Correcting a Co-Worker’s Grammar: Helpful or Hurtful?

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Social Q’s

I recently switched jobs and have been training to use a complicated new computer system. The young woman helping me is terrific: kind, innovative and bright. While training, I learned that she was a teen mom and lifted herself from difficult circumstances. She is interviewing very soon for a better position in the company. But I’ve noticed that her grammar is occasionally poor, and I fear it may hold her back. Could I say something to her? She’s never asked for my advice, but we’ve talked about our desire for advancement.


Assuming “interviewing very soon” means … well, very soon, I picture an interaction like so: “Denise, you’re terrific, but your grammar stinks. Now, get into that interview room and knock em dead!” You have just enough time to destabilize her, but not enough to teach her subject-verb agreement. Let’s try a different tack.

Write to the human-resources department, or whomever your co-worker is interviewing with, and praise her to the heavens. If she’s the Stephen Sondheim of computer trainers, let the gods of advancement know. Be specific about her ingenuity and underscore her drive to grow. (But leave out the “teen mom” business; she probably told you that in friendly confidence.)

Then, wait and see. She may get the job — bad grammar and all. But if she doesn’t, and you find yourself kibitzing with her again about career advancement, I hereby suspend my rule about not giving advice to people who haven’t asked for it (because usually, it just hurts their feelings without doing much good) and allow you a gentle step in that direction. “Denise, you are so talented. If you spiffed up your grammar, there’d be no stopping you.” If she takes the bait, suggest an adult education class. But if she doesn’t, let it go, O.K.?

Family First

I am a gay guy who rarely uses hookup apps. So I was pretty shocked when my sister’s boyfriend turned up at my place via Scruff. Our faces are sort of hidden in our profiles. He begged me not to tell my sister. I want to be straight with her, but I’d hate to “out” someone. What do you think?


One word for you, Jay: sister! Of course you’re going to tell her. Sharing the same womb trumps the shaded complexity of outing. And you are not going to date this guy, either — even though your story has all the makings of a cheesy rom-com I’d definitely watch on Netflix. Are we clear?

Scourge of the Leaf Blower

I am an avid gardener and keep our small yard in top shape. I find it soothing after my busy weeks as a high school teacher and dad to two young girls. Our neighbor knocked on our door and asked me not to use the leaf blower on Sundays. He said it is his only day to rest and doesn’t want to hear my “noise pollution.” I was taken aback but told him I would think about it. Outrageous, right?


Before we get to your loathsome leaf blower, let me pay you a sincere compliment: If more people responded as you did (“Let me think about it”) when they felt aggravated by the demands of others, civility would increase exponentially. Just take a beat and respond later when you’re cooler headed. Well done, Robert!

Now, when I hear “avid gardener,” I picture someone weeding the pachysandra beds quietly or deadheading the roses — not operating machinery that requires ear-protecting headsets like people wear at rifle ranges. Assuming there are no local laws or community rules on the subject (which many places have), you are technically free to blow at will. But in the interest of neighborliness, can’t you find a compromise: an hour on Saturday or late Sunday afternoon? Small gestures foster great good will. And you never know when you may need to borrow this guy’s cherry picker.

Thanksgiving: Time of Thanks and Tofu

My 30-year-old son is vegan. My wife (his stepmother) tries to accommodate him at family meals. But he often complains to me privately that her vegan dishes are bland. And my wife makes not-so-subtle swipes at the table about the extra work. This week, my son emailed me to ask if it would offend my wife if he brought some dishes to Thanksgiving. He added that her vegan offerings were limited last year. My wife saw the email and flipped her tofu. How should I handle this?


Something tells me — O.K., it’s the nasty two-way sniping — that food is not the culprit here. Tell your son, privately, that he should be a more gracious guest. More important, tell him that your wife reads your emails. (He has an expectation of privacy when writing to you directly.) Next, inform your wife that passive-aggressive zingers about slaving in the kitchen do not flatter any host. Then arrange for your son to bring a few vegan options to supplement your wife’s undoubtedly delicious meal. In our world of special diets and food allergies, do a few extra tempeh tacos really matter?