Ask Amy

Ask Amy: Nasty remark has long legs at work

DEAR AMY: I made a nasty remark to a co-worker two years ago and have since tried to make amends. Unfortunately, my co-worker will have no part of it.

I’ve tried complimenting him on tasks that he’s done at work, only to be met with an icy stare. Sometimes he ignores me.

When there are extra things to be done, he will never ask me to do them – and I would gladly volunteer for these tasks.

I have seen several other staff members with him and then they start to ignore me, so I know he’s influencing them in some way.

I don’t need him to like me, but I just want a better work environment. What can I do differently to change his attitude toward me?

Sign Me Bewildered

DEAR BEWILDERED: You could start by apologizing, and see how that goes over.

I couldn’t help but notice that in your recitation of all of your attempts to make amends to your co-worker – all in the name of inspiring him to get over the nasty remark you made – you don’t mention admitting to what you did, apologizing for it and asking him to forgive you.

Because you are not quite brave enough to face this directly, you are sweeping up around the edges. All of your efforts to be a goody-goody will come off as a transparent attempt at manipulation until you admit what you did and apologize for it.

Here’s how: You say, “John, I know a lot of time has gone by, but I realize I never apologized to you personally and directly for the nasty thing I said. I feel terrible about my behavior. I hope you will forgive me.”

If this dynamic continues to affect your work negatively, you should see your supervisor and/or HR representative for mediation to help set this right.

DEAR AMY: In your response to “Upset Parents,” at the end of your suggestion on how to curb their offspring’s criticism you used the following phrase: “for the love of God.”

This seems like a gratuitous reference to Christian culture, and inappropriate to the context of the letter. The writer of the letter never identified a religion, and could easily be Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu, or practice a religion that doesn’t use the word “God” (capitalized).

It seemed an unnecessary and gratuitous reference.

If we are truly going to encourage tolerance, we should honor the separation between church and state that makes the USA unique and free. These days, we should be ultrasensitive.

Ultrasensitive

DEAR ULTRASENSITIVE: “For the love of God” is a commonly used exclamation. (I’m using it loudly in my head as I type this, in fact.) I assume that if anyone found it offensive, it would be Judeo-Christians, since the expression does seem to fall within the blasphemous spectrum.

Just as I believe in the “separation of church and state” (a concept which doesn’t have anything to do with this issue, by the way), I also believe sincerely in your freedom to criticize me.

However, since you preach tolerance and diversity (values I also hold dear), you should realize that your desire to neutralize all expression to avoid the remote risk of offending someone has the very opposite effect than what you might hope.

This smacks not only of ultrasensitivity, but also intolerance.

We live in a country rich with different voices, cultures, religions and belief (or non-belief) systems. I would never seek to suppress my own – certainly in this context, where I am expected to offer my personal opinion. I maintain that even when they might object to a specific turn of phrase, most people are actually tolerant enough to handle it.

DEAR AMY: I thought your advice to “Should I Stay or Should I Go” was beyond terrible. This woman was in a loveless marriage. She should get out and you should have advised her to go.

Disappointed

DEAR DISAPPOINTED: The author of this letter didn’t report making any effort to work on the relationship. With two young children in the household, I hope she takes my advice to at least see a counselor before walking away.

Write Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribpub.com.

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