Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole


DEAR HARRIETTE: Recently, I ran into a woman I grew up with. We hugged and shared pleasantries, but after a few minutes, I felt like I was transported back to childhood. She was mean to me when we were young. She always had some snarky thing to say that hurt my feelings, and when I saw her, she caught me off guard and did it again. When I realized that it was happening, I excused myself. She really got under my skin. Should I say anything to her or just leave it alone? -- Undone, Washington, D.C.

DEAR UNDONE: Unless you intend to kindle a friendship with this woman from your childhood, do not double back to her. If she is behaving the same way she did when you were children, chances are she isn't going to wake up, take notice of her ways and decide to change because you mention it.

The lesson for you for the future is to stop a negative conversation when it is happening. Excusing yourself and walking away does not actually do much, as you experienced, because the woman likely had no clue as to why you walked away, and you remain stung by her comments. Instead, you can interrupt a negative conversation and say, "I don't appreciate where this conversation is heading," "Please do not speak to me in that way" or "It is hard for me to hear what you are saying when you speak to me in that manner." Or find the words that best identify what you find distasteful and ask the person to stop doing it. This may seem difficult to do, but it is far more fulfilling to address these things in the moment.

There is a lot of discussion about the effects of bullying on one's psyche. Mean, negative talk is a form of bullying. The next time anyone speaks to you in a rude or disrespectful manner, find a way to address it as it is happening. Raising awareness about inappropriate communication is worthwhile.

DEAR HARRIETTE: We've had quite the heat wave this summer, and wearing pants in the office can be suffocating for my legs. Is there any way to make shorts look professional in the workplace? -- Overheated, Philadelphia

DEAR OVERHEATED: In most offices, shorts would be considered too casual. That said, there are shorts suits that have been designed with fitted jackets that may work in a casual office. Also, Bermuda shorts, which reach the knee, may work with a dress shirt. Making shorts look professional requires looking at the whole outfit to see if the other elements are professional. Wearing dress shoes with them will help balance the look as well.

It really depends upon your place of business, though. Because many companies allow jeans and casual dress on a regular basis, there are some offices that will not frown on shorts. Ask your supervisor before you stroll in wearing them!