Sunday, May 24, 2015

Blowing off invitations to graduation events is not an option

Commencement season is upon us, and with it typically come multiple events, dinners, parties and other gatherings for the family and friends of graduates. Often, such invitations come in multiples, and deciding which ones to accept can be challenging.

A reader from New England, an area quite congested with graduation ceremonies, writes that he finds himself invited to multiple events, many for the same date and time at different locations. None of the grads are close relatives, but many are the children of close friends. As the reader sorts through the invites to commencement programs, graduation dinners and parties, he doesn't want to disappoint any of the people who've invited him.

As the events draw closer, he has yet to respond to any of the invitations. He'd like to attend at least one event, but is concerned that limiting himself will hurt the feelings of other friends and their graduates.

"I figure if none of them hear from me, they won't plan on me being there," he writes. "(However), it gnaws at me that that might not be the best thing to do in response to all of these invitations. What if I really want to accept an invitation from someone who invited me after everyone else did? That doesn't seem right, either."

So, instead of deciding to accept or decline an invitation, he wonders, why not just offer no response?

"How can I decide which invitation to accept?" he asks. "And if I can't decide, is the best thing simply not to respond at all?"

The reader will have to answer the first question for himself. There's nothing wrong with choosing the event(s) he wants to attend -- if he wants to go to any at all -- based on whatever criteria he wants, regardless of when he received the invitation.

He could decide to go to the closest event, the one that promises to be the shortest, the one that features a speaker or campus he really wants to see, the one that might prove the most relaxed, the one likely to serve the best food, or the one that involves the people to whom he has the closest relationship.

If there are conflicting events and he can only choose one, there's nothing wrong with that. It's also perfectly fine if he decides not to attend any of the events. People turn down invitations all the time.

The right thing to do is respond to each invitation. Leaving his friends in the dark about whether or not he plans to attend should not be an option. Not responding to any of the invitations in hopes that friends will forget they invited him or assume he's not coming is akin to a toddler putting his hands in front of his eyes and assuming no one else can see him because he can't see them. The reader owes each friend a response.

He need not make up a reason for not attending an event. No good will comes of a lie. He should simply let his friends know he can't make it and wish them and their graduate all the best. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Leave tenants out of fundraising drive

Years ago, I had a boss who regularly let employees know when one of his daughters was selling Girl Scout cookies. He'd send around the order sheet and we'd indicate how many boxes of Thin Mints, shortbread Trefoils, peanut butter Tagalongs, or other varieties we wanted. The daughter's sales benefited quite a bit from these purchases.

Near as I can tell, no one who didn't buy was ever penalized, say, with a testy performance review or a snide comment from the boss. Still, he was the boss, and distributing these order forms every year seemed to cross a line.

It was telling, perhaps, that no one else at the company ever tried to compete by bringing in his or her own daughter's order sheet. This was clearly the boss's turf. (It didn't help matters that the boss's daughter never took the orders herself or delivered the cookies to the office, which seemed like a dereliction of duty for a Girl Scout.)

By soliciting his direct reports to purchase cookies, employees could have perceived that to stay in the boss's favor, they needed to buy. Thankfully, the daughter eventually outgrew the Girl Scouts and the cookie drives ceased.

Earlier this week, a reader who rents an in-law apartment in her home told me she felt uncomfortable letting her tenants know that her grandson was raising funds for his Eagle Scout project. She was fine asking the tenants if they'd save cans and bottles for the boy so he could use the deposits to help fund his project, but she thought asking them to buy tie-dyed bandanas or attend a car wash would make the tenants feel obligated.

"I'm giving the family a break on the rent," the reader said. "I don't want them to think they're obligated to donate to my grandson's project if they don't really want to." She knew the tenants regularly set their cans and bottles out for recycling, so she figured asking for these wouldn't cost the tenants anything.

"Am I wrong to feel uncomfortable asking them if they want to contribute to my grandson's project?" she asks.

I believe she made a good call by not asking her tenants to contribute.

It's one thing to expect tenants to pull the trash cans to the curb or shovel their steps as part of the reasonable rent offered. These are things they agreed to when they first moved in. But the right thing to do is to stop short of asking the tenants to do anything that might be perceived as expected to maintain a good tenant-renter relationship.

There would be nothing wrong if the reader put a flier up in the neighborhood announcing the car wash, or if she posted information about the project and other fundraising activities to her Facebook page or other social media outlets. If the tenants see the information and decide to contribute, that's a choice they can make without either party perceiving there's a quid pro quo for doing so. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Crossing professional boundaries can be scary

A family therapist had been working with a particular family for several years. Because she was seeing one of the younger children in the family as a client, she also grew to know the child's parents quite well. Eventually, the need for ongoing therapy was deemed unnecessary, but the parents still consulted with the therapist occasionally when they had a concern.

Recently, about a year after regular therapy sessions ended, the therapist received a call from the mother of the child she'd been seeing. The mother filled her on family affairs, but the purpose of the call was different. The family had found a new apartment they wanted to rent and the mother wondered if she could list the therapist as a character reference.

The therapist is torn. On one hand, she'd like to help the family. On the other, she wants to make sure she doesn't inappropriately cross any boundaries.

Much has been written about the need for psychotherapists to maintain clear boundaries with their clients. Even more has been written about Sigmund Freud's views and those of others on the boundaries needed to develop and maintain effective treatment for clients or patients. Yet many therapists still find themselves facing questions about whether and when to something for a client that goes beyond the one-on-one therapy that's the primary focus of their relationship.

Freud himself, according to an article in the American Journal of Psychiatry by Thomas G. Gutheil and Glen O. Gabbard, is reported to have "sent patients postcards, lent them books, gave them gifts, corrected them when they spoke in a misinformed manner about his family members, provided them with extensive financial support in some cases, and on at least one occasion gave a patient a meal."

Just because Freud might have done so from time to time, however, doesn't mean that it's the right thing to do.

Licensed psychotherapists have professional codes of ethics. These are typically not specific enough to address every situation, however, nor do they replace a therapist's good judgment in making a decision. Still, these codes are a good first source of counsel on making such decisions as the one posed by the therapist who contacted me.

While I'm not a psychotherapist, it seems wise to set up clear boundaries with clients at the outset of their therapy (or in the case of children, to set those boundaries with their parents or guardians). Even then, situations will likely arise when the therapist has to make a choice of whether to stretch the boundaries of the relationship.

In the case of the therapist asked for a character reference, the right thing to do is to think through whether serving in such a role compromises anything about the therapeutic relationship. It would also be wise to consult with trusted colleagues for feedback on the matter.

The most important thing is to determine what's in the best interests of the client, and that doesn't undermine the ongoing professional relationship. The therapist did this very thing and ultimately agreed to provide the reference. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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