Dear Miss Manners: Spontaneity is often referred to as the "spice of life." I love being spontaneous, if I can.

But now I'm being spontaneously called on with increasing frequency for a variety of meetings by a person who may become a business partner. The first time, I rearranged another engagement to meet with her. By the third time, I said no.

I feel that she doesn't value and respect my time. What should I tell her the next time she asks me to appear spontaneously?

Gentle Reader: As you have discovered, spontaneity is less charming when it is used to justify rudeness (as it often is to explain not answering social invitations).

Miss Manners would hope that a prospective business partner would also value reliability and respect. But if that is not the case, why allow her to endanger your other professional relationships? Next time she asks, tell her, with charming spontaneity, that you have a prior commitment.

Sunk by tight lips

Dear Miss Manners: I am the type of person in whom people confide.

But when the confidence becomes public — a serious illness, a divorce, a job promotion or departure — I am often asked if I was aware of the situation. I am at a loss as to how to respond.

I truly have no problem saying, "No." This, however, became an issue when it was discovered that I did know and had lied to a friend about it.

How can I respond to what I think are inappropriate queries in a way that is relatively honest but not indicative of the trust placed in me?

I've tried evasion. "It is unfortunate, but he is doing well now." "I think she will land on her feet with a new position." Yet, this never seems to do the trick, and the pressing about my "in-the-know" position continues.

Gentle Reader: Assuming you didn't tell a third party about the confidence, Miss Manners surmises that your having known could only have been revealed through a slip on the part of another confidant — or of the confidee.

The correct response to the nosy person is misdirection: "I know it was a difficult time for him, and I know how much he appreciates being able to confide in his friends." If your inquisitor does not understand, you could state coldly that you do not know how much your friend would want you to say.

'Handle' with care

Dear Miss Manners: The owner of our company will often forward e-mails to us (staff), and all she will type is "Please handle" or sometimes just "Handle." I perceive both of these as rather rude, but I want to know if I'm simply too sensitive to rudeness.

Gentle Reader: The former, though brief, is a complete thought — and nearly a complete sentence. As such, it receives Miss Manners' approval. The latter does not.

"Miss Manners" is Judith Martin of the Washington Post. Send questions to her website, www.missmanners.com.