Collage by Becky Harlan and Bronson Arcuri/NPR
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When interpersonal conflict meets etiquette, things can get messy. So we asked Rachel Wilkerson Miller, editor-in-chief of Self and author of The Art of Showing Up for help. Drawing on her years of experience in service journalism, she offers advice on three of your anonymous questions about tricky social situations.
The following has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
We’re dog lovers. However, we live next door to neighbors with two really annoying, yappy dogs. They’re outside all day long and whenever we are outside with the kids, taking out the trash, hanging laundry, etc., the dogs bark non-stop. How do I politely ask my neighbor to keep their dogs inside more often? We actually don’t know them very well. They tend to keep to themselves. — Barking Mad
I think it ultimately depends on what kind of relationship you want to have. If you’ve seen them around and you feel like you might want to become friends with them, I think you would need to put up with the dogs for a little while as you get to know them. Because leading with that could really put things off on the wrong foot.
The complete opposite end of that, is some people have no interest in being friends with their neighbors and no problem being that neighbor. That’s the kind of neighbor I grew up with. He would just say, “Hey your dogs are annoying. Get them under control.” I don’t necessarily recommend that, but you can decide where you fall on that spectrum before you proceed.
The middle ground is saying, “Hey, we haven’t gotten a chance to meet yet.” Introducing yourself, be really warm and generous, but then also say, “I don’t know if you’ve noticed …” (I think it’s always nice to say, “I don’t know if you realized it …” Give people the benefit of the doubt.) “I don’t know if you’ve realized it, but your dogs are out here barking a lot. It can be a little disruptive when we’re doing XYZ thing.” Kind of give them a reason to care. And say, “We were hoping you could bring them inside more, or maybe do something with a trainer to get them to bark less.” Then see what they say. I think just being direct, being polite, is usually the way to go.
I don’t think leaving a note is the move, but if you do go with a note, I think the most important thing is to not make it anonymous. Always sign it, and don’t say anything that you can’t stand behind.
When should I show up for a casual get-together? My boyfriend thinks we should get there exactly on time or even a few minutes early, but sometimes hosts are still getting ready that early. That’s why I think it’s fine to show up 15 minutes late. What do the experts say? — Better Late Than Never
In this case, I side with the letter writer. I’m a very punctual person. But I think the rules of casual gatherings are very different. If we’re talking about a business meeting or a baptism or anything that’s a big group of people and we really want to start this thing on time, I think it’s very important to be there a few minutes early ready to go. But a more casual gathering, your host doesn’t want you to show up early. I think we’ve all been the person entertaining crossing our fingers hoping that that one friend doesn’t show up early because we’re still getting ready.
If you do show up early, apologize, expect to be put to work, and only do that with somebody you know really well who wouldn’t be mad if you saw them without their makeup on. But in general, be five to ten minutes late. Thirty is pushing it, I definitely think a text is required. But five to ten for a more casual gathering is doing your host a favor.
I sent my nephew one hundred dollars as a gift last year, and he never sent a thank you note. This year, the exact same thing happened! I Should I just accept that there won’t be any thank you notes? Should I talk to him about it? Should I just stop sending him gifts? — No thank you
For me, a lot of this hinges on how old your nephew is. If they’re fairly young, it’s probably a conversation you want to have with their parents. But if they’re older and you talk on the phone regularly or you text regularly, I think it’s totally reasonable to reach out to them and ask if they received it. Which is subtly communicating, “I didn’t hear from you, and I didn’t get a thank you from you.” The more important thing is, if you send a gift, you want to make sure that the person received it. They should hear that and realize, “Oh I didn’t say thank you, so they don’t know if I got it yet.”
I don’t think reaching out and demanding a thank you note is necessarily the way to go because everyone has a different understanding of when you send a note. It’s totally reasonable with a lot of gifts to send a thank you text if that’s the kind of relationship you have. Don’t just up and stop giving a gift without doing a little bit of outreach first and trying to make sure that they understand what your expectation is.
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