If Ben Edelman had a Do-Over

Q: Tell me what you think of Ben Edelman, the Harvard professor who tangled with a restaurant owner over $4.00.

A: Wow. Ok, I think Ben Edelman is probably very smart. I think Ben Edelman probably earned a perfect score on his math SAT. I think Ben Edelman is probably an outstanding attorney when it comes his knowledge of consumer rights and pricing. Advocating for consumers is important work! We all have stories of getting ripped off, or being confused by the infamous “fine print” or feeling like we have no rights when dealing with large retailers.

However, kindness matters in our communities and our workplaces. Extending yourself to a member of your community in a thoughtful way matters. Ben could have stopped in to the restaurant and asked to speak to the manager. A simple, “Hey did you know that your prices were wrong on your website?” would have been a good opening question. I wish Ben would have conveyed a message of support in a helpful tone. Ben could have explained that he is a local attorney and that one of his areas of expertise is ensuring that prices are posted accurately. “I enjoy your food and want to make sure that you are pricing items properly on your site.” We all need to think about HOW we communicate a message, as much as we focus on the WHAT of our message.

The emails to the Ran Duan and the Osushi Restaurant are not in the spirit of kindness, being helpful or teaching a retailer how to best explain pricing on their website or how to handle a Groupon. The messages many of us read have a mean-spirited and elitist tone. Humans and stores make mistakes. Instead of threatening legal action, how about offering guidance?

Because kindness is everywhere (include Harvard!), a group of Harvard students launched a site to raise funds for The Greater Boston Food Bank with the hope of eradicating the negative stereotypes reinforced by this dispute. How great is that — kindness in action!

We all have gifts. Ben’s gift is knowing unlawful and deceptive advertising practices. Ran Duan’s is running a restaurant and serving apparently delicious food. Even Ben agreed that their food is tasty.

We need Ben Edelmans in the world, but a kinder and gentler Ben Edelman. It may not show up on a spreadsheet but being kind counts.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section. Click here to read about more employment topics in The Job Doc Blog at Boston.com.