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May 30-June 5, 2007

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Ask Sydney

This advice column is penned by a Sonoma County resident and our new weekly sage. Go ahead! Ask her anything.

Dear Sydney, I own a business with someone who is also a friend. I love my business and I also love my friend, but I don't love my friend in business. I have high standards for how I like to communicate with people that I do business with and how I present myself in general. I believe my partner shares these values, but the way he presents at times is very upsetting to me. I just think things are smoothing out and then he will say or do something that stirs the whole thing up again. We have fought many times about these issues, and at this point I feel hesitant to bring anything up that could set us off. I don't want to lose my business over this--we have been working on it for over four years--but working with him is still the most stressful part of what I do. I don't know what to do with the fact that I wish he were just my friend and not my business partner. How do I survive without being in a constant state of stress?--Stressed Out

Dear Stress: Keep in mind that working with people, be it business partners, co-workers or your own employees, can be stressful and unpleasant at times. Like having roommates, working with others is a struggle to maintain good relationships, to communicate, to not be too demanding or needy and to be mutually respectful. And, as with roommates, sometimes things go smoothly, and sometimes things can crumble quickly. The only way to completely avoid these negative dynamics is to work alone. No working relationship will ever be flawless. Unless you both keep yourselves medicated to a point of complete emotional neutrality, you're bound do disagree and bash heads occasionally.

Try to remember why you started working together in the first place. What skills does your friend have that are a benefit to your business? Think of it this way: If you were co-parenting a child, do you think you would always agree on everything? Always get along? Always feel the other person is trying his or her best? Of course not. In fact, sometimes you might feel like you could do it better on your own. You are co-parenting your business and have to deal with all of the ups and downs that go with this sort of arrangement. Try and keep your friendship separate from this as much as possible. Take the time to do "just friends" stuff together. Have fun outside the business, and that way, when you're parenting the business together, you will be better able to remember what you like about each other.

Dear Sydney, I have noticed recently an increase in friends asking me to remind them of something they have agreed to do. The request can be as simple as carpooling to an event that we like to do, 'cause it saves gas and we like each others' company. When they agree to drive, I'm asked to remind them to pick me up before they leave their house. Two other times, when requesting a reference for a position I'm applying for, the response has been "I'd be happy to write a reference, but I'm really, really busy; would you call me in a week and remind me to do it?" If someone asks me to do a favor for them, I've always felt part of agreeing to do it is remembering when to do it. Is this out of fashion?--Out of Fashion

Dear Fashionless: I can't tell you the number of times I've had people tell me how tired they are, how overworked, how it has become necessary to pick and choose friends and activities because there just isn't enough time to take care of them all. School is harder. Work is harder. Getting by is harder. And all of these exquisite gadgets that advertisers once presented as the greatest time savers of our lives ("By the 21st century, no one will have to work, because machines will do everything for us") are speeding things up to such an extent that it has become almost impossible to catch up.

So, yes, you are out of fashion. Many are working beyond what is healthy and wise, and the mind can only keep up with so many obligations, so many arrangements and so many times. Give a call. Give a reminder. This is just one small way we can help each other. My mother, for instance, continues to call and remind me when it's a family member's birthday. Then I remember to call, and everyone feels happier. The more we help each other remember, the better off we will all be.

Dear Sydney, I was at my friend's house and another good friend of mine, who doesn't have a lot of money, left his side door open and smashed into the side of my new car. A bad move on his part, as I was not parked badly. The damage my friend did will cost about $600. He doesn't have much money, but offered to barter me something worth $600, because he can't afford to have his insurance premium go up. He seems willing to do this, but I feel conflicted because I know he has money troubles and even the barter will set him way back. He's a starving artist, does much for the community, etc. Should I forget about the door and leave it dinged up or take the barter? The damage is cosmetic, but the value of my car has been reduced and I don't have the money to fix it.--Conflicted

Dear Conflicted: The age-old "my friend did it" conundrum. Of course you want to spare your friend from having to come up with money he doesn't have. It was an accident, and your car is just a car, a hunk of metal. How much does the perfection of your car mean to you? And how badly will your friend be set back by having to give you something that, I am presuming, you feel as if you could easily sell for 600 bucks in order to get your door fixed? If the door is that important to you, then take the barter. And good for you for being willing to barter in the first place; that alone takes a big heart. He dinged your door, and you are entitled to getting it fixed. However, if you think you can live with the ding, then refuse the barter and think of a way he could repay you that wouldn't cost anything. Can he cook? Cars are impermanent boxes of metal that are currently in the process of destroying life on the planet as we would like to know it. Would you say the same about your friendship?

'Ask Sydney' is penned by a Sonoma County resident. There is no question too big, too small or too off-the-wall. Inquire at or write [email protected].

No question too big, too small or too off-the-wall. Ask Sydney.