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Miss Manners: Be kind to laid-off co-workers

Wed., Feb. 25, 2009

Dear Miss Manners: Several of my co-workers were recently laid off. Some of them are finishing up a few things for a week or two before they leave, and others left the same day.

What do you say to an acquaintance who was just laid off? It’s a painful time for them, and I want to say “I’m sorry” or “Are there things I can do to help?” but I don’t want to come across as pitying them, or as saying “Ha-ha – I’m still here, and you’re not, sucks to be you!”

I feel awful for these long-term co-workers, but I’m not a close enough friend to actually know what they would need or appreciate. I also feel guilty about still having my job, but this isn’t a time to whine about me, it’s a time to reach out to them.

A card seems stupid and pointless. A nonconversation sounds awkward and awful. Ignoring it seems worse. A gift certificate or some such seems to assume that they are in dire financial straits.

Gentle Reader: What about taking each one to lunch, your treat, and not bringing up the subject?

The gesture itself shows that you care, without any of the undertones that you fear. You will then be able to adjust your tone to the way each is handling it and offer practical help if it seems relevant. Miss Manners would consider this especially graceful if your invitation is made or repeated after they have left, to show that they are missed and not forgotten.

Dear Miss Manners: There’s this very good close friend of mine who will be due to have her baby soon. A couple of months ago, we discussed baby names. As I knew she’s having a girl, I asked if they had yet to pick a name for the baby. She told me her list of girl names she really liked.

Since we were on the topic and she’s a very good friend that I trust, I also shared with her an original girl name I really liked. I’m not pregnant at this time, nor do I know when we’ll be ready for a second child, much less guarantee that I’ll have another girl. But it is a girl name I had kept to myself until then.

So we went out for supper and I asked her if they finally decided on a name. She still had her little list, but one of the names had changed to the one I had shared with her.

I immediately confronted her about it, but she brushed me off by saying she had heard the name only a couple of weeks ago from someone else.

I was furious, and it ruined the rest of my night with my girlfriends. I couldn’t believe she would betray my trust. I want to know if I’m overreacting. And should I confront her with this?

Gentle Reader: Your friend may well have heard the name again from someone else. And if she uses it, she may find that half the girls in her daughter’s kindergarten class, whose parents neither of you knows, have the same name.

How this happens is a mystery to Miss Manners, but she has noticed, over the years, how a name that seemed highly original when bestowed suddenly becomes the fad of the year.

So while you are indeed overreacting, it may be just as well that you cannot keep dibs on names. If and when you had occasion to use it, you could well be heartily sick of it.

Readers may write to Miss Manners at MissManners@ unitedmedia.com, or via postal mail at United Media, 200 Madison Ave., Fourth Floor, New York, NY 10016 or (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.


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