Sticky Social Situations: Etiquette Advice From Ellen

Etiquette Expert Ellen Reddick answers your questions.

Our oldest child passed away a couple of years ago. I have been in some social settings where people have asked how many children I have. When I tell them, they ask how old the youngest is and how old the oldest is. If I say that my oldest WOULD be a certain age, then I have more questions to answer. If I say that my oldest is my second child and give that age, the questions generally are done, but I feel that I have dishonored my oldest by “disregarding” her. Any help in handling this one?



Dear Maureen,
I am sorry for your loss. I don’t think you can say the same thing in every circumstance.
It will depend on how much time you have, what is going on and who is around. When you have more time and the atmosphere is such that you can talk personally, do. You will have to be the judge.
I know that is hard but don’t feel like you are disregarding her but that you value her enough that you require the ‘right’ time and place to discuss her.

Disagreeing with friends, family and co-workers about moral values and religious points of view, for example how when Miss California expressed her views without any bitterness, about same sex marriage, and is now being criticized. They have even said that her standing up for her moral point of view cost her the crown.



I am not sure what you are asking but each scenario is different and how you express you views matter as well. Friends & family should listen to your views as you would to theirs. Work is a different scenario, you go to work to work. Unless it is your company, as long as you are an ethical employee
and do your job your personal views should not dominate your work place.

My father-in-law has different views and beliefs then my husband and I. He seems to always be pushing them on us. We are around him quite often for family events. How do I politely tell him I respect what he is saying but enough!!? I don’t want to offend him or cause a rift in the family. But I don’t want him sharing those ideas with our daughter.



Hi Jen,

You should not do anything, your husband should. Your husband should take his father golfing, to lunch, for a walk and he should ask for his help. He needs to explain the situation and how you BOTH feel and that he needs his father’s help in crossing this bridge. He asks his father to respect the choices he (your husband) and his family (you & your daughter) have made and that you need him to support your choice as you support his choice. Your husband needs to make it very plain that if that it is up to him (his Father) and his behavior and if he doesn’t change, he (your husband) and his family will not be at another family event and he ( his father) will need to explain why to everyone else. He needs to stress that you all love him very much, want him in your & your daughters life, but things need to change and it is up to him.

When I was pregnant with my first child I worked at a beauty supply store and I was still two months away from my due date. Every day the owner would go on and on about how big I was and would tell anyone who came in the store that I looked like I was going to have the baby any day. Well being pregnant I was very emotional and would go home and cry to my husband. He wanted to just tell her some rude remark and quit, since I was going to in a couple weeks anyway. I loved the owner though she was such a sweet lady but those remarks everyday got to me. I never said anything and I still don’t know what I would have said to her.



Her behavior should not and does not allow you to be rude. You are nicer than that but it is important that we let people know that they hurt our feelings. Many time people have no idea what they do is either offensive or hurtful. In a calm and nice way we all need to let others know when their behavior or something they say hurts our feels and give them the opportunity to apologize and us the opportunity to accept their apology.

One of my most sticky situations is forgetting a person’s name. I am usually with my husband who they have not met and I don’t know what to do. I feel stupid when I have known the person forever but I hadn’t seen them in a long time.



Dear Janette,

Everyone forgets names – don’t be so hard on yourself – the answer is simple – you walk up to the person – put out your hand and shake their hand and smile and say – “I have forgotten your name”. The important part is the smile – looking someone in the eyes and being genuinely nice.

I have a dear friend that makes comments about how my family lives in comparison to how her family lives. She often says things like “I wish my house was clean” or “I wish we could afford to have a – like you” or “Wow you have nice furniture… I wish I could have that, but my kids don’t take care of anything nice.” I find this very awkward and I always find myself stumped on what to say or if I should say anything at all. How can I make these “comparison comments” less awkward.



Hi Robin,
That is awkward, I am not sure I have an answer for you except to let her know it makes you uncomfortable and if she would like some tips on house cleaning or child rearing you know some sources you could recommend to her.

My child is always getting other child’s phone numbers from school and invites to play at their house, but the problem is I don’t know these families, and sometimes I”m not comfortable sending my child over to their home. What should you say when your child gets an invite to play at a friend’s house that your not comfortable sending your child to? I’m ok if my child’s friend comes to play at our house, but not sending my child over to their home. What do you say without offending or ruining the friendship?



Dear Michelle,
It is always good to know the environment where your child is playing. I would suggest that you personally take your child to the house and meet the mother and introduce yourself and make a new friend.

I do not take my local paper (to cut down on paper waste) but sometimes I regret it because I will run into someone I haven’t seen in a while and ask how their family is (or a certain family member) and their response is, ” they passed away “a year ago”, or however long it has been” YIKES!! What do you say to them after that answer? I’m never sure what the right response is.



Dear Janeal,
Even if you took the local paper it would not guarantee you would know who passed away. The important thing is to sincerely and warmly express your condolences.

We have a neighbor that asks on occasion for us to come and have dinner with them. We try to be good neighbors and be friendly to them. We don’t want to be rude, but we don’t really enjoy their company and have put her off many times, she keeps asking. How can we get her to take the hint that we don’t want to have dinner with them without offending them?



Dear Anonymous,
Goodness if they haven’t gotten the hint so far I am not sure. I would say just keep say no and eventually they will quit asking. I think either way they will be offended.

The other day I was out to lunch with an old girlfriend. We had both brought our kids along to play while we ate. There was another “child” who joined our children. I have two girls and my friend has two boys. The parents came to get there child because they were leaving. I said loudly. She is so adorable, she is very polite too! The father then stated She is a He, it’s a boy. Okay so here I go again I thought. The child’s hair was longer than my daughters and pulled back in a pony tail. He was dressed a little bit like a boy but not really enough for me to tell. I felt awful…..I have now learned to just keep my mouth shut. My husband tells me all the time, just be quiet. I like to hear good thing about my child so I figure others would too but not when you mistake them for the opposite sex! Yikes!



The answer is to keep complementing children to their parents just not to say boy or girl but say “Your child”.

What do I say to a co-worker and friend who just lost a job?



Hi Nicole,
You say “that is awful” and then ask them to let you know how you can help them in their search for a new job. You can offer to help them with their resume, be a reference for them etc.

A girlfriend and I go out to lunch about once a month. We usually take turns paying, but with the down economy I can’t afford to risk offering to pay for what she might order. How do I go about suggesting we each pay for our own meal?



Hi Collette,
The current economy is changing many of our habits. You just say that you have had to put yourself on a very strict budget and you will be buying your own lunch until things improve. Tell her how much you enjoy her company and that is the important thing.

I used to give members of my extended family birthday presents, but the family is growing and our budget is shrinking and I can’t afford it anymore. What do I say? I feel like they are expecting it.



as soon as you can you let your family members know that your current budget has limited your presents for everyone and that you will be calling and sending a card for an important occasion.
Do it now so it is not close to any one particular birthday or occasion, etc.

Ellen Reddick is the owner of Impact Factory a Salt Lake City based company specializing in training, consulting and coaching in business professionalism and communications.

Ellen is a well known Executive and Corporate Consultant who works with executives and corporations to help identify and assess developmental opportunities for both organizations and individuals. Her unique, practical and powerful strategies make her easy to talk to and her vast corporate background helps her coach high-potential individuals and those requiring new skills to enhance their leadership competencies. Her business experience is varied and extensive including Director for Fairchild Telecommunications International and the national Quality & Process Improvement Director for Lucent Technologies.

She is also a noted author of several business books and articles. Her books include The Art of Professionalism in Our Lives and The Complete Job Search Handbook. She currently writes a monthly column for The Enterprise Newspaper and participates in several business blogs.

Ellen can be reached at: (801) 581-0369 or and

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