How do I semi-politely tell people to leave my property when I am stressed?
February 9, 2009 5:41 PM   Subscribe

How do I semi-politely tell people to leave my property when I am stressed? Mild PTSD but don't want to talk about it.

Two times in the past year, in two totally different continents, I have had similar problems, so I think it has something to do with me and will happen again. Both people are not native English speakers but have many years speaking English, but probably that has nothing to do with it (except maybe in their cultures they don't consider their actions rude).

What happens is that I'm at home and they show up unannounced and walk right into the property (or drive in, as the case may be).

I think "Oh, ok, how nice."

Then they come over and tell me something that angers me. In one case, the guy told me he was part of the neighborhood watch patrol and wanted my personal data for the police. In the other case, she told me she wanted to verify whether I was going to clean up something that the owner inaccurately claimed was a mess I'd made.

I know I over-react and that the people, though a little impolite, are not the worst people in the world. I overreact partly because I have moderate PTSD from being surprised and almost killed. I have it pretty much under control. I don't deck the "intruder" though it certainly runs through my mind. But my "brain" slows to a crawl.

I calmly said, "Please leave my property now." But both times this has been ignored and the person got more adamant about their little speech. It gets me even more worked up, and both times I have had to say "Leave my property Now. You didn't extend the courtesy of a call, now Leave." And both times I've had to repeat this about three times, at which the person leaves, and I'm sure tells the entire neighborhood that I'm a freak.

What I want is two or three sentences that I can memorize, so I don't need to think next time this comes up. I don't want to have to go into PTSD or my past, I just need a strategy to make the situation go away. Even if it's something like hearing a fake phone call, WHATEVER, just tell me what to do next time these people show up so that they will go away feeling like they've done their best and that even if I'm awkward, I'm not evil.

Thanks for the consideration.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have to answer the door? I never answer the door unless I know someone is coming over. Even when it's blatantly obvious that I'm home.
posted by meerkatty at 5:45 PM on February 9, 2009 [4 favorites]

In both cases, the visitors seemed to be somewhat aggressive. If someone came to my home and behaved this way, I'd probably say "I don't want visitors today, and I'd like you to leave now." Short, abrupt sentences may not sink in fully. Saying the same thing in longer form may help it penetrate their thick, unthinking skulls.
posted by theora55 at 5:49 PM on February 9, 2009

"I can't talk to you now, please excuse me, I need to continue what I'm doing."

Any further interactions followed by, "sorry."
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:56 PM on February 9, 2009

If "You. Are. Tresspassing." doesn't do it, picking up the phone and calling 9-1-1 should do the trick.

Although not answering the door is also good.
posted by tiamat at 5:59 PM on February 9, 2009

Without knowing much about these incidents -

"Please leave my property now" said flat out is the kind of thing that just inspires further confrontation.

Remember that you are in control of the entire situation, it's your property, your door, and you can end the dialogue whenever you see fit. That said, I wouldn't recommend slamming the door or being overly curt. Smile, stay calm, be friendly and be in control.

How about -

"I'm really busy at the moment and I don't have time to deal with people calling unsolicited on my doorstep. "

"Look - "

"No, really, if you have a complaint/issue/something to tell me, I'd be happy to look over it if you put it in writing, or perhaps discuss it over the phone."

"Well - "

"No, I have to go now, feel free to express your concerns in a letter. Have a nice day."

It might be difficult, but you must realise that you hold all the cards in a situation like this. Cut them off if you see fit and dictate the direction of the encounter. The worst thing you can do is allow somebody on your doorstep time to say their piece.
posted by fire&wings at 5:59 PM on February 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm not defending rude behavior or pushy people, but if you care about these uninvited guests and appreciate the thought behind their (inconsiderate) actions, and if by "do their best" you mean that these people are coming over because they think you need company or something, then you could say something like, "I appreciate your concern, but I really don't like surprise guests. Thank you for taking the time to come over, but I can't have guests right now, so we'll have to get together another time. Next time, please call first to see if I'm up for company."
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:04 PM on February 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

¨Right now isn´t a good time to talk. I will call you about this later. Excuse me, I need to get back to what I´m doing.¨

Then, go into the house and close the door behind you.
posted by yohko at 6:13 PM on February 9, 2009 [6 favorites]

Put up a no trespassing sign. If someone passes it & bothers you tell them you don't talk to illiterate people who can't understand signs. That's what I do & there is nothing wrong with how you feel it is after all your home:-).
posted by patnok at 6:30 PM on February 9, 2009

What in the world is making these people ignore you when you say, "Please leave my property?" I don't get it.

I've got a little trick for dealing with unwelcome visitors. I look through the peephole, and if I don't recognize them, I don't even open the door. I shout through it. Example:

"WHO IS IT?" I yell through the (closed) wood door.

"Uh, we're from the Church of God and we want to visit with you."


It is amazing how not opening the door leaves you in complete control of the interaction. It unsettles them; they can't manipulate you; and they leave quietly. It is wonderful.
posted by jayder at 6:38 PM on February 9, 2009

It sounds like OP has a problem because OP at first thinks the person wants to be friends, then goes out like a friend with time on his hands and has cut his bridges on the "I'm busy" defense because he's not busy.

Also it seems like OP is living in a big place ("property") as someone drove in, not an apartment with a peephole, in case this is relevant; and 9-1-1 might not be an option as this has happened on separate continents with non-native-English speakers. (?)

Maybe OP needs to get some fierce dogs.

The bottom line for what goal to have might come down to this - a Nicaraguan saying I learned - el que se enoja pierde - he who gets angry loses.

Definitely memorize every word fire^wings wrote above, and learn to say it with a smile and completely ignore the response, be ready to say it five times over. If anyone ever says something that makes you want to deck them as you say it, immediately know they are an enemy and do not deserve to be listened to, immediately begin your manta. "I've been tricked" inside then everyhing fire^wings wrote above externally. "Om" internally then "I'm really busy at the moment and I don't have time to deal with people calling unsolicited on my doorstep. " externally. "F*** Y**" internally secretely then "No, really, if you have a complaint/issue/something to tell me, I'd be happy to look over it if you put it in writing, or perhaps discuss it over the phone." externally.

Good luck!
posted by peter_meta_kbd at 6:56 PM on February 9, 2009

"I'm sorry this is not a good time right now, could you please leave something in writing or call me another time?"

By giving them other options (such as leaving a note or written materials, or calling later), even if you don't actually intend to grant their requests later, makes them feel like they're not being totally shot down.
posted by radioamy at 7:20 PM on February 9, 2009

I think a lot of the problem may be that the people in question don't really understand what's going on. They're just trying to talk to you about some sort of problem. They're expecting you to respond to the issue, either positive or negatively, and some sort of agreement made. But, instead, by simply saying "Leave," they're getting confused. Does this mean you flatly refuse to do what they ask of you? Because, if so, they still want you to do it, even if you want them to leave. Are you, instead, just refusing to talk to them? Well, why?

So, the trick is to get across as much as possible that this doesn't really have anything to do with them or what they're talking about, and, instead, is just something going on with you.

This is why I suggest saying something like, "I'd be happy to talk to you about this later, but for right now, I'm not able to discuss this. I'm going to have to ask you to leave."

They get to know that whatever issue they have will be addressed at a later time, and so they're more likely to get the point. Furthermore, it's politely stated, so they won't feel like they need to defend themselves, or get you to stop being offended, or anything.
posted by Ms. Saint at 7:24 PM on February 9, 2009

It sounds like you're already outside when they come over and talk to you, so there's not much you're going to be able to say that isn't going to sound weird. So, I'd just go with that. "I'm sorry, this might sound weird, but I'm really not able to deal with this issue right here and right now. Could you please call me on the phone and set up an appointment / discuss the issue on the phone? My number is 555-1234."
posted by jacquilynne at 7:28 PM on February 9, 2009

A lot of people have different ideas about "property". I've been places where unannounced visits were perfectly acceptable, provided you came directly to the front door and yelled out a friendly "hello" first to alert the occupants there was a friendly stranger about. And in other places, people just walk right in the house.

So it might just be a cultural misunderstanding. The OP has a different perimeter of security than the visitors think he does. "Please leave my property now" and "no trespassing" signs will come off as weird to them. Maybe not bad weird, but just a cultural disconnect. So I definitely like the "Oh, I'm sorry, I wasn't expecting anyone, I thought there was some kind of emergency. Please leave your literature in my mailbox on your way out. Thanks!" sorts of suggestions. No need to engage them, just say your thing and politely shut the door.

As someone who abhors the unannounced visitor, I feel for you. Some people just have no concept of "I can't talk to you right now". They knocked on the door, and they mistakenly think that obligates you to talk to them. I have a neighbor that plays that game. "Why didn't you answer when I knocked?" Because I was doing something else! Mind your own business!
posted by gjc at 8:12 PM on February 9, 2009

I think your approach is fine (PTSD or no) - you just need to add an extra step before your first "please leave". "I can't talk about this now. I'll catch up with you another time - give me a call first, OK?" If they push after that, then they're rude, and you're justified to be more blunt.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:13 PM on February 9, 2009

I would also recommend prefacing your request for them to leave with a bit of banter. "I appreciate you contacting me about this..." (even if you don't) or "Thank-you for bringing this to my attention."

Then ask for their contact information and commit to a deadline of speaking with them so they know you're not brushing them off. For example: "I understand your concerns but I'm in the middle of a project and cannot accommodate the surprise visit. I will take your phone number/e-mail address and get in touch with you before the end of the week."

This tells them that they don't have to be pushy but that really they must leave.
posted by cranberrymonger at 8:50 PM on February 9, 2009

Both of those people were asking for things beyond what's polite. If you have to live with these people as neighbors, fire&wings's speech should work. If not, I'd feel free to get as agressive as you want with them.

Also, depending on your jurisdiction this might not help, but "Get off my property" carries more weight if you have some dogs and a shotgun close at hand.

Personal data for the police? HahahahahaaNo. Thank you for your concern. Goodbye.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:54 PM on February 9, 2009

My reading of the OP is that he knows that he's coming off a little odd and just wants a way to get people to leave when he unexpectedly gets upset, so that he can defuse his own reaction.

(If this isn't correct, it is an impression I get from your retelling, and I suspect that part of their reaction may be that you've developed a reputation as tetchy.)

I think the key word that may motivate people is that since they don't understand why you're suddenly lurching into needing them to leave you need to tell them that you're ill. No need to specify, just say something like

"I apologize. I am ill and this is not a good time for me to discuss this." Then perhaps invite them to e-mail you or write a letter. This sends an entirely different message from "get off my property".
posted by dhartung at 10:32 PM on February 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

This comes to you from an American in Kuwait... . A sense that perhaps there is some measure of underestimating the significance of cultural differences. Perhaps it's my perception/projection, not your intent, but your post came across as downplaying the cultural-differences prospect.

I've become used to a lot of things with locals, substantial numbers of people here from South Asia and the Philliipines that are perfectly normal, reasonable and appropriate for people of their respective countries and cultures... things that strike me as anywhere from strange and harmless to unpleasant.

People will react as they will, and I can relate to wrestling with speaking up tactfully when these differences are more impactful than things in the strange-and-harmless realm. I try to remember, though, that I choose to be here and it is not wise to expect people here to conduct themselves based on my norms and expectations.

That said, Nthing what people have said about being polite but firm (relative to their desire to talk, the information they seek if you choose not to provide it), offering people other options for communication--setting another time, meeting elsewhere, doing it via the phone or e-mail.
posted by ambient2 at 10:41 PM on February 9, 2009

firewings has good advice, I think. Combine also with dhartung's ill excuse. If these polite options don't have the desired effect, I have sometimes resorted to either the migraine or stomach flu excuse. These must be used judiciously, though a reputation for blinding migraines might help you keep the unwanted neighbors at bay (in my case I really do get migraines, but sometimes a fake one helps in these situations.)

So, perhaps start with the firewing scenario:

"I'm really busy at the moment and I don't have time to deal with people calling unsolicited on my doorstep. "

"Look - "

"No, really, if you have a complaint/issue/something to tell me, I'd be happy to look over it if you put it in writing, or perhaps discuss it over the phone."

"Well - "

"No, I have to go now, feel free to express your concerns in a letter. Have a nice day."

If that works, great, but at this point if they are still persisting you can say:

"I didn't want to mention this before, but I have a touch of [migraine, stomach flu, cold ...], and I really must [run to the bathroom ... go lie down for a bit ...]"

"Please do put your concerns to me in a letter. Must go. Goodbye."
posted by gudrun at 11:01 PM on February 9, 2009

It seems like part of the problem is that when these people first approached, you didn't know that they were going to say things that would make you angry ('I think "Oh, ok, how nice." '). Then once you got angry, it was hard for you to think up something to say to get them to leave. The surprise of a social visit turning into a confrontation seems to be part of what unnerved you. Maybe it would help if you started by regarding all unexpected visitors as potential pests: open the door but don't let them in yet, and start by saying something like "What brings you here today?" or "What's the purpose of your visit?" If they say something you don't like the sounds of, then have a line ready such as has been suggested above ("I'm sorry, but I can't talk right now" or whatever) and then close the door and move away from it. Being blunt about ascertaining a visitor's intentions right away might help shield you from the feeling of being intruded upon.
posted by Orinda at 11:03 PM on February 9, 2009

First, I can totally empathize where you're coming from having had a similar incident happen to me and I know *The Edge* very very well. Please reconsider the phone - the cell phone as a matter of fact. It can be a life-saver. You just stick it in your ear and whisper/say *Sorry, I really need to take this and it will be a while. Let's do this some other time*. And that's it. You talk into the phone - pretend its business. Say into the phone whatever comes to mind. Make it kind of secretive for special effects. That's it. You're off the hook - so to speak - but on it at the same time. People understand this. And you will have time to regroup. It works wonders outside while you're waiting on a line, in a bank, supermarket - wherever you have triggers.
posted by watercarrier at 3:26 AM on February 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

watercarrier- That's actually a great idea, which I've used in the past. Arrive at the door holding a phone, as if there were a live call on it*, and use it as an excuse to cut things short. Preferably before you start to get stressed. This doesn't stop some people, but at least by holding a phone, you prove them to be the rude ones.

*Isn't it weird that there are different ways of holding a phone depending on whether there's someone on the line or not...
posted by gjc at 3:36 AM on February 10, 2009

Experience gjc - the best teacher. Talking into the phone - and it being *urgent* - really no one gets their feelings hurt - because everyone can relate to *business* and its importance. The phone. even if there's no one on the other end acts like a barrier which is so crucial when you need your personal space respected and validated.
posted by watercarrier at 3:57 AM on February 10, 2009

I think you need to feel in control of this situation, particularly given your PTSD. You need to find ways that you can be comfortably assertive.

Firstly, I recommend just not answering the door if people don't call ahead, especially if you're at the house by yourself. This will make you feel more secure, which is something you need, even if you're dealing with your PTSD well. If someone really wants to see you, they'll learn to call ahead. Otherwise, bugger them. If you haven't previously met them and wanted to give your number to them, they won't have a chance! (And for those few occasions where someone asks for your number, but you don't want to give it, just transpose a couple of numbers or something.)

If/when people call ahead, and you don't want to deal with them, just give a polite excuse. Some of the ones listed above work well. Get caller ID if you don't have it already, too, because this can save you a ton of time. I tend to not answer my mobile unless it's someone I know and/or know will be calling. This keeps me from having unwanted conversations and, certainly, unwanted visitors. Despite what etiquette junkies may think, I don't think this is antisocial or rude. It's just taking control of your life and surrounding yourself with the people and situations you desire. You don't waste time or energy on things you don't want, then.

Another technique, for when you do accidentally open the door on these folks, is to make sure you don't let them inside your home. Just talk to them at your doorway. This will keep it less awkward when you say you have to go, because you won't have previously suggested that you had spare time to let them in and discuss things with you.
posted by metalheart at 6:06 AM on February 10, 2009

Putting all my techniques into a single post makes me look like a total social ass. :D Promise you can do above and still be nice and have friends over! :P
posted by metalheart at 6:08 AM on February 10, 2009

Um, could I very politely, not just semi-politely, suggest that you might also consider looking for a strategy to deal with the underlying PTSD and anger issues?

It can't be fun for you to be getting this angry and frustrated every time someone comes to your door. And I have to imagine that being your neighbor can be a little scary at times as well. So its a good thing that you're realizing that you probably need to find a way to deal with it, but I'd really suggest you think about finding more fundamental ways to manage your reactions, not just find a few phrases to cover them up. And that probably should include some conversations with professionals who have experience talking to people who've been in situations similar to yours.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 7:08 PM on February 10, 2009

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