Q: I am 27 and work with a young man of 23 who has the unfortunate habit of calling me "dear." I find this offensive and have explained that I am not his mother or girlfriend; even if I were, it would not be proper for him to refer to me by anything but my name at the workplace.

The young man thought this was humorous and continues to call me "dear" but also apologizes sarcastically, obviously trying to humiliate me in front of co-workers. I am not so much embarrassed as irked.

Although I am not his superior, I do hold more responsibility than he. I feel his behavior demeans me, often in the eyes of clients who are not used to talking to women in our profession.

Several older male co-workers have told me and the young man that they consider his persistence annoying and rude. How do I get this person to learn some manners before I lose mine?

A: Stop taking this so personally. What this young man is guilty of is called unprofessional conduct.

It is unfortunate that there are men who do not seem to be able to concentrate on business in the presence of women, but sensible employers have learned to be wary of them because they are just as likely to offend female (and often male) clients as colleagues.

You and your co-workers might do him a favor by pointing this out to him; you would also be doing your company a favor to point it out to anyone involved in evaluating his job performance. Miss Manners feels sorry for any employe suffering from this ineptness but does not believe that any such personal feeling as sympathy for another's failings should take precedence in the workplace over maintaining workable standards.