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Related How to communicate to someone at work that they are overstepping boundaries.

This happened recently to a girlfriend, Mary, at work. Mary works as a cashier for a large department store that carries expensive clothes. At some point, during her shift, she notices the floor manager, Nina, talking to a customer whom she had happened to take care of in the past, pointing at her. They then approach together, and Nina asks Mary to take care of him.

There were other cashiers available but for obvious reasons the customer wanted my friend to "take care of him".

Mary processes the customer's purchases and upon finishing, the customer leaves her his card, smiles and says "call me".

Mary got really annoyed and upset not only with the customer (she thought this was completely inappropriate regardless of her being in a relationship) but also with her manager, Nina.

She remained upset the entire time but didn't say anything. During a short break, Nina approached her and asked her if she was upset. Mary shook her head, and said nothing, though she was clearly affected by what had happened. She was afraid to put herself in a position to be laid off, were she to cause trouble by talking to Nina's supervisor about it and making this a bigger deal (?).

Mary ONLY works the register. She ONLY processes purchases. It's not that she was going to do something different than the other women who also work the register. It's not that she had helped the customer for an hour to choose a suit or something.

Even though the customer most likely didn't tell Nina he was going to ask Mary to call him, common sense tells both Mary and me, that he wanted the opportunity to talk to Mary and unless Nina is completely clueless, she should have had more tact.

She asked me what I'd have done and I told her I would have talked to the store manager regardless but Mary didn't want to involve them. I, nevertheless, agreed that what Nina had done wasn't right.

How could Mary have politely communicated to Nina that what Nina had done was inappropriate and unprofessional when asked "Did you get upset?" and ask that she doesn't do that again?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Catija Oct 16 '17 at 15:48
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So, this male was talking to Nina first, and pointing at Mary. This sounds very much like the male might have asked Nina if it was okay to make a move on Mary. Which is (in my opinion) a good thing, he's a polite man and didn't want to offend Mary/ do anything rude. Nina brought him over, and at the end of the ride, he offers Mary a card and asks her to 'call him'. I'm assuming that's it, that he didn't wait or push Mary for a reply.

I, as a female and ex-retail worker, feel a certain amount of respect for this guy. He was polite, subtle and at the same time had the balls to ask Mary in a respectable way 'would you like to get to know me better? I certainly would like to get to know you better', gave the choice completely to Mary and left it at that. Trust me, I've been through worse when working retail (Hey honey, wanna have sex tonight?)

But, as MichaelKarnerfors rightly pointed out in the comments, no matter what I think of the guy's behavior, this doesn't mean that Mary had no right to be upset. Mary might well have found her boundaries violated by such behavior or found the behavior completely unacceptable for a workplace. The two paragraphs above are just from personal experience and to share my thought on the subject, and to provide with some insight into how I'm thinking and some background to this answer.

How could Mary have politely communicated to Nina that what Nina had done was inappropriate and unprofessional when asked "Did you get upset?" and ask that she doesn't do that again?

If Mary got really upset she probably showed it on her face. So, Nina might have seen this and approached Mary to ask if she was okay. This means that even Nina might not have been sure that what she did was okay to do, that she misjudged Mary as somebody that might appreciate such a move. This was probably the best moment for Mary to have just stated the facts:

Remember that male you asked me to process his purchases? He asked me to call him. I'm freaked out right now, I'm not feeling very safe anymore.

If you want to find out if Nina knew of the man's intent, it's better to ask this than to outright accuse her of conspiracy with the customer. Maybe Nina didn't know the man was going to make that move. Ask her if she did, follow up the question by stating:

I saw you talking with the customer, were you aware he was going to do this? If you were, could you please tell them I'm not available next time? I really don't like this happening to me, it freaks me out.

This isn't accusing Nina, and also offers Nina a solution that she can use the next time such a situation arises. Don't go around throwing terms like 'unprofessional' and 'inappropriate' directly at Nina. Keep those for when she makes the same mistake multiple times. For now, be gentle in communicating that you didn't like this 'surprise' at all.

In response to your edit:

If, as you suspect, the customer didn't tell Nina about his plans, Nina didn't have much to prevent him going to Mary's register. After all, if a customer points out Mary because he knows her from a previous visit, as long as Nina doesn't have proof that he's 'misbehaving', she can't politely decline his request. Your first goal here is to find out what the conversation between the customer and Nina was about.

Have Mary tell to Nina what happened. But don't accuse Nina of 'you should have had more tact'. Just state that Mary was upset by the incident, and ask Nina what happened between her and the customer. Let Nina know of what happened and ask her to work with Mary to figure this out. And if anything more happens (read: if the customer starts to stalk Mary), keep Nina up to date. I don't know how much power a store-manager has over there, but I've once seen my boss deny entrance to a customer that was being very creepy (almost stalking) a colleague of mine.

By providing Nina with the facts, Nina might be able to prevent the customer from visiting Mary's register again (or at least give him a very stern warning not to bring the 'call me' up again --> I've seen my boss do that and it worked). The only things Mary and Nina can do here are retroactive and aimed at that specific customer since he already crossed the line. Nina will never be able to protect Mary from customers doing this again (or worse) if she has no clue they are going to do so. But once they do, she can (and must) protect Mary from further harm.

  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. – MichaelK Oct 16 '17 at 11:16
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    {Comments Deleted} There are way too many comments here. There's already a chat room. If you want to discuss this post, use the chat room. If you posted a comment after the chat room was created, sorry but I can't move comments to the chat. They don't belong here. – Catija Oct 16 '17 at 15:48
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You and Mary both seem to be assuming that the conversation between the customer and the manager went like this:

That girl at the counter sure is pretty. I'd like to ask her out. Can you call her over here please?

Of course, sir!

But chances are it went more like this.

Good morning. I was in here last week and got fantastic help from a young lady who I see is working again today (pointing.) Any chance she could assist me today also?

Oh yes, that's Mary, she's very helpful. I'll call her over.

There's nothing in that for Mary to object to. The manager is just doing her job.

If she's really rattled by the card and the request to "call me" (and I expect many women in a public-facing position might be) then she needs to ask the manager about the conversation that happened in the store.

The other day, when that [tall, older, whatever adjectives you have] gentleman [in the green blazer, who bought 6 ties, etc] pointed me out, did he tell you why he wanted to talk to me?

The manager may say "he wanted to ask you on a date!" but more likely "no, just asked if you could look after him." Then Mary can reply

Well, he gave me his card and asked me to call him. Like for a date, I think. It made me uncomfortable. (This might be a time to mention that she was so upset that she couldn't correctly answer "are you upset?" which the manager did notice originally.)

Now the manager is "looped in" and can do things like not facilitating more interactions between the two of them. Or, if the manager responds by urging Mary to date the customer for the store's continued benefit, well, Mary will know how things stand and can figure out what to do about that.

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    @Tycho'sNose - Screw the store's policy, it's against basic manners to just leave a card and say "call me". It's arrogant and entitled, and the man in question should be told so. – Guy G Oct 16 '17 at 10:02
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    Your edit makes no difference whatsoever. Unless the customer made it explicitly clear to Nina that he intended to ask Mary out, Nina did nothing wrong. And why would there be a store policy preventing asking to be served by a particular cashier? Or are you suggesting she lie to a customer by making up a policy that doesn't exist? – Sean Burton Oct 16 '17 at 11:15
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    "the guy didn't tell Nina what his true intentions were" - "the manager could have handled it more diplomatically, perhaps saying it's against the store's policy to do that" - To do what? If she wan't aware about what he is going to do, should she just tell all male customers asking to be serviced by a specific clerk that they please shall refrain from hitting on them? – Fildor Oct 16 '17 at 12:05
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    I do not live in the USA so I might not know the culture very well, but how is it rude to ask a person out as long as you are polite. As I read the question; he left his phone number, leaving the decision to take contact entirely up to her alone. In my opinion it would be more intrusive to ask for her phone number. – David Oct 17 '17 at 11:19
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    @David at least "call me" is imperative form, it is strictly not leaving the decision with her, but commanding her to call him. Had it been a polite "if you are interested in getting to know me, here is my number, feel free to contact me", I'd be more willing to agree with your interpretation. Also, he seems not too good at nonverbal communication, as before giving someone your number, thus implying there is some basic interest between the two of you, you should be certain (with high enough probability) that there is some mutual interest/liking (but well, misjudgments happen). – Frank Hopkins Oct 17 '17 at 11:59
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"How to politely communicate to your manager that what they did upset you and ask that it doesn't happen again?"

Based on your story, it sounds like your manager did nothing more than ask you to serve a customer you had served in the past. All the rest sounds like speculation. So if you're question is how you can politely communicate to your manager that her asking you to fulfil the most fundamental part of your job (serving customers) upset you and not to do it again; I don't think there is a way.

You're making a lot of assumptions. It could have been as simple as your manager talked to the customer, they mentioned they were served here before, your manager asked who served them, he said you. She sent him to get assisted by you again. He fancied you so made an innocuous attempt to hit on you and left. You then proceeded to react as if your manager was trying to pimp you out to a customer. Did Nina tell the customer you were single??

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"How could Mary have politely communicated to Nina that what Nina had done was inappropriate and unprofessional when asked "Did you get upset?" and ask that she doesn't do that again?"

This has several points to be addressed:

  1. "what Nina had done was inappropriate and unprofessional" - Was it? Actually, it is pretty unclear what she actually did. The real conversation between her and the customer could have been totally different from all Mary is assuming. There is nothing to be gained in speculations here: Mary should ask Nina what had been spoken between her and customer.

  2. "Did you get upset?" - To me, this question does not say "Are you upset because I did not tell the customer not to hit on you". It simply expresses her impression of Mary to be upset by something and genuinely asking for the reason. This would have been the perfect time to tell her what the customer did and also communicate it's generally not appreciated (without accusations). The least she could have done is postpone the conversation with "We'll talk later, if you don't mind."

TL;DR We really don't know what Nina did, so judging it with "inappropriate" is inherently wrong. She should have simply told Nina what happened and that it freaks her out (without accusing Nina). I see no reason why this should affect their work relationship.

After Question edit

Where I live (Germany) it is not uncommon (at least not creepy) to request for being serviced by personnel one already knows from previous visits to a shop. Regardless of the total worth of purchases I in Nina's place wouldn't have been suspicious if asked by a customer if there was a specific person available to be serviced by. Following "innocent until proven guilty" I personally wouldn't blame Nina for "a hookup".

If Mary was really that upset by a guy leaving is number with a "call me" and really was mad at her boss Nina suspecting she hooked her up - well I tend to say it is more her problem overreacting to this than anybody else's.

At the same time, I'd like to say I wasn't there - so the situation might have been creepier than what I read from the question. But I can only rely on the question's wording.

But back to the question: My conclusion on how she could have reacted politely:

  1. Tell Nina to speak to her at a later time and sleep over the whole situation.
  2. After the first "shock" has gone and the situation could be reconsidered, talk to Nina (again without accusations), trying to figure out what had really happened.
  3. Come to an agreement with Nina, that she backs her up when somebody is trying to hit on her in the future.

One last thing:

I didn't touch the subject of the customer himself. Was it "OK" to hit on Mary this way or not? I get this could be at least debatable and I read the question is more about how to react to Nina not to the customer. I also got the feeling what is more upsetting to Mary is not the hookup-line itself (well, partly it is, of course) but the assumption that Nina condoned that move.

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    @Tycho'sNose "how Nina could have responded to the customer and respecting Mary" we cannot debate that, because we don't have the log of their conversation. All we can do about the Nina-Customer interaction is speculation. And that's not really productive, I think. – Fildor Oct 16 '17 at 12:00
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Hmm ... sounds like to one extent or another Nina "set Mary up" with a guy.

It's not certain whether Nina knew the guy before that day and wanted to matchmake, or if the guy approached her "Ma'am can you introduce me to that gal over there".

Either way, it's understandable that Mary may just not want any of that action. So...

Mary should go talk to Nina. Not some in-your-face kind of thing; Mary doesn't have all the facts. Go up to her and say, "Hey that guy the other day asked me out. What was going on there?" And hear Nina's story.

When you have gotten Nina's story, Mary should shake her head, laugh wryly, and say, "Okay, just don't send me any more, my nerves can't handle it."

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Mary may consider to have a clarifying talk with Nina. But not to approach her in an accusatory way. Instead, turn this into a professional talk about what Nina expects of her as her employee.

It was none of Nina's business to allow that man to approach her like that (once he had asked Nina, Nina should rather have asked Mary first, instead of acting like a pimp - sorry for phrasing it like that). It's also in Mary's interest to find out, whether Nina thinks that using her as bait will be good for business. And also where it will stop - e. g. what happens if that very same customer comes back and asks, why Mary didn't call him yet etc.?

So Mary should stay neutral and professional and ask about what Nina envisions to be her professional duties. Mention the incident and also describe it, so that Nina has a chance to explain herself (and knows why Mary is having that talk with her at all). If necessary, Mary can then explain that she doesn't want to have non-business related contact to customers.

In keeping it professional, Mary minimizes the risk of being seen as a troublemaker, doesn't accuse Nina of anything, but ascertains her boundaries instead. For sure, in the end it all depends on Nina's stance.

Mary could still do that or have done that right when Nina asked her (although it would probably not have been easy in an emotional state).

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