How to Set Limits, Vol. 4, Issue 43

Dear Etiquetteer: How do you deal with e-mail sarcasm? The other day I got an e-mail with the subject "This is really not good" from a client. Aside from being really vague, it really put my back up. Turns out the matter at hand was something that was his fault in the first place! Dear Offended: Whether in person or on-line, it’s best to behave like cream: rise to the top. In your case, Etiquetteer would have changed the subject line when you replied to relate specifically to the matter at hand. (Etiquetteer gets more e-mail headed "Etiquette Question" or "Query" than he knows what to do with.)This feels more difficult in person when Snidely Whiplash is standing right in front of you. At least you have the distance of the Internet between you. Most important, don’t respond to the red flag they are waving in front of you. Express concern ("I’m sorry you’re having such a difficult time") and fix the problem when possible. When it’s not, apologize and suggest alternatives (and no, "go jump in the lake" is not an alternative.)

Dear Etiquetteer: In our world of instant gratification what is the acceptable time frame for responding to someone if they have contacted you? I work with someone who will send me an e-mail and if I do not respond within an hour they will call me and ask why I haven't e-mailed them back. If someone e-mails you how long do you have to e-mail them back and if they call how long do you have to return their call? Dear Besieged: Sounds like someone could use a little Prozac to deal with separation anxiety, and Etiquetteer doesn’t mean you. Of course drugging all your colleagues won’t really get you very far.This person is expecting WAY too much attention from you. We all know people who are excited about their work, but this is over the top. Etiquetteer hopes you have a phone with a display screen so you can at least screen his or her calls. A Perfectly Proper standard should be to respond to phone or e-mail messages within the span of a business day. Etiquetteer knows one person, an architect, who includes a time limit in his voicemail, saying "I commit to returning your call within 24 hours."The multi-media barrage you’re facing from this person, however, is unacceptable. A non-immediate response does not mean you’re avoiding the issue at hand. Explain graciously what the standard of your office is, and also that part of your job requires you to be in places other than your office during the workday. If this behavior continues, Etiquetteer gives you permission to explain that your duties also require you to devote your attention to more than one person.

Dear Etiquetteer: Like most people today I have a very full schedule. My husband and I both have divorced parents which means we have four families to contend with, not just two. I also work full time and try to spend time with my friends as well as (heaven forbid) my husband. Don't get me wrong - I'm not complaining. I'm very lucky to have so many people in my life, but recently some of these people have been less understanding regarding my busy schedule. I have a friend who insists on calling me daily and if she doesn't see me at least once a week she tells me that I'm ignoring her. I don't want to lose her as a friend, but I need to scale things back. How do I do this without hurting her feelings? Dear Asphyxiated by Affection:If Etiquetteer was less Perfectly Proper than he actually is, he would advise you to suggest tartly to your friend that she is ignoring you by failing to recognize how overwhelmed you are. But this is not really Perfectly Proper, as we all know . . .You should take the initiative in scheduling together time with your importunate friend at appropriate intervals, say every two or three weeks. She should be flattered that you are making the effort, but if she asks to meet sooner, kindly but candidly tell her that you need to spend time with your husband. As for the phone calls, screen them when you don’t want to talk and take them when you do. One would think people would be more sensitive about pestering a friend with social calls at the workplace, but too often these situations come up because one isn’t thinking.

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