Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Reader Should Feel Free to Challenge Elder

DEAR HARRIETTE: This past Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I used the day off to volunteer. I went to an event that invited elderly civil rights activists from all over the country. I had the opportunity to sit next to a woman who began protesting racism at age 10. While talking to her, she revealed that she didn’t support women’s rights or LGBTQ rights, and she voted for a candidate who shared her same views this election.

I was stunned; I admire her for her activism, yet I disagree with her on so many other topics. I wanted to challenge some of her opinions, but I was taught to never talk back to my elders. Could I have pressed her more on why some topics mattered to her, but not the others? -- Respectful Youngster, Boston

DEAR RESPECTFUL YOUNGSTER: Too bad you didn’t engage this woman more to learn more deeply about her views. The way to do it is to ask questions. Ask lots of questions so that you get greater insight into what the elder thinks. The challenging component could be offered through the framing of questions, delivered in a neutral tone so that you continue to speak respectfully even as you work to get perspective on why the elder draws the line on some issues and not others. This strategy for gleaning information, by the way, is helpful with peers as well.

You are more likely to get honest, open answers about how people think when they feel that they are being heard and that their comments are welcome. This doesn’t mean you must agree with them, but being open to receiving them creates space for them to be offered.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been recently hired as a copywriter. This part-time gig puts me below the level of assistant. I have been getting pestered by the assistant in and out of work hours about my progress. I am frustrated because I feel like she is concentrating her lack of power onto me because I am the only person below her. I don’t want to be put out of a job, but I cannot be receiving multiple text messages and calls on days that I am not even working! -- Fed Up, Austin, Texas

DEAR FED UP: Do some sleuthing at your job to get a sense of how you can ensure that your work is properly received by the boss above this assistant. Figure out the office dynamics, and work to forge relationships with this woman as well as others in the office. Be kind to her at all times.

When you are not at work, don’t be so available. If you receive texts during your off hours, do not respond immediately unless it seems to be an emergency. Also, let the assistant know that when you aren’t at work, you are often unavailable to communicate with the office. You do not have to go into detail as to what you are doing. Just draw the line about how accessible you can be -- without being rude. Assure her that you will have your work in on time and that if you have any questions or concerns, you will let her know.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)