Sunday, January 23, 2022

Should I negatively review a typically reliable service company?

Should you post a negative rating for a service company you’ve received great work from for years?

That’s the question a reader we’re calling Amanda asked after her recent experience with a kitchen appliance repair service whose work has saved several of the aging appliances in her second-floor condo over the past several years. After an oven range began to act up about five years ago, Amanda began pricing what it would cost to replace the 20-something-year-old range with a newer model. After the sticker shock set in, she went onto Google and read the reviews of several local appliance repair companies before she settled on one whose reviews were numerous, stellar, and often from people living in her area.

“They came out, diagnosed the problem, and told me it would cost about $900 less for the parts and labor than it would have cost for a new range and any delivery charge,” wrote Amanda. The fix was made, the oven worked, and Amanda left a positive review on Google.

Whenever a friend was in need of a repair person, Amanda recommended the repair company. Her friends were equally pleased with the service and results.

Things changed right before Christmas after Amanda’s dishwasher began to leak and she had the repair service out to diagnose the issue.

“They found a piece had been corroded on the back of the dishwasher that needed to be replaced,” she wrote. The part was ordered and Amanda washed dishes in the sink for the couple of weeks it took for the part to come in and repair person to return to install it.

What Amanda didn’t know and only found out later was that the repair person who diagnosed the cause of the leak had disconnected the copper water line to the dishwasher when he moved the dishwasher out from under the counter so he could take a look. But rather than reconnect the water line, the repair person left it unconnected and small amounts of water left in the copper pipe slowly leaked into the back of her cabinets and began to drip through the corner of the ceiling right below her kitchen into the condo below her.

“At first we didn’t know what was causing the drip, but the guy who came to put the new part in figured it out,” wrote Amanda. There was no real damage to the condo below because the issue was caught in time. Amanda’s dishwasher works great now and she is relieved she didn’t have to spend the money on a new one, but she wonders whether she should post what happened in her review of the service.

No one is ever obligated to leave a review online for anything, so Amanda can rest easy not doing so. If she does post a review and she wants to be honest about the experience, the right thing is to include that detail about the drip.

But a better option might be to call the service repair company to tell the owner what happened. That might help ensure that the same mistake isn’t repeated by diagnosticians on future visits.

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 to have answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com.

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin.

(c) 2022 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Can I write-off my donation without a receipt?

A reader we’re calling Agnetha was cleaning out her clothes closet over the holiday break. She assembled a pile of barely worn shoes that she decided she would donate to her local Goodwill store. After two days of sorting and compiling, Agnetha made the 16-minute drive to Goodwill to make the drop off.

Agnetha indicated in her email that she loves shoes, but she had come to terms that it was time to get the pairs she rarely wore onto the feet of someone who might make better and more frequent use of them. “I had about a dozen pair of shoes with me to donate all in great condition,” Agnetha wrote.

Typically, Agnetha indicated that she makes the drop-off to a large trailer-truck container in Goodwill’s parking lot. Generally, there is an attendant sitting at the open doors of the container to accept the donated items who can give Agnetha or others a receipt. But on this trip, while the container doors were open, there was no one in sight from whom to get a receipt.

“I don’t donate the items solely for the possibility of a tax write-off,” wrote Agnetha. “But if I can take the deduction, I’d like to.”

Agnetha is concerned, however, that she did not receive a receipt from Goodwill and wonders if it would be wrong to claim the charitable deduction anyway.

“Should I go back to Goodwill and get a receipt when someone is there?” asks Agnetha. “Or should I just write this off as a good deed and not bother with trying to claim the charitable deduction?” Agnetha made clear that she regularly will drop off bags of clothing to donation boxes along the highway and she rarely if ever tries to itemize those deductions on her taxes.

As I’ve written before, I am not a tax attorney intimately familiar with the nuances of what can or can’t be claimed as a charitable deduction. Nor am I familiar with Agnetha’s tax situation nor how she files her taxes each year.

But according to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service’s website, generally a receipt from a charity for goods donated is only needed if the donation is worth $250 or more. On its own website, Goodwill provides donors with guidelines on estimated donation values. For women’s shoes, it’s between $2 and $10. If Agnetha donated a dozen pair of shoes, the estimated value would fall between $24 and $120, well below that threshold. Agnetha would be wise to make a detailed record of what she donated, when she donated it, and the estimated value that she could keep in her own files if she decides to claim a charitable deduction.

If Agnetha would like to itemize her donations on a receipt from Goodwill for her records for piece of mind, those blank forms are available online for the donor to fill out. Or she can decide to simply donate the items without trying to take the deductions. The latter is a decision only she can make.

Again, I’m not a tax attorney so I am useless when it comes to helping Agnetha fill out her tax forms, but if she maintains detailed, honest records on her donations, that seems the right thing to do.

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 to have answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com.

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin.

(c) 2022 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, January 09, 2022

Looking back at another year of doing the right thing

A year ago, at the end of 2020, after looking at the analytics for the website where The Right Thing column gets posted after it has run in publications, it was clear that readers were drawn most to columns that touched on kindness, remembering those we’ve lost, and thankfulness.

Although many of us managed to return to school or work on-site during 2021, the year has proved just as unpredictable as its predecessor. Many people received vaccinations and booster shots. Trips to stores and restaurants seemed to increase. The new Spiderman movie killed it at the box office. But we also headed into a holiday season in late December when the Omicron variety of COVID began to spread rapidly. Travel warnings increased, availability of at-home COVID-testing kits became limited, and pandemic anxieties intensified.

Nevertheless, the column’s readers viewed the most were decidedly different. Although a few referred to us remaining in a pandemic, none were about the pandemic specifically. Instead, the five most-viewed columns in 2021 touched on job searches, neighbor relationships, and the importance of learning to listen to people without overreacting. In other words, although many of the columns I wrote during the past year covered pandemic-related questions and issues, readers seemed to return to an interest in those issues that attracted them in pre-pandemic times.

The fifth-most-viewed column, “Don’t rely on ‘fake it until you make it,’” ran in mid-August. It focused on a reader who was in the midst of a job search who seemed willing to take any job offered by embracing the idea of faking it until she knew how to do the work. I cautioned against faking or fabricating anything but instead looking for guidance and mentorship wherever possible.

The fourth-most-viewed column, “Two recycling stories and one good neighbor,” ran in late July and focused on one reader who was troubled that neighbors took advantage of his agreeing to let them use his recycling bin since theirs was full. It also featured another reader who offered to turn off neighbors’ irrigation system when they were away. Not every good deed goes well, but neighbors should learn to appreciate when the person next door does them a good turn.

My July 4 column, “Must we write every recommendation letter we are asked to write?” responded to the question in the title with a resounding “no.”

July 11′s “Objecting instead of invoking morality is the right thing to do” reminded readers that not everything we disagree with rises to the level of immoral. Sometimes, it’s good to remember, we just see things differently.

Finally, in the most-viewed column of the year, “Learning to ask the right questions is always the right thing,” I wrote in June of the importance of listening to people and asking them questions in a way that gets at what matters without sounding accusatory or judgmental. It was a lesson I had learned after serving as my wife’s in-house technology support when each of us was still working from home.

Thank you, as always, for continuing to email me your questions, stories, and reactions for The Right Thing column. May your year continue to be full of doing the right thing while surrounded by those in your life who choose to do the same.

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 to have answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com.

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin.

(c) 2022 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, January 02, 2022

Casting unsupported aspersions may shut down conversations

On December 20, actress and singer Bette Midler wrote a morning Twitter post castigating Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia for not supporting President Joe Biden’s proposed Build Back Better spending package. Rather than limit her focus on Manchin, Midler slammed the state of West Virginia by referring to it as: “Poor, illiterate and strung out.”

The negative response to Midler’s tweet was swift. Within 40 minutes, Midler had tweeted an apology “to the good people of WVA” for her outburst, attributing it to seeing red over Manchin’s lack of Democratic political support.

If Midler had taken a moment to dig, she would have found a report from Data for Progress, a progressive polling group, that found that a majority of West Virginians supported the Build Back Better plan.

No matter what caused her not to do so, Midler deserved to be publicly criticized for her Tweet attacking West Virginians with a broad, unfounded characterization. I have a fondness for West Virginia and West Virginians since one of the colleges I attended is there. A professional acquaintance once wondered why I publicly criticized her for her post on social media featuring negative stereotypes about West Virginia. I publicly criticized her for her post because baseless accusations are wrong and not only when they involve West Virginia.

When readers ask how to talk with those with whom they disagree, I don’t always have an answer that will yield success for them. But a cardinal rule in engaging with someone is to refrain from making broad, baseless accusations rather than sticking to what you know to be factual. A second rule is to decide whether you truly want to have a conversation with someone or whether your goal is to point out to them how very, very wrong they are about anything with which you don’t agree. If you can’t start by embracing these two rules of engagement before engaging, then my sense is that you really don’t want to engage.

If Midler had wanted to point out why she believed Sen. Manchin’s vote was wrong, she could have focused on that. If she wanted to engage West Virginians via social media to ask them whether their senator was truly serving their interests, she could have done that. But once she devolved into attacking the character of every person in West Virginia, she lost any ability to engage them in a discussion. Apologizing after a swift backlash to the “good people” might show remorse, but it does little to open an informed discussion.

The same goes for in-person discussions. Calling someone an idiot or immoral because he or she or they don’t agree with you shuts down the conversation and says more about the caller’s intolerance and dismissiveness than it does about whatever might be the desired focus of discussion.

Midler is hardly alone in such behavior. She just happens, with over 2 million Twitter followers as of this writing, to have a large platform that might have been used to greater effect had she refrained from baseless characterizations.

Perhaps, as we end another year, each of us should knock it off with the name calling and instead focus on our ability to argue strongly and factually for those things we support while listening openly to those who may disagree. From a distance, that seems the right thing to do.

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 to have answered? Send them to jeffreyseglin@gmail.com.

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin.

(c) 2022 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.