Advice Columns

When listening, appear to pay attention

DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the correct way to listen to someone? My usual practice is to maintain eye contact with the speaker and respond (“I see,” “Interesting”), but eye contact seems to make some people uncomfortable. I have tried looking off to the side, examining my fingernails, contemplating my drink or staring intently at an inanimate object. However, I am concerned that these techniques could mistakenly convey that I am not listening, am bored or both. GENTLE READER:

Such actions will indeed be taken as an offensive lack of interest. Appearing to pay attention when someone is speaking is one of the cornerstones of real social interaction.

Miss Manners wonders if the discomfort you have encountered comes from those who have grown up interacting with their friends through a computer screen — while simultaneously checking their email, browsing for discounts and playing solitaire. Eye contact need not be maintained continuously, and it can be softened by an accompanying smile or nod as appropriate.

Teaching students social media restraint DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am developing a presentation on social media to inform students of proper content in regards to the work world and future employers. Currently, the most widely used standard is, “If you wouldn’t want your mom (or other family member) to see it, don’t post it.” However, I do not think this is adequate. Families may be more lenient with content than a hiring manager. What would you tell students to use as their guide?

Is there something wrong with saying, “If you don’t want a job interviewer or your boss to see it, don’t post it”?

An impeccable alternative would be, “Would Miss Manners approve?” You will note that she has phrased it in the conditional so as not to encourage those who think it would be delightful to try to shock her.

The poor taste of talking while eating DEAR MISS MANNERS: It seems that more and more TV commercials, TV shows and movies are showing actors talking with food in their mouths. I used to think that was strictly a no-no, but am wondering if that is now considered appropriate.
I sometimes argue with my son over this, but it is hard to persuade him it is not correct behavior when we see it all the time on TV and in the movies. Please tell me it is still considered rude! GENTLE READER:

Not only that, but Miss Manners considers it foolhardy to allow your son to think, much less argue, that television is the place to observe model behavior.

Toasting the terminally ill DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is a proper birthday toast for someone who is terminally ill? GENTLE READER:

If your concern is that it would be dishonest or disingenuous not to mention the illness, please stop. The purpose of the party, Miss Manners assures you, is to celebrate the birthday and express heartfelt appreciation for the celebrant, and that is what the toast should do.

But under the circumstances, perhaps levity should be avoided. Only on the stage is the toast from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado” amusing: “As one month you have to live/ As fellow-citizen/ This toast with three times three we’ll give:/ Long life to you, long life to you, long life to you ’til then!”

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