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Your Social Etiquette Woes—Solved
Every so often my friend throws "parties" where everyone is supposed to buy something—jewelry, kitchenware, etc.—and she guilts me into buying stuff I neither want nor need. Last time, I told her I couldn't come and she got upset, saying I wasn't supporting her. Help!
As someone who's a not-so-proud owner of a wooden tartmaker...thing...that I let myself get conned into, I hear you. Next time you get an invitation, stand your ground with what I call a "positive sandwich." Tell your friend why you enjoy your friendship: "I love hanging out with you. I always laugh so much," then lower the boom neutrally but firmly. "Thank you for thinking of me, but I'm not in a position to buy anything right now." Then leave with something upbeat, such as "But I'd love to go for a walk sometime and yak. When are you free?" (Get it? Positive "bread" on the outside; the "meat" is your nonnegotiable position.) If she continues to goad you, then maybe it's time to take a step back. Friendship shouldn't come with a price tag. And by the way, I'll happily give you my tartmaker for free.
My friend's husband loves to tell raunchy jokes that make everyone uncomfortable. I'm tired of always having to go along with his behavior. What can I do?
I would guess that if you did indeed say something to the husband, he would just make it seem like you are a humorless crab. ("It's just a joke, lighten up!") Bringing it up with your friend will just push her into defense mode. (However, if she raises the topic with you, be honest: "Yes, I do find his remarks offensive.") The trick here is power in numbers: If everyone is truly uncomfortable, enlist allies to studiously ignore him, not laugh or even smile. Your friend's husband is looking for a response, good or bad, to his hostility (and frankly, that's what this kind of "humor" is). If he doesn't get one, he may be forced to peddle his garbage elsewhere. Still getting the trash talk? You may want to make "women only" dates with your friend in the future.
My boss is having trouble getting pregnant, and takes out her misery on those of us who have children. She's often outright nasty. (And forget any sympathy if you're stuck with a sick kid and no backup.) We feel bad for her, but this can't continue.
You have to step away from the emotions of the situation and focus on her actions. Ask yourself: Which part of her behavior do I want changed? Which part goes against work policy? (Many businesses have directives against hostile work environments.) After an unpleasant episode, wait until you calm down and then approach her privately. Don't address why you think she is acting this way, only what you would like changed. Say, "This is making me uncomfortable. Help me understand how to handle it in the future." If the situation does not improve, document times that she has violated company policy or harassed you directly (not "I heard that so-and-so got yelled at"), and report it to her boss.
As for taking time off for child emergencies, if taking personal time is allowed, don't get into specifics. Just do what you have to and say you have a family emergency. However, you should always have backup for your backup. Yes, stuff happens, but it should be a rare event. It's not her job to cover for you.
BETH LEVINE is a psychology/health writer who wishes she'd take her own advice more often.
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