Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Professional and Personal Relationships Don't Always Mesh

DEAR MISS MANNERS: The situation I am trying to work through involves a business/personal relationship with a salesperson who apparently has some serious health issues. While I know the person and am sympathetic, I have to work for a living and have precious little time to devote to accomplish my personal business.

Every time I attempt to discuss business and request an appointment to view the product, I have to listen to a rambling monologue of how bad the professional is feeling at that moment and all the health issues involved, including what the doctor said.

At one point I truly cared, but now I feel that my time is being monopolized with issues out of my control. While I really don't want to sever the relationship, I must get some things accomplished.

A few days ago, I was told that I am very selfish and inconsiderate because I refused to wait more than 15 minutes (the salesperson was still in bed). I live approximately 100 miles away, and I had a number of things to do that day. I have suggested doing business with someone else, and my "friend" gets so upset when I mention that and tells me how badly she needs the money.

GENTLE READER: Allow Miss Manners to simplify the problem by dividing it in two: your professional relationship with this salesperson and your personal one.

A friend offers both assistance and sympathy to an invalid, while the sick person tempers her complaints based on the closeness of the friendship, the seriousness of the illness, and the likelihood that the friend will remain sympathetic through repeated recitation of symptoms.

A salesperson -- meaning a person in a professional capacity -- does the job in the hope that professional courtesy, efficiency -- and distance -- will be rewarded with repeat business. Consulting the salesperson about whether to shop elsewhere is a mistake. He or she is too sick to make this decision, so it is up to you.

What support you owe outside of any professional relationship, if any, will be based on whether you truly see this person as a "friend" (which is the way you put it) or as a friend.