Dear Amy: I'm president of my Home Owners Association, and generally enjoy the job in our 282-unit community.
I've noticed that ever since our area went on shelter-in-place, I've received several calls where the homeowner was extremely agitated. Often, they begin the conversation at high volume and also halfway through their sentence.
I'm guessing that this agitation is coronavirus-related and has little to do with what's happening in our community.
I'm an engineer with poor people skills.
Any suggestions on how I can calm down these callers? — HOA Helper
Dear Helper: I appreciate your question, and what you are trying to do for your community members.
During "normal" times, your engineering skills are probably an ideal fit when fulfilling your important function. Unfortunately, these times call upon all of us to practice new skills.
You would be wise to always keep in mind how anxious many people are right now, even if you are not.
Anxiety has a way of scrambling the thought process, as well as magnifying problems until they can seem overwhelming.
Take a breath before you take a call. Listen without commenting or interrupting. Do not tell someone to "calm down" (this sort of directive leads some people to believe that they are not being heard or understood). Your "listening posture" should be calm, affirmative, and supportive: "I can tell you're upset. I'm sorry this is happening. I know it's hard."
When appropriate, you could ask, "How can I try to help you?"
Be honest in your responses. If a problem is well beyond your function as HOA president, you should say so. If appropriate, you could also ask people to follow up with an email, in order to have a written record of their concern.
I wonder if there is another person in your community who might serve as a temporary "community ambassador." You and this person could work as a team, to keep residents informed regarding latest updates.
You do not want to become the repository of community gossip or discord, but if it helps others for you to be something of a sounding board, you would be serving an important function. Think of this as mastering a different kind of engineering.
Dear Amy: I was with my man, "Travis," for eight years. Travis was the love of my life. Our relationship ended due to his cheating and continuing in a relationship with another woman.
Sadly, Travis has found himself using drugs and living a life of crime now, so I guess breaking up was a blessing.
Recently, I found out that he is in prison. I wrote him a letter of support and also sent him a care package. I made it clear that I am coming from the perspective of friendship.
I am wondering if I am "too nice" to this guy? It really didn't end well between us. He's really never apologized, but I guess I just love him that much.
He has no family, so I just wanted to be there for him. Did I overdo it? — Overly Caring Ex-girlfriend
Dear Overly Caring: "Travis" does not sound like a good bet. All of his lesser qualities (the cheating, lying, etc.) are likely to be amplified in prison.
You are probably not the only woman who cares about Travis, and it might help you to assume that he probably has other pen pals.
It is kind of you to get in touch, but if your contact with him compels you to put the brakes on your own progress and personal development, then you are basically incarcerating yourself along with him. That would not be good for you.
Dear Amy: Like thousands of others who have loved ones in nursing homes and other health care facilities, we haven't been able to see our 89-year-old mom since March.
She was in good health and mentally sharp until January. She's been back and forth between the hospital and rehab many times since then.
She went from being mentally sharp to having trouble with a simple phone call.
Someone from the family was with her every day until the lockdown. This is a nightmare for us.
Well-meaning friends call to ask how mom is doing, and then proceed to give advice, and - worse — describe similar events leading up to their mothers' deaths.
I've had to tell them to stop. I can't talk about someone dying right now. I am grateful for their friendship, but I am worn out and heartsick. — Please Stop
Dear Please: This is heartbreaking. Yes, please stop.
— Amy Dickinson is a Tribune Media Service national columnist. Send questions via email to email@example.com or by mail to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068.