Sunday, January 29, 2017

How much to cry over drunken wine


Once a month, a group of long-time friends makes a point of meeting one another for lunch at a downtown restaurant. A few weeks ago, the four friends met at a sizeable new upscale eatery that had taken over the entire food court of a shopping mall in the middle of the city near where each of them live. The new place isn't really one restaurant, but a grouping of different types of food purveyors -- some sit-down restaurants, some small fresh food shops, a few aisles of groceries, and assorted other merchants.

After meeting at the mall, their first goal was to decide where to eat. They chose one of the small sit-down restaurants. They received menus, studied them, and then prepared to place their orders. Each of them chose to order a glass of wine to accompany her meal. After the first three ordered, the last of the friends requested a glass of merlot. The waiter responded that they didn't carry merlot, but that he'd be glad to serve her a comparable substitute. She agreed.

When the orders came, the merlot seeker took a sip of her wine. It was not quite the type of wine she typically enjoyed, but after being encouraged by her friends to send it back if she didn't like it, she decided to keep it.The friends ate their meals, catching up with one another throughout.

Finally, when the bill for the meal arrived, the merlot seeker was surprised that while her friends' glasses of wine were each $11, the wine that the waiter had chosen for her as a substitute for merlot was $19.

"Instead of choosing something for me that resembled a merlot," she writes, "it seems clear that he decided to sell me one of the more expensive glasses on the menu."

Even though the merlot seeker offered to pay a bit more for her share of the bill, her friends told her not to be ridiculous and that they'd split the bill evenly four ways as was their custom.

"Now, I think I should have said something to the waiter," she writes. "Was I wrong not to?"

She wasn't wrong not to say anything at the time if she chose not to. But it also would not have been inappropriate to broach the topic with the waiter.

The right thing, however, would have been for her to ask the waiter what wine he was recommending after he made the offer and to ask him to show it to her on the menu. Doing it that way might have made her feel less self-conscious than asking about the price, although it would have been fair for her to do that as well.

The waiter should have offered to show her the wine on the menu without her having to ask, or to tell her the price. That would have been the right thing to do and it would have enhanced the possibility that the friends would be return customers. She drank it, so she paid for it. But their next gathering, she says, will be someplace else. 

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) 2017 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


Sunday, January 22, 2017

When prospective recommenders love me but hate the business



For many years, T.T., a reader from New Jersey, had wanted to work for a particular large company. He thought he had the ability and experience to do well there and believed that the company would be a perfect place to advance his career. When a position for which he believed himself to be qualified became available, he seized the moment by updating his resume and writing the most compelling cover letter he could muster.

The job posting also asked for applicants to have three recommenders send in letters attesting to the applicant's strengths and weaknesses, as well as how the applicant might fit in with the company. Now in his mid-30s, T.T. had a good track record at the places where he'd worked and he figured that finding people to write strong recommendation letters would be no problem.

He emailed three people with whom he'd worked, asking each of them if they would be willing to write a letter on his behalf. The first response he got assured him that she'd be glad to write the letter, asking T.T. to provide her with an up-to-date resume, a copy of the job description, and perhaps a copy of his cover letter so she had a sense of how he saw himself fitting into the job.

But the second person T.T. asked responded by telling him that he was not a fan of the company, its values, or the products it produced, and that T.T. could do better. When the third person responded in a similar manner, T.T. was now in the position of having to find two other people who would be willing to write recommendation letters for him.

"This doesn't seem right," T.T. writes. "I'm not asking them to buy products from the company. I'm asking them to write a recommendation letter for me."

While T.T. thinks it's fine for different people to have different opinions about particular companies, he doesn't believe that these opinions have anything to do with how he's performed on previous jobs or how people he's worked with perceive his own values and work ethic.

"All three of them had written recommendations for me in the past," writes T.T. Why should it make a difference what company I'm applying for a job at? T.T. asks. If they're willing to recommend me, shouldn't they be willing to do so regardless of where I apply?

No one should ever assume that someone he or she asks to write a recommendation letter is obligated to agree to do so. Prospective recommenders have every right to decline the invitation to write such a letter, regardless of their reasons for not wanting to write one. If a recommender doesn't want to write T.T. a letter because they have strong feelings about the company to which he's applying, then that's their reason.

It makes no sense for T.T. to try to convince someone who doesn't want to write a letter to write one. The right thing is for T.T. to thank them for considering his request and then to move on to someone else who might be agreeable to write him a letter that could help him get the job he wants. 

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) 2017 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

College food fight gets messy

This fall, a teenager, let's call him Ken, has been settling in as a freshman at a large state university. Three months in, he appe...