DEAR MISS MANNERS: I work for a service-industry company whose presence in my region of the country, while not a complete monopoly, is definitely the majority of the market. We have service failures on occasion, and when I'm out socially with friends, their experiences with these failures will come up as a part of conversation.
As a front-line employee, I empathize with their difficulties and try to get them pointed to the person in the department that may provide them with some recompense for their inconvenience.
My quandary is with one particular person in my social group. This is the spouse of a good friend, and he seems to take pleasure in basically complaining. He never seems interested in the solutions I try to provide or in lodging his complaint with the department responsible for handling service failures. I'm starting to dread times when I have to encounter him.
GENTLE READER: Do the people whom you do help, when out socially, reciprocate? Do they give you free legal or plumbing advice, or troubleshoot for you at their airlines, tax bureaus or wherever they are employed?
Even so, Miss Manners would not envy your social life. It must be tiresome to be forever on duty, which is why it is rude for those people to corner you in your off-hours.
She commends for your patience in not chucking the lot of them. As for the persistent complainer, it is time to say, "It's a long time now that you've been unhappy with our services and with my attempts to help you. We'll be sorry to lose you as a customer, but since we can't please you, you really ought to take your business elsewhere."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have an ex-girlfriend whom I care about and with whom I make efforts to remain friends. Often, however, she finds fault with me or something I've done, and writes me hostile or challenging e-mails taking me to task about the issues. I have a challenging job and am also in school, and I can't afford to be distracted by and caught up in this kind of drama every few days.
Clearly, if this continues, we'll be friends in name only, and not in fact. But regardless, my question is how to respond to these messages. I've told her that I don't want to have these kinds of conversations in e-mail. She then responds in typical fashion.
Can I just not reply? Is there some short response I can give that's civil and wouldn't cause more agitation?
GENTLE READER: This may be news to you, but you do not have a friendship here. Admirable as it is to declare friendship as the sequel to a failed romance, there are bound to be emotional leftovers, and often they go bad.
To keep up cordial relations until the lady gets over her hostility, Miss Manners recommends ignoring the jabs. That does not necessarily mean ignoring the correspondence. You could throw in an offhand "Sorry you feel that way" while quickly moving on to cheerful topics.
Will she be annoyed? Yes, but she already is. Miss Manners is hoping that the lady will learn that complaining is not working.