Bad Jokes: Reversing a Poorly Thought-Out Jest

At last! An advice column that's 100 percent East Tennessee, and twice the advice for the price of one. Each letter gets a response from "Jacki," a 20-something shoe-loving Jersey gal with a UT English degree, and "Jill," who is a good 20 years older and has been dishing out advice for decades. On occasion, we ask the letter writer to respond to the advice, and include the Take Three as well.

Dear Take Two,

A co-worker, Sue, continually takes off work without regard to office coverage in her absence. She seems to either be unaware of the need to have phone coverage or just doesn't care. Even if others have put in to be on vacation, Sue will still, at the last minute, take off. Often no explanation is offered; she never consults with her co-workers or boss ahead of time. We know we shall have to continue working with her and want the office to remain pleasant, so how can we get her to coordinate her activities responsibly?

Stuck Answering the Phone

Says Jacki: First, make sure you are not the only one who feels like this. If the others in your work group agree, a few of you together might take it up with management. But only you can decide if it's worth it, because it will get awkward if you speak out. She doesn't feel uncomfortable screwing you all at a moment's notice, so I wouldn't feel uncomfortable calling her out. But if you can't bring yourselves to address it with the higher ups, you may just have to live with it so you can all work in peace.

Says Jill: I'm assuming you are very familiar with your business's time off policy and that Sue is violating it. If the policy isn't that strict, this becomes more of a question of goodwill and professionalism, and Sue lacks both. In either case, don't expect her to change—but don't give up entirely. Talk to your supervisor, focusing strictly on "we have trouble keeping the phones covered if two of us are gone," without making any personal reference to Sue. Suggest a solution, like having a list of temps who can fill in if the budget allows. That way, management will be motivated to evaluate the situation to justify incurring costs—and they may discover Sue's violating policies (if she's doing that) or at least that she's causing problems.

Dear Take Two,

Recently, I said something to my roommate that I thought was a joke. She works at a small company, and we both know her boss, "Jeff" from school so he comes to parties here every now and then. She just got a promotion, and when she told me yesterday morning, I let her know how happy I was and then joked, "Good thing we fed Jeff steak last weekend, eh?" We each got ready for our evenings and left the conversation alone. Later that day, though, she messaged me telling me that the comment hurt her feelings and asked me not to belittle her hard work. I know how hard she works; I live with her! I had no intention of belittling the effort that I know she put in to earn that position; it was just a bad joke. How do I make this right?


Stupid Mouth

Says Jill: In today's tight job market, it's super easy to take offense at remarks made about work. I would recommend a brief "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it that way but I guess that wasn't very sensitive of me," without any further explanation because it really doesn't sound like that big of a deal. I'm a little concerned that your own roommate felt she had to message you instead of just saying, "Ouch!" and giving you a chance to explain on the spot. Please don't use a text to apologize, or soon you'll both be texting to frostily request the other replace the orange juice or clean the tub, and we don't want that.

Says Jacki: As women, we sometimes have to work harder to achieve in the job market and we're often criticized for not earning our way to the top with integrity. Your friend seems to think you fall into the category of people who don't attribute credit where credit is due. But seeing as you are so upset, you are clearly not one of those people. So offer your roommate a congratulatory card, reiterate your pride, and apologize for the confusion. Ask her to understand that you have a self-proclaimed "stupid mouth," generally mean nothing by it and that she should alert you to your faults immediately, so you can learn from your mistakes. What are friends for, if not to make us better people, yes?

Take Three:

I took Jacki's advice, bought a card, and handed it to my roommate. Then we talked about why my remark upset her and I asked her to please let me know any time I offend her. She said she would and then asked me to do the same. We ended up chatting about past roommates, irritating habits in ourselves and others and vowed to affectionately use the code phrase "stupid mouth" to alert each other when we felt the other had crossed a line. It was great! Did I mention how much the bottle of wine we shared helped?

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