fine to just say something non-commital like, “If you think the match might be right, I’d be glad to take a look at your application (I’m the hiring manager for this job).”

coworker interrupts conversations, accepting a beverage at a meeting if no one else does, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.


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