Help me, Please! Both at work and in social situations there have been contentious conversations centering on politics. I have my own, very strong opinion, but find that expressing it, when asked, unleashes awful replies from those who believe differently than I do. How do I extricate myself without just stomping off so as to avoid what always turns out to be pointless and mean-spirited arguing?

When you find that civil conversation or a cordial exchange of beliefs is impossible, it makes sense to abandon the person or group. For example, you can say, “Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Please excuse me.” Then leave the group or person. Or you can say, “I’m not comfortable talking about politics at social events, but I have enjoyed talking with you. Excuse me.” Then step away.  When it’s intolerable and the other person won’t stop, interrupt and say, “It’s nice to meet you (or see you), enjoy the rest of the day. Excuse me.” And walk away. Save the effort of an exchange of ideas for those who can handle it without rancor.

A neighbor, who has young children, was recently widowed and seems to be having a hard time making ends meet. I used to pass along my children’s outgrown clothing, boots, jackets, etc., to my sister whose children, until now, have been a size or two below my children. But my niece and nephew have grown faster than mine so my hand-me-downs are too small for them. How can I offer them to my neighbor without making it seem like charity?

Tell her what you wrote here and say you hate to just bundle your kids’ clothes up and pack them away or put them in a used clothing bin and hope that her kids, who are enough younger and smaller than your children, could wear them. Surely your sister didn’t look at this as charity, and there’s no reason that your neighbor would, either. Clothing is not inexpensive and anyone who has experienced how fast children outgrow their clothes knows how nice it is to be able to share them with others who can give them a second “life.”

I recently broke my right arm. In my job, I meet a lot of new people, such as clients and customers, and without fail they expect to shake hands. Well, I can’t do that right now but don’t know what to do because it is very awkward not to acknowledge this. Can I just extend my left hand, instead of saying, “sorry, I can’t shake hands right now?”

Of course you can. It’s amazing that these hearty hand-shakers are oblivious to your situation, but a quick left-handed response keeps it from seeming that you are shunning their effort to do the right thing. You don’t even have to explain, but you may, if you find it less awkward, say, “It’s so nice to meet you – this is the best I can do right now until my other arm is healed.”

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