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Etiquette at Work

How can I tactfully avoid telling a supervisor why I'm seeing a doctor?

Email|Print| Text size + By Peter Post
December 2, 2007

Q: A few months ago, I started working in the human resources department of a large company. Shortly after starting, I needed to make a doctor's appointment. This being my first job out of college, I asked a couple of female co-workers what the procedure was for asking for time off. They told me to e-mail a direct superior saying that I have an appointment and giving the date and time. My superior is very curious, so to avoid any undue embarrassing questions I waited until a month before my appointment to e-mail him. The day before my appointment, he came into my office and asked me why I was going to the doctor and what was wrong with me. I know there are laws that allow me to keep silent on the matter, but how can I tactfully and appropriately avoid telling this 60-year-old man why I'm seeing the doctor? Am I being childish?
B. D., Germantown, Tenn.

A: I don't think you're being childish about feeling uncomfortable answering your supervisor's questions. Other than a general "I hope everything is all right," he shouldn't be prying. He may be behaving this way with other workers as well. Because this matter may cross the line from an issue of etiquette into one of legality, it should be taken up with your HR department supervisor or a senior person at the firm. As for your immediate response, you should be calm but direct about your unwillingness to elaborate on your upcoming doctor's visit: "Mr. Smith, I appreciate your concern, but this is really a private matter that I prefer not to discuss."

Q: About five months ago, I recommended a former colleague who was subsequently hired within our department. We'd worked together previously, and our interaction had been great. However, we've both changed. Due to some severe medical issues, he takes medication that causes very short-tempered behavior and a condescending attitude. I've tried having a private conversation with him, because I don't appreciate some of the behavior directed at me. His behavior has been brought up to me by co-workers, as well. Any suggestions?
Anonymous

A: You've tried the first step - talking to him -without success. Because he's a colleague and doesn't report directly to you, all you can do is try to influence your department's decision-maker about this individual. Ask to talk with your supervisor, preferably along with the other people affected. Explain the difficulty you're all having and how it's hurting office morale and ask for his help with strategies for solving the problem. Good luck.

MORE OFFICE MANNERS Listen to Peter's advice at boston.com/news/podcasts. E-mail questions about business etiquette to bizmanners@globe.com; fax to 617-929-3183; or mail to Etiquette at Work, The Boston Globe, P.O. Box 55819, Boston, MA 02205-5819. Readers whose questions are published will receive a copy of Peggy and Peter Post's book, "The Etiquette Advantage in Business."

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