DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband and I are each psychologists. Not infrequently, when new people meet us for the first time in social settings, they say something along the lines of, "Whoa, I better be careful around you ... are you analyzing me?"
We are not the ones who initiate this career talk. I typically try to put them at ease by a lighthearted comment along the lines of, "Oh don't worry, thankfully I'm off the clock right now."
We don't like the feeling of being put on the defensive so soon into a new encounter, nor the assumptions it makes about an intrusive -- rather than a helpful -- intention in our professional work. And so we would appreciate any suggestions about how to approach these comments that seem to stifle, rather than open, a friendly dialogue with new people.
GENTLE READER: Oh, the many times that Miss Manners' own enthusiasm for new acquaintances has been deflated by their saying that they had better "watch their manners" in front of her, rather than engage in actual conversation.
In her case, these tedious quips miss the point entirely: that the biggest breach of etiquette would be to point out bad manners at a social occasion. Just as you would never analyze and assess someone without a formal agreement, Miss Manners saves her behavioral critiques for when she is asked politely in writing.
She encourages you to continue as you have, perhaps adding -- as she has -- that you wouldn't dream of conflating professional assessments with social conversation. You might accompany this reply with a progressively weaker smile if the tactic is pursued.
Unfortunately, every profession is burdened with similar awkward exchanges and demands (doctors are asked medical advice, actors are called upon to act). So on all of our behalves, Miss Manners heartily thanks you for the opportunity to express the limited charm of such remarks.