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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I manage a small branch office with one subordinate, an older man named "Maury." Until I was hired a few weeks ago, he worked for several years with almost no supervision. Now I'm trying to deal with his many bad habits -- the worst being his endless conversation.

Maury chatters away about every conceivable topic -- to me as well as to customers. Not only is his information self-aggrandizing and inaccurate, but it's almost always unwelcome. He ignores all subtle signs to end a conversation, such as the person walking away or saying goodbye. He goes on and on and often follows the customer or me around, interrupting whenever he pleases.

Customers have complained to me about his inappropriate chatter and behavior.

Since Maury and I are the only people working in this office, I must maintain a cordial working relationship with this character, but it is becoming increasingly difficult. My supervisor has left it up to me to "shut him up" and curb his behavior. Please advise me, Abby. -- FEELING ALONE IN THE OFFICE

DEAR ALONE: It's your job to manage Maury, so begin by establishing "visiting time" on breaks only, and see that he sticks to it. You may sound like a broken record, but as many times a day as necessary, emphasize that more work (and less talk) must be the rule during business hours.

DEAR ABBY: A few weeks before my birthday, my husband took me to a local jewelry store. He had me try on beautiful diamond rings and asked me which one I liked best. Then about a week before my birthday I was watching the Shopping Channel. They were showing cubic zirconia rings. My husband walked into the room and said, "Oh, I can do much better than that. Did I tell you that I went shopping today?"

On my birthday I excitedly opened my gift and found a bathrobe! I waited all day for the little box with the beautiful ring. It never came.

My question: Was this a mean, thoughtless trick to play, or am I being a baby? Please answer honestly. -- BIRTHDAY GIRL IN TULSA

DEAR BIRTHDAY GIRL: Have you carefully examined the pockets of the bathrobe? If they are empty, your husband played a dirty trick on you.

DEAR ABBY: I work nights in a small hotel. Quite often, one of our guests stays for long periods of time.

I have developed a friendship with him. We talk a lot when I'm on shift, and he has asked me out for dinner on several occasions. I would love to go, but I'm not sure I should.

Would I be crossing the line trying to mix business with pleasure, or is it OK to have a social relationship with a business contact? He's absolutely adorable, and I'd hate to miss the chance to have a closer relationship.

What do you think? -- JUST ME IN EVERETT, WASH.

DEAR JUST ME: If the man is eligible, and there are no hotel rules against socializing with guests, I see no reason why you can't explore the relationship further. However, before you do, please ask yourself what your degree of embarrassment (or disappointment) might be if the relationship DOESN'T work out as you hope. Is it worth the risk?

Dear Abby is written by Pauline Phillips and daughter Jeanne Phillips.

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