Q: I need a polite but firm response to a "friend's" refrain whenever the subject of the book I wrote comes up.

She says: "Well, you know I read the first draft of one of your stories. Frankly, it wasn't any good."

Her opinion was never asked, though she has given it at least six times. I don't want to match one rudeness with another. However, I don't like her to think I want to hear this pointless critique.

The last time I said, "Well, the publisher obviously thought it was." I haven't been around her since, but want a polite way to close the topic before she goes on, when next we meet.

Why do people do that? If someone wants to know my opinion of their work, I give it carefully. And then I make it as constructive as possible. But I always make sure my opinion is desired and determine why it is being sought. It is more important to support the effort to create than to put down the end product.

A: Why do people do that? because everyone is a critic nowadays, and feels privileged to offer everyone else formulae for improvement in all business and personal matters. Aside from the deficiency of humility, it certainly does make social life hazardous, as you describe.

Socially, one does not deliver such judgments -- only admiration or the nearest possible equivalent. When one actually seeks the opinion of a friend, one says, "I really want your help with this, tell me the truth," and then accepts it.

The humble answer, confessing that one cannot hope to please everyone, was fine. By now, you may switch to saying, "So you keep telling me."