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Must-Have Answers from ‘Ask a Manager’ Author Alison Green

For many employees, the work itself is easy. It’s the office politics that are hard. That’s partly why Alison Green started her blog, “Ask a Manager,” 11 years ago. A chief of staff at a non-profit organization at the time, she kept thinking that coworkers would have made different decisions if they’d had their boss’ or HR’s perspective.

“As a manager, I could see that people weren’t going to get the outcome they thought they were,” Green recalls. “It occurred to me that a lot of people would benefit from knowing what their bosses are thinking when they hear x or what they mean when they say y.”

Clearly, Green was onto something. In addition to her popular blog, she now has a podcast, magazine advice columns (in Slate and New York Magazine) and a book, Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses and the Rest of Your Life at Work. She’ll be speaking at the upcoming Conference. Until then, Green, who has been called “the Dear Abby of the work world,” took time out from answering her readers’ questions to answer ours.

P.S. She’ll be taking your questions at @AskAManager on Twitter, on Wednesday, October 24, from 2 to 3 p.m. ET. Use the hashtag #ConfWomenChat.

Q: What’s the most common work problem women ask you about?
A: “Someone is doing something incredibly annoying or frustrating, like constantly interrupting or cancelling meetings, and the person writing to me doesn’t know how to stop it without causing tension. This is often a dilemma for people, especially women, because we’re socialized to be nice, and people worry that addressing something directly will feel rude.”

Q: How do you recommend handling this?
A: “Approach the person as you would with any ordinary work problem. Use the same matter-of-fact tone and language as you would when, say, the printer isn’t working. ‘The printer isn’t working—what can we do about it?’ Sound like you’re trying to solve the problem together.”

Q: Do men ask different questions?
A: “Funny you should ask. The majority of questions I get are from women, though sometimes a woman will be asking for her husband or a male friend. It’s like that stereotype about how men won’t go to the doctor or ask for directions.”

Q: Which industries have the most miserable employees?
A: “I don’t have a sense of which industries, but I can tell you that I would be very cautious about taking a job at a small business. That’s where the craziest stories I hear come from. It makes sense that bad behavior is more rampant at small companies. They tend not to have the checks and balances to stop or correct a terrible manager—or the trained HR staff to help employees resolve their issues.”

Q: What should you say when you’re up for a job and you’re asked for your salary expectations?
A: “Do your research so you know what’s reasonable in your geographic area, and give a range, which gives you flexibility. If they want a number, then ask for a little more than what you want. It doesn’t hurt. You might get it—and you won’t be rejected because you wanted a little more than what they wanted to pay, as long as you’re not drastically outside of it.”

Q: What’s your top career advice to new managers?
A: “This applies to new and old managers: you can be friendly with people who were your coworkers, but you can no longer be friends once you are their manager. You can still discuss ‘Game of Thrones’ or go to an occasional dinner or happy hour together, but you can’t have the same close relationship you once had. You can’t appear to have favorites. Also, the power dynamics at play are different now. Your direct reports to some extent now have to make you happy, while part of your role is to judge them—that doesn’t make for an authentic friendship. I would even stop being friends on social media, because you don’t want the burden of knowledge that someone called in sick because she was, say, bar-hopping the night before, till 4 a.m.”

Alison Green will be speaking at the 2018 MA Conference for Women on December 6.

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