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Dear Amy: I'm president of my homeowners' association, and generally enjoy the job in our 282-unit community.

Since our area went shelter-in-place, I've received several calls where the homeowner was extremely agitated. Often, they begin the conversation at high volume.

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?

Amy says: 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 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, say so. If appropriate, you could also ask people to follow up with an e-mail 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 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 for you to be a sounding board, you would be serving an important function. Think of this as mastering a different kind of engineering.

Misery doesn't love company

Dear Amy: Like thousands of others who have loved ones in 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 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.

Amy says: This is heartbreaking. Yes, please stop.

Send questions to Amy Dickinson at askamy@amydickinson.com.