Ask Natalie by Natalie Bencivenga

Friend behaved unethically at work and now you want to cut ties? Boyfriend sending girlfriend’s mom dirty text messages and not sure what she should do?

DEAR NATALIE: I have a bit of a dilemma and could use some insight. A few years ago, I received a very serious diagnosis and as I am single and live away from family, my friends and colleagues rallied around me. They provided needed assistance such as transportation to and from treatments because I was not in any condition to drive myself. After successfully concluding treatment, I hosted a nice party to show my gratitude to my friends. One of these individuals was a co-worker named Jane. Fast-forward, I recently learned some disturbing news about Jane. A year ago, she left our company on no notice and she told me that she wanted to take a few months to figure out what she wanted to do next.  After her departure, I heard whispers that there may have been performance issues, and while she had a justified reputation of pushing work back on others, I never heard specifics, until now. I learned from reliable sources that Jane had behaved unprofessionally, did not submit paperwork as directed, which if not caught, would have cost the company millions. She also refused to take actions even when directed in writing by her supervisor. After months of this behavior, HR told her that there must be immediate and significant improvement or else she would be terminated. The next morning, she came in very early and tendered her resignation. She wiped her digital files and destroyed original documents, which is unethical at best and illegal at worst. I socialize with her and a couple of other former employees via happy hour a few times a year. I missed the last one, which was scheduled right after I heard this disturbing information, but was able to give a legitimate reason for not being able to attend.  I know that another one will come up in December. Learning that she has behaved in such an unethical fashion has caused me to lose all respect for her and I don’t want to have any dealings with her. I unfriended her on social media but am not sure how (or if) I should say anything to her or the other colleagues. Thank you for any insight that you can give. --DISGUSTED AND DISMAYED

DEAR DISGUSTED AND DISMAYED: After what you have gone through with your health, why waste any energy on such drama? She helped you when you needed her. Did she behave badly with you? Whatever her issues were at work, those were her issues and if they didn’t impact you or implicate you in any way, why take it and internalize this? Your energy should stay focused on people and experiences that keep you healthy and happy. I understand you don’t want to associate with her. I think that is your choice and I don’t blame you if you feel as though she acted poorly at work. But part of me believes that your conflict is rooted in the fact that she was kind to you, so how could she be so unethical? Maybe this duplicity was unsettling to you or maybe you have a bit of guilt for feeling this way when she helped you in your hour of need. We also don’t know Jane’s side of the story. In any case, if she doesn’t approach you and ask you why you don’t socialize with her, just let it go. Unless your former colleagues ask you about why you don’t want to hangout with her anymore, just let it go. You have a new lease on life so enjoy it!  

DEAR NATALIE: I am concerned for my good friend in her early 50's who is preparing for divorce after more than 25 years. She inherited older step-children, and has one biological daughter who lives apart with her boyfriend of two years. They are both in their early 20s. Her daughter's boyfriend has been making sexually suggestive comments to my friend through text and private messaging. So far, she has either replied "ha ha" or ignored the banter. She has zero intention of acting on anything. I have strongly suggested she needs to shut that down fast, tell him it is inappropriate and that he better knock it off. More importantly, I have also told her she absolutely has a duty to inform her daughter in a kind and caring way. Her reluctance to either confront Mr. Inappropriate or tell her daughter is because her daughter is insecure over her weight and is self-conscious about it. My friend does not want to jeopardize her daughter’s happiness. My belief is that by not telling her, the mother-daughter relationship will be seriously harmed. I think her daughter deserves the truth from her mom, despite the initial pain it might cause. As a parent, this is not the display of character and behavior I would tolerate for my child from someone proclaiming to be their love and partner. Plus, quite often, where there's smoke there's fire, as the saying goes. What is your advice as to this adolescent display of tasteless boundary crossing? --WORRIED IN THE MIDWEST

DEAR WORRIED IN THE MIDWEST: It isn’t going to be a pretty conversation, but your friend has a moral obligation to tell her daughter that her scumbag of a boyfriend is sending disgusting messages to her. But I would say it like this instead: “I have something to share with you and I know this is going to be hard to hear. As your mother, I love you more than anything in the whole world and I don’t want anyone to ever treat you with anything less than dignity, love and respect.” Then I would show her the text messages. She may cry, she may scream, she may just sit there in silence. I would then have the mother say: “I have never invited these messages and I want you to know that this says so much about his character. Anyone that would be so bold to text the mother of the woman he is dating is most likely acting this way to other women, as well. He is not worthy of you. You are special and beautiful and a good person. You deserve better.” Then, let it unravel from there. If she has low self esteem, she may take it out on her mother. She may say that her mother “lured him in” or “seduced him.” She may take her boyfriend’s side. She may not break up with him and she may stay mad at her mom for a while. But, if she doesn’t say anything to her mom and she comes across these text messages on her own, the situation could get even worse. As the friend of the mother’s, you also need to respect boundaries. If she isn’t ready to tell her daughter, that is her decision and you just have to be there to support her. Life is messy and we don’t always say or do the right things. This may get weirder before this gets resolved and it may be a mess when it does. But, if you are there to help pick up the pieces, then she is lucky to have a friend like you.

Natalie's Networking Tip of the Week: Want to get the most of out networking? Make sure you ask key questions like: “How can I help you?” People are much more willing to invest in others when they feel as though others want to invest in them.

Please send your questions to Natalie Bencivenga to her email, nbencivenga@post-gazette.com; or through postal mail to Natalie Bencivenga, 358 North Shore Dr., Pittsburgh, PA 15212. Follow her on Twitter at @NBSeen and on Instagram @NatalieBenci

(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)