Q: I work in an area that's far from the men's and women's bathrooms in the main part of the building. All we have is a unisex bathroom in our area, and certain males are forever leaving the toilet seat up. How can I get them to realize that this is inappropriate? -- L.E., Manchester, N.H.
A: Anyone who's sat on the toilet rim because the seat was left up knows how unpleasant that can be. The trick is to encourage the men to continue putting the seat up while at the same time getting them to start putting it down when they're finished. The best approach is to gently let them know about the issue. Consider starting with a sign above the toilet that says, "Please remember to put the seat down when you're done. Thank you." A next step would be to bring the issue up at the next department or team meeting.
Q: I work for a company that was just acquired by a German firm. There are multiple differences in the way each company does business. As a result, the new owners are offending people with their actions, but I'm not sure they know that. Obviously, a greater understanding of each other's ways of doing things would help both sides work together better. How do I inform my new bosses about these differences without offending them? -- B.C., Mount Airy, Md.
A: Acquisitions are often difficult, since the acquirers become the new bosses. Your approach needs to be one of suggesting, not demanding. As you pointed out, your new bosses may be offended by certain ways you do business, as well. Perspective is the key here: Each side needs to have a clearer understanding of how their actions are perceived by the other. Starting from the point of view that "We want to talk to you about things you're doing that offend us" won't work, because it immediately sends the message that your way is right and theirs is wrong, and they need to change their ways.
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Instead, consider opening a dialogue by suggesting to your manager, "We want this acquisition to work and the company to be successful. Because you bring a new culture to this business, there will be differences in the way we work that could be frustrating to some people, and we don't want that to get in the way. We'd like to suggest setting up a team to examine the differences and propose solutions for integrating our two different cultures. Would you be willing to do that?"
Dialogue, patience and acceptance of new ways on both sides will be the key to improving the situation. Good luck.
Peter Post is a director of the Emily Post Institute and the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business," published by HarperCollins. He is one of Emily Post's four great-grandchildren.