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MISS CONDUCT

My friend’s driving terrifies me. Get me out of the passenger seat!

Plus, what do I say to a relative who got a job they’re unqualified for?

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A good friend usually wants to drive when we spend time together, but her driving terrifies me! She always has her phone in her hands to check directions and won’t let anyone else navigate, will sometimes absentmindedly take her foot off the brake at red lights while fiddling with her phone, will straddle lanes or stop mid-intersection if she’s unsure. How do I tell her without ruining the friendship that I can’t be her passenger anymore unless she puts her phone down and drives confidently?

E.S. / Boston

Yikes! Friends are supposed to be ride or die, not ride and die. And you need to stop riding with this one entirely. Frame it as a decision you’re making for the good of your friendship: She has driving habits you’re not comfortable with. You don’t want to be white-knuckling the armrest, and she doesn’t want to feel self-conscious and under review. Riding together is going to stress at least one of you, so why not avoid that strain on your relationship?

Then stick to it. Don’t make riding with her conditional on her becoming a better driver. That’s not a good move for the friendship, because it puts you in the capacity of judge, and it would almost certainly make her an even worse driver. Driving is the kind of task that’s governed by procedural memory, which means that most of the actions and decisions are done without full conscious awareness. Having to do procedural-memory tasks under pressure hauls all that knowledge up to the surface, which can seriously mess up a person’s game. You don’t want to be in the car with your friend if this happens. (I once made the mistake of asking my very good hairstylist whether she cut my bangs objectively level, or level relative to my eyebrows, and got the worst cut I’d had as a result. Once she started thinking about it, she choked.) Think of a skill of your own that you’re not entirely confident in — would you do it better if you were watched by someone who you know thinks you’re bad at it and is waiting for you to make a mistake?

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You can still tell her what specifically bothers you about her driving, so she can change these habits on her own. If she’s even remotely open to feedback, you should, because she could get herself or someone else killed.

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A family member has been appointed to a job that they aren’t qualified for and got for political reasons rather than merit. I think they are making a huge mistake and will not succeed. I know I shouldn’t say any of this to them. But what can I say?

B.R. / Cambridge

You don’t need to say anything at all — “congratulations” will do. Anyone clueless enough to take a job they’re grossly unqualified for will neither benefit from tactful advice nor even notice that you haven’t said “you’ll be great!”






Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.