Sunday, September 15, 2019

Correcting a case of mistaken identity

Many of us have found ourselves in awkward settings in which we're approached by someone who seems to know who we are, but we can't for the life of us remember his or her name or, in some cases, whether we actually know that person.

The latter regularly occurs when approached on the street by an eager pedestrian who, it sometimes turns out, is using familiarity to try to sell something or seek donations for a cause.

In the cases of forgetting a name, it's fair game to choose whether to ask the person to remind you or to simply carry on the conversation. In the case of the soliciting pedestrian, it's up to you whether to stop and chat or politely walk by.

But a reader we're calling Robbie wants to know what the right thing to do was when he found himself in conversation with a person who had approached him at work only to discover well into the discussion that the person he was talking to mistook him for a mutual colleague who shared a glancing resemblance to Robbie.

"By the time I figured out she thought I was someone else, it felt awkward to correct her," writes Robbie. Instead, he writes that he tried as hard as her could to end the conversation as quickly as possible. "Should I have done more?"

A few possible issues arise from not correcting his colleague's case of mistaken identity.

First, it puts the other colleague in an awkward spot if she takes up the conversation with him and he hasn't a clue what she's talking about. That's not really Robbie's problem, I suppose, but it's not the most thoughtful thing to do to a colleague. Correcting her would likely take a lot less time than visiting the mutual colleague to fill him in so he would be up to speed.

Second, Robbie runs the risk of having the person discover her mistake from someone else at the company and having her wonder what kind of guy pretends to be someone he's not, even if that wasn't Robbie's intention.

Awkward stuff happens. We call our closest friends and family members by the wrong name sometimes. But feeling embarrassed by awkward situations is no reason not to set things straight as soon as we discover an error.

When he discovered that it was clear that she thought she was talking to someone else, the right thing would have been for Robbie to tell his colleague. Robbie could have taken on as much responsibility for the miscue as his colleague by letting her know it took a while for him to figure out that she clearly had someone else in mind.

It might be an awkward transition to the conversation, but it's an honest one and one that is likely to save each of them a great deal of time in the future. They can take some joy in also now knowing someone else at work who seems interesting to talk to, even if they originally had no idea who one another was. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglinDo you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 


Sunday, September 08, 2019

Customer should feel fine about looking for better deals

A reader we're calling "Connie" is in the process of finding a contractor to re-design her master bathroom. She and her partner have met with several contractors and have chosen one whose plan and bid seem attractive and whose references from other customers seem stellar.

As part of the bid, the contractor included allowances for fixtures and finishes for the bathroom, everything from the floor tiles and towel racks to the sink faucets and countertops. The contractor made clear to Connie that the allowance was only an estimate based on average costs from previous jobs. If she chose more expensive fixtures and finishes, the cost would be more. If they were less expensive, then the overall cost of the bathroom would reflect those savings.

"I'm a bit concerned because our contractor told us he uses a particular showroom in town," Connie writes. He recommended that she and her partner visit the showroom and work with the contractors contact there to order materials. He assured Connie that even if an item doesn't appear in the showroom, his contact would be able to help find and order any items she needed for the bathroom.

"I'm pretty sure I can find many of the items I need for the bathroom online for less money," writes Connie. "But the contractor seemed pretty clear he works with this particular showroom contact."

Connie wants to know if it would be wrong to insist that the contractor use materials purchased someplace other than the showroom he recommended. "I don't want to do anything to jeopardize the project," she writes.

As someone who has experience working with contractors over the years, I know how difficult it can be to find a reliable contractor. Heck, I still rue the day three years ago that my plumber of more than 30 years finally decided to retire and I'm still looking for a plumber I can regularly rely on to return phone calls and show up to the house when an issue is beyond my capacity to repair while referencing a YouTube video and advice from Zack at the local hardware store.

It's understandable that Connie wants to maintain a good relationship to her new contractor. But she shouldn't forget that she is the customer and he is working for her. He will still make most of his money from the labor he puts into the job, regardless of where Connie gets her fixtures and finishes.

If Connie believes she can get better materials at a better price on her own rather than purchasing through the contractor's preferred showroom and she's willing to put the work in to finding the stuff, she should do so.

The right thing would be for her to let the contractor know of her plans and to ask him if he has any issue with her doing this or if there is anything he believes she should try to avoid in choosing materials and placing orders.

It would have been good for the contractor to make this possibility clear to Connie from the outset. While a showroom can be a good way for a customer to cut down on the time it takes to find all the materials needed for a bathroom renovation, it's certainly not the only way. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglinDo you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to