QUESTION: Was I out of line questioning my friend about her doctor's appointment? I asked her if she was going to a psychiatrist because she said something that made me think that she might be in therapy and she looked at me like I was crazy. Should I have avoided the subject?
CALLIE'S ANSWER: Yes, avoid the subject unless it is clearly stated or talked about. Therapy is personal. Tread lightly.
LILLIE-BETH'S ANSWER: Sometimes I like to answer questions in this column because I can then say “I'm sorry” to everyone to whom I might have inadvertently done something similar in the past. The journalist side of me is always asking questions, as is the side of me that is genuinely concerned for my friends' well being, which sounds like your case, too. Sometimes I forget that outside of work, I need to concentrate on turning those switches off and avoid getting too personal.
It appears as if you accidentally asked a friend a personal question based on a misunderstanding of what she had said; her unease isn't directly your fault. However, I would be careful about going too deep into any medical matters and let your friend take the lead and share only what she's willing to share.
HELEN'S ANSWER: Yes, it is good manners to stay away from asking about questions about someone's medical treatment, unless the person involved wants to discuss it with you and brings up the subject of treatment. Even then, it is important to withhold comments unless your friend asks.
GUEST'S ANSWER: Devonne Carter, licensed clinical social worker who has taught etiquette classes at Oklahoma Christian University: People will tell you what they really want you to know. Without hearing the entire conversation, it is hard to know if your friend was hinting at something she wanted you to know.
I encourage you to listen and nod your head next time if you are worried about offending a friend. Another method of listening is by asking a very general question, such as, “what do you mean by doctor's appointment?”, instead of filling in the blanks for your friend and suggesting which kind of doctor she is going to see.
We don't have to know every detail of our friends' lives to care for them.
Callie Gordon is twenty-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is in her 40s, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more 20-40-60 etiquette, go to blog.newsok.com/partiesextra.