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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Am I my colleague's grammar corrector?



Several days ago as I was walking to work, I noticed a sign on a building that read: "Thank you for not smoking within 25 feet from this building." I immediately understood the sign's message, but I wondered why the sign writer had used the preposition "from" rather than the "of" that would have been expected in this sentence construction.

Since I write and try to teach writing for a living, I'm inclined to draw attention to questionable usage or grammar. But L.F., a reader from Washington, D.C., does not make her living primarily from writing or teaching others to write. She too is inclined to draw attention to such issues.

Over the past few years, she writes that she has noticed that many people, including President Barack Obama, news commentators, and well-respected academics, fail to use the article "an" before a word beginning with a vowel, such as "a issue" rather than "an issue."

"Has this grammatical rule changed?" L.F. asks. "These things drive me crazy."

She admits that she is "a bit obsessed" with the proper use of grammar.

"I've noticed in the workplace that several managers fail to use correct grammar when representing their office or their entire agency," she writes. But she observes that because poor grammar is often a reflection of upbringing, opportunity, or education, it might be too sensitive a topic to broach.

"Is it ever appropriate to provide this kind of unsolicited feedback?" she asks. "Do I need to lighten up or should I say something?"

Years ago, I wrote about how a librarian at my college who was French and learned English late in life was crushed when a student corrected her pronunciation. It wasn't the correction that crushed her, but the realization that she had been pronouncing words incorrectly for years and no one had said anything to her.

If colleagues in L.F.'s workplace are making the same grammatical errors repeatedly when they give presentations or speak to others, they could find themselves being perceived poorly. If people from outside the company are listening, they might also get the sense that the poor grammarian's colleagues don't care enough about him or her to offer a correction, or that they fear repercussions if they speak up.

The right thing is to let colleagues know when they're off in how they use grammar. They don't need to correct every incorrect usage of "I" for "me" or consider every split infinitive as a crime against humanity. But if the grammar mistake is obvious enough that it could prove embarrassing to the speaker, then the best thing to do would be to mention it to the speaker shortly after the first time you hear it. That you might show some discomfort bringing the topic up should suggest to the colleague that you're not trying to suggest that you're somehow superior to him or her because you know bad grammar when you hear it.

It could be better to suffer a little discomfort now by helping a colleague out than to wait until he or she discovers that how long the bad grammar has been going on and discovers you never set things straight. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a 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 

(c) 2015 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.



Sunday, May 15, 2016

When old company emails still haunt your inbox



Five years after a reader, L.S. left her previous job, she is still receiving emails addressed to her old company's email address.

L.S. had always forwarded her old work email to her private Gmail address. It was simpler to manage all of her email from one account, she figured. She can no longer log on to her old company's server to turn off the forwarding, but she figures that her old company would have shut her email down after she left if it had wanted to.

"I don't receive any inner-office emails or anything that appears to be confidential," she writes. "But I have noticed that when someone occasionally emails me at my old company's email address, I still receive it. I also continue to get junk email addressed to that old address."

She also receives a weekly report from the old company of email that has been quarantined as spam, all of which is more junk email that didn't make it through to her.

When L.S. responds to those who write her at the old email address she reminds them that she has a new email address. She simply deletes the junk email that comes through.

L.S. wants to know if she was wrong to forward her work email to her personal email address and whether she has an ethical obligation to let her old company know that she's still receiving email sent to her old address.

If L.S.'s former employer had a policy forbidding the forwarding of work email to a personal email address, she was wrong to do so. But if the company condoned the practice and employees regularly forwarded their email to personal email addresses, she's in the clear.

If L.S. is only receiving email that is addressed directly to her old email address, it might not present a problem, unless that email is work related. Because there's a chance that she might be receiving email intended for her as an employee of her former company, the right thing would be to inform a representative from her former company to let them know that she still receives emails sent to her former address. The responsibility then falls on them to decide when to disable her former email address.

The right thing for the company to have done would have been either to let L.S. know that she would continue to receive email at her old address (although it seems odd that most companies would see this as a good practice), or to let her know that her email would be closed out at a certain point after she stopped working for the company.

The responsibility for figuring this out should not have fallen on L.S.'s shoulders. But now that it has, she'd be wise to let the former company know about the situation and give it the opportunity to set things right. A side benefit for L.S. is that she might receive far less junk email in her inbox than she has over the past five years. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a 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 

(c) 2015 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


Sunday, May 08, 2016

Stopping office gossip before it spreads

As he was sitting at his desk several days ago, a reader, let's call him Larry, started receiving emails from current and former colleagues asking if he knew what happened to another colleague. Some of the emails provided no specifics. Others suggested the colleague was leaving the organization. Still others wondered whether the colleague's pending departure was a sign of turmoil within the ranks.


Larry knows the colleague. He also knows each of the email senders. But he hadn't heard anything about the colleague, nor about the news that was wafting in the air around the company corridors.

Larry writes me wondering what, if anything, is the appropriate response to these emails he's receiving, since he knows nothing about the colleague or his fortunes.

"If I respond, it might seem like I'm encouraging discussion about this colleague when I don't have any information," writes Larry. "If I don't respond, does it send some sort of message that I know something, but I'm unwilling to give it up?"

Because no official notice of anything concerning his colleague has been issued by his company, Larry doesn't know if something actually happened or if a rumor got started somehow and was beginning to spin out of control.

Larry has never been a fan of gossip. But he's at a bit of a loss about the right thing to do in response to the emails he's been receiving.

There are a few reasonable responses Larry might have to the emails he's been receiving.

He could simply ignore them, choosing not to engage in a discussion about which he knows nothing. He's right though that his silence might inadvertently send an unintended message, particularly since Larry is known for being quick and responsive when it comes to email.

Larry might also choose to respond with a simple, "I don't know." Or, "I haven't heard anything." And he could leave it at that. The challenge with this choice is that his response might result in follow-up emails, where the senders provide details about what they've heard, leaving Larry with the choice of whether or how to respond to those emails.

While not a fan of gossip, it's not in Larry's nature to instruct his emailing colleagues to stop spreading incomplete information or, in other words, to quit gossiping.

While it might be awkward, the right thing for Larry to do is to contact the colleague about whom the questions are being asked. If he's able to reach the colleague, he can let them know that he's been receiving emails asking if he knew anything about the colleague, and that there are suggestions in the air that the colleague might be leaving the company.

The risk is that the colleague might be embarrassed at the news. But by letting the colleague know there is discussion going on about them, it gives the colleague the opportunity to decide whether there's a way for to control the discussion so that misinformation isn't spread. If the colleague doesn't know that there's a buzz about them, then they don't have the opportunity to try to do anything about controlling that buzz.

If Larry ever finds himself on the receiving end of such a call, I'd hope that he'd be as appreciative as the colleague should be by hearing from Larry. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a 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 

(c) 2015 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.