Sunday, February 26, 2017

If you don't RSVP, should the host still come?



A real estate developer recently purchased a multifamily house in a neighborhood comprised of single-family and multifamily homes. The house the developer purchased was a three-family that had fallen into significant disrepair. Many neighbors were relieved when they discovered that the new owner didn't plan to tear the house down completely, but instead to gut it and create three condominiums that he would sell to new owners.

Still, the gutting and redesign would be significant and the trucks and dumpsters going in and out of the neighborhood would affect traffic and parking, as well as create noise and a bit of a mess. To try to address any concerns that neighbors might have, the developer dropped off letters to neighbors inviting them to an open house on a Saturday morning at his property's site.

In the letter, the developer made clear he intended to keep only three units in the house and to knock down an old garage behind the house to make way for six parking spaces. He also indicated that he would be applying for a zoning variance to extend the back of the house a bit to increase the footprint of one of the three condos, but that the extension would go into the existing backyard. In his letter he asked neighbors to RSVP and gave them a phone number and email to use for those purposes.

Strictly speaking, an RSVP is a request for a reply, whether you plan to attend. But the developer added the phrase "if you plan to attend" after the RSVP, which seemed to suggest he only wanted to hear from those who planned to come.

On the Monday after the open house was to occur, a neighbor who had emailed the developer that he would be out of town and couldn't make the open house ran into him and asked how the open house went.

"We didn't have it," he responded, "since no one RSVP'd.

"I RSVP'd," the neighbor reminded him.

"I meant no one said they were coming," he said. "But one neighbor emailed us late on Saturday to tell us the she was upset because several people were waiting in the cold to attend the open house."

Later, the neighbor asked around and found out who the person was who had emailed the developer with her disappointment.

"I'm not liking him too much," she said. "He should have shown up once he announced the open house, even if we didn't respond."

Her neighbor wasn't so sure, wondering whether she and others were obligated to RSVP if they planned to show up or if the developer was obligated to show up regardless. "What was the right thing to do here?" he asks.

The neighbors should have responded to the invitation if they planned to intend. They have no real right to be angry if they didn't and then no one showed up. But if the developer's intent was to build good will among the neighbors abutting his property, the right thing would have been for him to show up regardless. The potential of wasting the trip would have been outweighed by the possibility of meeting some neighbors who failed at basic etiquette, but who decided to show up nonetheless. 

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, February 19, 2017

Should therapist share personal views with clients?



Shortly after the U.S. presidential election, L.L., a psychotherapist who practices family therapy, writes that she had an unusual experience. While she was used to her clients talking with her about any number of issues, it was rare for them to talk politics.

Two different clients, each with strong feelings about the election, started their sessions by expressing their strong feelings about the election's outcome. Each had different reasons for how they felt, L.L. writes, but each went on for quite a bit of time into their respective sessions, before pausing, looking up at L.L.

"Pretty much identical statements followed," writes L.L., indicating that each said a variation of, "Oops, I'm assuming you feel the same."

Neither client was seeking L.L.'s advice on some therapeutic issues. But, she writes that "both had started talking as though they knew I supported the same candidate they did."

"What if I didn't?" asks L.L. "Should I have told them?"

I am not a psychotherapist. I do not meet with clients each day. But it's fair to observe that the reason clients seek out L.L.'s services is to help them deal with issues they bring to each session, whether these have to do with family, work, or anything else resulting in their need to seek her out. If a client sought out L.L.'s advice on how to sort out conflicting feelings they have about making election decisions, it seems her job would be to help them sort these feelings out, not to tell them who to vote for.

L.L. also makes clear that she sets boundaries with her clients. While she works hard to let them know she is genuinely concerned about them and their mental health, she also works hard not to bring her personal life into the relationship. Her job, she writes, is to work with her clients on their issues, not to burden them with hers.

But here, L.L. found herself in an atypical situation where two of her clients had a strong emotional response to an issue that they expressed to her and then paused when they realized that they might be ranting against a person L.L. supported. So, when the expressed their assumption that L.L. might share their visceral response, should she have told them she voted the same or different from how they did?

That each of the patients paused out of concern that they might be offending L.L. by making an assumption suggests that they likely built a strong bond with her. They feel comfortable speaking with her, but also are concerned about making false assumptions about her seeing the world the same as they do.

Obviously, L.L. shouldn't lie to her clients about which candidate she voted for, but she has no obligation to tell them, unless, for some reason that escapes me (again, not a psychotherapist myself), she believes there is a therapeutic value in doing so.

Instead, the right thing is for L.L. to do as she has always done with her clients and either encourage them to keep talking or to try to direct them to talk about other issues that are relevant to their care. In response, to their "oops" comment, L.L. would simply had to respond "That's OK," and then move on with the discussion that focused on them and their needs. 

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.

Talking Politics Over Turkey

For those wrestling with how to have a civil discussion over a holiday meal, a discussion with HKS PolicyCast