Sunday, May 19, 2019

Can I point out a mistake without seeming ungrateful?


For the past 15 years, a reader we're calling Annabelle, has volunteered for a local educational nonprofit. Over the years, she served in many roles from helping to organize functions to serving as a sounding board for the organization's leadership. For the past six years, Annabelle served as a member of the board of trustees, a position she will hold until she steps down at the end of June.

Prior to her final board meeting, Annabelle received an unexpected package on her doorstep. As a thank you for her years of service, the nonprofit's leadership team had sent her a gift engraved with both the organization's name, a notation of her years of service, and her name.

"I wasn't expecting anything," writes Annabelle. "But I was touched to be acknowledged."

Upon inspecting the box in which the gift arrived, however, Annabelle grew a bit perplexed. There was the notation "Box 2/2" written in black marker on the top of the box.

"I hadn't noticed it until I was dismantling the box for recycling," she writes, "and even then I didn't make too much of the notation."

But it crossed Annabelle's mind that perhaps the "2/2" notation indicated that there was supposed to be a second package. After sending a thank you note to the leadership team, she waited about a week to see if anything else showed up. It still hadn't.

"I feel kind of awkward mentioning it to them," she writes. "The gift was thoughtful and more than I anticipated. I don't want them to think I expected more."

Annabelle is torn about what to say to the leadership team or whether to say anything at all.

"But if they had ordered something and it never arrived, wouldn't they like to know?" she asks. "I know I would."

Annabelle, who plans to step back from her volunteer efforts at the nonprofit to devote more time to other pursuits, is right to be concerned. Typically, such a notation on a package does indicate that two packages would be arriving as part of the shipment. There's a chance it could have been delivered to the wrong house or, more unlikely, pilfered from her porch. Still, Annabelle has no obligation to say anything to the leadership team beyond the thank you she already expressed.

While she has no obligation, her "I know I would comment" should be a strong guide toward the right thing to do. Most any of us would like to know if a package we intended for someone never arrived. Sometimes a tracking number can be used by the sender to see the goods arrived safely to their intended designation. But even a tracking number wouldn't ensure that the package had reached Annabelle if it had been misdelivered or pilfered.

Annabelle should send a quick note indicating that she noticed the "2/2" notation on the package and ask if there was another package that was supposed to arrive. She can repeat her thanks and comment on how unexpected her gift was, but that she didn't want the leadership team to think that something arrived when it hadn't. A moment of awkwardness doesn't do anything to diminish her gratitude particularly when she is trying to do the right thing. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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