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Humor can help deflect questions about injury

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Dear Thelma: I have a serious leg injury that happened under embarrassing circumstances. I walk with a limp and sometimes use a cane or brace. I do not wish to discuss my condition or answer curious questions concerning my injury, especially from strangers in public places. How can I deflect these inquiries firmly, but politely?

A: When a person meets someone with a disability, it is absolutely impolite to question them about it. It should never be a topic of conversation unless offered as one by the person with the disability. Everyone must take to heart that simply being curious does not amount to a right to know.

It is disappointing that you are faced with too many impolite inquiries. You are under no obligation to explain your injury. I believe using your sense of humor is the best way to deflect these questions. With it you can put your foot down without getting upset while making it clear that you will say no more.

A mysterious grin and a “That’s classified” will probably do the most to keep the mood light but move the conversation along. If pressed, simply say, “I don’t discuss it.”


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If you can be confident in your prerogative to keep your private life private, you’ll be less like to get upset at a question or a questioner. You can feel fine about refusing to get into the topic and moving on to something else.

Dear Thelma: At work we are having a discussion on the most appropriate way to introduce the person you are living with, but are not married to. The couples are over 40, so we feel “boyfriend/girlfriend” is not appropriate, and that “partner” does not indicate the depth of the relationship. Do you have any suggestions?

A: Most government entities define you as domestic partners or as living in a common-law marriage. “May I introduce my common-law husband,” doesn’t sound quite right to me. I’ve heard of some people using the terms husband and wife although they are not married, but that’s not really accurate and probably doesn’t feel right. “Lover” is too intimate. And from there it just gets sillier: my beau, my best friend in the whole wide world, the love of my life, my roommate.

If you need a label that reflects the deepest of commitments in our society, seriously consider marriage. Otherwise, I think you’ll have to stick with partner.

Dear Thelma: I am applying for an in-house position change at the company for which I have been working for the last 19 years. The application requests a reason why you want to change. To me this is a “purpose-driven” career shift. How do I word this without sounding phony, self-serving and insincere?

A: Since there is nothing phony about looking for a career change within your company, particularly with your record of tenure, you shouldn’t have to worry about sounding that way. State clearly that you have had a clear commitment to the organization and you see the new position as an opportunity to continue being productive and effective as an individual and as an employee of the company. Your record of service will provide an opening to a discussion on the specific reasons why this particular career shift is good for you and for your company at this time.

You’re not the first person to seek to change positions within your company. No one will be taken aback by it. You’re simply looking for a new challenge, and there’s nothing phony, self-serving or insincere about that.

New challenges and good manners never go out of style.

Agree or disagree with Thelma’s advice? Post your comments or ask a question about etiquette at Thelma Domenici is CEO of Thelma Domenici & Associates, offering corporate coaching and contemporary social skills development programs to all ages.