Saturday, February 24, 2024

Does being cautious send message you don’t trust people?

Should you worry if your behavior in a new place sends the wrong message?

Once an avid swimmer, it had been many years since a reader we’re calling Sedna had found a regular place to swim. Not long ago, Sedna toured her local YMCA and found that it not only had a swimming pool, but that it also offered classes that fit nicely into her work schedule. The monthly membership fee was also far more affordable than many of the more expensive private gyms Sedna had once considered.

Just before she was to leave to attend her first swimming class at the Y, Sedna remembered that while the Y provided lockers for each of its members to use, she had to bring her own lock if she wanted to secure her clothing and valuables. Sedna meant to purchase a padlock, but simply had not gotten around it and now it was too late to do so before her first class.

Sedna figured she had two choices. She could leave her belongings in the locker without a lock and trust that no one would bother it. Or she could bring a small backpack with her, jam all her stuff into it, and leave it at the side of the pool so it was within eyesight as she swam. “I particularly didn’t want to leave my wallet with credit cards in it unlocked since I’d recently had someone try to use my credit card without my permission,” Sedna wrote.

But Sedna was concerned that bringing her stuff to the side of the pool rather than leave it in a locker would send the message to instructors and other members that she didn’t trust them. “Is it wrong to be extra cautious even if that might send the wrong message?” asked Sedna.

On a practical level, if it’s her credit cards Sedna is only worried about, she might consider taking them out of her wallet and leaving them home while she is at the gym. She already has paid her membership and unless she’s planning to make credit card purchases on her way to and from the gym she really doesn’t need it. It also makes sense not to wear any jewelry she doesn’t intend to wear while swimming. If she takes off a piece of jewelry while changing to swim and it goes missing, she might not know if the jewelry was stolen from her locker or simply misplaced. Again, aside from trying to look spiffy, there’s no real reason to have to wear expensive jewelry to the gym. In other words, until Sedna remembers to get a lock for her locker, she should do what she can to minimize her worry.

The right thing, however, is for Sedna to do what gives her the most comfort. If the gym allows its members to leave backpacks at the side of the pool and on this first outing doing so would ease Sedna’s mind, she should do that. Trying to guess what message that would send to others is just that, a guessing game. Others are just as likely to give it no thought at all. But Sedna does know that doing so would give her comfort, so she should trust her own sense of comfort. And on the way home she should stop at her local hardware store and pick up a lock.

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, emeritus, 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) 2024 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Should you nudge friends to pay up?

How much of a nudge should you be when trying to get reimbursed for a group gift?

A group of friends who have belonged to a book club for more than a decade were overjoyed to learn that one of the club’s members was expecting her first child. As a surprise, the group decided that it would chip in on a group present for their fellow reader.

After a flurry of emails, the group agreed on a present and one of the book club members, a reader we’re calling Paige, agreed to purchase the gift and then get reimbursed from fellow book club members. The idea was to have the gift in time for their next monthly book club meeting at which they could present it to the soon-to-be mother.

Two of the 10 book club members Venmo-ed Paige their share of the gift’s cost right after it was ordered. Once the gift arrived, Paige emailed everyone except for the expectant mother to let them know. In a reply-to-all on her email, another book club member asked how she would like to be repaid. Paige responded that reimbursing her via the Venmo app as a few others had already done would work fine.

Upon receiving the news, one more of the book club members Venmo-ed her share. That meant Paige and three others had paid their share and six more book club members were yet to pony up.

“How much should I nudge them to pay?” asked Paige, acknowledging that they all agreed to share the cost and know that she outlaid the money.

Paige wanted to know if it would be wrong to send an email to all of those who hadn’t paid to tell them they could pay her now or they could give her cash or a check when they passed around a card to sign at their next book club meeting when they planned to present the gift? “Does that send the message that I don’t trust them to repay?” Paige asked.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with Paige sending a reminder to her book club friends. Partly, this will let them know of her plan to circulate a card for them to sign at their next meeting, but it will also provide a nice reminder.

The one risk of the plan to let those who owe money to pay what they owe when the card is circulated is that it could send the message to them to hold off paying their share until then. If Paige is OK with that, then her plan seems sound.

But the right thing would be to send it to everyone in the group (other than the expectant mother) rather than just those who didn’t pay. By doing so, she’d be including them on her plan and by naming them she would also make clear to others that those three had already paid up.

There’s no reason Paige should worry about being left paying for more than her share of the gift, but whenever someone agrees to foot the cost for a group gift for which others could reimburse their share, there’s always a bit of a risk. If Paige clearly presents options for those who have yet to pay, it will serve as a reminder and might provide her some peace of mind.

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, emeritus, 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) 2024 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

How smart do you need to sound?

How smart do you need to sound to get what you want?

Almost 15 years ago, I was invited by Bethany College, one of my alma maters, to give a talk in Bethany, West Virginia, to high school students who were finalists for a leadership scholarship. The handful of students had been invited to campus for interviews with faculty to determine who among them would get one of the sizable boosts to their financial aid package.

As the talk was winding down, students asked various questions, most of which were smart but polite. I then asked them if they wanted to know the answers to the questions they would be asked in their interviews. The students and their parents laughed and there was a collective, “yes” and “that would be great” in response. I went on to advise them that in my experience faculty liked to hear themselves talk, so they should do their best to get the faculty talking as much as possible during the interview. The end result if they could get the faculty talking, I told them, was that the faculty would come away thinking the student was very smart because the only thing they heard was themselves talking.

In spite of shifting to emeritus status this past July at the university where I taught for the past 12 years, I still occasionally teach there and elsewhere. At some point in each course, I find the need to reassure students that they do not need to prove to me or anyone else in the course that they are smart by trying to say smart things that may or may not have to do directly with whatever we happen to be covering in class. “Just do good work,” I regularly cajole them. That’s all the proof I or others need about their ability and dedication.

I bring this all up now as some high school students are in the throes of hearing from colleges to which they’ve applied or going through similar interviews that those prospective Bethany College students experienced 15 years ago. Worrying about what acceptance or rejection says about you and your abilities can be harrowing. But these things do not define someone nor their abilities or intelligence.

While it would be nice to believe college acceptances or scholarship decisions were an exact science, they are not. Sure, they are based on academic performance, extracurricular activities, leadership potential and determination of whether a prospective student would be a good fit for what the college offers. But often such decisions come down to how competitive the field of applications is in any given year since there are a limited number of seats available. Trying to sound smarter than you are to get in or get an award rarely is as good an idea as simply presenting yourself and your work as best you can.

Ultimately, the right thing is to just do good work. If a college admissions or a scholarship committee recognizes that, that’s great. If they don’t, it’s as much a reflection on them as it is on the applicant who can then go on to try to do good work someplace else.

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, emeritus, 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) 2024 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

 

Sunday, February 04, 2024

Should reader worry about spouse snooping?

Is it OK to look at more than you’re asked to when a partner asks for your help?

A few weeks ago, a reader we’re calling Vera was asked to do a favor by her younger sister. Vera’s sister lived across the country and had been experiencing some medical issues. She had received a letter from her physician, which she found confusing. So she asked for Vera’s help interpreting, since Vera, while not a physician, worked in the medical field.

Vera quickly agreed to take a look at the letter to see if she might be able to help. So her sister took a photo of the letter with her cell phone and emailed it as an attachment to Vera. After Vera received the letter, she opened the attachment and then found it difficult to read the letter since the image was blurry.

On past occasions when Vera had a technology challenge, she turned to her spouse for help since he, while not a technology professional, was fairly adept at figuring things out. After trying to enlarge, shrink, crop and do whatever she could think to do with her sister’s letter to make it more readable, she told her spouse about her challenge and asked if he thought he could help make the letter more readable.

He agreed and Vera logged onto her email so he could access the email with the letter attached. In doing so, Vera realized that her spouse could see all of her other emails along with their subject lines in her inbox.

“Should I have asked him not to read the other emails or subjects in my inbox while he was helping me out?” Vera asked. “Or is it safe to assume that everyone knows they shouldn’t do that?”

No, of course, it’s not safe to assume that people won’t snoop around if you give them the opportunity to and ask them not to. Then again, even if you ask them only to look at that one email, it’s still not a given they will limit themselves to doing that.

Would it be nice to believe that you can trust people to only do what you ask them to do without snooping around for more information when it’s right at their fingertips? Yes, but that wasn’t Vera’s question.

If Vera didn’t trust that her spouse would limit himself, then she had options. She could have asked her sister to email a clearer copy of the letter. Or she could have asked her to read her the letter over the phone or share a copy over Zoom or a similar platform.

This doesn’t mean that Vera’s spouse was a snoop. Whether he was depends a lot on the trust the two of them have in one another to do the right thing. If Vera regularly had let her spouse read her email, then he might have no reason to believe he shouldn’t this time. If Vera was concerned that he focus only on her sister’s email, then the right thing would have been to ask him to do so. And once he agreed to try to help, the right thing was for her spouse to honor that request, which, according to Vera, he did.

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, emeritus, 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) 2024 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

How far does a reader need to go when helping a neighbor?

How far do you need to go when lending a hand to a neighbor?

A reader we’re calling Monty who lives in New England wrote that he regularly likes to help out his elderly neighbors. Sometimes the help involves shoveling their sidewalks and steps after a snowstorm. Occasionally, he will help carry bags of groceries when he sees a neighbor unloading the car. Monty wrote that he likes to help out someone who needs the help and he also does it because he would like to think his neighbors would do the same for him.

Even when the help has gotten a bit more involved and included use of tools to put together a piece of furniture or to saw up a fallen tree branch after a storm, Monty has stepped in.

But Monty wrote that while he enjoys helping out, he doesn’t like to linger and “chit chat” after the work is done. And this is where Monty’s question about the right thing to do comes into play.

“One of my neighbors always insists that I sit and talk once the chore is done,” wrote Monty. “He’s a bit older and can’t do some of the things he used to do himself, so he gives me a call and I go over to help. I’m glad to help him out.”

Monty indicated that as the work is being done, he and the neighbor engage in long discussions about everything from the neighborhood and sports to politics and personal finances.

But whenever Monty tries to pack up and go home after the work is done, this neighbor insists he stay and talk for a while more. Occasionally, when Monty says he has to go home, the neighbor will respond with something like: “So now you’re too good to sit and talk?”

“I don’t want to insult him and I don’t want to feel bad about leaving,” wrote Monty. He just doesn’t enjoying sitting around chatting when he could be doing other stuff. “Is it wrong for me to tell him that I’m glad to help, but I don’t want to hang out and talk after the work is done?”

There could be all sorts of reasons Monty’s neighbor wants to continue talking. He may be a genuinely gregarious person. He may also be lonely and crave company. But Monty has no obligation to stick around and talk if he doesn’t want to. That he regularly responds to requests for help, seems to enjoy helping out, and talks with his neighbor while the work is being done is a good thing and suggests Monty is a good neighbor.

The right thing for Monty to do is to thank his neighbor for the invitation to sit and chat, but to decline the offer if he really would prefer not to. Monty should feel no guilt or remorse about doing this. And the right thing for Monty’s neighbor is to refrain from the comments that suggest Monty is doing something wrong by not wanting to sit around and talk. That Monty took the time to help should be more than enough to suggest to his neighbor that he cares about him enough to want to help.

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, emeritus, 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) 2024 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Should you do business with someone you loathe?

Should you do business with someone you loathe?

A reader we’re calling Thérèse emailed me recently to tell me that her husband discovered that his favorite V-neck pullover dark blue cashmere sweater had a small hole in it near the left-hand shoulder. Thérèse pointed out that she had purchased the sweater as a gift for her husband.

After doing some research online for local places that could repair the sweater, she found general agreement that the best place was a small yarn shop not far from where she lived.

Here’s where things got a bit gnarled up for Thérèse. The shop’s owner is a woman involved in local politics. “My husband isn’t crazy about her or her views on local issues,” wrote Thérèse. “But he really doesn’t like the owner’s husband who is a builder who recently had his crews operating their jackhammers from early in the morning until late afternoon as they prepared to build a house in a lot in Thérèse’s neighborhood.

“I really like that sweater,” wrote Thérèse. “What should I do?”

Thérèse faces a not uncommon conundrum. She really wants something, but one of the best sources for that something is a place owned by someone with whom she would prefer not to do business. Consumers regularly face such decisions. A fast food restaurant may be owned by someone whose views run counter to your own, but it has tasty sandwich offerings. A charity collecting donations during the holidays uses those donations to help people in need, but it doesn’t condone some lifestyle choices. The founder of a large consumer goods company was widely reported to be miserable to his family. Any of these and similar circumstances is certainly enough to make doing business with them unattractive.

The choice is simple when we have options. We learn to enjoy sandwiches elsewhere or find other charities doing good works, or purchase similar products from companies whose founders are notoriously kind rather than cruel.

If Thérèse and her husband truly find the owner of the yarn shop someone they’d rather not do business with, the right thing is to find another option to repair the beloved sweater.

While reviews may have listed the yarn shop as the best, it wasn’t the only outlet offering repairs. Thérèse mentioned seeing that the local dry cleaner she’s enjoyed doing business with has a tailor on premises. That’s an alternative even if the tailor hasn’t risen to the top of the review site.

Or Thérèse can share any number of how-to mend a broken sweater videos on YouTube with her husband, give him a needle and some matching yarn and tell him to have at it. If she wants, Thérèse can help her husband mend his broken sweater.

There is little upside to being reminded that you compromised your values and did business with someone you’d prefer not to support every time you wear your cherished blue sweater.

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, emeritus, 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) 2024 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.