Dear Etiquetteer: I was recently catching up with an acquaintance and asked “How’s work?” and got the reply “Well, I was laid off.” I’m not sure what to say beyond “I’m so sorry to hear this.” How does one respond supportively, but not obtrusively? It’s a little easier with a closer friend as you can be a bit more intimate. If it’s someone you don’t know so well, it can be tricky.
Dear Properly Concerned:
How Very Delicate of you to consider how best to respond without Unnecessary Prying. More often than not those in Unwilling Professional Transition are pestered with coded queries such as:
Question: "What happened?" (Meaning: "Were you fired?")
Question: "Were you downsized?" (Meaning: "Were you fired?")
Question: "Did they let a lot of other people go, too?" (Meaning: "Were you fired?")
Question: "What are you doing?" (Meaning: "Were you fired?")
Question: "Are you OK?" (Meaning: "Were you fired?")
Question: "I suppose you'll take some time to yourself now." (Meaning: "Did you get a good severance package when they fired you?")
People react differently to being unemployed. Some go into complete tailspins. Others express anger, take a philosophical attitude, proactively begin networking by making the job search their Topic Number One, or decline to talk about it altogether. Gauge your response by that of your acquaintance. For the reluctant, drop the topic. For the angry and the depressed, listen and make Noncommittal Sounds of Sympathy. For the philosophical, speculate with them on ideal or fantasy careers.
The sentence "I'm so sorry this happened to you" is often the best response. Etiquetteer advises care with "If there's anything I can do to help, please let me know." Only say this if you truly intend to help out when asked! Few things are as embarrassing for those in Unwilling Professional Transition than asking for help from those who have said "If there's anything I can do to help, please let me know" -- whether it's for a professional introduction, review of a resume or correspondence, or even grocery money -- and then not getting it.
I need your help. My male colleague in the next cubicle wears the most annoying cologne. I think this is a fairly new habit because I have never noticed it until today. I have been sitting next to him for the last five months but we have never really talked so I can't just tell him "whatever you're wearing must stop". But I guess I have to. Is there a kind way to do this?
Someone once decreed that one's perfume should not be noticed in a room where one is not, in fact, present. Which is the problem with cubicles -- they're all in the same room!
Questions of Hygiene in the Workplace must be approached sensitively. And questions of cologne are especially sensitive, since scent is used to enhance one's Personal Appeal. (Please note: Etiquetteer did not say Sex Appeal since the setting for this query is the workplace. Those looking to enhance their Sex Appeal in the workplace . . . well, all Etiquetteer can say is, they'd better watch out, or they could find themselves laid off [see above].) It must be a jolt to find out that something one thought of as a positive has turned out to be such a negative that it's created a problem for a colleague.
Your concerns must be approached with sensitivity, too. Many people have olfactory health issues that are exacerbated by heavy or pungent scent, leading them to lobby for Fragrance Free Zones in their workplaces. Whether or not your own reaction to this is medical or just annoyed, Etiquetteer imagines it impacts your productivity. No one can type well while holding a handkerchief to one's nose.
Etiquetteer believes most people who apply their scent heavily don't realize the impact it has. You can bring up the topic casually ("Did you just get some new cologne?") and then segue into the heart of the matter ("Actually, it's quite overpowering.") If the idea of raising this issue creates too much anxiety, talk to your supervisor about it. That's what supervisors are for, after all! Your supervisor can address this issue anonymously on your behalf with your Highly Scented Colleague, or can arrange for a Fragrance Free Zone for you by moving your cubicle.