My business partner and I work alone in a small consulting company. Our offices consist of two rooms side-by-side with a thin, common wall in between. I close my door whenever I place or receive telephone calls, but my partner listens in and comments as soon as I hang up. Recently he overheard a conversation I was having with a former employee who was changing jobs and started yelling through the wall for details about the position. In one instance he even picked up an extension line without saying anything because he wanted to talk to the person when I was done. Not only does he fail to see anything wrong with his behavior, he assumes that I listen in on his conversations as well. He’ll end a call and then walk over to my desk and ask, “So, what did you think about that?” I am torn on how to broach the subject without it seeming like a manners lesson. Moreover, is it realistic to expect a 48-year-old to change?
— Private consultations
Imagine that you and your partner share the same cramped quarters but instead of bad manners your partner has bad body odor. At the end of the day, all that matters is that the situation is foul and you can’t live with it. Your partner’s behavior smells, whether you succeed in convincing him of this or not. “Put your napkin on your lap” is a lesson in manners. “Don’t listen in on my phone conversations” is a life lesson. Of course you hope he will learn something from the brutal confrontation you are about to have with him, but this is about your survival as a firm, as partners and as friends. If he can’t learn to respect obvious boundaries, then your partnership will be short-lived — whether you confront him or not. I don’t know if a 48-year-old can change, but giving him a chance to do so certainly beats the alternative scenario. Time to put your foot down — and demand your partner put the phone down.
* * *|
My daughter returned from a recent play date with an itchy scalp. I took her to the pediatrician, who instantly recognized the cause: head lice. I am mortified for my child and for the other family who clearly observe less than ideal hygiene. I am inclined to deal with my daughter’s situation without mentioning it to the other family and confining any future play dates to our house. Is there a better approach?
— Itching for advice
Head lice, alas, don’t vote republican or democrat. And if truth be told, they happen to opt for the cleanest scalps around, where they can get a better hold. How can you be sure your daughter isn’t the originator of this little problem? It is your obligation to share your news with your friends and, for that matter, with all the other parents of your daughter’s friends. You will be doing yourself a service; the only way to put an end to this particular plague is for everyone to remain on high alert. It’s a lousy way to discover you’re part of a community, but in the end it’s not a bad lesson.
Write to “Ask Wendy” at 954 Lexington Avenue #189, New York, N.Y. 10021 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.