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Reader Questions

Good morning Captain,

I have a really nice problem that I could use help with, which is: how do I send professional compliments?

I work in a healthcare-adjacent field, which is a pretty tough and thankless job 99% of the time. Because absolutely no one is here for the money, I frequently encounter workers, from my own organisation and others, who go above and beyond their work duties and pull off some truly incredible feats in the name of getting a good result for our clients.

I want to make sure that people are being professionally recognised when they do an amazing job, but I’m not sure how to go about this in a way that’s not boundary-crossing or weird. My own organisation has a clear internal process for passing along feedback about other employees via our team leaders, which is great, but when I encounter awesome people from other organisations, how can I best communicate to their bosses that they are great and valuable employees that should be given All The Money and Praise?

Thanks!

– In Need Of An English-to-Corporate Translation

Dear Corporate-To-English,

For everyone considering doing this: Be only positive in your message about the person, if you have critique or suggestion about the company or their services uses a separate message. Also, consider being non-specific beyond “great service,” especially if you sense that this person’s talents mean they are working around/beyond the company’s red tape, since you don’t want to get them in trouble (or find your sweet deal is subject to extra scrutiny).

With that said, I think there are a few ways I can think of to do this that should be pretty simple & straightforward:

1. The organizations’s general mailbox or contact form from their website.

If they do identify a compliments/complaints/customer feedback person, use that address obviously, but the person who has to fish out whatever’s in the general mailbox has to read a lot of gripes, make their day with a positive note!

“Dear ____, this is just a note to say that Melissa in your Amarillo, TX branch gave me fantastic service today. She is always so friendly and knowledgeable and she makes my job so much easier. Best wishes, Your Name/Job Title/Organization.” 

2. A letter on your company’s letterhead to the company’s CEO or head of customer/client services. 

Are you Kind of a Big Deal? Send something like this (or get your Big Deal Boss to send it) to the other Big Deals:

“Dear _____,

Please accept my thanks for your company’s wonderful service around [issue], especially the diligent work of [person] in [department], whose knowledge/attention to detail/great attitude/problem-solving skills/kindness/thoughtfulness/attention to customer needs makes [Your Company] the first place we turn when we need [X kind of goods/services].

Looking forward to many more years of working together, thank you for having people like [Great Person] on your team!

Sincerely,

Big Deal/Title]”

Something about paper makes it all more official-seeming.

3. Social media. 

“@Company, thank you so much for the wonderful service today, the client services rep in your Gary, Indiana office is a customer service star!”

4. Ask the person you want to praise directly how to do it.

Especially if it’s someone you interact with a lot, through work: “You are doing such a wonderful job, is there any quick way to let your company know how much I appreciate it?” 

5. Do those ridiculous surveys sometimes if you can. 

Not specifically for you & your professional contacts, LW, but in general: When retail/food service workers give you those “fill out a survey and maybe win a prize” spiels with your receipts, or your cable installer, etc. asks you to fill out an online survey about their work, if you loved what they did consider taking two minutes and doing the thing. If the person is asking you about it, there’s a high chance it makes a difference for them.

Other suggestions, readers?

 

This letter came in last week, and a lovely blog reader who will now be known as “The Girl Sparky” helpfully volunteered to tackle the “sudden unemployment” part of the question. Her answer is below the letter/the fold.

Here is my (Jennifer, Captain Awkward’s) one additional suggestion to her beautiful post, dear Fed Up Fed:

Consider emailing or calling your coworkers and getting them together for a pot-luck of some kind. 

Back in 2003, when I was in the first year of my graduate program, our financial aid did not come in until Week 13 of a fifteen-week semester. I lived in the same city as the school and already had housing/friends/a romantic partner in Chicago, but a lot of the students relocated here without that and had to live for several months and undertake an expensive art form without knowing when the money would come through and without having anyone local to turn to. In addition to pulling out all the 2-for-1 Subway coupons in the Chicago Reader every week and being Sandwich Buddies between classes, another thing the group did was to gather informally at the apartment of one of us who had a big, centrally-located place (with no furniture in it)(but that’s another story)(good for dance parties!). People would bring “a food” or “a drink” with them. Cheap vodka worked well, we’d mix it with the seemingly unlimited supply of V-8 that this student could “borrow” from his Aunt’s nearby storage room and a little hot sauce (“So we don’t get scurvy!” was the joke-that-was-not-really-a-joke), the cooks among us would turn whatever random groceries were on offer into a few hot dishes – spaghetti, big pots of ramen dressed up with a little green onion, baked mac & cheese with frozen broccoli in – and we’d sit on milk crates and dance and tell stories and Not Starve for one more week.

Some of those people are lifelong friends, and some are not, but if anybody from that cohort knocked on my door right now and needed a hot meal and a couch and a shower and some V-8 (to avoid scurvy!), I would open the door, if only because of what we shared that year, because of how we got each other through it.

If what you’re feeling right now is LONELY, Fed Up Fed? Maybe your coworkers are, too, and maybe there is some warmth and light to be found in a couple of those magical cheap-ass giant pizzas from Aldi in the living room and something silly on TV and a no-obligation jar by the door where if people have a few $ they throw it in and together you take care of each other a little, and you take turns making sure the jar goes to the food pantry or to the coworker who needs a little help to get through the week.

That might not be possible or comfortable for you, so I offer it as a suggestion only, but if you’ve been demurring out of pride or worry about crossing those professional lines, I’d just say: We need each other. It’s okay to need each other.

I’ll let The Letter Writer (The Fed Up Fed) and The Girl Sparky take it from here.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I (she/her/hers) am one of the hundreds of thousands of government workers who is currently furloughed. I am very fortunate to be in a place financially where I can survive missing/late paychecks, and I am also very fortunate to know that I will be getting back pay, unlike contractors (which include all custodial and food service staff). I have a supportive partner, and several friends who are also furloughed. In many ways, I’m very well situated right now.

But, this is taking a major toll on my mental and emotional wellbeing. I do not do well with unstructured time, and my ideal level of social interaction is having people around me making some noise, and having short interactions throughout the day (ie: working in an office). I also am happiest when working on discrete, manageable tasks that build to a larger goal that has a purpose I support. The shutdown has destroyed this for me.

I’ve scheduled activities and left the house every day. I’ve taken advantage of the many free things my city has to offer. I’ve signed up for volunteer opportunities that use the skills I use at work (still waiting to be called back about those). But I’m finding myself in tears, feeling utterly miserable, and knowing that ideal solution–going back to work–is entirely out of my hands (I don’t even have a Member of Congress to call!). I love my job, so I’m not ready to give it up yet and look for another one. But I want to stop being miserable. And people telling me how much they’d enjoy time off and a long-term vacation isn’t making it easier.

Do you have any tips for dealing with this?

Thanks,
Fed Up Fed

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Here is #1168: “Is it unreasonable to want your friend to feign polite interest in your interests?”

Hey Captain,

I (she/her) have a close friend (he/they) who I’ve known for going on six years now. We originally met through real life things and bonded over having similar fandom-adjacent interests, although over the last few years our interests have diverged a bit.

Here’s the thing. When we hang out, they talk a lot about whatever they’re interested in at the moment – currently, it’s a bunch of bands. They’re really dedicated to these bands – like, to the point of going to multiple of their gigs all over the state, getting tattoos in the bassist’s handwriting, etc. – and while I personally have no active interest in these bands, I’m glad they’ve found something they like. I listen to my friend talking about them a lot whenever we hang out (which isn’t very often – maybe once every two months) and ask polite questions. They are aware that these bands are not in my wheelhouse, but even though it’s not my passion, I think part of being a good friend is showing polite interest in things your friends like.

However, when it comes to things I’m interested in – currently a Kpop group, a podcast, and my almost-finished medical degree – my friend changes the subject ASAP and doesn’t bother to ask a single question. I understand not wanting to hear hours and hours of talk about Korean awards shows or C-sections or whatever, because I know my interests are quite niche, and I do try to pick stories or topics which have more mainstream appeal and not ramble on too much, but I feel like I can only talk for a minute or two about things I like before the conversation swings back to my friend’s bands again. I’m not asking for them to be fascinated by my obsessions in the same way I am, just for them to return the same courtesy I extend to them – i.e. feigning polite interest for five minutes.

Also, when they don’t just hate my interests for no particularly good reason, they have some excuse about why they hate the thing I like so much they can’t bear to politely make conversation about it for five minutes – like, “someone I hate likes that podcast, so even though I haven’t listened to it I refuse to hear anything about it because now I associate it with this person”.

It’s hard for me to find other topics for me to talk about with them, since I don’t have much time for anything in my life at the moment other than my degree and my interests, and my friend won’t talk about politics or anything else that’s not, like, related to their life or interests.

This is a relatively small problem, but I’m not sure if I’m overreacting/have unreasonable expectations, or if this is genuinely something rude. I know it’s edging into Geek Social Fallacy territory, but I’m not asking for my friend to also be obsessed with my obsessions, just to be polite about them in the same way that I’m polite about their obsessions (which again, don’t interest me)! I like my friend a lot, and I don’t mind hearing them talk about their stuff because it’s nice to hear someone be passionate about something, but this (perceived?) lack of reciprocation is beginning to make me feel very neglected and unappreciated. We both have plenty of other friends, so it’s not like either of us desperately Needs the other person, but I would be sad to lose this friendship.

Should I say something about this to my friend? Should I just suck it up and accept that all our conversations will be primarily about their interests? Should I begin fading out of this friendship?

Thanks,

I Just Want To Be Asked One Polite Question

We’ll call this #1169: “My friend could replace me with a chatbot.” 

Hello!

Long-time reader, thank you so much for the good work you do!

I have a non-neurotypical friend, who I became more close to after he had a falling out with one of his friends. We have a lot in common, including intersectional stuff. He has mentioned being non-neurotypical, and has problems gauging social cues. I have a lot of friends in the same boat. I only mention because it means I try to be more patient with him.

Months back, I noticed that he never asked me anything about myself, and when I’d try to talk he would go off on (only semi-related) ranty, negative monologues. It’s exhausting, and hard to get him to stop, to the point where I have to be careful what I talk about. I was second-guessing the energy I was investing into the relationship, so I carefully used my words about monologue-ing. He apologized, and improved.

Still though, he never says anything positive. We could be having the best time, in the coolest place, and he’d still find something that offends him. I’d be ok if we were discussing genuine hurts, but it’s usually things that don’t affect him at all. Or things that affect me, but not him, but I have to manage his reaction. I’m open to listen to venting (especially important things), but it’s like venting is all he does.

He rarely asks how I am. When he does (twice a month?), I mostly get grunts, or distant/neutral ‘huh.’ Not once, not ever, has he asked follow-up questions. Captain, I’m not boring! He just seems to stop listening. I probably know every detail of his life but I’d be surprised if he knows anything about me, but he’s usually the one to seek me out.

Lately I’ve been avoiding my favourite online videogame because he jumps online as soon as I do, and I don’t always have the energy to hear (negative thing) about (abstract thing). This week, I politely, light-heartedly disagreed with him on a neutral topic, and he stopped talking to me for about 20+ minutes, while playing the game in such a way that guaranteed we’d lose.

So – my experience is that he has improved when I’ve asked him to. But, I’m so drained. My question is: should I have brought up the negativity & the seeming lack of interest in my thoughts on things when I asked him to stop monologuing? Do I bother mentioning that it’s really not cool to ruin someone else’s game? Should I tackle this all bit by bit? Should I throw in the towel?

Thank you for any insight!
From, An Increasingly Tired Human

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Dear Captain Awkward,

Thanks so much for this blog! I read most of the archives during a recent overnight hospital stay and it really helped keep me entertained. I (she/her pronouns are fine) was a year away from completing my dissertation when my body rebelled. I have two very large liver adenomas, larger than the doctors have seen before. Thankfully my parents live in a city renowned for its hospitals and took me to consults. I had to immediately go on medical leave in September but was hoping to return in the spring. Unfortunately the adenomas are extra stubborn. I’ve had two embolization procedures and I’m in for another two before the surgeon can operate (one of them is in a really risky place and she could hurt me if she tried). With the extra hospital time, she recommended that I extend my leave, so I did.

Everyone congratulated me on how well I’m handling things, but I don’t feel that way. I feel constantly fatigued, I’ve been in a lot of pain, I feel like I’m losing my identity as a scholar and I’ve been living with my parents during the week in case one of these stupid things ruptured. I’ve had to spend a lot of time away from my wife, which has killed both of us. Luckily the surgeon says I should be safe to go home for longer periods now. I’m just wondering how I stay afloat. With a massive surgery looming in May, applying for summer jobs is now unlikely. My father has been helping me financially and I am so grateful. I’m just depressed. I’m done with hospitals, needles and the whole mess. I’m even getting depressed over stupid things like getting denied for a credit card. I feel like I’m a drain on everyone around me and I can’t even contribute academically anymore. I’m writing a 3500 word paper for a big conference in April and even that is a struggle.

My advisor has told me not to worry about the dissertation unless I feel completely up to it, but I would feel better if I could bang out a chapter draft. Therapy would probably help and I was seeing someone before this went down but she wasn’t very effective and then I’ve had to spend so much time in my parents’ city that I haven’t been able to go to appointments anyway. I am also on medication and have been since I was 16. I know that what I need to do is be nice to myself and for the first few months I could do that, but now I’m having trouble. Thanks for everything you do.

Signed
Eeyore’s got a bum liver

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Hi Captain!

My quirky, genius, self-centered, deeply insecure, pathological boundary pushing mother took my 5 year old “out” without telling me while we were visiting over the holiday.

I didn’t know where he was, he was in his pajamas (it was 40 degrees out), she did not have a jacket for him. She did not have a *carseat* for him. I ran around her house and yard in a panic trying to find him before my sibling suggested she might have him. She wouldn’t answer my texts or calls but did answer when sibling called her, she said she would drive slowly on surface streets (so it’s totes fine!), and that she was coming right back. My dad worried I would over react and send her into a depressive episode.

When I asked my 5 year old about it he said he wanted to tell me before they left, but she seemed mad when he suggested it, so he thought he should just do what she said.

So husband and I decided she’s so fired she can’t ever be unsupervised with our kids, and probably we won’t stay at their house anymore. But setting this hard of a line puts awkwardness on my (mostly) rad dad, and some amount of awkwardness on the rest of the family who think I’m taking it too far.

I did tell her “Never Again” and “I Can’t Possibly Think Of Every Boundary That Needs Setting” and “I Don’t Know How To Feel Safe With You Around My Kids”. She says she’s very sorry and just that she didn’t want to deal with the logistics of taking kid out for an adventure. She says she didn’t realize my anxiety was that limiting (spoiler, I don’t have an anxiety disorder). When I said if something happened to my kid while with her that “would be the end of our relationship” she said she didn’t realize the stakes were so high. But Captain, the stakes are absolutely that high.

I don’t think I’m over reacting, but am I over reacting? Or is my mom the most fired? Can we just decide never to stay there again and let the chips fall? She does a many rad things but they don’t cancel frequent Super Bad Judgment Boundary Smashing. Can I still accept gifts from her that don’t smash boundaries? Why does my mom suck this hard?

Sad, Hurt, and Angry

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Hi Captain,

I (she/her) am 39 years old and haven’t had a real friend since I was 23. Due to numerous instances of abandonment and rejection before and since, I’ve developed a form of Social Anxiety where I panic whenever I think someone important to me might, well, abandon or reject me. I’m working on this with a lot of self-help and meditation, but I need some help with my current situation.

Two years ago, I met a guy my age at work, who is very successful, a young executive at our very large, you’ve definitely heard of it company. Upon discovering that we have a lot in common, and I was struggling with a miserable job situation at the time, he quickly became my mentor, and from there, we’ve become friends.

Here’s where it gets weird. Despite the fact that we talk about deep, personal, obviously non-work related subjects, including things like God, anxiety, self-doubt, spiraling down into dangerous depression, etc., he has refused to meet me outside of work. These deep meaningful conversations occur in 30 minute scheduled meetings once a month in his office. He won’t even give me his personal cell phone number, using his work mobile instead. (P.S. it’s not because I’m a married woman and he’s a married man. We had that conversation. Also, most of my invitations have been for us to do things with our spouses in tow, and my hubby is fully supportive.)

Background on him, he was formerly a soldier in Iraq, and his best friend was killed there. It messed him up pretty bad, and he did go to therapy. He has stated he has no friends (and supposedly he likes it that way). I suspect he erected these walls to protect himself from ever experiencing that kind of pain again. I think he is struggling because I’ve managed to get through his defenses, and he cares about me. He always genuinely appreciates me being a good friend- checking on him when he’s sick, sending him goofy memes to cheer him up when he’s stressed out (which has been a lot lately), etc. The verbal and written work/life barrier has been thoroughly crossed. He just won’t cross the physical work/life barrier.

Anyway, it’s been taking him longer and longer to say no when I invite him out, and it’s obvious to me that responding to my invitations causes him tremendous anxiety. It’s like he really wants to say yes but talks himself out of it. At our last meeting, after turning down my latest invitation (with a “probably not” following a full week of deliberation), he said that he was now willing to meet outside of work, but it has to be something really small, like lunch (which is impossible with his schedule). So far I haven’t found anything small enough, and he’s made no suggestions.

Because of my anxiety, every time he tells me no, I freak out and spend a day or two crying, unable to sleep, etc., until I’m able to get a handle on the negative thought train and shut it down. I’ve considered giving up on him numerous times, but I can’t do it because he gives excellent advice, I feel so comfortable talking to him, he understands my pain, he makes me feel good about myself, basically I need him to talk to, and I feel like he needs my help too. Everyone needs a friend, and I might be the only person persistent enough to keep trying with him, BECAUSE of my anxiety. And he’s SO CLOSE now. Admitting he would go out was huge. But I’m also frustrated and tired of the roller coaster ride of emotions (as is my husband.) To make matters worse, I turn 40 in two months and all I wanted was to be surrounded by friends, but I can’t even get one friend and his wife to go somewhere fun for an hour and have dinner after. I’m having a hard time staying positive. What should I do?

-Best Friend by Default

Dear Best Friend by Default,

I preserved your email subject line, for the most part. There is…a lot…going on here, and I am going to try to be as gentle and helpful as possible, and I am going to turn off comments (you…do not…want to read them, trust me), but I do not think you are going to necessarily like anything I am going to say.

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Dear Awkward,

I work at a nonprofit and am the only staff member who manages our +1,200 volunteers.

My ex-husband worked with a therapist for years prior to our divorce. The ex was violent, cheated on me, and was verbally abusive. At one point when things were really messy his therapist sought me out at a public event to encourage me to get STI testing because of my ex’s unprotected contact with sex workers.

3 years later, his therapist has just begun volunteering at my place of work. I feel sickened at the thought of working with someone who reminds me so much of this ex and knows so many personal things about me. What, if anything, can I do? Should I disclose this situation to my boss?

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