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Hi there,

I don’t think you’ve covered my particular issue – how to stop difficult people disrupting meetings when you’re notionally in charge of those meetings – so here goes.

Six months ago I took over as chairperson of a local voluntary group. My problem is with the behaviour of a group member – let’s call her “Ethel”. It’s a real struggle trying to keep the meetings on track because she derails discussions and interrupts people.

The previous chairperson was much more tolerant of Ethel, and, as a result, meetings frequently overran and went off-topic because of her rambling. This stressed me out, and I suspect it put other people off attending the meetings, but I figured it wasn’t my job to do anything, so I just put up with it. Now, of course, it is my job.

Ethel used to be only peripherally involved with the group, but now she comes so that her husband “Robert” can attend. He’s a longstanding member of the group who used to be very active. But he is now a wheelchair user who can’t get around on his own, so he can’t attend meetings without Ethel, who’s his carer as well as his wife.

So far I’ve tried to deal with it by formalising the way we run meetings (planning and sending round an agenda in advance, coming up with a rough idea of how much time we should spend on each agenda item before the meeting starts, and so on). I also find that a sense of urgency works well – “We’ve got a lot to discuss tonight, so we all need to work really hard to stay on track.” But I can’t pull the “urgency” card at every meeting.

So far I’ve just been shutting her down as politely as I can: “Thanks, Ethel, but can we discuss that when we get to it on the agenda?” “Thanks, but we really need to make a decision on XYZ now.” “OK, I’m sorry, we really need to move on.” But I end up having to do this perhaps five or six times a meeting (and that’s on a good day). It’s exhausting and I’m tired of feeling like the bad guy for repeatedly telling someone who’s half a century older than me to shut up. And we still barely finish on time!

I’m wary of taking steps to boot her out, because Robert can’t be there without her. But I dread every meeting because I know it’s going to be a battle and I’m going to leave feeling exhausted and horrible. Any advice would be gratefully received.

Thank you,

Not-So-Rambling-Rose

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Dear Captain Awkward:

My boyfriend, before we started dating, moved in with a friend and his wife. When I came into the picture, the wife excluded me from things and invited only my boyfriend. If my boyfriend tried to invite me, she’d throw a fit and my boyfriend would have to call me to say sorry, you can’t go. If she did invite me, she told me that I had to pay my own way, even though she bought tickets or whatever for my boyfriend. And she openly flirted with him, even when I was there in front of her. When I told my boyfriend about it, he would get mad, tell me that I was jealous for no reason, and that I was making stuff up.

Well, her and her husband began getting worse, and my boyfriend would frequently get kicked out of the house because she “wanted to kill anyone who came through the door” (what my boyfriend told me she said to him over text). Eventually he moved out, but it still bothered me because she would call him and text him, asking my boyfriend if they could hang out. We’ve had a lot of fights over her because she keeps butting herself into our lives, and she’s a toxic friend, but it’s like he can’t see that. I’m not jealous about her because I know he doesn’t like her like that, but it hurts that he doesn’t understand how I feel about this situation. I’ve told him that I’m going to unfriend her on FB and he got mad at me, saying it’d cause a lot of drama between her and him, but when I asked why it mattered since he always says she’s not his friend anyway, he wouldn’t answer.

I don’t know what to do about this. My boyfriend and I are in a long distance relationship (we’ve been dating for a little over a year and a half), but when he’s home, she’s constantly trying to see him and get together with him. I’m at a loss about what to do, especially because talking to my boyfriend about it results in fights. Any advice would be great.

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Dear Captain:

Earlier this year I was asked to resign from a job in my preferred niche area of my profession, which was a devastating experience. About a month ago I started a new, different position for a new agency, but in the same area as the old job, both geographically and professionally.

So far the new job is working out well, which is great, because I’m proving to myself that I failed at the old job because it wasn’t a good fit, not because I’m a bad person. However, there’s a lot of interaction between agencies in my field, so I have to communicate with people from my former company on occasion. Usually it’s by phone/fax/email to people I didn’t work with directly, but there are pending meetings where I will be in the same room as former colleagues I did collaborate with. My former coworkers are friendly enough, but I was working solo most of the time in my old job and didn’t socialize with them. I was very withdrawn and depressed for the last several weeks of my term there, and didn’t really give anyone notice that I was leaving until my last week.

I’m still feeling a lot of shame over being fired. I’ve avoided places and events where there were chances of running into old coworkers, plus I generally tend to avoid people and situations that didn’t work out for me, such as not keeping in contact with exes. But now, these interactions are inevitable, I’m not sure how to navigate them, and thinking about it makes me pretty anxious. Any advice/scripts you could offer would be incredibly welcome.

Yours truly,

License to Fret

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Lucy inviting Charlie Brown to kick the football from Peanuts, by Charles Schultz

Seems legit

Dear Captain,

I am currently estranged from my sister. Growing up, we were home-schooled together and were extremely close. She was usually awesome, but once we became adults, she would sometimes become obsessively jealous of my time. As examples: she demanded that I apologize for calling my significant other on the phone without including her in a conference call because “it is incredibly hurtful to talk with a mutual friend without including me.” Or, she would not call me for weeks and then, when I wrote to say “hi”, she would lambast me for not contacting her earlier and demand an apology. Or she would demand an apology if I planned a social gathering and then invited her because, if I had REALLY wanted her there, I would have let her choose the activity. She always seemed to be keeping a secret tally of what she expected from me, and she’d either get nasty with me or give me the cold shoulder when I inevitably failed to meet her un-communicated expectations.

For many years, I basically just apologized to her every time she would bully me because I was pretty socially clueless and assumed that I just really sucked at friendships. However, I’ve since decided that this is Not Normal. I’ve tried communicating my problems to her, but she always says I am being too sensitive or unreasonable. After I came out as transgender, it all got much worse until I was definitely keeping her at arm’s length. Then, about this time last year, I invited her to my wedding. She responded with a nasty email telling me that she couldn’t come “this time” (this is my first marriage) because she had a long list of unspecified grievances against me that she had never shared with me before that I should have addressed before I invited her if I had REALLY intended her to feel welcome. When I told her she was being disrespectful, she replied that I was too easily offended and my wedding invitation was obviously just an “excuse to attack” her. I was pissed off and gave up, my wedding came and went without acknowledgment from her, and we haven’t really talked since.

A couple of months ago, after radio silence for almost a year, she sent a postcard with a normal, friendly message in it., apparently pretending that everything is fine. At this point, I’m done. I haven’t responded. Her birthday is coming up next month and I’m not planning on contacting her at all. I’m still angry and I’m absolutely not ready to deal with her. However, I can’t shake this nagging fear that I’m stooping to her level of giving the “cold shoulder” and harboring resentment and grievances that I’m not trying to work out with her. I don’t want to emulate her passive-aggressive behavior by punishing her with my silence. Is it fair for me to just leave the door firmly shut unless she’s willing to approach me with an apology and a real effort to change her behavior?

-Not passive-aggressive

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Dear Captain,

I live with my partner of several years. I love her very much. We share a lot of hobbies, including a theater club. My partner is *exceptionally good* at theater – a result of a decade of passion – and most of our friends are theater people. But recently I’ve been discovering that her passion – one of her defining qualities – has been making her relationships within this community harder. 

People have been talking to me for about a year now about her long-standing habit of being incredibly bossy, having incredibly high standards for herself and resenting it when other people don’t live up to them, and making it hard to enjoy this activity at all when she’s there with them. One person we’re close to, he worked with her on a performance a few years ago, before I even met her, and he told me that after that performance, he decided never to work with her again because she made the experience unbearable. As I’ve asked around, others (who she respects deeply) have agreed with me that her behavior is fun-killing all around. People I love are no longer participating in events with us because she lacks empathy when dealing with people in a theater context.

Granted, she’s incredibly empathetic – she’s a teacher by trade – but she feels that when she leaves the classroom, she doesn’t want to have to make so much effort just to, I guess, have friends that value her outside of her intellect. Now she has lupus and is in pain a lot of the time, so most of our friends have sympathy for that. But this seems bigger than just being in chronic pain. (Or is it?) 

I have told her what her friends think of her (well most of it), and have pointed out that most of our friends think her behavior is hurtful, undermining, and steamroll-y. She responds that I need to stop caring about what other people think about her. She’s defensive and tells me to ignore what other people think. 

She’s also bossy about other things in our shared life together. Others have interpreted this as abusive, and one person was shocked to see her apparently bark orders at me. (Granted she was in immense pain at the time.)

I regularly check in with myself – I’m a past victim of abuse – but it doesn’t feel the same. It doesn’t feel like abuse. There’s no emotional put-downs, no manipulation, no threats. We’re highly effective communicators except for this issue. There’s raw anger and frustration, and defensiveness, but missiles are never directed at me as a person. She just underrates the amount of pain she causes others in pursuit of our hobby. 

One or two friends have wanted to stage an intervention. These plans never panned out. I’m not sure whether or not to force the issue. She is in therapy, but I think a couple’s counseling session or two surrounding this would be helpful. I’m not entirely sure what could be done other than me saying ‘You hurt me because you make people feel bad when they’re around us by raising your voice, arguing about the finer points of staging or scriptwriting, and being condescending’ and her being like ‘Well, I’m sorry, but that’s who I am.’ 

Thoughts appreciated.

-Bossed-At

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Every month I try to answer the questions people typed into search engines to find this place as if they were questions people asked me. I add punctuation, but I leave the text alone.

1. “Ex no longer contacts me.”

If you have shared custody or financial entanglements, this is a problem. If you don’t, this is probably a healthy evolution of things that means that time is doing its healing work.

2. “Nerdy desperate dating problems.”

You’re probably in the right place. Start here.

3. “I want to hang out with my ex because I’m bored.”

That is not a good reason. Probably you should call literally anyone else.

4. “He says he wants space. What does he mean?” & “What does he mean when he says he can’t give me what I want?”

Statements like this are very often a preludes to a breakup, or a break, or a request to hang out less, or a request to take the relationship down a level in terms of seriousness and time together. Whatever the person telling you intends, a good message to take away from statements like this is that you are being asked or warned to invest less of yourself in whatever this thing is. Don’t make big plans with this person, like, getting a place together or moving closer to them or adopting a pet. Reach out to people in your life who are not this person, and put your energy into other friendships and connections.

5. “Uncle touch breasts petting the cat on my lap.”

There are accidental touches, and then there are touches that might be bad touches (and you know because they make you uncomfortable and they make you type things like that into search engines). If it happens again, this is one of those times to visibly startle, yelp, say “HEY!” and stand up and maybe the cat will end up sort of on your uncle’s face. Someone who touched you totally by accident will be sheepish and embarrassed and never, ever, ever do it again. You’ll know a creeper because he will try to shame you for making a big deal, as if you are the one in the wrong. I give you full permission to make a SCENE. 

6. “I feel cheated on when friend wants new friends.”

That is a sucky feeling and it is really hard to just sit with it and deal with it without making it your friend’s problem, but if you are an adult and you want to keep this friendship, that is what I suggest you do. There is no script for “I wish you wouldn’t hang out with other people without me” that sounds good. Be really nice to yourself, find an outlet for those feelings like a journal or a therapist, and give it some time.

7. “I fuck goats.”

I do not think the goats enjoy that, like, at all. NO BUENO.

8. “Terrible names to call your sister.”

You should probably leave your sister alone and just go your separate ways rather than name-calling, but the Shakespeare Insult Kit is kind of fun.

9. “Once a rapist always a rapist?”

Statistically speaking, yeah. Rapists rape repeatedly.

10. I have a gay boyfriend but I keep masturbating. 

Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all. It’s not cheating. It’s not wrong.

11. “What does it mean when a man says he doesn’t want you but he doesn’t want anyone else to have you.”

It means that this is someone you should avoid, completely, forever. This is such a shithead thing to say.

12. “Its my husband’s responsibility to clean his poo stain.”

Is he physically able to do this? If so, you’ll get no argument from me.

13. “I feel guilty for breaking a blind date.”

Forgive yourself. You didn’t want to meet that person.

14. “You know she wants to have sex just need to say the right thing.”

The “right thing” probably is to ask “Do you want to have sex?” and see if “she” answers “yes.” Then you’ll know, and you’ll have said the “right thing” to find out.

15. “How to politely, firmly stop attending club meetings due to physical disabilities.”

Email the organizer. “Hi _____, I wanted to let you know that won’t be at club meetings for the forseeable future, so please don’t plan on me. I’ve got some (personal/health/other priorities/whatever you are comfortable sharing, keeping in mind that you don’t need to give a reason) taking my attention right now, I’ll let you know if anything changes. Thanks for all you do!”

Then you don’t need to reply to anything, and you don’t need to go.

16. “What does it mean when she says when and if the time is right we will meet?”

She may want to meet someday, but she does not want to meet either “now” or “soon” or “anytime that is actually planned out and committed to on an actual calendar.”

17. “What kind of question to seduce a female?”

A female what?

P.S. Don’t call women that. It’s dehumanizing and gross.

18. “Is it bad to break up with someone after a week?”

Is waiting gonna make it better? “I am so sorry, I am not feeling it, and we should break this off.” Set yourself and that person free.

19. “He says no relationship but he acts like he is into me.”

Believe the words and get some distance from him. If he changes his mind, he knows how to find you and how to tell you about that, but I’d hate to see you hanging around waiting for that to happen.

20. “Captain Awkward, how do I get my ex back?”

You reach out once to say “Ex, would you be willing to give it another try?” and then you abide 100% by whatever they tell you, is my suggestion. No guarantees, but this one approach is at least honest, respectful, and will get you an answer without wasting a lot of your time.

 

 

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