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20-40-60 Etiquette---How do we politely tell our co-worker "no"?

by Helen Ford Wallace Published: March 17, 2011


QUESTION: We bought a new refrigerator for our office. There are five of us who work here. Four of us chipped in money to pay for the refrigerator, and we take turns bringing paper cups and plates for when they are needed for our lunches.

One person declined to chip in. But when the refrigerator arrived, he started using the refrigerator to keep drinks cold and for lunches. He even started using the paper cups and plates.

So, my question is this, how do we politely tell him that the refrigerator is for those who paid for it and the cups and plates are for those who take turns bringing them?


CALLIE’S ANSWER: HA! Office drama? This guy sounds like a moocher, and a jerk, although, maybe he doesn’t realize he is in the wrong. Give him the benefit of the doubt. Tell him that everyone in the office bought the items together and he still owes X for it. Don’t give him a chance to say no.

Don’t be aggressive with him or you’re really going to get some office drama!

LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: I can’t imagine how he’s justifying that move in his mind  —  declining to chip in when it comes to buying the refrigerator but then using it when it comes, knowing that everybody else paid.

He’s got some gall, but then again, telling him off with all the intensity and anger that normal people would feel would be counterproductive to office harmony.

I think the only action here is to be up front, politely, and tell him that he owes money for the refrigerator, the cups and plates if he wants to use any of them. Be clear about how much he owes. Then, if he keeps using them, you either have to designate a person to keep the paper dishware under lock and key, or confront him as an entire group and ask him what his problem is. This type of dilemma leaves me pondering the nerve of some people to ignore etiquette, decency and common sense and act selfishly anyway.

HELEN’S ANSWER: Post the rules of the refrigerator and the paper cups and plates on the refrigerator door. Put names of who is responsible for what week. Politely ask the offender if he wants to be included on the list and at that time remind him that all of you chipped in to buy the refrigerator and made plans for buying paper cups and plates. Ask when what he wants to do. He will have to answer when you ask him directly and he will have to think if he intends to help provide paper cups and plates. If he doesn’t want to help, the posted rules will help remind him.

He may have unknown reasons for his behavior or he just didn’t think it through.

GUEST’S ANSWER: Devonne Carter, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and she teaches Etiquette Classes at Oklahoma Christian University: You say it with a smile on your face and with a light and airy tone!

Life isn’t fair.  But it is unhealthy to resent his behavior and it isn’t healthy to let folks infringe upon your boundaries either.  The boundaries are clear to me in this situation, but apparently they are not clear to your male co-worker.  So the boundaries just need to be set and clearly communicated.

If everyone goes to him with an angry attitude, you will damage your working relationship, you might create some anger in him, you will certainly be ganging up on him.  I would have ONE PERSON approach him kindly.  I would encourage you to look at him in the eye and state clearly what you want to communicate to him.  I would also have something else work related to talk to him about as well.  You want to ACT like this is just an every day occurrence that needs to be communicated about.  If you are frustrated or angry, I would keep those in check.

You never know what his situation is. ..You don’t know if he is really strapped financially…  If his wife has mental health problems and is running up the credit cards, or if he has three children he is supporting on child custody payments.  He might be justifying his behavior, or he might not even be aware he is offending you.

His behavior isn’t appropriate, but if you do not say anything to him, yours isn’t either.  Verbal, personal and kind communication is the best in this situation.  Certainly, I wouldn’t suggest you just laying this article on his desk after it is published!  That is a cop -out.  The conversation will most likely be easier than you ever imagined and will open up communication to serve all your co-workers and apply some feelings of camaraderie and team building.
Callie Gordon, a college junior,  was an Oklahoma City 2009 debutante. Lillie-Beth Brinkman is a former  debutante and currently the assistant features editor for The Oklahoman. Helen Wallace has written a social column for The Oklahoman for many years and has been on various local Ball committees. Guest is Devonne Carter, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and she teaches Etiquette Classes at Oklahoma Christian University

This group does not always agree (via age differences), but they ALL see the need for proper behavior.
Ask a specific etiquette question and you will get three answers…Then you decide for yourself how you would handle the situation. The answers have information for every age range….Callie is 20-ish; Lillie-Beth is 40-something, and Helen is 60-plus.
Please email us with your questions and  follow us on Facebook, Twitter and daily blogs. We will try to answer your etiquette questions  weekly on the Parties Extra! blog.
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by Helen Ford Wallace
Society Editor
Helen Ford Wallace is a columnist covering society-related events/news for The Oklahoman. She puts local parties online with daily updates. She creates, maintains and runs a Parties blog which includes web casts. She is an online web editor for...
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