Sunday, November 21, 2021

Should you tell someone if something negative is written about them?

What should you do when you read something that might negatively affect someone you know but you don’t relish being the bearer of bad news?

I follow many people and institutions on Twitter. Some share views with which I generally agree. Others don’t. I also have alerts set up on my search engine so I am notified when news stories appear about people, institutions, or things in which I am interested. These alerts are set to get combined in one email I receive once a day if there is anything that matches the alert criteria.

A few days ago an alert arrived with a link to an article about a former colleague I’m calling Art that questioned the colleague’s appropriateness for a new position. I was pretty sure that someone else might have seen the article and told Art about it, but I wasn’t positive given that the article was in a publication that wasn’t particularly well known.

My colleague is accomplished, has a fairly high profile, and has been consistent in various things he’s written or spoken about over the years. His Internet footprint is not insignificant. It’s quite likely that other negative pieces had appeared about him over the years, but I had not seen any.

I had no idea how my colleague would react to first learning about this most recent missive about him. We had a good relationship when we worked together and have maintained it over the many years that have passed since then. Did I really want to deal with being the one to deliver the news? He would be none the wiser if I said nothing and left him to discover the article in some other way, if at all. Life is full. Life during the pandemic is even more full. Do I really need to add another unwelcome task to my life? After all, it’s not my job to ensure that my former colleagues’ flanks are covered.

Even though I know I have appreciated it over the years when a friend, colleague, or relative has alerted me to not-so-kind barbs tossed my way online, it still would have been simpler not to let Art know what I had discovered.

Ultimately, any hesitation I had about emailing Art about the article was only to figure out how to word my message as kindly and reassuringly as possible. The right thing was to let him know because his life might be made a tad easier if he didn’t find himself blindsided by receiving the information in some other way. Angry reader emails. Other reporters showing up in the inbox or, worse, at the door.

Those who argue that no good often comes from delivering bad news so it’s best to keep your head down and nose out of other’s business are missing an important point. If we ignore our responsibility to be decent human beings who try to ease someone else’s potential discomfort when we can, we risk becoming immune to the incivilities and disrespect that gets tossed around too easily. We risk becoming the person we swore we never wanted to become.

I emailed Art. He’d already knew about the piece. We had a nice exchange. He knows I am here if he needs to chat and I am confident he would do the same for me were the roles reversed.

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 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) 2021 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Please don't block the bicycle lane

Most every morning on my trip to work, rather than get off at the subway stop about four blocks from my office, I get off at the stop about two miles away and walk from there. I do the same thing in reverse in the evening when I leave work. Walking those couple of miles at the beginning and the end of the day helps me to clear my head. It’s an enjoyable walk through several neighborhoods.

The walk in the morning is generally quieter. There’s the silver food truck set up every morning by 6 a.m. to sell coffee and breakfast sandwiches to the contractors working on some major building projects. Lots of people in medical scrubs are heading off to a morning shift or heading home after a night shift. In the evening, there’s much more activity. After 7 p.m., restaurant diners are sitting at outside tables if the weather permits. The sidewalks are packed with people heading home or heading out for the evening.

One particular site caught me by surprise on a walk home a few days ago. A car was double parked in the bicycle lane of a busy main street, covering half of the bike lane. The driver was nowhere in sight, but there was an older woman in the passenger seat and some kids in car seats in the back. Given the substantial bicycle traffic in the evening, double parking was clearly thoughtless, annoying, and illegal. The unexpected event was when a cyclist, a well-dressed man with a gray goatee in what looked to be his early 50s, saw the double-parked car, turned his head to it and spit at the car’s window as he passed. He then pedaled on up the road.

My first thought was: “Really? Is this how we respond to inconveniences now? By spitting at them?” Granted, the car parker was wrong, but there was still plenty of bicycle lane in which to pass. My second thought was to wonder if this was yet another indication of who we are, a nation of spitters at the things we don’t like.

But on the rest of the walk, I also saw people in a local church hand a bag of food to someone on the front steps. I saw someone else help a distraught stranger navigate his way into parallel parking into a tight spot. There was a guy taking some books out of a canvas bag and placing them onto a shelf in one of those tiny free libraries. And I remembered that earlier in the day, I received an email from security at work letting me know that a cafeteria worker had turned in my wallet which had apparently fallen out of my pocket.

A pessimist might witness the spitter and let that define his view of the world. An optimist might see those other things and more like them that happen daily and have that determine his worldview. I prefer to believe that there is a healthy blend of good and bad behavior surrounding us daily and the right thing is to do our best to act out of kindness with grace even when we feel like spitting. But please don’t block the bicycle lanes.

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 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) 2021 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, November 07, 2021

Should I battle my fears of speaking up at meetings?

One of my more accomplished colleagues at work told me the other day that after decades on the job she still feels reluctant to speak up at meetings to offer suggestions because she’s afraid others might find her ideas to be stupid. What seems to irk her most is that invariably someone else will pipe up with the same idea she held back offering and be met with praise.

My colleague, whom I’m calling Zuzu, has no trouble speaking truth to anyone around if they do good work or violate company policy. She also has no trouble making a decision when she’s left alone to do so. It’s just when offering new ideas in a larger group of people trying to solve an issue that she finds herself clamming up out of some fear of embarrassment.

Zuzu wonders if she is doing more damage to her own reputation and to the success of the groups she’s in if she continues to hold back. Or, given her insecurity, is holding back the sensible thing to do.

Zuzu’s predicament is not unusual. Many of us are reluctant to offer ideas in group settings, particularly when there are one or two others in the group who seem to dominate the discussion. Often we hold off saying anything because we share Zuzu’s fear of saying something that will embarrass us and cause the rest of the group to think we’re not as bright or insightful as we’d like to think we are. Sometimes we don’t talk because there are just some unproductive meetings that we pray will come to an end and we try to avoid saying anything that will prolong them.

With increasing frequency some students are expressing concerns that they are facing an impostor syndrome where they believe it will become apparent to someone soon that they have no business having been accepted into school and are surrounded by fellow students who know far more than they do.

Managing insecurity can be challenging. It can also be crippling if it’s allowed to shut a person down from engaging in anything.

That’s not the case with Zuzu. She engages. She gets things done. And she loathes large meetings for the insecurity they bring upon her.

The right thing for Zuzu and others who share meeting participation anxiety to do is to remember a few things. First, you’re at the meeting for a reason. Presumably something about your past accomplishments or your current insights got you invited. Second, the flip side of possibly saying something perceived to be stupid is that it could be perceived to be spot on and perfect for the moment. If you don’t say it, then either someone else might or it will go unsaid and a possibly good idea would never see the light of day.

It’s no simple task to overcome anxieties. It’s challenging to speak when you’re afraid to sound stupid. But if you are at the meeting and you have something to contribute, you should fight the urge to hold back and go head and contribute. Just don’t talk too much or the meeting will go on forever.

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 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) 2021 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Is it wrong for a store to keep the change because of its policy?

Is it OK for a merchant not to return change to a customer by claiming: “We don’t do change?” And chalking it up to a coin shortage.

There’s a growing perception that there is a “coin shortage” in the United States. But the Federal Reserve assures people that there’s no shortage, but instead a problem with the circulation of coins. In other words, the coins are out there, but apparently they are just not getting into the hands of merchants seeking to make change for a customers’ purchases.

Whether it’s a shortage or a problem, is it OK for a merchant to expect customers to use a credit card or use exact change if they pay in cash, or forego their change if they don’t do either?

Recently, a neighborhood social media site in the Northeast lit up after a user posted about his experience at a local package store, which is a euphemism for a liquor stores still used in some parts of the country. The poster was incensed after his purchase of wine was rung up and the cashier bagged it and said, “Thanks, you’re all set.” When pressed, the cashier explained the store doesn’t do change because of the “coin shortage.” The poster was incensed and expressed dissatisfaction to the cashier. She left and told her spouse about what happened. The spouse returned to the store later that week, had words with the owner who ultimately gave him the change along with a snarky comment about being sorry for all the pennies he had been shorted over the years.

What’s the right thing here? Is it right for the customer to expect change on a cash purchase? Or is it OK for a merchant to enact a no-change policy?

As might be expected, the responders to the post had all sorts of suggestions about how to get back at the merchant: Pay entirely in pennies! Pay just short of what’s owed and tell them you’ll give them the rest when the shortage is over! Others scolded the poster for whining about being shorted a few cents. Another suggested the poster do something positive like suggesting the merchant start an extra change plate so customers can take what they need and leave what they want for others to use.

Lawyers will likely have an opinion on the legality of not providing change, but as I’ve written many times, I am neither a lawyer nor a psychotherapist nor a neighborhood website administrator.

The right thing if the merchant truly is having an issue getting hold of enough available change is to post clearly that the store has an exact change policy. The cashier should be instructed to repeat that policy before an order is rung up if for some reason the customers don’t see the postings. Customers can then decide if they want to make the purchase or not. But all of this should happen before the purchase is made, not after.

Customers don’t have to like the policy. But then they don’t have to continue shopping at any store where exact change is required if they don’t want to.

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 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) 2021 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Is it ok to report a neighbor anonymously?

Should we report our neighbors who violate city-mandated bans on watering our yards?

I’ve received variations on that question over the years as various parts of the country face water shortages and try to limit water usage. About a year ago a reader wondered if the town was responsible for following up on such mandates by citing residents who violated the ban. My answer was “yes.” If a municipality wants a ban to have real effect, it should enforce the ban. Otherwise, it should simply issue an advisory and leave it up to residents to decide whether to be compliant.

More recently, an email arrived from a reader we’re calling Barry. Barry lives in northern California where he writes that they are under a strict rule imposed by the city to conserve water. These rules include “no waste in irrigating our yards,” Barry writes. “Well, one of our neighbors is just ignoring this dictate and there is water covering the sidewalk and going down the storm drains almost every morning.”

Barry wants to report his neighbor to the city but doesn’t want to attach his name to the complaint.

“Should I ask the city to allow anonymous tips?” Barry asks. “I don’t want to cause trouble, I just want all of us who do conserve water to get a fair shake from those who waste it.”

Barry’s desire that all of his neighbors adhere to the watering ban seems valid. The goal of conserving water during a drought might be a bit of a better reason than making sure that if Barry has to do it everyone should, but a desire for fairness doesn’t seem a bad motivation either.

In many cases, I’m not a huge fan of anonymity, but there are times when it seems perfectly acceptable. If Barry’s neighbor is indeed violating the terms of the lawn-watering ban, it seems fine for him to want to have the town address the issue without attaching his name to the complaint. Ideally, the town would monitor neighborhoods to ensure residents are complying, but that doesn’t seem to be happening, likely because the town doesn’t have the resources to do so.

In Boston, we have access to a 311 app that allows residents to report everything from missed trash pickup and potholes to cars blocking driveways and sloppy snow removal. The 311 app allows a user to check off “anonymous” as an option.

If Barry’s hometown doesn’t have a similar app, it seems reasonable for him to call either town hall or the water department to inquire whether it is possible to make an anonymous report about someone appearing to violate the lawn-watering ban. If town officials are serious about the efforts to conserve water, they should follow-up on all such reports, even if they are anonymous.

The right thing, of course, is for Barry’s neighbor to adhere to the town ordinance unless it turns out that he has a private well he’s using that isn’t covered by the town’s regulation. If the neighbor isn’t doing the right thing, then Barry has every right to alert the authorities.

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 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) 2021 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.