How do you handle talking to difficult people when you're tired?
January 1, 2019 3:21 PM   Subscribe

I've had the luxury of limiting my exposure to people I actually want to be around for a while. I'm now finding myself, occasionally, in the company of people I can't stand to be around. If you're more on the introverted side, what are you ways of handling being around these particular characters?

I feel best around laid-back people who appear to have good intentions, aren't interested in power plays, are interested in fun and fair exchanges. I also enjoy limited exposure to more colourful and high-spirited personalities, as long as they're coming from a place of good will, aren't not total vampires, and offer entertainment value.

Certain types of people get my back up pretty immediately. Just their energy makes me respond in a certain way (spidey senses go "avoid, get away, shut down"). Here they are.

- The know-it-all (excellent to know stuff. Annoying when you shove it down people's throats, assume authority over anything you've tangentially encountered, and refuse to let others talk)

- The compulsive interrupter. I'm not talking about occasionally impulsive or enthusiastic people, I mean the ones who act like something's been stolen from them if they're not speaking RIGHT NOW (and now and now)

- Bitter divorced men's rights activist

- Socially ambitious person who seems to have an agenda when talking to you (has a spiky/prickly aura, you know they have an angle)

- Call me a misogynist or prude, but - woman over the age of 35 for whom sex appeal is an important identifier (fine on its own) who exclusively or mostly addresses men (i.e. your male partner, or any male partner, sometimes especially male partners. I'm not jealous or concerned, I just think it's disrespectful AF, also tacky)

- Hams who take up more than approx 70% of the conversational space (I'm ok with some hammery)

(Common theme: dominance)

I had a higher tolerance for the hams and interrupters and know-it-alls when I was younger - would try to accommodate, or use strategies to defuse whatever annoyed me (e.g. validate the know-it-all's sense of authority).

Now people like this just make me tired. Talking to them feels like swimming upstream, and I just don't have the energy or patience to bother, but, sometimes I have to (obviously).

(I should probably note that lately, even conversations with people I like and want to talk to wear me out, so dealing with this stuff feels like a heavy, heavy burden.)
posted by cotton dress sock to Human Relations (22 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: *your. (sorry, am tired.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:22 PM on January 1, 2019

Honestly, I just go into "customer service" mode. I make the right noises, reflect their feelings back at them, but don't get too involved. "Oh yeah, that sounds annoying" "oh that's interesting" "huh, that's not my experience" "that seems *adjective*" I feel much better about the whole thing if I stay emotionally un-involved too, so I try to keep the conversation to innocuous things - bad bus rides. food. pets.

And then I get the hell out of dodge as soon as possible to get food/ drink/ oh look I must say hi to Steve! How stuck are you talking to these people? Is polite disengagement an option?
posted by stillnocturnal at 3:32 PM on January 1, 2019 [13 favorites]

Best answer: My problem with these situations once I figured it out, was that I was letting my idea of manners get in the way of my own emotional/mental health. So now I try to strike a balance. Basically, except for a few situations, no one deserves your attention in a social situation, a conversation should be a give and take. So I try to figure out if there is some good reason to be interacting (sometimes there is, which is fine, sometimes there is not, which is also fine). And I also tell myself that it's okay to not want to continue to talk with someone who is being unpleasant, rude or otherwise boorish. And that maybe I'm being judgmental about some of my feelings but those feelings are mine and maybe right this minute isn't the time to be "working on myself"

So if it's the former (have to talk to) I fall back on my "evertyone's got something interesting about them if you can get them off their bullshit" idea (i.e. maybe the bitter MRA that you can't NOT talk to has a cool shell collection or really likes an esoteric sort of graphic novel) enough to have a conversation with them. Keep in mind that if they are just terrible people through and through or are personally inappropriate or unreasonable, that's a different situation.

If people are the latter, you are not stuck with them, really just move on and try to not make the situation more awkward/painful then it has to be. I think nerds have the feeling that since we've been on the receiving end of social brusqueness when we're being strange or awkward that there is something deeply wrong with someone not wanting to talk to you. And this is a debatable point. But I think we internalize that there is, ergo, something deeply wrong with not wanting to talk with horrible people and there really isn't. I mean you see it here in AskMe where someone asks something about a friend who is horrible to be around and people pop up saying "I have been that horrible friend" and we all learn something about how to get along. But, if I am reading you right, these people are NOT your friends. Given that, maybe untangle a bit of why you feel you need to be talking to them.
posted by jessamyn at 3:32 PM on January 1, 2019 [19 favorites]

I'm not clear on whether these are people you know socially or if this is a work situation? For the former I would just ignore, walk away, talk to someone else, fake a phone call, etc when they become extremely tiresome, but for work I would probably do a lot of deep breathing, teeth grinding, and trying to redirect the convo to work-related things or proactively refusing to discuss anything other than work-related things.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:33 PM on January 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Elgin's Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense series covers not only how to deal with hostile language, but how to extract oneself from all sorts of unpleasant interchanges.

One of the best methods that doesn't involve escalating: the Boring Baroque Response.
Bill: "WHY do you eat SO MUCH JUNK food?"
You: "I think it's because of something that happened to me when I was just a little kid. We were living in Detroit at the time, and... No, wait a minute. It couldn't have been Detroit, it must have been when we were living in Indianapolis. Because that was the summer that my Aunt Grace came to visit us and she brought her dog...."

A response like this delivers the following message: "I notice that you're here to pick a fight. Do that if you like, but it's not going to be much fun for you, because I won't play that game." Listening to a BBR is excruciatingly boring. The most usual result is that by the time you've gotten to the part about your aunt's dog the attacker is already saying, "Oh, never MIND!" and leaving in a hurry -- while making a mental note that you're no fun as a victim and shouldn't be chosen for that role in future.
If the lead-in isn't a question directed at you, you can start with, "that reminds me of something..." or "that's a lot like what happened to me when..." The goal is to convince them that you are no fun, that you are not an appreciative audience, that you will not be offering them the agreement or even shock that they're expecting. And this does it without overtly challenging them - you haven't "put them in their place"; you've just disengaged from the narrative they want to happen.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:42 PM on January 1, 2019 [36 favorites]

Honestly? I get cranky, irritable, and withdrawn. Politeness and agreeableness are not actually mandatory. I mean OK, if I'm at work then I will summon up reserves of energy so that I can be cordial or at least civil for as long as necessary, and then try to recoup later. Outside of situations where someone is paying me to be there though, if you're rude to me I might be rude back! Maybe not, maybe I'll be in a good enough mood to rise above it, but if I'm already tired and in a poor mood and feeling a bit socially trapped? Quite probably.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:44 PM on January 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

Honestly? I get cranky, irritable, and withdrawn.

Same here. Which means if someone I know socially is being an insufferable asshat, I just stop engaging. I start doing the very bare conversational minimum ("mmhm", monosyllabic answers, etc) and then excuse myself out of the conversation as soon as I can.

If I absolutely must deal with the person, because it's a professional context and there would be Consequences if I didn't, what I do (other than trying to minimize the amount of contact I have with them a priori) is keep calm, and polite, and then once it's over, reward myself proportionately. This can vary from getting takeaway to buying myself something small that makes me happy, from spending a few hours reading rather than doing Boring Adult Things to arranging things so I can spend one more hour in bed the next weekend (I'm a lucid dreamer and getting to finish my dream and wrap it up properly, rather than just stopping wherever it was when the alarm clock went off, is so satisfying).
posted by sailoreagle at 4:08 PM on January 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

I worked with a guy last summer who was sort of a know-it-all ham who drove me bonkers. I eventually had to give myself permission to actively stop listening and zone out whenever he was talking about anything that wasn't obviously and immediately important. All the tangents that sounded like he might eventually get around to explaining something worthwhile, I started ignoring. It always felt a bit like I was being rude and unprofessional, but it made life bearable.
posted by gueneverey at 4:15 PM on January 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

I had a higher tolerance for the hams and interrupters and know-it-alls when I was younger - would try to accommodate, or use strategies to defuse whatever annoyed me (e.g. validate the know-it-all's sense of authority).

I mean, these three kinds of folks are pretty much variations on a theme, and part of the theme is they don't really give a shit what you actually say when they let you get a word in edgewise, at most they'll pick up a phrase or a couple of words to use as a launching point for their next torrent of blather.

So, yeah, conversations with these folks are certainly tiring in and of themselves, but you can often kind of tune them out from your own headspace (daydream about puppies or dinner or whatever) and put a lot less effort and emotional labor into your part of the "conversation" which makes them easier to get through.

Also (and it does help if you've got a taste for absurd black humor) my own personal tactic is to amuse myself by paying just enough attention to drop in the bits of a response that will send them into either a möbius loop of contradicting themselves again and again and again and/or an ever-spiraling tower of increasing ridiculousness and implausibility. Sort of like the Vizzini vs. Westly poison scene from The Princess Bride only your Vizzini doesn't die from poisoning (usually. . . .) and just eventually wanders away to bother somebody else secure in the knowledge that they have imparted The Wisdom of The Ages to poor pitiful you.
posted by soundguy99 at 4:50 PM on January 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

Um, YMMV disclaimer for my above technique is of course I am male, so 1) different socialization about being more obviously a jerk and 2) different consequences should I ever get busted doing this.
posted by soundguy99 at 4:57 PM on January 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Some other options:

force your eyes kind of wide open and dont blink for a bit while maintaining eye contact, nodding mechanically from time to time, like you're really *trying* to pay attention but it's obvious that it's a LOT OF WORK for you to pretend like you give a fuck.

when it's your turn to make some kind of noise, i find saying "sure" in a kind of slightly puzzled tone of voice can work wonders. Like you half believe them, but are too polite to say so.

Laugh manaically like they just told you the punchline of a joke when they get done, then say "that's awesome!"

Repeat back a major detail as a question and get it wrong: "So this was in BOSTON? but wasn't there a Marathon then?" A few of these gets the message across or they just get frustrated that you're paying attention except for the MAJOR details, which is confounding to many.

Keep looking left to right at other people, making eye contact, and communicating with your eyes "please help me" or "get a load of this one" or "i know right?".

Of course, I do these obnoxious things in these kinds of situations because I have the privilege of being a trained killer, so I know that no matter how upset this makes the other person, I don't really have to worry. (I do NOT do many of these in situations where people are likely to be armed tho.)
posted by some loser at 5:03 PM on January 1, 2019 [7 favorites]

what some loser said
posted by patnok at 5:29 PM on January 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

I usually have a few go-to phrases, such as "I never thought of it that way!" or "did you have a personal experience that influenced what you believe now?" or I just ask lots and lots of questions. I tend to think that there is always an opportunity to learn something new. In the end though, you can always excuse yourself and say it was great to see them but you really need to say hello to the host or that you should probably get back to whatever. You could even say you'll do your best to catch up with them later if you can. As a bonus, when I'm excusing myself from the conversation, I'll hold both my hands out low with elbows bent and palms forward as if I'm saying "stop" - this tends to create an effective pause that allows for escape.
posted by belau at 5:52 PM on January 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

The women you specifically describe should actually take care of themselves if you let them, because the whole problem is that they don't want to talk to you either, right? So you're in fact free to just sail off, perhaps quietly pitying them for all that they are missing in ignoring not only your company, but also the vast and rich tapestry that is the company of women and other non-male people in general. If you don't want to literally leave on your own, you can at least utterly disengage from the conversation until the guy you're with disentangles himself. (This assumes these women aren't, like, your bosses. If they are, that's probably a whole 'nother Ask.)
posted by teremala at 6:04 PM on January 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm wondering immediately what the stakes are. Do you feel obligated to "handle" people? Call it how it is. Sounds like you have a lot of terms for people you're willing to be around which may actually be part of you're discomfort. People are not obligated to accommodate you. Nor you them. But just call it how it is and move on. Kinda simple.
posted by blaneyphoto at 7:00 PM on January 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ok, I’ve failed to explain contexts and goals. Could be a social situation like a party, involving new people I don’t care if I see again, or, partner’s friends or family, including their partners and friends (where you don’t necessarily want to step on people’s toes or totally alienate them, because either they or people connected with them are valued by your [in my case, sometimes socially anxious] partner), or, it could be a work setting, where you’re really stuck with them. So some people, you can ignore; others, you’ve got to at least think about in terms of longer-term impacts.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:12 PM on January 1, 2019

Care less, to be honest.

It seems that the thing you dislike about these folks is that they’re socially assertive and dominant in conversation, and push you into places you don’t want to go.

You can’t change other people, but you can change your response, which is to be more assertive yourself.

You don’t have to be everyone’s friend - just minimally pleasant.
posted by Middlemarch at 9:33 PM on January 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I absolutely am not going to wrestle with these people for air time or unwanted validation (that wouldn’t be coming anyway, from people so gripped by the desire to influence). A) I don’t have the energy for it, and B) I think that would be ridiculous (the “conversations” I’m talking about already are). The idea is to superficially preserve the social contract with my nerves and self-respect intact.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:42 PM on January 1, 2019

With work people, can you redirect the conversation back to work topics as much as possible? It makes you seem work-focused and not much fun to talk to (for them), which is probably for the best. Maybe they’ll take their cue from you and mostly only talk about work stuff.

For a partner’s family members, I usually do some combination of “uhuh”, “oh, how interesting”, and other feedback that indicates you are giving them attention, but doesn’t actually require you to pay much attention. Obnoxious conversation dominators usually aren’t actually paying attention to how well you are listening, so long as it sort of seems like you are. The fewer questions you ask, the less you have to engage. Don’t worry about being truly polite like you would with a potential new friend—just smile and acknowledge and that should fulfill the social contract enough to maintain a decent relationship.
posted by Illuminated Clocks at 12:06 AM on January 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

In cases where you need to not alienate the person (like the friends/partners of your partner's friends), sometimes I just duck out to the bathroom or to get a drink just to give myself a little moment to rebalance myself a little & edge away from the point where I'll end up snapping at the person or saying something I might regret reflexively.

Also, sometimes I just... stop doing the niceties. I don't (often) end up being blatantly rude, but sometimes I'll just let conversations drop or not ask the obvious expected follow-up questions (if someone says, "That's when I was living in [country they clearly think I'll think is 'exotic' & be dying to ask them about]," I just... won't ask what country & why). Which occasionally has the result that they think I'm boring or awkward (which I am okay with) & go wander off to find a better audience.
posted by diffuse at 3:53 AM on January 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

It depends on my mood. Sometimes I try to put on a Princess Diana face. Sometimes I respond repeatedly with vague responses like "Huh, that is [a challenge/interesting]." Sometimes I remind myself to be mindfully present but also centered, so that exhausting types don't suck the life out of me. Sometimes, if the situation is especially painful, I try to take mental notes so I can relay how awful and boring the whole situation was to my girlfriends (this happened recently with a co-worker managed to get me alone for lunch).

Mindful meditation (specifically lovingkindness meditation) makes me much less reactive to others generally, and helps me to sort of radically accept their presence with magnanimity.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 4:47 AM on January 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Your last sentence stood out the most to me: "(I should probably note that lately, even conversations with people I like and want to talk to wear me out, so dealing with this stuff feels like a heavy, heavy burden.)"

I personally find this a tough time of year, and maybe that's part of it for you? Whether this is just general tiredness, or ennui, or depression, I encourage you to also put some spoons towards self-care, replenishing yourself by bringing more enjoyment and meaning into your days. This will give you more reserves and resources to deal with other's unpleasant behaviors.
posted by dancing leaves at 5:47 AM on January 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

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