Question: Several people have asked me about this: If you would like to stop exchanging holiday gifts with friends or relatives due to either finances or the feeling that there may be another way to celebrate instead of giving presents, what's the best way to approach the subject?
Answer: Every family and relationship has to figure out the gift-giving rules. I think the nicest way to do it is to just have a straightforward discussion.
My sister, Susan, said to me a few years ago, let's continue to exchange birthday gifts, because that's fun, but let's not do Christmas gifts. We have enough gifts to buy with our immediate family. Instead of presents, we often give to a charity. I just sent a small check to her favorite animal shelter in Wisconsin.
If friends or relatives are in closer range, suggest a holiday lunch or dinner rather than a gift. Gift-giving and receiving is a wonderful thing when both parties agree on it, but there are also other ways to express meaningful times.
Q: During a phone conversation, you can tell the person on the other end is attending to his/her e-mail. The telltale signs are: You hear typing; there are gaps of silence in the conversation; the person gives you a string of fillers ("I see, I see"). How would you tell this self-appointed multitasker that this is at least unprofessional and at most rude?
- Stephen, Philadelphia
A: I can almost hear everyone reading this question while naming all the people they know who fall into this category. And truth be told, many of us (including me, at times) have been guilty of this brand of rudeness.
But Stephen is 100 percent on target here. It is ill-mannered to answer and read e-mail while speaking to someone in person or on the phone. He is also correct that the person on the receiving end of this behavior knows exactly what you are doing and doesn't appreciate it. I agree that it is also unprofessional in the work setting. If you have urgent e-mail, simply tell your caller that you will finish your work and call him or her right back.
The sticky issue is how to confront the multitasker. The easiest way may be to say: "It sounds like you are busy now. Tell me a good time to call you back." You might even add, "A time when you can give me your full attention." Hearing that once from a boss (or your mom) would probably break the habit pretty quickly.
Q: When I introduce myself to someone socially, they occasionally reply, "Nice to meet you, Doug." I correct them, with a smile, that I prefer to be called Douglas. Yet when I run into these people again, they greet me as "Doug." I reply that those closest to me call me Douglas (true), yet this does not always do the trick. Any strategies you can recommend?
- Douglas, New Jersey
A: No one needs to be apologetic about wanting to be called by the name preferred. I think the best thing to do is just continue to politely correct. Simply say (again and again if necessary), it's Douglas, not Doug. Maybe follow up by asking what the greeter prefers to be called. That may emphasize that you like to use and hear the right name.
I used to run into a very pleasant woman while walking in my neighborhood. I always called her Lisa, until I said to her one day, "Your name is Lisa, right?" She said, "No, it's Beth." I wish she had corrected me sooner.