DEAR MISS MANNERS: My job involves answering a helpline to assist callers applying to a confusing government funding program.
I pride myself on not only answering the questions posed, but also ensuring that applicants get all the assistance they need. I am thanked often for my work, and I enjoy doing it, hopefully with warmth and occasional humor.
My concern is how to politely end conversations when the business is concluded but the caller extends the closing niceties.
After certain phrases have been spoken by both parties (“Call me again if you need me,” for instance, or “Thank you and have a nice day”), instead of hanging up, the caller begins to reiterate their thanks, continues to wish me well or even starts an unrelated conversation (“Have I told you that you remind me of my cousin?”).
Sometimes, I feel my only option is to be direct but hopefully still kind (“I’m going to have to sign off now” or “I do need to take my next call”). Do you have any other suggestions for how to politely get the message across to those who seem reluctant to disconnect?
GENTLE READER: There is a misconception that being direct is always rude – no doubt a reaction against the Truth-Telling Crowd who feel compelled to tell you what they think of your weight, your attitude and your sense of style.
But there is nothing wrong with saying, in your kindest tone, that you have to ring off because you have other applicants who need your help. If this still feels insufficient, Miss Manners makes no objection to prefacing it with an apology.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My first name is Eddie. I have a friend who constantly calls me Eddie Spaghetti. It bothers me to no end. I am not a wet noodle. Without offending him, how do I get him to knock it off?
GENTLE READER: Smile wanly and assure him you have never heard that one before.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Please, please, please say something about the misuse of the word “literally” before it becomes accepted practice.
GENTLE READER: Too late.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I was at a wedding ceremony in a church that could hold 250 people very comfortably, and the attendance was not that large.
A person about five pews in front of me turned and seemed to wave directly at me, but was actually beginning to communicate with somebody three rows behind me. I was stuck in the middle of their conversation.
If this happens again, should I try to move to my left or right if possible? What is the proper protocol in a situation such as this?
GENTLE READER: The proper protocol does not involve other guests conducting semaphore over your head during a wedding, but it also limits what you can do to make them behave.
Miss Manners offers three alternatives: Ignore them; discreetly move away; or ask aloud if they would like to sit together. The latter will bring everyone else down upon the three of you, so remember to use tone, phrasing and body language that you can later defend convincingly as a genuine desire to help.
Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website missmanners.com.
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