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Miss Conduct

Hasty goodbyes

How to stop making phony phone farewells, plus changing gift-giving traditions.

By Robin Abrahams
November 1, 2009

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When talking with friends on the phone, I end conversations on a rushed note. I say something like “Well, I got to go. See you soon!” I find this a bad way to conclude a conversation (and feel guilty if I’m lying) but have no idea how to end it with a less harried and more polite tone. What would be the ideal way to stop a conversation without seeming rude or in a rush to get off the phone? N.D. / Stoughton You do realize that if talking on the phone is uncomfortable, you don’t have to do it, right? I hate phones, and over time I’ve collected a nice group of friends who feel the same, or at least realize that they should only call me when they have something specific to say, such as that they’re running late for a dinner party at our house.

But maybe you don’t mind being on the phone, you’re only confused about how to get off it, like a gymnast who can fling herself about the parallel bars all day but has problems with the dismount. There’s nothing wrong with what you’re doing, but here’s a little four-step that might feel a bit more graceful than your current routine. First, you say “It’s been so great to talk to you!” Then you refer to something that came up during the conversation: “Thanks for telling me about that sale at Macy’s” or “I’m glad to hear your mother’s visit went well.” Next, you mention the desirability of social plans, or even make some: “Do you want to go to the sale with me this weekend?” or “I hope we can get together soon. Check your calendar and shoot me some dates, OK?” In other words, honor the present moment, acknowledge the past, and affirm the future. Finally, say “Bye!” or “Love you!” or “Toodles!” or whatever passes for “farewell” with you, and hang up. Past, present, future, farewell: voila!

My siblings and I don’t know how to stop giving presents to one another’s grandchildren. If we end the practice on a specific date or event (such as Christmas 2009), we feel the younger children would be cheated. If we end the practice on a specific birth date (such as age 18), the younger children in the family would still receive gifts while the older ones would not. We want to be fair to everyone and don’t seem to have a solution. Please help. P.A. / Milford A “kids get presents, grown-ups don’t” policy is fine. Lots of large families do this, and the pride of being considered one of the adults makes up for the lack of a present. If you set a date, well, OK, the younger kids get “cheated.” But family life is never fully equal, anyway. Younger siblings get hand-me-downs, but they also get laid-back parents who have learned to pick battles strategically. You win some, you lose some. It’s almost impossible to implement a change that is entirely fair to everyone. But folks generally kick and scream for a much shorter time than you think they will before accepting the new reality.

One thing change management requires, though, is a rationale. Can you all simply not afford so many presents? Or is the family so spread out that you don’t know all the grandkids enough to pick out good, meaningful gifts? If you don’t know why you’re making a change, you can’t come up with a solution that addresses the actual problem, nor can you do a good public relations job for why the change needs to happen.

There are other alternatives besides the ones you mentioned: drawing names, for example, or giving gifts to the entire family instead of to individuals. I’m sure my readers will suggest even more ideas. But you need to decide why you are changing your tradition before you decide how you will change it.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology. Got a question or comment? Write to missconduct@globe.com. BLOG Read more of Miss Conduct’s wit and wisdom at boston.com/missconduct. CHAT Get advice live this Wednesday, noon to 1 p.m., at boston.com.