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coworker is angry that I don’t want her grandson’s old baby things, no one will buy my networking shirts, and more — Ask a Manager

It’s four answers to four questions. Here we go…

1. My coworker is angry that I don’t want her grandson’s old baby things

I work at a company of around 80 people. I’m expecting my first baby in a few months and my coworkers have all been very enthusiastic and excited for me.

A few weeks ago, “Prudence,” who works in another department asked me if I’d like any secondhand baby things. Her daughter and grandson live with her and she said she had lots of clothes that her grandson had outgrown. We’ve already been inundated with more clothes and toys than we could ever use so I tried to explain that I appreciated her offer and could use a few things, but we were largely set.

The next day she showed up with a bag of baby clothes and I thanked her. She asked if she could bring me more the following day. I said I appreciated her generosity but we really didn’t need any more. When I arrived the following morning, I found a bag of baby clothes in my office. Unlike the previous bag’s contents, which were in good condition, most of these were stained and threadbare. Prudence is a smoker and all the items reeked of cigarettes. When Prudence came by to make sure I’d gotten them, I thanked her again but told her more firmly that I didn’t need more baby items.

The following day she showed up with multiple sets of bedding. I had already purchased bedding and have the baby’s room decorated. When she tried to hand them to me, I told her thank you, but I didn’t need them. At that Prudence got angry and snapped, “Well, what am I supposed to do with these? Am I just supposed to haul them around all day?” She then dropped them on my office floor and stormed off. Not knowing what to do with them, I wound up just tossing them in the office dumpster (Prudence did not see me do that and to my knowledge is unaware). Now she’s barely speaking to me and shooting me angry looks whenever we encounter each other.

I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but I have no need for these items and I feel like she’s just using me as a convenient way to dump things she no longer wants. Am I in the wrong to turn down the items? If not, how do I make these unwanted “gifts” and her angry attitude stop?

No, you’re not in the wrong, and you don’t need to seem grateful for items you didn’t ask for and in fact told her you didn’t want. If we had a time machine, I’d suggest you not thank her for or accept that second bag (the one you ended up tossing) but rather hand it back to her with a firm, “I can’t accept this” (and if she refused to take it back, put it in her office later) … but it’s certainly not your fault for not knowing that you were opening up the Gates Of Never-Ending Baby Clothes.

It’s not really on you to fix this — you aren’t the rude one — but if it feels like you’d benefit professionally from at least trying to smooth it over, you could say, “Hey, you seemed upset that I couldn’t take the bedding the other day. We’re overwhelmed with stuff for the baby and don’t have room for more. I hope you find a good home for anything you’re still looking to give away!” … and see if it smooths her feathers a little; it may or may not. Alternately, you could ignore the situation entirely and just try to interact with her normally about something work-related; sometimes making a point of doing that that can reset things a bit (and other times, not — it depends on how weird Prudence is determined to be). If that doesn’t work … it’s in her court and should just continue being polite (and enjoying your freedom from unwanted bags of baby things).

2. No one will buy my networking t-shirts

Several years ago I was frustrated with the way people went about looking for jobs. I’m a small business owner and even before running my own company, I always networked. Through networking I’ve managed to do so much. Today I run six networking groups.
Again, several years ago I created a t-shirt designed to network for you. It lists various fields, each with a checkbox by it, and comes with a small sharpie so you can check off the type of job or career you desire. By wearing the t-shirt everywhere you go, it starts the job seeking conversation.

I marketed them inexpensively to college grads. I went to colleges, job fairs, and even graduations. Not one t-shirt sold. I was so angry. I was on popular talk shows and in the paper and still nothing. Today I sit with every size t-shirt in my garage. Many ask why I don’t still purse this idea. They are the ones who got the idea and believe in it.

Perhaps I was ahead of my time. I marketed towards college grads who texted as a main form of communication. However, today communication is even worse. Young adults can barely look someone in the eye.

Please tell me what your opinion is of my t-shirts. I hoped people would wear them daily and maybe while filling their gas tank this would start a conversation that would change their lives forever Networking will always be the way to get what you need. Referrals, physicians, mechanics, plumbers, electricians, landscapers, housekeepers, financial advisors, accountants, babysitters, trainers, real estate agents, tutors, and whatever I have missed. Am I wrong? Would my product help those unable to network?

I don’t think most people want to wear what’s essentially a walking billboard proclaiming that they’re seeking work in X field — which I think is what the lack of sales is telling you. And if someone does want to wear a shirt advertising their job search, they probably don’t want one that lists a few dozen fields with checkboxes; they’d want just their own field. (But I’m not suggesting you create one that does that instead! Most people don’t want to wear this on a shirt, period.)

From the sounds of it, all those people who pushed the idea and are asking why you’re not still pursuing it haven’t bought shirts themselves, which is telling.

I’d say listen to the what your market data is telling you.

(Also, it’s not at all my experience with young adults that they can barely look people in the eye!)

3. I can hear my coworker listening to TV shows through our office wall

I have a new coworker, John, who is just out of school and seems nice, but is a bit aloof so we haven’t spoken much. His office is right next to mine and our walls are really thin. John listens to CNN talk shows and other television shows for hours without headphones. I can hear everything and find it very distracting. I usually wear my personal AirPods with the noise cancellation setting on. However, when I need to take a zoom meeting, I have to switch headphones because I don’t like to connect my AirPods to my work computer. When I do this I can hear all of John’s shows through my headphones. I’m the only one who can hear his shows because of the way the offices are set up so this only impacts me in the office.

I haven’t talked to him about this yet because I don’t want to seem rude, as I really don’t know him well. I’m also hesitant to bring it up to my supervisor, as I don’t know if he’s watching the shows instead of working or is working with them on for background noise, and I don’t want to get him in trouble. Is there a good way to address this without being rude or can I ask my work to pay for (expensive) noise cancelling headphones that I can use with my computer?

You are making this into a much bigger deal than it should be! It’s not rude to politely ask someone to keep noise down in their office — and it’s definitely not rude when the thing causing noise is TV shows that they’re not even bothering to use headphones for. John probably doesn’t realize that you can hear him, and you just need to let him know it’s bothering you. (Definitely don’t consider going to your boss about it before you’ve tried talking to John directly!) In fact, think of it as a courtesy to him — he’s new in your office and right out of school and probably doesn’t want to be inadvertently annoying people or coming across like he doesn’t care about basic professional norms.

Pop your head in there and say, “Could you use headphones when you’re listening to shows? I can hear it through the walls, even with my headphones on, and it’s distracting.” Say it cheerfully, and in a tone of “obviously you don’t realize this and will happily fix it once you do” (as opposed to a tone that says “this is very fraught and I am afraid to ask it”).

4. Can I use an engagement photo as a professional headshot?

I could use some guidance on professional headshots. I’m relatively new to the workforce, having just graduated with my masters and getting a full-time professional position in my field. My institution doesn’t require headshots but it is very normal to have them on our website, email profiles, and presentations. I’ve never had any professional photos taken that turned out well. (My institution offers free headshots every few months but they somehow always make me look like an egg. I digress.)

However, I do have a photo from my recent engagement shoot that I want to use instead. My hair is simple and my makeup is typical for my daily workwear. The only thing that gives it away is that the black dress I’m wearing has some sparkly/celestial details (fairly normal for my closet, though) and the background is dark blurry trees. I used the same photo for my master’s program defense and people loved it.

Am I overthinking this? In my mind it seems far better than a selfie but I have no clue what the norms are around headshots. I work in academic libraries, so we sort of straddle the line between “creative community hub” and “traditional academia” culture.

The best way to figure it out is to look at the photos other people are using. If everyone else is in business suits or against a generic corporate blue background, you’d want to match that vibe in formality and not be the one person whose photo doesn’t match. But otherwise, I think you’re fine — you sent me the photo and nothing about it screams “bridal.” (And it’s a great photo!)

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