Sunday, June 09, 2019

Should reader point out perceived slight?

A reader we're calling Steve arrived for the retirement dinner of a colleague. The colleague had been high up in the organization's management and worked there for many years. Steve was relatively new to the organization, but he had been part of a team of employees who worked with the retiring colleague to resolve a particularly thorny employment contract. While they were on opposite sides of the bargaining table, each grew to appreciate the other's forthrightness and humor during the protracted negotiations.

Steve was a bit surprised he was invited to the somewhat swank retirement dinner held at a four-star hotel in town. Nevertheless, he felt honored to receive the invite and upon arrival went to register and find his table reservation.

When he got to his assigned table, however, Steve discovered that all of the seats had been taken. He went back and checked with the people at the reservation table to make sure he had received the right information. Indeed, he had, but so too had all the other people seated at the table. Apparently, the planning committee had over-assigned Steve's table by one person.

"It was awkward to be standing around the table asking others if there was an extra seat there," Steve wrote. He also noted that they all looked uncomfortable having to tell Steve there was no room for him.

"The people at the reservation table told me to just find an empty seat and take it," Steve writes.

That too felt odd to Steve, making him feel like a kind of afterthought and neglected. He also worried that if someone showed up who was assigned to the table he grabbed a seat at he'd be embarrassed all over again. "I thought about simply going home," he writes.

But Steve didn't want to be disrespectful to the honoree so he found an empty seat, introduced himself to the others at the table, and joined them. It was a group from the company he didn't know well, but they graciously invited him into their discussion and the rest of the evening designed to honor their retiring senior colleague went off without a hitch.

Still, Steve feels a bit burned by the experience and wonders if he should say something to the honoree or write a note to the retirement party planners.

There was nothing unethical in the behavior of the party planners. No malice seemed intended in Steve finding himself short his assigned seat. They might be unfortunate, but mistakes happen. While he can write a note if he wants to, my advice would be to refrain from doing so. The people at the reservation table already know about the screw-up.

The right thing is for Steve to remember that the evening was about his colleague, not him. Granted, writing a note to point out the seating error might help the organizers avoid such a faux pas in the future, but since it was a simple mistake and not a deliberate slight and Steve ended up welcomed at another table, it hardly seems worth taking the organizers to task.

Steve had a nice meal, saw a colleague honored for his contributions to the company over the years, and met some new people. All in all, a good evening. 

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 


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

He needs to get over it!