Hello Polite Readers!
We have a first today... A topic request from my husband! I could have just given him my advice in person, but I'm sure it's a subject many of us encounter far too often. The issue is, how do you deal with people who keep telling you things that you don't need or want to hear?
It's an all-too-common problem. Whether it's the friend on Facebook who posts the gross details of their medical problems, or the person who won't stop telling you about their relationship problems (even though you're friends with both halves of the couple), or the person who has to tell you every. single. thing. they did that day despite the fact that you're behind them in line at the grocery store and couldn't care less about their life. Some of us seem to just attract this sort of person no matter what we do (I say "us" and "we" even though I have perfected the "leave me alone" vibe).
One simple catch-all phrase for people who are getting way too personal is "I'm sorry, I don't feel comfortable with you telling me this." It also works well for gossip! Rather than attacking the person who is saying it, or the content of what they're saying, it puts it all on you... for whatever reason, you're not comfortable. You can elaborate if you wish, ie "I have a really sensitive stomach and hearing about your nausea is making me feel sick" or "I love you and Jim both so I really can't be involved in your arguments, I'm sure you understand." It doesn't work as well for the stranger in line, because you can really only elaborate by saying "I'd rather be alone with my thoughts and also your breath smells like cheese."
Some people are chronic over-sharers and you may need to use stronger tactics with them. You may need to be a little blunt. "Friend, I don't feel like we're really close enough for me to advise you on your marriage/diagnose your condition based on a Facebook photo/help you navigate your tricky family dynamics." This may prove difficult if you've been in the habit of helping them before, because they'll have come to expect it. It can take a while to retrain people to not see you as their personal therapist. You can soften the blow by offering them an alternative source of help (a counselor, a doctor, whatever), but make sure you're also polite in how you suggest they need professional help. "You're too crazy for me" is harsh. "I think this is a bigger problem than just a friend can solve, have you considered seeing a therapist?" is better.
If they insist on continuing the conversation even after you've said you're not comfortable with it, or they change the topic for a minute only to segue back to it, end the conversation! Either make a polite excuse about how you have to go, or if you're really trying to drive home the point, say "It's clear that this is dominating your thoughts. Since I can't help you with it, I'm going to let you find someone who can. Talk with you later." Don't let anyone force you to have a conversation that you neither need nor want to be part of.
Do you have an awkward situation that you need help with? Send me an e-mail at Politelyworded@gmail.com!