Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Complainer Brings Down Mood of Work Trip

DEAR HARRIETTE: I went on a work trip with a friend, and it was disastrous. The organizers did a poor job, but that wasn't the worst of it. My friend is such a major complainer that rather than make the best of it, all he did was point out what was going wrong and moan about it. At every turn when there was a problem -- and there were many -- he blew up and made the scene worse. I know that I do not want to travel with him anymore.

I'm not making excuses for the organizers: Trust me, they got an earful from the attendees. But I do think that it matters how you deal with a situation. My friend was the you-know-what stirrer. He took the whole scene over the edge. I want to say something to him, but when I tried at the event, he blew me off and said I was making excuses for the organizers. Should I say anything else to him? I don't want to be in this situation ever again. -- Out of My Control, Baltimore

DEAR OUT OF MY CONTROL: I agree that you always have a choice as to how you can deal with whatever comes your way. Even in the worst circumstances, it is possible to find the positive. That said, it can be incredibly difficult to remain upbeat when you are participating in a disastrous situation. Scapegoating your friend may be a bit extreme.

Instead, try talking to him again after some time has passed. Admit that the event was a mess and add that his behavior made it harder for you to manage. Tell him that you wished he had been able to enjoy time with you and your other friends and colleagues or make the best of it. If you find yourself in a similar situation with him where he starts nonstop complaining, walk away. Get out of earshot so you can keep your cool.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My 8-year-old daughter wants to have a sleepover for her birthday. I think it's a nice idea, but I feel uncomfortable hosting it because most of her friends live in much fancier places than our modest home. I don't want her -- or me, for that matter -- to be embarrassed by bringing kids over to a simple apartment when some of them live in big houses. Do you think I should forego it or do it anyway? -- Feeling Small, Chicago

DEAR FEELING SMALL: People live all kinds of ways, and, as you know, have very different economic means. You do not need to feel ashamed of what you have. If the children are truly your daughter's friends, they will likely be perfectly happy to be in your home. Young children tend to live in the moment and enjoy whatever their circumstances are.

In terms of the parents, just welcome them into your home. Be kind and at ease. As long as your home is clean and neat, you should feel proud of where you live and comfortable inviting them into your humble abode.