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

Work ‘Vacation’ Gets Murky

DEAR MISS MANNERS: We are putting together a business trip for 200 people who won it by meeting certain work goals, and each can bring a guest of their choosing. It is to be held out of the country at a nice resort.

Guests can come and go as they please. During the day, there are multiple excursions and activities they may pick from, or they can relax by the pool or beach. We provide an open breakfast and lunch. Each evening, there is an organized cocktail hour and dinner, including entertainment. The expectation is that the guests will attend the dinner.

In the past, some people have elected not to participate in these dinners. Some of our trip planners would like to add “mandatory” to the program itinerary. While I also believe it is important to let our guests know that dinner is mandatory, is there a nicer, more polite way of making that clear?

GENTLE READER: Businesspeople like the word “transparent,” although Miss Manners wonders if they grasp its full meaning. It means see-through, not honest, but perhaps they merely want to avoid any admission that what they were doing before was not quite honest.

The 200 employees who have been told that their reward for hard work is a free trip, with a guest, to a nice resort -- away from such things as business goals -- have seen through your attempt to dress up work as pleasure. Or perhaps they have seen through your mixed messaging: Meetings -- even meetings with food service -- are work, not vacation.

The solution is to be frank from the start about your intentions by mentioning in the initial invitation that attendance at the dinners is required (a slightly milder command than “mandatory”). If you then plan a meeting with balloons and party games, Miss Manners wishes you luck sorting out a mess entirely of your own making.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a job that requires me to interact with the elderly in the community, a lot of whom are widows/widowers. In a recent conversation with a widow, she commented that she and her husband had been married 67 years ago on that day.

I wasn’t sure if I should offer my condolences for her, because her husband had passed and couldn’t celebrate such a milestone, or if I should offer congratulations.

She and I were having a happy conversation, and she didn’t seem upset in the slightest about relaying that information to me. She continued on with our conversation, laughing and smiling.

This is a situation that I have come across several times. What is the best way to respond to sad information relayed on such a jovial note? I normally just sit there, unsure of what to say, until the conversation moves on to a new topic.

GENTLE READER: The proper tone is one consistent with sad, but old, news: subdued, but not funereal. But beware: Even if the widow is jovial, you are less likely to get in trouble being somber than being funny. Above all, Miss Manners recommends listening more than talking.

(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, dearmissmanners@gmail.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)

Read more in: Etiquette & Ethics | Aging