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CHANNELING A KNOW-IT-ALL TEEN

Dear Miss Manners: Our 14-year-old son is very bright and fairly polite. Children that age think they have the world completely figured out, but Sam is certain that he understands everything better than anyone else.

He frequently expounds at length in a manner that would be pretentious even from a world-renowned expert. Sam is like a 2-year-old with new words, using a vocabulary which is admirable, but often a little too fancy for what he is trying to communicate. How can we guide Sam into a more pleasant mode of communication without discouraging him from using others as a sounding board for his ideas?

Gentle Reader: You don't mind if Miss Manners is charmed with Sam, do you? It will in no way interfere with her approval of your wise realization that he is an unfinished product in need of gentle guidance before he turns into a bore. It's just that she happens to be wild about that sort of child.

So are the proud parents of such children. But unfortunately their delight usually takes the form of unquestioning admiration, which soon turns those curious and articulate children into perfect little pests.

The way to make Sam's conversation bearable without dampening his enthusiasm is to treat it seriously -- by questioning his information and opinions in the polite manner you might use during a discussion with an adult.

"Really? Why do you think that?"

"Funny, that's not the way I heard it. Where did you get your information?"

"I don't quite follow -- would you try explaining that again?"

This shows a respectful interest in what he says while making him responsible for supporting and defending it. It also gets him used to the fact that conversation consists of give and take, not of lectures. Done properly, it shouldn't discourage him from talking -- only from being glib.

Too soon to catch up

Dear Miss Manners: On my last day of work after quitting my job, several co-workers I was friendly with gave me cards with their phone numbers and urged me to call so we could go out some time.

I understand that "Let's go out some time" often means "Let's not go out and say we did." However, these co-workers kept insisting. I was flattered.

Two days after my last day of work, one of them called me and we had a pleasant conversation until I asked if she would like to have coffee the next day. She hesitated, agreed unenthusiastically and got off the phone so quickly I barely had a chance to say goodbye.

She never called, we never met for coffee, and when I saw her a week later, she claimed to have lost my number and asked me to call her. I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and left a message on her answering machine the next day, but she never called back.

Am I misunderstanding? When they insist on getting together and even call me, does this actually mean, "I want to talk to you on the phone, but I don't want to go on social outings with you"?

I hate trying to read minds. When I see these people, do I nod politely and walk on by, or must I stop and talk to them?

Gentle Reader: The misleading thing about workplace friendships is that they almost never are. Like many a workplace romance, they tend to become emotionally inflated by daily proximity and shared experience.

Miss Manners doesn't mean to suggest that your former co-workers didn't like you and genuinely want to keep in touch. Had you suggested coffee some months later, you probably would have been met with enthusiasm.

But by popping up right away, you seem to be hanging on as a member of the work force even though you will no longer have the same interests and information. Yet it is too early for there to be any interesting catching up to do on their lives and yours.

She suggests having your coffee with old friends or new colleagues for a while. Later on, your old colleagues will be delighted to catch you up on all you will have missed.

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