Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Real Talk With Rachel: Feedback; Too Neighborly Neighbors

by Rachel Kurzius

I’d like to begin this week’s column with a look at some of the feedback from the most recent Real Talk With Rachel, which garnered significant responses.

Let’s look first at my advice for Irritated Underling, a person complaining about a boss who had an annoying habit. I reminded Irritated Underling that a person can’t saunter into a boss’s office and complain about any old quirk because, well, the boss is the boss.

For the most part, readers agreed with my advice. One reader wrote “I like your advice about the that person crazy? Is she looking to get sacked? Has to be young!” Another asked that I “please remind her that what she is doing weekdays between 9 to 5 is very often unpleasant for MOST people and that is why they call it ‘WORK.’”

However, one reader took issue with everything from the tone to the content of my response. “You're making a whole lot of assumptions and insinuations that by all appearances seem to be based on your opinion, not fact,” wrote Anonymous as a comment on the blog (I suggest you look at the whole thing at if you’re interested; I will only provide clips here). The commenter also wrote that, “I further believe that the writer has the right idea about what is and isn't okay in the workplace, and that you don't.” The commenter finished by requesting I apologize to the Irritated Underling.

In my response to the commenter, I believe I was too conciliatory. Eager to find common ground, I wrote that I agreed with nearly everything in the comment, but it still didn’t answer the question of what Irritated Underling should do. However, the commenter was insinuating that I don’t believe employees should ever speak out against their bosses. That’s not true.

Thanks to another commenter, who drew that distinction better than I could have by writing, “Let me stand up for Rachel here and point out that she never said, ‘Don't stand up for what's right.’ She just said, you may have to put up with some irritating habits. In other words, you can't react to your boss's little tics the way you would to a friend or relative. But if your boss does or says something that you can't in conscience let pass (sexual improprieties, for example), that's a different matter. And if your boss does demote or fire you in retaliation, you have the law on your side. But that wasn't the question.”

And finally, in regards to the second quandary from last week, we have a special treat! The letter-writer inquired whether he need follow his guidelines for being a giving person all of the time, even around people he doesn’t like. I broke down giving into two main categories: finite and infinite things. While he needn’t give away all his finite things, he should continue to share the infinite with others.

An economist brought a perspective that I lack to parse through the issue further:

“About your response to Trying To Do Right's letter, I take a slightly different, or rather a slightly more economic approach.  Modern economists try to understand individuals' behavior when they have to make decisions at the margin.  By that I mean, making the decision to work that one extra hour, or in this example, sharing lasagna with one more person.  The marginalist's take on Trying To Do Right's conundrum is that he can always share a little bit more of a finite thing like lasagna, without a dramatic loss to the group (or himself).

But I believe the favor TTDR is asked to do falls more in the "infinite" category you mention (giving smiles, thank you's and dishwashing).  I'd say that as human beings, we can get emotionally "drained" from drawing out of the kindness category, especially for people we don't like.  And unlike the finite category, we can't quantify how drained we'd feel in this situation. So the decision is no longer based on rational/marginal thinking, such as the opportunity of having this guy on the couch versus someone else.  So in the end, I guess I'd say TTDR has to go with his "gut feeling" about whether he can handle the hit his kindness/empathy levels and still uphold this communitarian values.”

Thanks to the First Year PhD Dropout for offering that critique, and to all who have shared in our dialogue about how people should deal with the issues presented. It’s fantastic to have such a dynamic audience.

Now to the advice!


Dear Rachel,

I am a mother with three school-aged children, two girls and a boy. My next door neighbors have two daughters in the same school year as my oldest daughter and younger daughter. My oldest daughter is good friends with the girl next door, but the younger one doesn’t like her counterpart because they have very different interests. But whenever the older neighbor comes over, she brings her younger sister.

My younger daughter is beginning to resent having these forced playdates, and has begun asking her older sister not to invite her friend next door over at all. How can I tell my neighbors that their oldest daughter is welcome at our house, but their youngest isn’t?

Over a Thin Fence

Dear Over a Thin Fence,

I wonder why this younger neighbor continues to come over to your house, if she and your younger daughter don’t have much to do together. Are her parents cajoling her into coming over, so that she’s dragging her feet as much as your own daughter is? Or, does she admire your daughter in a way that is unreciprocated?

Either way, it seems to me that it's an unhealthy dynamic, and one that is beginning to plant some resentment-blossoms between sisters. You certainly don’t want to make your little neighbor feel unwelcome at the house, but you need to find a way to politely tell her parents that their children aren’t a package deal.

The best way to do that is by showing that your children aren’t a package deal. Call whichever parent you believe is more reasonable and just explain that, while you and your daughter love when your younger neighbor accompanies her older sister, sometimes her counterpart isn’t available to play.

Keeping it simple and avoiding anything that sounds like a slight to their child will make the conversation run more smoothly.




Rachel Kurzius revels in giving advice, and has provided counsel both as a columnist and a friend. She lives in Washington DC, where she works as a news producer. Real Talk with Rachel is published on All Life is Local and the Cleveland Park Listserv,, on Wednesdays. Need advice? You can write to Rachel at advice @ fastmail dot net.

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