Dear Miss Manners • I was told to “take a course in communication” in reference to the way I have conversations. An acquaintance loudly informed me that when they initiate a conversation about their day, it is my job to only listen and agree.
But what if I do not agree? Am I just to sit there and pretend? I’m not quite sure how to handle this. I know that one shouldn’t give advice when it is not asked for, but am I not supposed to speak unless prompted?
Please fill me in on the proper way to respond (or not respond). It seems I am in dying need of Communication 101.
Gentle Reader • Your loud acquaintance was giving advice that was not requested, which, as you point out, is rude. Therefore, Miss Manners — whom you did ask — advises you to dismiss their claim to knowing proper behavior.
The notion that you should always show agreement with others is based on an inability to conceive that it is possible to disagree politely. Indeed, that does seem to be a lost art.
Conversation is not an opportunity to critique the speaker, and it does require listening respectfully to opinions with which you may disagree. Yet if that were all you did, perhaps throwing in an occasional “uh-huh,” it wouldn’t be a conversation; it would be a lecture. Both parties should contribute, and sometimes that will take the form of offering another point of view.
Never mind about taking a course. Just memorize a few lines:
“Really? Why do you think that?”
“My experience has been different.”
“Have you considered that ...?”
“Well, but look at it this way ...”
And so on. Just avoid any version of, “What are you — stupid?”
Dear Miss Manners • I use correspondence cards, usually for writing short notes of gratitude (“Thank you for a lovely dinner” or “You really helped me with your advice,” and so on). The cards have my first and last name engraved at the top.
Sometimes I receive cards like this from others, and the writer has crossed out his or her surname. Why? Is there an etiquette rule (or history) about this? Am I wrong for NOT doing this on my correspondence cards, or on any engraved correspondence?
Gentle Reader • Yes and no. How is that for a decisive answer?
Miss Manners resorts to this because there are two ways to use such cards.
You can use them for invitations (“Cocktails 5 to 7, Saturday, Oct. 23”), for responses (“Accepting with pleasure”) or for very short messages (“Congratulations!”), letting the engraved name provide your identity. But you need to sign mini letters or messages to intimates (“With all my love”), in which case you cross out the less personal rendition of your name.
Dear Miss Manners • Where should the girlfriend of the father of the bride sit during the wedding ceremony? They have been together for over two years. The bride’s parents divorced 20 years ago, and the mother of the bride is single.
Is it appropriate to split up the father and his girlfriend and have the bride’s parents sit together in the first row during the ceremony, with the girlfriend in a different row?
Gentle Reader • You’re the girlfriend, aren’t you? Unless you are the father, speaking up on her behalf.
Having no such prescribed seating arrangement, Miss Manners expects families to figure out sensible ones that insult no one and do not place enemies together.
Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, missmanners.com; to her email, firstname.lastname@example.org; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.