DEAR MISS MANNERS: I manage a busy office in a large organization that prides itself on its political correctness, among other things.
About two-thirds of our staff are women, who regularly greet each other with hugs, pecks on the cheek or quick shoulder rubs. The camaraderie and team spirit are wonderful to see, but they unfortunately do not extend to the male members of the staff. Our training about sexual harassment has left male staffers wary of touching anyone, male or female.
This leads to awkward scenes, when, for example, a mixed group arrives for a meeting, the women are all greeted with hugs, and the men get a cursory "Hi, John."
I fear that we are actually creating a workplace that is hostile to men with this behavior, and a few of our male staff have confided feeling this way to me. I have contemplated a "no hugs" rule for everyone, but it seems rather cold and may exceed my authority as the manager of just one part of a large organization. Any suggestions?
GENTLE READER: That you realize that there is something between hugs and cold. In the context of the workplace, that means requiring professional behavior.
However much female members of your staff love one another (and have you considered how this would affect colleagues they didn't?), an office is no place for such physical demonstrations, whether or not they meet the definition of sexual harassment. There would be no question of that if you hired a married couple, but Miss Manners imagines that you still wouldn't want to have them canoodling on the job.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My boyfriend and I purchased our first home a year ago, in a modest neighborhood in the suburbs. We are very happy here and for the most part we keep to ourselves. We have met our neighbors, but we only know them well enough to wave as we pass, which seems to be an acceptable state of affairs for everyone involved.
This afternoon, however, I was sitting on my front porch and I happened to overhear our next-door neighbor complaining about us to the neighbor across the street. I'm sure he didn't know I was within earshot.
Unfortunately for my curiosity, I could only hear that his complaint was definitely about us, but not what we might be doing to make him complain. We don't invite rowdy people over, we don't allow our dogs to bark or run loose, we try to keep the place looking nice. I really have no idea what the problem might be.
So now that I know that we are causing strife in the neighborhood, what do I do with this information? This neighbor has never indicated to us that there is a problem. Should I wait to see if he says something to us, since he doesn't know I heard him? Should I tell him what I heard? I'd rather not continue causing offense to anyone, and certainly not someone I have to live next to.
GENTLE READER: Nor do you want your neighbor to go around complaining that you are eavesdropping on him. So confessing is not a good idea.
But doing something neighborly is. Miss Manners suggests leaving him a bouquet of flowers from your garden or a plate of cookies with a pleasant note.