Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole


DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a friend who is returning to college as an adult. She just reported incredible grades on her midterms. It sounds like she is doing really well. I am happy for her, but also shocked. She has very poor language skills. For all the years that I have known her, she has not been good at basic stuff like subject/verb agreement, spelling or writing. She tells me that she is writing papers left and right and getting A's and B's on them. I hate to say this, but I question the quality of the school. Unless someone else is writing her papers, I am sure that they are filled with errors. I worry that my friend is going to graduate and falsely believe that she has all the skills she needs because of these grades. Should I say anything? -- Befuddled, Washington, D.C.

DEAR BEFUDDLED: Leave it alone unless she brings it up. The good news is that your friend knows she needed to expand her knowledge. That's why she went to college. It may be that her school is not at the top of the charts in terms of quality of education, but it is where she has matriculated. Support and encourage her. That she is pushing to do her best is fantastic.

If she mentions any struggles with language or anything else with her classes, that could be your window to make a suggestion. You could recommend a grammar book like the classic "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White, or a website such as I stress, though, that you do this only if asked.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I agreed to work on a project for a friend, mainly because I didn't want to be rude. But I do not have time to do the work. My job is very busy, and I have been working overtime for about a month. This is supposed to last through the holidays. My friend keeps calling to ask me for a status report, and I have been ducking his calls. I feel awful, but I won't be able to get to it until January. How do I tell him? I know he is going to be upset with me. -- Overbooked, New York City

DEAR OVERBOOKED: The worst thing you can do is say nothing. Avoiding your friend's calls is far worse than admitting that you misjudged your availability. By saying nothing, you are being insensitive and unprofessional.

Speak up. Contact your friend right away and tell the truth, starting with the fact that you had every intention of completing the responsibility you accepted in a timely manner. Apologize for dropping the ball. Give a realistic date by which you can complete the task OR admit that you will not be able to complete the work at all and give it back. Be honest.