I was laid off after more than 10 years with my company, which is planning a party for me. I have been asked when I think it would be convenient. I hate these forced parties-in-the-conference-room generally and try to avoid them as much as possible, and, frankly, I don’t see much reason to celebrate in this particular instance. Would “thanks, but no thanks” be incredibly rude, or a relief to everybody? I’m planning a small unofficial get-together with a few colleagues who go back to the early days.
J.A. / Boston
First, let me validate your feelings as if they were the parking tickets of a valued customer. I wouldn’t want a going-away party either under those circumstances. You aren’t asking for empathy, though, you’re asking for strategy. And my honest answer to whether it would be considered rude of you to refuse — or a blessed relief — is that I don’t know. Organizations are like families, with different traditions and expectations and preferred ratios of decorum and honesty. So here’s a question back to you: If you refused, and your refusal were interpreted as rude, what would be the consequences? Would it burn bridges, professionally? Would it hurt the feelings of people you like? Or would it be “Oh, that’s typical J.A. He always did hate those things”? Whatever your gut reaction is, the answer probably lies there.
If you do decide to go along with the corporate conference-room party — which is probably the right move, let’s face it — have it before your private get-together with your veteran colleagues. That way the latter can serve as a reward, and you can amuse yourself by making mental notes about the annoying cliches people spout, to share with your real friends afterward.
My mother-in-law is one of those folks who often repeat the same stories. Just three years into my marriage with her son, I can complete the punch lines to many of them. What’s the right thing to do here? Is there a polite way to let someone know you’ve heard it before, or do I continue to look surprised at the ending and feign laughter?
S.G. / Somerville
There isn’t much you can do, unfortunately. People repeat stories for two reasons — either they don’t remember that they told you before or, deep down, they don’t care, because it’s the telling that matters, not so much the audience. (For any readers who do worry about possibly repeating stories, your “destination memory” can be improved if you pay deliberate attention to the person you’re telling a story to and make a mental note of his or her reaction afterward. A sincere “Stop me if I’ve told you this one before” also works.)
The flip side of “There isn’t much you can do,” happily, is “There isn’t much you have to do.” You’re not Jessica Lange in a Ryan Murphy show; you don’t have to react to stories you’ve heard 37 times with gasps and scenery chewing. If your reaction were that important to your mother-in-law, she’d have remembered it from the first half-dozen times. Instead, treat her stories as you would a pleasant tune in heavy rotation on your playlist — smile distantly, let it play along the fringes of your consciousness, and sing along if you feel inspired and know the words.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.