Q. How, without causing offence, can you stop someone sitting next to you on an aeroplane or train from talking to you all the way through the journey? I find this often happens to me, and once you engage it is hard to bring the conversation to a close. I count on these journeys as opportunities to catch up on reading.
— H.A., London W8
A. First soften the blow by talking animatedly for a few minutes. Then put your hand over your mouth and confess in despairing mode, ‘I always get so tempted to talk when I meet someone interesting on a plane/train. Will you promise to stop me if I try to carry on chatting? I’ve got so much reading to do and I’m sure you have, too.’
Q. A friend who runs an art business from her home in the country is too nice to her staff. She is helped by what she calls ‘local ladies of learning’ and, while she needs intelligent and sensitive people to handle the artists and act as sounding boards for her, she also needs them to take their share of the boring mechanical work such as uploading photographs to Flickr, printing off address labels and stuffing envelopes. As a result of her being too nice to throw her weight around, she ends up doing most of this donkey work herself — as well as cooking these ladies lunch. What do you suggest?
— M.W., Wiltshire
A. You must intervene to undermine the ladies’ complacency. Arrange to have lunch at the house one day. Once the ladies are sitting down, you can stage an impromptu kangaroo court by innocently asking, ‘But who does all the donkey work…?’ The ladies will claim they have no time for it.