Sunday, January 28, 2018

Should I remind prospect of past slights?

Fifteen years ago, M.N. was looking for a job. In his early 40s at the time, he was trying to make a bit of a career shift so he knew that landing a job in a new field might be a challenge. But he was convinced that the skills he had acquired were transferrable to a new line of work. So he set out on his search.

Friends and acquaintances in his newly desired field advised M.N. They gave him recommendations on what he might do to strengthen the possibility of a successful landing. They provided him with names of people with whom he might network.

With some persistence, he considered himself lucky to schedule an appointment with Q.L., an executive in a company, which did the type of work M.N. wanted to do. At first it was difficult to get a response from Q.L. and even after he did, M.N. found it a challenge to book time with him. But Q.L.'s assistant finally responded to M.N. and told him that Q.L. could fit him in.

M.N. got to Q.L.'s office a bit early and was prepared to wait. But the time for the appointment came and he found himself still waiting. That was fine, he figured. Q.L. was, after all, meeting him as a favor to provide him some advice on his search for new work.

Finally, a half-hour after the scheduled time, Q.L.'s assistant led M.N. to his office, which was empty. Q.L. arrived, shook M.N.'s hand, and sat down. After about 10 minutes of answering a few questions about the type of employee Q.L.'s company was looking for, Q.L. cut the meeting short and apologized to M.N. that he would need to leave to get to his next appointment. To M.N., the episode felt dismissive with Q.L. offering little in the way of encouragement.

M.N. put the episode behind him and a few months later was able to land a job doing precisely the kind of work he wanted to do. Over the past 15 years, he successfully moved his way up the company.

At an industry trade show recently, M.N. was giving a talk. After he finished several of the attendees waited to ask him questions. One who waited was Q.L., who approached M.N. and asked him about opportunities within his company. He responded, but it was clear Q.L. had no recollection of having met with M.N. 15 years earlier.

That evening, M.N. received an email from Q.L., reminding him about his question and expressing how much he enjoyed M.N.'s talk and that he would really like to find a way to work with him at his company.

While his company didn't have any openings, M.N. now wonders whether he should remind Q.L. that they had met before, hoping it jars his memory of how dismissive he had been when M.N. sought his help. "Or should I just tell him we have no openings right now?"

Little would be gained by settling an old score, particularly since Q.L. might not have perceived himself as being as dismissive as M.N. remembers. He did after all make time to meet with M.N. The right thing is to simply thank Q.L. for his interest and let him know there are no openings at his company right now.

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, a blog focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to

ollow him on Twitter: @jseglin


Sunday, January 21, 2018

Sticky fingers to save time do not get grandfather off the hook

Bert enjoys taking his grandkids fishing whenever the weather is good, the grandkids are visiting, and the fish are biting. He enjoys walking with them down to a bridge by the pond not far from his house, and then teaching them to bait the hook, cast their lines into the water, and patiently wait for something to nibble on the line.

He's been following this routine with his grandkids since they were toddlers. Now that they are 11 and 13, he believes they continue to enjoy the outings.

They also catch and release, unhooking the catch and tossing it back into the water. They rarely leave until each kid has reeled in at least one fish. To remove the fish from the hook, Bert carries a few latex gloves in his tackle box so the grandkids aren't stung by a sharp fin or inadvertently stabbed by the hook.

Typically, Bert buys a small package of latex gloves at his local hardware store for a few bucks. He sticks them in a drawer in his garage and puts a few in the tackle box before heading out to fish.

The day before another fishing outing was scheduled with his grandkids, Bert had a doctor's appointment. A box of purple latex gloves in the examination room caught Bert's eye. He couldn't remember if he had stocked up on gloves for the following day's trip.

"I figured I'd take a couple of gloves when the doctor wasn't around to make sure I had them for the kids," Bert writes, calculating that doing so would save him the trip to the hardware store.

But the next morning, he realized that he may have made a mistake. The gloves he regularly used with the grandkids were white. What would he tell them if they asked why they were using purple gloves, he wondered. Even though he now had the purple gloves, he decided he would still make a trip to the store to purchase the gloves he regularly used.

Once Bert took the purple gloves, it was unlikely his doctor would let him return them to the examination room. Fearing the possibility of either having to tell his grandkids he stole the gloves or lying to them about where they came from should not have been the reason not to take the gloves. The right thing would have been to buy his own latex gloves as he always did.

Asking his doctor if he could have a couple of gloves might have been more honest, but it's hardly fair to ask the doctor to add to medical costs by letting patients take a few medical supplies, no matter how inconsequential they might seem. Offering to pay for the gloves he took on his next visit would be honest, but it's unlikely his doctor would be in a position to process the payment for items typically not sold at his practice.

Perhaps the best lesson for Bert is that when faced with such temptations in the future, he should fight the urge to save time by engaging in a little dishonesty, even if no one but him will ever know about the theft. 

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, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 


How should reader correct an appraiser's error?

Every decade or so, A.L., has some of her jewelry appraised so she can file the appraisal reports with her home insurance company in cas...