Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dealing with Mouthbreathers

I am in customer service. How do you think I can address people who breathe into the phone? I get deep  breaths screaming in my ear between words and I sometimes actually disconnect the call because it's like nails on a chalkboard. I can't do that as much as I want to because I really need to help these people, but making them more tolerable would be a help. TIA, sincerely, awaiting your reply.

Dear Awaiting,

There go my plans to turn WYPF into a call-in helpline. I don't think I could do what you do all day. I have enough trouble when my mom calls, sounding like she's in the middle of a marathon. Unfortunately, my usual response--"Ma! Quit eating the phone. I can't hear myself think!"--won't help in your particular situation.

Since you have to be careful to protect the delicate sensibilities of your customers, I would go with a three-phased approach.

Phase 1: Grin and Bear It

If it's one customer, and the conversation is under five minutes, I'd do my best to ignore the Darth Vader noises emanating from the phone. Imagine that your customer is a compulsive hoarder, and that the stench of cat urine is aggravating her asthma. It may not make you feel better about the customer, but it will make you feel better about yourself.

Phase 2: Suggest They Stop Breathing

If it's your 18th customer, and they've been yammering for 10 minutes or more, no amount of imagination will help you. At this point, it would not be inappropriate to say, "I'm sorry sir, I'm having trouble hearing you. It may help if you hold the phone a little farther from your face." Of course, here you run the risk of your customer holding the phone at arms length and then yelling that they can't hear you.

Phase 3: Pass the Buck

When all else fails, you have to watch out for your own sanity. You're not doing any of your other customers any favors by getting disproportionately (though not necessarily unreasonably) angry at an annoying caller. When you reach this point, your current course of action is the only way to save yourself. Either "accidentally" drop the call, or realize that their particular issue has to be solved by a manager.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Don't you sometimes wish water were thicker?

Ruby writes:

My sister is a rather difficult person. At best. She has continually created situations where she is made out to be the victim when, in fact, she is really the perpetrator.  For example, she made me cry twice on my wedding day because I didn't get her a flower for her hair. And when my parents called her out on joining a cult, she tried to get us all to go to a "seminar", then told us it was our fault she couldn't speak to us anymore, because we refused to follow the cult's teachings. I want to have a relationship with her even though if we weren't related by blood I wouldn't even consider her to be someone I would want anywhere near my life. What should i do?


My first instinct is to tell you to forget it, it's not worth it, but you've obviously explored that option, and it isn't emotionally right for you.  So it's time for Crazy Muffs.

This may not seem germane, but wait for it: In the movie Old School, Vince Vaughn plays a suburban dad with a little son he carts with him everywhere. Whenever he wants to say something profane or risque, he just barks "Earmuffs!" at the kid. Kid covers his ears, and Vince is free to say whatever he pleases.

You need to employ this same strategy. Every time your sister starts with the crazy, just think to yourself, "Crazy muffs!" Ignore her baiting you. Ignore her silent treatment because you haven't decided to go FLDS with her. Ignore the fact that she needs to be the center of attention - or embrace it, and know that she's got bigger problems than you ever have.

You can't control your sister, more's the pity. I know if you could, you'd make her smart and funny and normal, someone you'd want to be around. I know it hurts to have your hopes and expectations about adult sibling relationships shot to shit. But the only thing you can control is your reaction to her. If you give in to her drama, she gets what she needs emotionally, but you get nothing. If you refuse to play, you can see her at Thanksgiving and Flag Day and have a perfectly pleasant relationship, at least as far as you're concerned. The only downside to this strategy is that she may cut you off, because you'll no longer be giving her what she wants. But if that happens, you know you gave it your best efforts - and let's face it, the crazies never go away entirely, even when we want them to.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Who does that at work?

Anon writes:

I walked in on my director in the ladies’ room taking a pregnancy test at work during lunch. She was flustered, and I pretended not to notice. Don’t know the outcome; I went into a stall and peed like I had originally intended. Do I say anything?

My motto is this: What happens in the bathroom, stays in the bathroom. I mean, if you walked in and realized she'd left that God-awful smell, you wouldn't mention it, would you? (The correct answer here is No.) I personally can't imagine needing to know I'm pregnant - or not - so badly that I simply cannot wait a few hours to pee on sticks at home, but hey, whatever lifts your luggage.

And it's not simply a matter of common etiquette, either. What good would come of asking after the results of the test? Unless your director routinely shares information with you about her reproductive status, I can't imagine that this is any of your business. It wouldn't be if you were social acquaintances, and certainly the workplace is no place for discussions of fertility.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tough Love Couples

While the rest of the world is yammering on about the final episode of Lost, I'd like to direct your attention to an even more disappointing finale: the season finale of Tough Love Couples.

Monday night, master matchmaker Steve Ward and his mom Joanne bade farewell to six (well, five) couples who had come seeking help for their flailing relationships.

Let me start by saying this: I love this show. It's like the slowest-moving of trainwrecks. I dare you to look away. In the first two seasons of Tough Love, Steve focused on finding men for single women. I had grown to love his tell-it-like-it-is attitude and generally sound advice. We had our differences at times, but overall I felt like the women left the experience with better attitudes.

Now that that's out of the way, Tough Love Couples was nothing like the first two seasons. In fact, these last 8 weeks have taken a serious toll on my relationship with Steve. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered why anyone would take relationship advice from a single guy who owns a business with his mom.

Each of the couples on the show had serious, fundamental problems in their relationships; the kind that can't be solved in 8 weeks. Let take this opportunity to go on record saying that I firmly believe that if your relationship needs professional help before there's a ring in sight, you're better off cutting your losses and getting out. Before the couples were even introduced I was rooting for them all to break up.

But of course, that's not the point of boot camp. The goal was for each couple to make the now or never decision. By week eight, they were either getting engaged or breaking up. The decisions were revealed in an elaborate engagement ceremony. The men were provided with tuxes, and the women with wedding dresses. If they wanted to get engaged, they were to treat the ceremony as a game of dress up. If they wanted to break up, they could wear their own boring clothes.

Now, I know it's good television, but seriously? Wedding dresses and tuxes, just to get engaged? Do you think maybe the producers were manipulating the outcome with emotional bribery? All I'm saying is, a woman who lacks the maturity to deal with her relationship problems outside of primetime television probably isn't going to be able to look at a rack of wedding gowns and not put one on.

Heather and Danielle were perfect examples of this. Heather doesn't even like Larry. She spent the whole 8 weeks telling him to stop being clingy, bitchy and annoying (which he totally is, so I was with her there). Danielle couldn't say "I love you" without serious prompting, and now she wants to spend the rest of her life with a guy named Pawel. I mean, come on.

Simone and Dennis might just make it, if only because Simone doesn't want to be a single mom and staying together will be easier than splitting up the business they already own together.

Ryan and Axelle were the smartest couple on the show, only because they had the sense to break up before the worthless bootcamp was over.

Courtney also showed some sense, though you wouldn't know it from her awful hairstyle. I was glad to see her break up with Dustin, because she can most certainly do better. I think Steve did the best by these two, only because they were the only ones he actually encouraged to move on. Every one of the other couples deserved this same advice.

And finally, we come to Mario and Christina, the hottest of all hot messes. Before the engagement ceremony, Mario likened marriage to castration. Then during the ceremony he had to think a long time before he said he'd forsake all others for Christina. Look up "not ready to get married" in the dictionary and you'll find a picture of Mario.

I still had a tiny glimmer of hope when Christina walked out in her silver dress, but VH1 decided to play it like some warped version of the Gift of the Magi. You see, Mario didn't want to get engaged, but he didn't want to lose Christina either, so he swallowed his common sense and put on the tux. Meanwhile, Christina realized that marrying a guy who doesn't want to get married is probably not the best life plan. So she swallowed her pride and decided not to get engaged so that Mario could be happy.

But instead of applauding Christina's sensibility and telling them to go forth and continue working on their relationship, Steve told them that this was a sign that they are ready to get engaged. Because nothing says romance like a dude who begrudgingly put on a tux so you wouldn't scream at him (again) on national television.

I'll be shocked if any of these kids actually make it to the altar. But in the off-chance that they suspend their self-awareness long enough to get married, I can't wait for the follow-up, Tough Love Divorcees.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How to Submit a Question to WYPF

So, your Mother In Law is coming to visit and you need to tactfully ask your husband if she can stay in a hotel instead of at your house. Or maybe you're about to move into your first new home, and you have no idea what you need to get started.

Christy and Kate are happy to answer any question you may have. Simply click the "Contact Us" Link at the top of the page, enter your name and email address, type up your question, and click submit! If you'd rather go the old-fashioned route, you can just email wypfadvice AT gmail DOT com.

Be sure to check your email, because we may respond with follow-up questions so we can provide the best answers possible. Once we feel we have enough information to respond, we'll post our answer right here.

Please allow one week for your question to appear on the site.

That's it. It's that easy. We can't wait to hear from you.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Gift Registries

Registries always seem to be a sore subject in etiquette conversations. No one ever comments on what a nice gift registry someone has, but everyone loves to comment on how tacky they are. So how do you register without making anyone mad? The short answer is, you can't. Speaking as someone who had "Never Ask For Anything" drilled into her head growing up, there's no graceful way to make a list of things you want other people to buy you.

That said, there are two life situations where plenty of people will buy you gifts, and many of them want some guidance. Those life situations are your first marriage and the birth of your first child. And so, if you are going through either one of these life situations, it's perfectly acceptable to set up a registry or three.

Registries originated not as a way for brides and grooms to select the one specific $400 toaster they want, but as a way to inform guests of the couple's tastes and needs. They were considered suggestions, rather than the be-all end-all wish list. A couple would select patterns for china, crystal and silverware, and perhaps include information on the colors they planned to use to decorate their kitchen, living room, or bedroom.

The rise of the internet and handy-dandy barcode scanners has turned registries more into a profit-center for major retailers than a convenience for shower guests. As a result, it is in the best interest of the major retailers to give you lots of false information. You may receive a list of "must-have" items for your home or new baby. You may be told that it's perfectly acceptable to include registry information on your invitations. You may be given the opportunity to create registries for house-warming parties, Christmas, or birthdays. Don't give in.

Below are some of the common pitfalls of gift registries. By avoiding these, you can rest assured that you'll offend the fewest people possible. Aunt Gertrude still might have something to say, but she hates everyone.

Too Much

It's very common to get wrapped up in the fun of shooting things with the hand-held scanner gun. How many times have you printed someone's registry to find they've inexplicably registered for 5 crockpots, 14 vases, and 38 picture frames?

Make a list of what you need before you set off to create your registry. Think, room by room, of the items you really need or would really like to have. Consider how many of each item you truly need. 2 sets of sheets is enough. The baby can only wear one bib at a time.

Too Expensive

A good rule of thumb is not to register for anything that's out of your price range. If you're willing to buy yourself the $400 toaster when you don't receive it, then by all means add it to the list. But if the $25 version is good enough when it's your money, then it should be good enough when it's someone else's.

The completion discount offered by many retailers often influences people to register for big-ticket items like furniture or flat-screen TVs. If you don't intend for your guests to buy it for you, keep it off the registry. You can usually save more than 10% by just waiting for a sale. Many stores offer a flat discount on all purchases for 30-90 days after your event, so ask before you put non-gift items on your list.

Inappropriate Items

Your wedding is not the time to expand your DVD collection or update your wardrobe. Your baby shower is not an excuse to get other people to buy your baby's diapers and butt paste. When in doubt, stick to the traditional, and think of the kinds of gifts you want to give.

It's not exciting to watch a new mom open 30 packages of Pampers. People like cute outfits, soft blankets and toys. Weddings are about two people setting up a new life and a new home. Gifts should be keepsakes or items that the new couple needs to get started.

Honeymoon Registries

This hot new trend in money-grubbing is taking the wedding industry by storm. You may be tempted to think that since you're older or already living together, you already have everything you need for the home. On this I call shenanigans. Everyone can use a new set of sheets. Everyone has a kitchen appliance that's on its last legs. Look around your house. I assure you, you can find something to register for.

You may convince yourself that memories are more valuable than things. This is a cop-out. The truth is that honeymoon registries are a request for cash, and the only thing tackier than requesting a $400 toaster is asking your guests to just hand over their wallets.

What's worse, most honeymoon registry sites take a percentage off the top of all gifts. So instead of me giving you $50 to enjoy adult beverages at the hotel bar, I'm giving you $42.83, and the website $7.17. That's not a good deal for anyone (except the owner of the website). If one of your guests really wants you to have a sunset horseback ride on the beach, they will find a way to arrange it for you. If they really just want to give you money, they will, and they won't have to pay a middle-man.

The honeymoon is your responsibility to pay for, so plan what you can afford. Don't expect your guests to enable you to vacation outside of your means.

Reception/Photography/Flower Registries

These are in the same category as the Honeymoon Registry. Expecting your guests to foot the bill for your celebration is wrong. The fact that these registries are available doesn't mean they're okay. It means the hall/photographer/florist has found a way to capitalize on greedy people.

Charity Registries

These seem, on the surface, like such a nice gesture. I almost feel guilty snarking them, but I will anyway. Charitable donations are a private matter and should be kept so. If you feel so strongly that some organization should share in the joy of your event, then you can make your own donation in an amount you feel is appropriate. Asking others to do it for you is passing the buck.

Registries For Anything But Your First Marriage Or Your First Child


Agree? Disagree? Think I missed something? Leave your feedback in comments.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

How to Handle Crises

Bad things happen all the time. Eventually, something bad will happen to you. How you handle bad things before, during and after they happen will majorly impact how those bad things will affect your life.

Be Prepared

The easiest way to handle crises is to make sure they don't happen. A little preparation goes a long way. Good habits will not only prevent potential disasters, they will also minimize the damage of those disasters that can't be prevented. Keep your cell phone charged. Check and double-check your contract. Buy flood insurance. Leave plenty of time for traffic. Count your luggage. Always wear clean underwear.

The more aware you are of potential for disaster, the more prepared you'll be. You don't want to miss out on the job of a lifetime because unexpected construction caused you be so late you missed the interview.

Stay Calm Under Pressure

No matter how prepared you are, there's no way to account for all contingencies. So when disaster does strike, you have to be ready to spring into action. Lamenting your bad luck, pointing fingers, and thinking about what you should have done won't fix your situation. It might feel better to vent, and punishing the wrongdoers might feel like progress, but neither helps in the long term. Focus on what's important, and devote your energy to finding a solution.

If it's an hour before the wedding and your Maid of Honor just realized she left her dress on the train, you may be very tempted to yell. You might worry about what your pictures will look like. You might think that if she'd just counted her luggage like we told her to, this would have never happened. But are any of these courses of action replacing the dress? Take a deep breath and remember that you want your best friend to stand up next to you during one of the most important moments of your life. Maybe someone has a similar dress that will fit. Maybe she has a plain black dress that will work. Maybe you decide that what she's wearing doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things.

Be Decisive

Maybe, once you've stared focusing on solutions, you will realize that there are multiple paths to resolution. But you might not have the time, money or resources available to try them all. This can be paralyzing. Often, none of the possible solutions is a sure thing, or all have serious pitfalls.

Do you wait for AAA and miss the party, or ruin your dress and change the tire yourself? Only you can decide if the party or the dress is more important. But if you call AAA, then get impatient after an hour and change the tire yourself,  you'll ruin your dress and miss the party.

By making a decision and sticking with it, you lessen the chance of making your situation worse.

Choose Your Attitude

When you're in the throes of despair, it can be difficult to find humor in the situation. But think back over your life, and ask yourself how many of your best stories start with what you thought at the time was the Worst Thing Ever.

This goes back to focusing on what's important. Are you going to seethe every time you pass the exit that was closed on the day you lost your dream job? Will your maid of honor's missing dress ruin your wedding day? Is the AAA guy going to get an earful from you, even while he's trying to help you? If the answer is yes, you may need to step back and re-evaluate some things.

Friday, May 21, 2010

What's For Dinner?

Setting up a kitchen can be a daunting task, especially if you come from a family that doesn't cook very often – or very well! But a well-run kitchen can be a joy for you and your friends and family. Here are my tips for the beginning cook.

What do I need?

My completely unhelpful answer is: It depends. Kitchen needs change as you move through life; the needs of someone fresh out of school and setting up an apartment are much different from an empty-nester whose five kids have flown the coop. But there are a few things that everyone needs.

  1. A heavy-bottomed pot. Two is better – a two-quart pot and a larger one. The two-quart is a good size for everyday tasks: making rice or mac-n-cheese, say; the larger pot will be handy for making larger amounts of soups, stews, and sauces, as well as cooking up pasta for a crowd or mashing potatoes.

  2. A heavy-bottomed frying pan. This may be called a skillet or saut̩ pan, depending on the brand, but this is a pan you can make almost anything in Рeven sauces in a pinch.

  3. A non-stick frying pan. Sometimes manufacturers will call this an omelet pan, and it really is indispensible for eggs and anything with cheese.

  4. A whisk.

  5. Tongs.

  6. A spatula. Some people call them flippers or turners – not little rubber spatulas (though those are also handy), this is a flat utensil for flipping meats or fish.

  7. Rubber spatulas. It's good to have a few different sizes of these, for different applications. Also good if you spring for the heat-resistant ones.

  8. A plastic cutting board, for meats.

  9. A wooden cutting board, for everything else.

10.  A decent knife set. Frankly, I've done well with Farberware, which is cheap and available at big-box stores. You can get away with fairly inexpensive knives, especially if you learn how to hone and sharpen them yourself, and keep honing/sharpening tools in your kitchen.

11.  Kitchen towels. Some people call them tea-towels or hand-towels. They can be used for just about everything – as pot holders, as towels, as strainers, as non-slip surfaces.

There are a lot of specialty items out there, but Alton Brown and I agree: there is no need for uni-taskers! Do you really need a meat mallet? Or can you maybe buy a hammer instead? Just a toaster? Why not spring for a toaster/oven combo? Just a food processor? Look into blenders with processor attachments instead.

I got my tools. Now what?

Now that you have "hardware" covered, it's time to look at "software": your pantry. And by pantry I don't simply mean the food on your shelves; it can also mean the food in your fridge and the food you make sure to buy on every shopping trip because you know you'll use it up.

A good pantry is made up of things you like to eat often, and ingredients that can keep for a while, can be very versatile, and can help you whip something up without having to run to the store everyday. Most people's pantries have canned goods, dried pastas, spices, common vegetables (onions, carrots, garlic, tomatoes), salt and pepper, baking needs (flour, sugar, butter), and cooking/flavoring media (different oils, vinegars, rubs, and pastes for cooking, marinades, and dressings).

Your pantry will be as unique as you are. Mine, for example, skews heavily to Italian, Mexican, and old-fashioned American cooking, as those are my go-to culinary genres. Some people's pantries will be Asian-influenced, or Vegan, or diabetic, or low-carb.

To get started, think about your favorite foods. What flavors go into them? Look up the recipes and see what sorts of ingredients they use. Write down ones that appear in multiple recipes. Those will be the ingredients with which you start your pantry. Keep your grocery lists for a month or two, and see what you keep buying. These items are your pantry, and you may be able to buy them in bulk to save money. Consult your friends and family, as well; they may have the best-stocked kitchen on the block!

Fresh, frozen, or canned: The Great Vegetable Debate

You may have heard that fresh vegetables are where it's at, nutritionally speaking, and I won't dispute that. Fresh veggies are the best if you plan to use them immediately, eat them raw or slightly cooked, or throw them in a salad.

But if veggies are out of season or you plan to use them in a soup, stew, or otherwise cook the hell out of them, frozen and canned are the way to go. If you can find a veggie frozen, that's always preferable in terms of nutritional content and texture, so spring for those frozen green beans or edamame.

Very few veggies survive canning well. Tomatoes are about the only really great canned vegetable out there, followed up by beans, which, of course, aren't really vegetables! It's perfectly acceptable (and easier on both pocketbook and your time) to use canned tomatoes and beans when making a sauce, soup, or stew. Look for organic and all-natural brands – and check the ingredients list – to make sure you're getting only the ingredient you're looking for.

So how do I know how to cook this stuff?!

With the rise of the Food Network and the celebrity chef, it may seem like there are entirely too many recipes to choose from these days. But don't be intimidated by this bounty! Realize that you can try making things in several different ways until you find the recipe you like best.

But first, start with the basics. I recommend every home cook own a copy of the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. It comes in a red checkered cover, and it has sections on how to choose a cheese or a bread, how to bake a cake, which cuts of meat are best for which applications, and dozens of other tips for beginners (and those of us who can always learn something new!). Almost every edition of the BH&G is different, so if you find one at a thrift store or used bookstore, snap it up!

The Joy Of Cooking is a slightly more advanced resource. It's much larger than the BH&G, and gives many more far-ranging tips, but it is also an invaluable resource in the kitchen.

Once you have these basics, you can fill out your collection with whatever books catch your eye or your taste buds. There is a cookbook out there for any taste and any skill level, not to mention all the recipes available for download at sites like,, and

Once you've found a few recipes that sound good to you, try them! Don't be surprised if they don't work exactly right the first time, or if you want to add or subtract something. Every recipe is merely a starting point: you can put your own personal spin on any dish, and in trying new things, you'll be reinforcing the basic skills necessary to make the recipe.

Now that you have a few recipes in your repertoire, call your friends!

Entertaining doesn't have to be fancy

What do you remember most about the last time you got together with your friends? The food? The plates on which it was served? The tablecloth and napkins? Of course not. You remember having a great time! So if no one remembers that stuff, is it even important? Yes, but probably not in the way you might think.

If there hadn't been enough plates or silverware, or if there were no napkins to be found, you would remember that. If the meal was cold, or poorly prepared, or made you ill, you would remember that. In other words, while the table settings and the food may not be the focal point of a gathering, their absence is very keenly felt, indeed.

Making sure you have a full complement of dishes and silverware, enough chairs for your guest list, and that you have mastered at least one tasty recipe is all you need to successfully carry off a dinner party. Candles and china and Grandma's silver are nice touches, but gracious entertaining is about providing everything your guests will need to the best of your abilities with good cheer and kindness. If you plan to entertain at a traditional mealtime, make sure you offer your guests a meal. If you're entertaining in the off-times, offer something to drink and maybe a snack – some cheese and crackers, chips and dip, veggie sticks, or cookies are all easy to keep on hand, and if your guests don't eat them, you always can!

Cooking at home is economical, healthful, and a wonderful way to show love to yourself and to your friends and family. Home cooked food is comforting, and a great way to cap off your day. I hope you'll use some of these tips and become the food guru for your social circle!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

How Do I Say It?

The most common question I am asked, and that I see asked elsewhere, is how to politely phrase a request or suggestion. There are a few tricks to stating the horrendous with grace and poise, but first, let's decide whether it even needs to be stated in the first place.

Don't Open Your Mouth!

There are some questions we know are rude. "Why are you so dumb?" "Who lets someone so ugly out of the house?" Obviously, there is no information to be gotten from such queries, and they'll only hurt feelings and make everyone uncomfortable – not to mention, you'll look like an asshole.

But what about those things you think might be okay to say out loud? Surely if you wouldn't find it offensive, it isn't, right?

Wrong. There are some subjects that it is rude simply to bring up. I know you'll all think of money, politics, and religion, but these can sometimes be broached politely. What can't be? Questions about other people's fertility (or lack thereof). Commenting on someone else's body – yes, even if you think it's complimentary, that doesn't mean she will. Pretty much anything that starts with "When will you finally…" Avoid asking those questions you wouldn't want to answer, and you'll avoid these most obvious pitfalls.

Now What?

So you've figured out that, yes, you can say something to the coworker who keeps microwaving fish, or to the close-talking neighbor you always seem to encounter at your apartment building's mailbox. But how do you say it without offending them and creating a worse situation?

My one rule for these situations is, simply, blame yourself.  Don't make it sound like it's Co-Irker or Close-Talker's fault for being irksome and invasive; make it sound as though you are somehow strange and quirky, and they're much more likely to take your requests in stride.

"Hey, Co-Irker, I noticed you eat a lot of fish."

"It's good for you."

"I know, and I wish I liked it, but I'm so weird, even the smell is really off-putting to me. I don't know what's wrong with me, but would you mind giving me a heads-up when you're going to use the microwave for fish? Then I can open my window, and I won't have to bother you again. You're so kind to help me out."


"You know, Close, I have this horrific claustrophobia. I'm seeing someone for it, but it would be really awesome of you if you could give me some extra personal space. I'd be really grateful if you could help me out with this and be part of my recovery."

It doesn't matter that you're not weird: everyone hates the smell of fish in the microwave. It doesn't matter that you're not claustrophobic: no one likes having her bubble breached. But phrasing things this way makes it easier on all parties involved to solve the problem.

My second rule: If at all possible, pass the buck. Co-Irker can be reined in with a memo from your janitorial service about difficulty removing foul odors. Your roommate can pick up the mail three days a week. Annoying rules and regulations that customers or clients must follow can be blamed on management or the government. Commiserating with the irritating person while passing the buck makes them think you're in it together, both annoyed with whatever amorphous force you've decided to blame.

Passing the buck can also include blanket statements. When only one person in a given group is being difficult, the instinct is often to simply talk to that person. But sometimes, sending out a memo that reminds everyone in the dance class that proper undergarments are necessary is a lot easier and less confrontational than pulling aside Miss Missing Panties and having to point out that, yes, everyone looking in the mirror has been all up in her lady business for two weeks now.

What If Someone's Asking Me?

Smile. They may have just been horrifically rude to you, but if you know they have no malicious intent, a big smile paired with "I'm sorry, I don't discuss that" will go a long way toward staving off more questions on the same line, and won't return rudeness for rudeness.

Get Frosty. If they did have malicious intent, an icy expression and a simply stated, "I refuse to discuss that" is all that is required.

And after both of these, change the subject! Moving on quickly from when you plan to procreate to Aunt Myrtle's myrtles is the simplest way to redirect your interrogator's energies from pestering you to carrying on a lovely conversation.

What If It's A More Personal Relationship?

Of course, you know your friends best, and know which subjects are open for discussion. If you don't know that it's open-season on a subject, don't bring it up. If you aren't really that close to someone, don't bring it up. You may be dying of curiosity to know if Neighbor Husband really is cheating, but if all you see of Neighbor Wife is over the fence while you're gardening, leave it alone!

If your friends and loved ones are the perpetrators of bad behavior, of course you may endeavor to correct them, gently and in private. Does your sister insist on having a honeymoon registry and printing "Cash Requested" on her wedding invitations? Give her a phone call and let her know that you're worried some of the guests may be offended, and perhaps she should rethink those decisions. Be calm, be kind, be self-deprecating, and if she tells you that she won't budge, drop it. You've done your best.

If your loved one won't respond well to direct criticism, try the stealth approach. Clip an advice column or find a book or website that supports your (undoubtedly correct) viewpoint, and use it as a discussion-starter. If they ask why you've picked such a thing out, simply tell them it reminded you of their situation, and you thought they'd be interested in reading it/ seeing it/ hearing about it. Sensitive people are quick to sense judgment, so be neutral, even if inside you're screaming "Because I told you you couldn't expect the baby shower guests to write their own thank-you notes, and you wouldn't listen!"

I Won't Offend Ever Again

It is, of course, impossible to say what another person will find offensive. You may be caught off-guard by the person who insists that chatting about the weather is offensively boring, or by the boor who simply will not stop inquiring after the habits of your bowels, and is affronted when you refuse to answer.

But if you move through the world with care and consideration for your fellows, I'm sure you'll do just fine. Even with touchy questions.

And if not – Well, we're always here to advise.