Philip Galanes on Workplace Etiquette

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Most of us spend a lot of our lives at work, and it can be tricky to know how to tactfully deal with problems in the office. Philip Galanes is here to help! He’s the author of the “Social Q’s” advice column for the Sunday Styles section of The New York Times. His latest book is Social Q's: How to Survive the Quirks, Quandaries and Quagmires of Today.

Let us know what questions you have about how to navigate a workplace conundrum. Leave a comment, below.


Philip Galanes

Comments [54]

Bella Oxmix from New Jersey

Here's one for ya:

I'm an extremely white male WASP Bill Buckley imitator working in an office of a company managed and controlled by an overseas company. The treatment I get is that of a treasured doll: always polite, but they are uncomfortable when I do anything but assent to policy. Problem: they treat their own people, and especially the females they hire locally (who are of their own expatriate immigrant minority) like dirt: underpaid, spoken of abusively in (their own) foreign language, berated for taking advantage of company benefits, et al. Their local staff are constantly reminded that they are second class citizens. One bad result (among many): the locally hired immigrant staff looks upon me with a mixture of idle envy and disgust because of my "special" treatment, and often reach out to me to be their intercessor or the bearer of bad tidings to their own supervisors.

Seems to me that Phillip's advice regarding office polite and politic discussions has its limits. Sometimes the truth is so ugly that one's options are limited only by the courage it takes to become confrontational.
I think it's kind of interesting that we are tiptoeing around an increasing phenomenon: bad managers are getting increasingly brazen since the employment market fell apart when it comes to patronization, abusive behavior and downright illegality in the workplace. Certainly the concepts put forward by the Quality gurus and the Harvard Business Review regarding productive management are being honored in the breach more often now. Seems to me there will be social consequences to his over the long haul in radicalizing white collar workers.

Jan. 19 2012 09:56 AM

I must say I was disappointed to hear Leonard Lopate and Philip Galanes jeering at the woman who called in for help because she was a victim of domestic theft. Sounded more like boys behaving badly than help with a social etiquette problem.

Jan. 12 2012 03:52 PM
Leticia from Queens

HOUSEKEEPING PROBLEM: I have been working as an apt cleaner in NYC for 13 years and can tell it is very usual cleaners steal silly things from the home. I suggest you consider the possibility that someone who has access to the laundry room is stealing the pieces from the dryer. I have seen it happen more than once, and I noticed all the the stolen items you mentioned are washable.

Jan. 12 2012 01:14 PM
ms from Brooklyn

Suggestion for Varry from UWS, who wrote:
"How do you tell coworkers you don't want to friend them on Facebook?"

Open an account on LinkedIn and tell your coworkers that you keep your professional network there, and would be happy to link with them, but that you prefer to keep your Facebook account specific for immediate family and old friends.

Hope that helps!

Jan. 12 2012 12:44 PM

sometimes you have to get another job

Jan. 12 2012 12:40 PM
hannah from Manhattan

Leonard, Folks may not have been calling in because you weren't giving the number out enough. LOVE, love Galanes-- he is as snappy and full of good sense on the air as in his column. GREAT SHOW.

Jan. 12 2012 12:40 PM
The Truth from Becky

I have my back to my office door, mostly so I can see the view but this is perceived as rude/standoffish, IS IT? Two other people in the office are set up this way.

Jan. 12 2012 12:40 PM
Amy from Manhattan

On Dan's smelly boss, could Dan talk to his co-workers &, if they feel the same way, maybe they could stage an intervention?

Jan. 12 2012 12:39 PM
CJP from Westchester

I was disappointed by the dismissive response to the woman reporting repeated missing property from her housekeeping aid. In one or another this person needs attention but this "advice" did nothing other than to "blame" her.

Jan. 12 2012 12:38 PM

"All my housekeepers are criminals" lady:

...or RACIST!

Jan. 12 2012 12:38 PM

Facebook friending in the office - I disagree with Phillip. I will not add a friend to my account who I am not comfortable knowing my personal details. I usually just suggest to them that we should connect via LinkedIn instead. I also tell them that I'm not very active on Facebook. I don't feel obligated to add them and they usually are fine with that.

Jan. 12 2012 12:37 PM
bib from manhattan

who gives advice that it is okay for people that you employ in your home to steal from you? how is it ever okay to steal? his advice is terrible, i remember last time he was on his advice was just as bad, verging on, if not blatantly, immoral. and he works for the NYtimes? they should be ashamed. even if the woman's items were simply misplaced, to tell her that because she can afford help that they should be able to "help" themselves to her belongings is abhorrent.

Jan. 12 2012 12:37 PM
Lucy Schneck from Cranford, NJ

I am frustrated beyond belief by the people who have out loud conversations in the public library. It can be so noisy in the periodical section that I feel as tho I'm in Grand Central Station. The librarians empathize but they are at a loss as to how to solve the problems. People, and I mean of all ages up into their late 70s ignore them when asked to lower their tones and remember they are in a library. The library used to be a place to go and think. It has become a place I go to get material and scram. Even periodicals, I wait till they are outdated and then take them out. What can be done about this?

Jan. 12 2012 12:36 PM
apey from manhattan

when dating women who i meet on line, i usually pay for dinner or drinks, because thankfully i can and its ok to be generous.
i would say usually we have a very good time, but what irks me is that they rarely thank me, even in an email. i understand being coy and not letting on they may like you (or not is ok) but not even an email thank you>
it seems rude.

Jan. 12 2012 12:36 PM
Simmonds from Connecticut

Is there a specific type of industry that you get
more questions from?

Jan. 12 2012 12:36 PM

seriously? let them steal from you, that's the price of having a maid? let people do what they will and don't stand up for yourself eh? grow a pair Phil.

Jan. 12 2012 12:34 PM
Jade from Brooklyn

I manage a college literary journal with a volunteer student staff. Usually they don't do tasks I assign or they take weeks to do it! So, I usually end up pulling much of the weight. Any advice on how to manage a staff that is made up of fellow students too?

Jan. 12 2012 12:34 PM
Dawn Ortell from Madison, NJ

Re woman whose help is stealing ... try (1) installing some locks if she wants to keep the people or (2) switch to a bonded agency ... at least she would get reimbursed for her losses.

Jan. 12 2012 12:33 PM

"All my housekeepers are criminals" lady:


Jan. 12 2012 12:32 PM
Hannah Aronson from Manhattan

To the caller who says her maids steal-- mine is AWESOME and I love her. But can't afford anymore and have to tell her today. I'd love to refer her (and I need help how to say this. She really depends on the money.)


Jan. 12 2012 12:31 PM
Jim from Staten Island

I'm getting physically ill listening to all these petty complaints about workplace faux pas and snafus - half your listening audience is out of work and would crawl over broken glass for the chance to be peeved by these office annoyances

Jan. 12 2012 12:31 PM
Amy from Manhattan

On the boss trying to do political fundraising, could you sidestep it by saying you'd rather keep politics out of the workplace?

Jan. 12 2012 12:30 PM

These are the kinds of things that really bored folks in an a really boring office setting get worked-up about.

Jan. 12 2012 12:29 PM

How do I deal with the owner of the company I work at who is a micro manager? Like how long I talk to clients and how I arrange the desktop on the computer

Jan. 12 2012 12:29 PM
MP from Brooklyn

PS - there is definitely a generational aspect to this manners thing. I really think that the young "kids" are used to having their parents clean up after them.

Jan. 12 2012 12:29 PM
mp from Brooklyn

Lighten up, CL. We all need a break now and then from war and recession.

Jan. 12 2012 12:24 PM

At a recent job, I had a very anxious and rude supervisor that many of us had to deal with. I should have known it was going to be difficult to interact with this person given that in a small meeting during the first week of work she said, "Don't speak unless you are spoken to." How can one best deal with a supervisor who talks their employees like this?

Jan. 12 2012 12:24 PM
DarkSymbolist from NYC!

Seems to me that the employee who had the example of the boss trying to pressure him/her to go to some loathsome Republican fundraiser would have a good case to go to HR, especially if the boss could not accept him/her not going because they don't want to. It's highly inappropriate that the boss would do that.

Jan. 12 2012 12:24 PM
Varry from UWS

How do you tell coworkers you don't want to friend them on Facebook?

Jan. 12 2012 12:23 PM
Dan from NYC

One of my co-workers has a serious Hygiene problems. I wouldn't care that much if I wouldn't have to directly working with him every day. We are talking about wearing same clothes everyday, not brushing his teeth, showering and etc. Forget about deodorant or cologne. Sometimes it gets so unstandable I have to fake needing to go to the bathroom. The worst of of all is, that he is actually my superior with over 8 years of experience over me.I work in a professional design office full of men, so you can see how raising that issue to my boss would be a problem. How would you suggest taking care of this issue? Please help!!!

Jan. 12 2012 12:23 PM
Jamison from Boston

Im one of 3 people that is not Jewish in my work place and often when Im in a meeting with them (the Jewish people) they will brake out in Yitish (beside it being a supper ugly sounding) I feel like there saying sutf I should not hear.
How to I tell them this is not right?
I work from home now but I have to go back now and then for meetings in NYC

Jan. 12 2012 12:21 PM
John from Jersey City

Something comes to mind when thinking of my old office job...

My department formed something like a "lunch clique" where they would all order lunch together and sit in the break room during our one hour break. I always wanted to maintain a cordial relationship with these folks but desperately wanted to spend that one hour break outside of the building on my own time. I mean, after all, I spend the other 7 hours of the day with these same people, but didn't want to offend them by going out and doing my own thing.

Jan. 12 2012 12:21 PM
Sandra from Brooklyn

I find it unsettling when a male coworker walks over to my cubicle with razor in hand and he's shaving! running his disposable razor over his face and neck. Just this morning I saw a man leaving my gym and shaving with a disposable razor as he exits the building. Is this a new trend? Ewww!

Jan. 12 2012 12:21 PM
Kyle from Millburn, NJ

How do I deal with the owner of the company that I work with who is micromanaging me?

Jan. 12 2012 12:21 PM

I believe a male coworker that I have become friendly with has an eating disorder. He mentions he feels like a cow and doesn't eat that much. He also reveals a lot of personal information and asks me questions that I sometimes feel uncomfortable answering in an office environment (when I am busy as well). How do I address his issue as I care about him, but also ask him to back off?

Jan. 12 2012 12:19 PM
CL from NYC

Oh please. Why do the WNYC producers insist on putting this unvarnished, annoying junk on the air? A total waste of airtime.

Jan. 12 2012 12:19 PM
still not stuart from still not midtown

sorry - I meant to say "I will NOT load the paper next week" because I load it all the time.

Jan. 12 2012 12:18 PM

how do i tell someone to stop singing at the office?

Jan. 12 2012 12:18 PM

I was terminated from my last job because of a bad inter-personal relationship with my direct supervisor, who I felt was bullying me. I later wrote a letter to HR about him and they started a file on him, I should have done that earlier., I feel since I lost my job, it looks bad on me. What is the correct way to refer to reasons for not being at that job anymore in future job interviews? If you bring this question online, could you leave my name anonymous, please?

Jan. 12 2012 12:18 PM
The Truth from Becky

Breast pump parts? Just plain tacky.

Jan. 12 2012 12:17 PM
el from Long Island

A great source of office behavior (both good and bad) is

Jan. 12 2012 12:17 PM
not stuart from not midtown

My co-workers are inconsiderate. It seems that no one can replace the empty roll of paper towels (they're in the cabinet above the paper towel holder). The ice maker is always empty, despite specific explicit instructions (and a diagram) on how the ice maker works (the lever should be down, otherwise the ice maker thinks the bin is full). (I have gone to McDonalds to take ice.) The copiers and printers always need to be refilled with paper (there's a display on the copier showing that it's empty, and the printer has a flashing red light for all to see). Company-wide e-mails have been sent, and I announced that I would load the printer next week, but it doesn't change anything. HELP !

Jan. 12 2012 12:17 PM
mp from Brooklyn

Oh, people's kitchen manners are the worst! I regularly see people leaving dirty dishes in the sink, food in the drain, and empty ice trays returned to the freezer. I have left numerous notes, but some people have no shame.

Jan. 12 2012 12:16 PM
Stephen from Brooklyn

I am a Director in a large company who is responsible for a division that has a specialized database system. The problem is the Director of the technology group's customer support division who constantly creates obstacles and excuses for not making revisions to this system when it does not meet business needs, frequently preventing company staff from doing their job. His bosses know about his behavior but no action is taken. This same individual will not respond to any communications from me, but will respond to my supervisor, who is not well-versed in the terchnological specifications. What do I do to get the work I need done?

Jan. 12 2012 12:16 PM
The Truth from Becky

Don't forget the microwave! Men, clean up behind yourself!

Jan. 12 2012 12:16 PM
Tasha from Atlanta, GA

How do you let well meaning people know nicely that you do not need their unsolicited advice about work or any other subject?
Also, what to do about food and change thieves?

Jan. 12 2012 12:16 PM
Dean Van de Motter from Chelsea

I'm really enjoying this segment. There's a nice chemistry between Leonard Lopate and Phillip Galanes. They are surprisingly funny.

Jan. 12 2012 12:16 PM
Lonnie from Brooklyn!!!

I often tell the younger set--

1-- Work is NOT A SITCOM.
2-- You just have to WORK with everyone-- you don't have to be their BFF
3-- GO HOME and have fun with your Friends & Family. Here, just earn your Paycheck.
If these rules are followed at first, if you remain at a Job you like and are comfortable with, THEN the other nice social intangibles can arise.

The worst beef comes from people who foolishly expect to have an intimate social circle at their job and everyday is supposed to a wonderful play of stories and laughs. And they JUST STARTED ON THE JOB.

Jan. 12 2012 12:14 PM
Sue from San Francisco

I worked in an open office space with 3 co workers. One of these, a man, he would randomly clip his fingernails. I did have to go to HR to ask for support in talking with him about keeping his personal hygiene at home. To this day the sound of a nail clippers still haunts me. As I listen to your show, you are just mentioning the toe clipping - this wasn't as drastic but still distracting.

Jan. 12 2012 12:14 PM
Joseph from Brooklyn, NY

How about dirty breast pump parts sitting in the office sink, waiting to be washed?

Jan. 12 2012 12:14 PM
Michela from New York, NY

Hello. I recently worked with a former classmate on a professional project over the course of 3 months.
She is skilled professionally and is a kind person. She is also very sensitive. I would say we are friends, at least within the professional realm.
The issue is that her personal hygiene is... a difficult situation. Her hair is very greasy every day; there are often chunks of dandruff in her hair and it even smells. Her clothes are often wrinkled (and mismatched, but that's just my opinion). And finally, she chews with her mouth open... not just a little, a lot. As in, we were once in a meeting and she was eating and our supervisor turned around to see where "that sound" was coming from. I also noticed these issues when we were in graduate school. All that said, I cannot think of any issue (e.g. mental health, financial, medical, cultural, etc.) that should preclude her from taking care of her basic hygiene or manners while eating.
Over the past few months, I have struggled with commenting on her personal presentation. On the one hand, we work in schools/ mental health and it is important to professionally present ourselves as we work with parents, teachers, and students. Also, the chewing was driving me bonkers.
On the other hand, she is my professional peer and she is very sensitive, and I did not know if it was "my place" to say anything. Ultimately, I said nothing.

The issue now is that she would like me to recommend her for future projects. Although her professional abilities are strong and I like her as person, I am reluctant to recommend someone who presents themselves as such-- as obviously my recommendations is a reflection on me.


Many Thanks!!!

Jan. 11 2012 12:39 PM
anonymous from 1099 under-employment land

Here's a sticky wicket.

I am a 1099 contractor for a technical agency (myco) that itself is subcontracted to the main agency, that works for a large multinational chain.

My problem is that myco has treated me in a unfair, unethical manner.
The person I was working with offered me a lower rate then everyone else who performed the same work (which i unfortunately accepted).

I pointed out to this, and they essentially said, "tough".

They are then claiming I owe THEM money, because they paid me twice for some jobs.

At this point, I have not received any additional work from them, and do not expect to get any future work from them.


How can I tell (the main contractor, and the main company), how I feel about the (what I believe is unethical, and morally challenged ) behaviors their contractors have shown

Jan. 11 2012 12:28 PM
susie sampierre from new york city, ny

i am a massage therapist.
I work in a "spa" that has 3 facial people and one massage therapist.
all 3 facial people are as loud as in a circus. i have complained to the 25 year old manager repeatedly to ask them to speak in a softer voice.

she does NOTHING.

i've stepped out of my room while massaging a client - to ask them to be quiet.
i get an attitude from all of them.

i have complained to uppermanagment in this spa and i'm told im BASHING co-workers and the manager.

help me please.

i'm just pulling out my hair.
i'm not respected at work - nor is my profession of massage therapy respected at work.

thank you.
i am meeting with upper managment tomorrow to discuss this problem.
TWENTY SOMETHINGS - in the work place - ugh.!!!!!
thank you
susie sampierre

Jan. 10 2012 01:59 PM
Tom LI

I do believe this is a common Q/problem. The Office/workplace Flirt. The Male in this case whose apparent ONLY skill is flirting with women, and in a manner of speaking men as well (he's just so damn handsome and nice!) - and in turn winning their hearts and minds to the point that other people now have to pick up the Flirts work load, and a pox on the ones who complain about the Flirts lack of doing his job. Add to the fact that he's a minority and those picking up his dropped balls are not - and its a mess.

How do you present a case to the Boss, without looking petty and jealous?

Jan. 09 2012 04:39 PM

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