Miss Manners: Respond to phone rudeness with pleasant confusion

December 4, 2013

DEAR MISS MANNERS: As the assistant for one of the executives at my company, I routinely answer his phone with, “Good morning/afternoon, this is John Doe’s office.” I even have a note on the phone reminding me to smile before picking up, because I know that people can tell the difference (strange, but true).

One caller, an executive in a different department, will respond to my greeting with “JOHN” in an impatient tone. This always seems to surprise and fluster me, at which point he will say, “John NOW. Put John on the phone.” No one else, either within the company or calling from elsewhere, is ever this rude to me.

I go an extra step to be pleasant to anyone who calls before I even know who is on the other end of the line. Perhaps if this was a one-time occurrence, I wouldn’t be asking for your advice. However, each and every time this other executive calls my boss, he acts like this. I’ve been responding, “Sorry?” since this behavior does confuse me momentarily, but I would rather have another note next to my phone giving me a pointer on how to respond to him.

If he continues to act rudely to me, then I’ll consider bringing this up with my boss. However, I do hope that I can deal with this on my own in both a professional and ladylike way.

GENTLE READER: Say pleasantly, “I’m sorry, but we seem to have a bad connection. I only heard ‘John’ and ‘now.’ What is it that I can do for you?”

You may repeat this as needed if his replies get shorter and ruder, but if this exasperates him to the point of an all-out explosion, Miss Manners assures you that there is no shame in telling your boss. This is professional information that he would likely want to know.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is there something appropriate to be said to a relative or friend who is ill and obviously close to dying?

GENTLE READER: “I love you.” Miss Manners considers it a vast improvement over the patently false command, “Get well.”

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My toddler son is cute — incredibly cute. The kind of cute that makes people point him out to friends in crowded stores, that makes total strangers give him their snack foods, that makes people follow us around asking, “What movie have I seen him in?”

The problem is when parents of other children come up to me and tell me how cute he is. For me to simply say “Thank you” always seems to me to imply, “I have nothing nice to say about your child in return.” But the fact is, across a crowded bus, you notice that a child is cute. But you can’t notice that a child is artistic, musical, well-spoken or talented in myriad other ways. What is the proper response to such a compliment?

GENTLE READER: Responding to “Your child is cute” with “Your child looks otherwise talented” is tantamount to saying that he is unattractive — a free insult when none is warranted. Miss Manners assures you that “Thank you, yours too” is perfectly true. Most parents believe that their child is adorable — and no one wants to hear an honest comparison to yours.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays on www.washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her Web site, www.missmanners.com.

, by Judith Martin

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