Dear Miss Manners: For several decades I have been a consultant, hired by government agencies, higher education institutions and nonprofits for advice and planning. During the past decade, I've found that many of my clients have lost their manners. I would like to know how to work around this.
For example, one very big client and I had a contract and exchange of e-mails about the final product. I provided a product that went well beyond our agreement and put in uncompensated hours, but the client decided that she wanted even more so she would look fabulous to her granting agency. Because I don't advertise and all my new business comes from word of mouth, I had to provide extra flourishes that were never part of our contract in order to make her happy and keep her from speaking ill of me.
Another client decided that he could delay my project for almost a year because he just didn't feel ready to let me start. This threw my work for him into the following year when I was working for other clients, causing me to put in months of 18-hour workdays.
There have been several other incidents where clients have completely ignored my needs. How do I get them to be more thoughtful without alienating them and causing bad publicity? I can't simply point to the contract and refuse to budge. It seems so unprofessional to remind them at the signing that I am not a machine.
Gentle Reader: Good manners do not require you to renegotiate a business deal at the whim of every unreasonable client.
The airline that refuses to hold the plane because you are running late is not treating you rudely — at least not in regard to when they close the doors. But lectures that you should have arrived at the airport earlier would be both rude and, since they are unlikely to be appreciated, bad business.
If you are willing to undertake additional work or modify an agreed-upon schedule, then you are in an ideal position to renegotiate both sides of the deal to suit your needs. Miss Manners only asks that you recognize when driving too hard a bargain will indeed result in bad feelings and possibly also bad publicity.
Lewdness isn't funny
Dear Miss Manners: I often find myself in situations where someone makes a lewd joke that I am uncomfortable with. My natural reaction is one of embarrassment, and I usually look down or divert my gaze. My reaction often worsens the situation because it makes the joke teller feel guilty for making the joke.
What is the best way to let someone know that I don't feel comfortable with lewd jokes?
Gentle Reader: Don't laugh. Dissenting, however politely, will only lead to accusations ranging from humorlessness to stifling free speech. But Miss Manners assures you that a silent stare at the joke teller can do wonders.
"Miss Manners" is Judith Martin of the Washington Post. Send questions to her website, missmanners.com.