Dear Hobie & Monk,
I have recently hired a new employee at our small-to-medium sized central office, and he is missing a finger. Now everyone in the office is curious about the missing finger. There must be a story. Should I ask?
– Knows Too Much
Monk: No, you should not ask. Although you are 100 percent correct — there is a story — the tale belongs to the new employee. And it’s his to share if and when he chooses. Consider this: We all have stories — those we like to share, those we choose to keep to ourselves and some we even keep from ourselves.
For those among us who enter every new situation with a visible — or other — difference, one that evokes curiosity, the untold story of the difference also comes along. But none of us should have to share a personal story or, as may be the case here, help others become more comfortable with a difference. Your curiosity is natural, but I suggest you forget about the missing finger and get to know the guy you hired.
Hobie: We could get into a big legal discussion about what constitutes creating a hostile work environment and why it might be relevant in this case, but why fuss with all of that when laws exist precisely to encourage the kind of thoughtful approach that Monk is proposing anyway? Yes, curiosity is human nature, but we’re supposed to be mature enough to squelch all sorts of nasty, naturally occurring tendencies.
You ideally will be able to restrain yourself, but because you are the boss and workplace issues really do fall within a legal context, you may also want to have private conversations with your other employees to remind them that they need to be similarly well behaved.
Hobie and Monk are two Alexandria women with husbands, children, dogs, jobs, mortgages, unmet New Year’s resolutions, obsessions with impractical shoes, English novels … and Ph.D.s in clinical psychology. Their advice, while fabulous, should not be construed as therapeutic within a doctor-patient context or substituted for the advice of readers’ personal advisors.