Question: I have two questions that are similar in nature. I really haven't a clue as to how to handle these, so any suggestions would be appreciated.
Recently, I was at a luncheon where I was speaking with an employee of an organization. We were chatting as people were preparing to leave. Her boss came up and stood there as we were talking, which made for a very awkward moment. We both fell silent, and then felt compelled to give some explanation as to what we were discussing. Thank goodness we weren't discussing anything personal, but I had no idea how to handle this. It seemed to me that the boss should have just said goodbye, or even excused herself for interrupting. Have you any suggestion as to how this could have been handled?
Second question: I was at our place of business and was speaking to another employee during the course of a transaction that was taking place. We were chatting about family, etc., and another employee kept "hovering," seemingly in eavesdropping mode. We were speaking quietly and were not including this other person in the conversation. What does one do in a circumstance like this? It was obvious that she was hanging around and trying to listen.
- Reader in Pa.
Answer: Let me tackle the second question first. What do you do when someone may be eavesdropping? There are several ways to handle this. One, is changing the conversation to something like the weather so that anything overheard will not cause problems for the speaker and probably bore the listener enough that he or she will move on to more fertile ground. The other, is to say, "Sue, come and join us." This tackles two issues: If she is eavesdropping, maybe she'll learn to not do it or do it more cautiously. If she's like a lot of us in uncomfortable situations, maybe she might just be looking to join a group. Another solution is to discreetly walk away with your conversation partner, but do so in a way that's not too obvious. If someone is a serial eavesdropper, you might have to find other places to converse. Nothing is more dangerous than someone who has heard snippets of conversation and then hurries to repeat them.
On the boss who came into the conversation, there isn't much that can be done other than to smile and say, "Nice to see you," even though you were correct that she should not have interrupted. I don't think you need to make excuses or say what you were discussing. Everyone is entitled to some talking time.
Q: It seems like people are having showers for second babies and second weddings. Is that the trend now?
- M in N.J.
A: It's true that traditionally showers were thought of for only first weddings and first babies, but times have changed. A shower is something generally organized and hosted by a family member or close friend (and some offices have showers) so it is up to them whether to celebrate the occasion. I think it is polite and generous for the expectant mother or second-time bride to suggest something on a smaller scale for the repeat occasion. A friend of mine recently attended "a sprinkle" for a second baby. The idea of a shower is to welcome a new family member or a new relationship into the fold. It should be fun and no one should have resentment. When I had my last of four children 23 years ago, my friends hosted a lovely potluck outdoor lunch and pitched in for one nice gift. It was fun to get together and celebrate a joy.
Q: I loved your articles in Sunday's Inquirer, but the one that "put a ring on it" was regarding the people who don't listen to their voice mails, call you back and say, "You called." This incident has happened to me a few times, and I've repeated the message. Fortunately, I never leave long messages on people's voice mails, but I'm so tempted to say, "Call me back after you listen to your message!" Do you have any other suggestions to say so I wouldn't sound rude?
- Andee in Pa.
A: If the caller who doesn't listen is in the workplace, there isn't much that can be said. As a professional, you can say, "Here's the information I left in my message," but you can't really chastise someone for not listening in that situation. To a friend, you can gently suggest, "Listen to my message next time and we don't have to go over old ground."
Do you have manners issues or questions? E-mail Debra Nussbaum at email@example.com.