#979: “Striking a balance between being an ambassador for what I do and *doing* what I do.”

Dear Captain Awkward,

I participate in a small sport, with several branches. I am both a referee and a ‘player’ in this sport. (If you see any inadvertent clues as to the sport, please could you edit them out?)

At the club where I practice, lots of people know that I referee, and often ask me questions about the rules. I don’t mind these questions, and enjoy answering them, it’s part of why I love being a referee, and part of what has helped me become one of the country’s (UK) most senior referees in one branch of the sport.

In one of the smaller branches, I’m actually getting quite good – in fact I’ll be representing my country at a world championships later this year. This is my first time at an international event, and unsurprisingly, I have ramped up my practice.

My problem is when I have gone to the club to practice, and other club members start asking me questions. It generally starts out OK with just one question, but that inevitably turns into “but what if [related but slightly different situation]?”.

How can I politely let people know that they have crossed the line from a welcome short question and answer into an imposition? Especially when the line is crossed quite quickly. I want to end the conversation as soon as possible while still making it clear I’d be happy to answer short questions in future? This is complicated slightly by the fact that I’m an introvert with extreme shyness, and anxiety. And having to tell someone no feels like confrontation to me and brings my anxiety right up! Also, these people are my friends, and answering questions starts off as a nice way to interact with people I like.

On a slightly extended note (feel free to edit this out if you prefer), an example was this weekend. I was pretty tired after going for a run first thing, and then spending all morning at practice. I had broken for lunch and was making a cup of tea in the clubhouse. A Lady from the club started asking me questions about the new dress code, and I replied with a sensible answer. But she kept asking the same question “could I wear this, could I wear that”. I felt like I had to keep answering. I did walk away, when I was too tired to keep standing, and had actually gone and sat down on the other side of the clubhouse but she followed me and started asking what local competitions would be suitable for her daughter. I said outright several times that I didn’t know about junior competitions, but she kept on asking and asking and asking. Captain, I was soooo tired, and this was my lunch break! I just wanted her to go away. This is an extreme example, as the lady in question doesn’t pick up on social cues very well, so I might need something more pointed for her.

Thank you for your lovely blog, I have really enjoyed reading since I discovered it a few weeks ago.

All the best,
Trying to Practice (she/her pronouns)

Dear Trying To Practice,

I say this as a fairly soft-spoken, young-ish appearing, reasonably affable female person in a “I’m here to answer questions and teach you stuff!” profession where students have sometimes followed me into the bathroom to ask questions. Sometimes you just gotta say “I’d love to answer all your questions, but… “

  • “…I need this class break to organize my notes, can you email me or schedule an appointment if you need to sit down and talk it through?”
  • “…I need my bathroom time to be alone time, can we talk about it when we’re back in class?”
  • “…I need to think more about their question, can they remind me next class?”
  • “…I don’t know that off the top of my head, but the Library/Post-Production Center/Audio Suite/Professor in charge of that specialty is a good resource. Can I assign you to research it a little and report back to the class next week? Thanks!”
  • “…so sorry, I have to tune you out for a sec before I lose my train of thought (a real possibility for me). Can you remind me of your question by email when we’re back in class?

I want to help people out, I want them to feel comfortable asking me questions, and sometimes I really, really need that 10 minutes or whatever to not be in on-demand information dispenser mode, and I don’t think I’m being rude or a bad professor by setting that boundary.

For you this could translate as:

  • Great question! I can’t chat about it right this second, today is my practice day. Remind me next time I see you/Email me/This is a great person-who-is-not-me to ask if you need an answer today. Gotta run!” 
  • I don’t know the answer to that off the top of my head, sorry! I’ve got to put my head down right now and finish my lunch, if you look into this let me know what you find out.
  • I don’t know anything about junior competitions, sorry. That’s a great question, I wish I could help. I’m so sorry to cut you off – I need to wolf down my lunch right now so I can get back to practicing, good luck finding out what you need to know!”

Consider also, especially with the person who follows you around the club to ask questions:

  • Needing to step out and make a phone call or “a phone call.”
  • Needing to step away and get something from your car. That something might be a second of peace and quiet to eat your lunch.
  • Needing to step away to catch a member of the club staff and ask them a question while you have a spare moment. If this person follows you, great. “Hey Terry, Taylor here had a question about the new uniforms, maybe you can help her out!” + then flee!
  • Headphones are the introvert’s friend!

Sometimes people are taken aback when you set this boundary but in my experience 99% of the time the person says “Oh, of course, sorry!” and it’s not a big deal. They either follow up with you later, or it wasn’t that important in the first place. If someone does make a big deal along the lines of “you MUST help me RIGHT NOW or ELSE,” the problem was not you.

 

119 comments
  1. Pam said:

    Ha! As an academic advisor, I get the ‘in the bathroom’ questions quite frequently!

    • Reed said:

      As an academic librarian – ditto! Though how they expect me to look a book up on the system or clear their fines while I am peeing, I do not know.

    • In my payroll liaison days, I once had a temp follow me into the washroom to shriek at me about her paycheck.

    • BlueShelle said:

      Piggy backing off this since it’s related! Academic advising is only about 1/3 of my job, so I am rarely free if a student decides to just swing by my office. If they tell me their question and it’s not urgent, I’ll typically say, “I can’t actually answer that right this moment since I’m [in the middle of something, about to head to a meeting, waiting for a call, etc.], but go ahead and email it to me, and I’ll get back to you when I have enough time to answer it properly.” Or if they ask if I have a minute for a quick question, I might say, “I have literally about three minutes. Why don’t you tell me your question, and if it’s something I can answer it right now, great; otherwise, I’ll get back to you by email, ok?”

      Once they realize that emailing is a better use of their time, too (I respond quickly and they don’t have to hover around my door for ages waiting for me to return from a meeting or whatever!), they typically default to emailing first.

      • whingedrinking said:

        When I was at university, I had a prof who just straight up refused to use email. This was a few years ago – around 2009 IIRC – but certainly not in the dial-up days or anything. You could call her or go to her office hours but that was it. It was kind of baffling and I seriously hope she got the over that particular hangup, since it would hold even less water now.

        • violetofjuly said:

          This irritates me about professors. I worked in academia for a number of years, and I was baffled by the professors who would reject entire forms of communication. I work in the corporate world now and I chuckle to think of what would happen to someone who just refused to use email.

          • Nanani said:

            If the refuser is sufficiently Old and privileged – nothing. he will keep calling you and ignoring your emails until the company goes under.
            Ask me how I know.

        • Shevek returning said:

          Another academic here: while obviously I don’t advocate eschewing email altogether, staff at our institution have had to put strict email boundaries in place and strongly recommend that students attend office hours to talk to us if the matter is not urgent. The main problem has been that, over the last few years, email from students has gone up fivefold and often with questions about information that is already in the course or module documentation, and/or has been gone over exhaustively in teaching. It has reached the point of being unmanageable, even if we just send them a few sentences back. At my place of work, we are already drastically understaffed for the student numbers we are taking in, and admin, pastoral care and constant institutional changes are taking up all of the time we’re not teaching or grading. It’s not ideal AT ALL, but this is unfortunately our new paradigm.

  2. “It generally starts out OK with just one question, but that inevitably turns into “but what if [related but slightly different situation]?”.

    This happens ALL THE TIME at my roller derby practices. Completely derails the very limited time we have at the rink. I’m not leading practices but would love if there was something I could do to help prevent/fix it!

    • Megan_NJ said:

      Write up a list of “frequently asked questions” or start a group e-mail of some kind? Bring a notebook for people to leave questions & schedule a time after practice to go over it outside?

      • MsM said:

        Designated “question time” might also help: block out a set 5-15 minutes (depending on how much time you have to spare and how in-depth the questions tend to get) during the same part of every practice, and anything that doesn’t get covered either needs to wait for the next session or get resolved via discussion outside of practice.

        • stellanor said:

          I was going to suggest this. My go-to when I was a TA and had students accost me when I was busy to ask questions was “Office hours!” One quarter I taught four classes in 5 hours, and the hour between I HAD to sit down, have a snack, and not speak or my voice would give out halfway through the fourth class.

          “But it’s just a quick question–” “Sorry, I am busy right now, but office hours!”

          “But I can’t come to your office hours–” “Email me and make an appointment!”

          I only had one student in my year of teaching who could not get with the program and ask via email or during office hours, and he was a troublesome argumentative boundary-stomper in every possible way, not just the question-asking way. (And it is perhaps notable that he was boundary-stompy and argumentative with me, the one female TA, and the female professor, but not with the two male TAs.)

          • Greg M. said:

            you know when you described the boundary stomper I mentally guessed at the gender breakdown and then you confirmed it.

          • Janissary Jones said:

            Seconding office hours! I’m a TA, and this has been invaluable. In general, students would come to office hours if they could; if there was a genuine scheduling concern, they tended to follow up via e-mail about scheduling a separate appointment. If they just felt entitled to my time and expected me to answer their question RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE, their concerns tended to mysteriously evaporate as soon as I said “Office hours or email”.

          • There is a big difference between boundary stomping “you have to do it my way,” and “I can’t do it your way because reasons.”

            Some people just can’t go the office hours/email route, because of valid reasons, such as they are really unavailable during that time period and their email is broken right then.

            I once worked at a company that instituted a new Help Desk policy that they would ONLY take Help Desk requests through email. Well, when my “e” key broke on my computer, I had literally no way to email them at “HelpDesk@CompanyWhoseNameIncludesTwoEs.com” And it was during crunch time.

            Fortunately, I had a co-worker who could send the email on my behalf, and when we pointed out the time crunch to the right person, we got a good result.

            The difference is, of course, that we were willing to find a workaround, rather than just boundary-stomp and badger the people at Help Desk. The attitude of “how can we make this work for both of us?” will show through.

            If the dude could make it work with the male TAs, but not with the female TA nor the female professor, then he doesn’t deserve any answers, at all.

          • BarlowGirl said:

            @Michelle I’m a smartass who wants to suggest you should have copy/pasted the email address and then typed the rest of the email without the e key XD Mostly because that email would be hilarious to read.

    • Nanani said:

      My ice hockey coach would answer questions at the END of practice, when we’re all in the locker room changing – ice hockey involves a lot of equipment that takes at least 10-15 minutes to put on or off in full, longer when everyone is tired from practice, so it’s a good amount of time during which we’re not burning ice time.

      Is there a built in time like that where you can ask and answer questions? During changing or clean up or..?
      Since you’re not in charge, maybe bring up a suggestion to whoever is. It’s probably bugging them too.

    • Lola said:

      This happens to me at derby, too — not as much rules questions, but I’m a long-timer in the fresh meat program (because injuries and no natural athletic ability, but I’m getting there!), so when we get a new batch of freshies I end up getting a lot of questions about the basics of the game, our league’s culture, MSRs, etc. I usually just put them off with, “ask me after practice!” Of course, if you use a delaying tactic you do have to be willing to answer them when they come back to you at the designated time. If the question is above my paygrade I send them to a coach or if it’s a rules question, I point them at the refs (I mean, I know the rules, but not like a ref. Yet.). We almost always have at least 2 or 3 refs skating (as refs) at our practices and they’re generally happy to answer rules questions in as much detail as desired (sometimes more!).

  3. Yolanda B. Cool said:

    LW, this may not work all the time, but when I want to limit an interaction, I’ve gotten good results by appending a cheery “implied goodbye” at the end of my answer. Examples:

    “It was great seeing you!”

    “Have a good weekend!”

    “Good luck on your sportsball match!”

    If you can say these with a big smile as you’re walking off (“The answer to your question is 42. It was great seeing you!”), most people will take the cue that the conversation is over. It also has the benefit of not being confrontational – who is going to be offended that it was great to see them, and that you want them to have a good match or a great weekend?

    You’ll still have the occasional Oblivious Follower, but my experience is that this helps keep interactions brief and friendly. Hope this helps!

    • AthenaC said:

      As a fellow user of the “cheery goodbye + physically remove yourself / turn your gaze elsewhere” technique, I can confirm that it works quite well.

    • Greg M. said:

      yeah, I’ve started having to do this at work. I work retail, so many customers want you to stand there while they say nothing and stare at the wall or confirm their purchase 15 times. So I’ve started to answer their question, shown them the product and wait a short amount of time for a followup and give them the “alright, let me know if you need anything else” and start to walk away.

    • Turtle Candle said:

      I’ve used this strategy too and it often works quite well! I think for a lot of people, they end up obeying the implied “script” (oh, she said goodbye, we’re done) without even really thinking about it.

      • Yolanda B. Cool said:

        That’s my theory too; social mirroring kicks in without engaging the conscious brain.

    • JenniferP said:

      Solid strategy!

  4. Amy said:

    Like the Captain said, most people will take the hint when you tell them you don’t know something/you need to be doing something else right now/you’re giving an implied goodbye/etc.

    For the occasional people who won’t: They’re being rude. They’re bringing the awkward–feel free to throw it right back at them. When someone refuses to back off to reasonable hints, you can say something like “I’m not talking about this anymore. Please stop following me and let me have some peace.” They won’t like hearing it, but if they really wanted to avoid that, they should have listened to your more polite responses. Other people around you will have already seen that this person is being a jerk, and won’t think you’re awful for telling them to back off.

    • MsM said:

      Yeah, the Captain’s phrasing is great for people who don’t want to make things awkward, but it’s possible that someone like the pushy lady will need a less gushy “I can’t answer that, sorry” or “That’s outside my area of expertise” or “There are a lot of potential scenarios/factors, and I just don’t have the time to cover them all in depth right now.”

  5. Megan M. said:

    If having people email you their questions instead would be a good solution for you then would it be possible for you to make a business card (or do you already have some?) that have your name and email and the fact that you are a referee for and a player of said sport? Then when someone asks a few too many questions at the wrong time, you can say in an apologetic tone, “I really have to focus on my training right now, but please email me if you have more questions.” Then hand them the card, tack on a “It was great talking to you!” like Yolanda B. Cool suggested, and walk away.

    • I like this suggestion. Then they can’t even badger you about not being able to remember your email address.

      “Oh, I would email you, but you know me. I have such a bad memory. I wouldn’t be able to remember your email address, by the time I have access to email, so let me just the answer right now.”

      But they WOULD be able to remember the question and answer in that time. Well, that’s not usually as complicated as remembering every letter and digit of an email address, so yes, it makes sense. And if their memory really is that bad, tell them to write the question on the card, so they’ll have the question when they have access to email, and the glory of asking their question via email is that they will then have access to the answer all over again, every time they forget it, assuming they do not delete it.

      Cards are great! I LOVE those “appointment reminder” cards I get at the doctor’s office. It gives all the information, including contact info, in case I need to reschedule. Which means that even though I have to go home and confirm on the family calendar that there is no scheduling conflict, I can ALWAYS make a tentative appointment, bring the card home, and then confirm there.

      Also, it can speed things up. “Please email your questions to this address, and I will answer them as soon as I am available. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m not available at this time. Good day!”

    • violetofjuly said:

      I was going to make the same suggestion! Slipping them a business card is also a good opportunity to flee while they are distracted by reading the card. You can make free or nearly-free cards at Vistaprint!

  6. coachy mchobby said:

    Yeah, I moved from just practicing a hobby/sport to teaching it, and I’ve just come to accept that my time in there during open/class time is not my own any more. To practice on my own, I go in on off hours (I have keys to the facility I work at.) If I was more interested from a competitive standpoint, I would join another facility strictly to train at. There’s no real way for me to tell people to leave me alone and still maintain my good and necessary instructor relationship with them.

  7. Jarissa said:

    For the limited specific occasion of “I am about to practice” or “I am in the MIDDLE OF PRACTICING” or maybe even “cousin, this is my LUNCH BREAK”: Can you pull out your phone/whatever and set a fifteen minute timer right at the start?

    “I find that if I take more than this much of a break, I have trouble getting my head back into what I’m supposed to be doing. Okay, all set! What was your question?”

    If you forget to set the timer, and start feeling uncomfortable, can you pretend that it buzzed? Pull it out, check it, “Son of a bunny, I’m out of time right now. Sorry! Email me? Great seeing you, got to go Do the Thing!” and flee like the wind?

    • kddomingue said:

      “Son of a bunny, I’m out of time right now. Sorry! Email me? Great seeing you, got to go Do the Thing!” and flee like the wind?

      I laughed so hard that the dog came barreling into the room to see what was wrong with me, lol! Thanks for the belly laugh!

    • “Son of a bunny”
      I love this. *sneakily appropriates for future use*

  8. Clarry said:

    I’m especially interested in the suggested scripts because, in my experience, the clueless questioners who can’t take a hint in the first place, can’t take the hint in the 2nd and 3rd place either. That’s even when my answer moves from hinting to more and more plain language. The only thing that works is fleeing, and that’s not a good option if you’re doing something that requires your being right there. I’ve noticed this when the friendly clueless person sees me in the bookstore. It’s like “I want to concentrate on browsing the books now” doesn’t compute. Neither does “and I don’t want to talk to you while I’m trying to browse.” They might leave me alone for 30 seconds before returning with what amounts to “Can we talk NOW?”

    It’s the same with “I don’t know.” They don’t get it, so like the woman in LW’s original, they keep asking the same question with only the tiniest variation. I wonder if answering the first question only encourages them to think that if they wear me down and keep asking, I’ll finally tell them what they want to know, assuage all their anxiety, and come clean because surely I know and was only hiding the real answer.

    • tabbykat said:

      Agree 100 percent! People who don’t take hints really don’t take hints! I answer the phone at work, and often have to deal with callers who will go on at length about their situation, even though I’ve already told them they need to submit an application before we can approve or deny them. I always start with “soft” hints to end calls that are no longer productive, “Once you submit that to us we’ll take a look!” and it doesn’t work. I truly have to say “I have to get off the phone right now,” or “I”m letting you go now.”

    • Greg M. said:

      oh god the question repeaters, I’ve dealt with that at work. The one that stands out was when I couldn’t give them an estimate on when something would be ready and they’d just keep asking over and over again.

      • Nanani said:

        I used to work with an answer *repeater* who, in a context where it was his job to explain a thing, would repeat only the exact same sentence about the thing no matter how I asked and indicated the part I needed further clarification about. In a meeting specifically set up for him to explain the thing, so it’s not that he was trying to make me go away like OP needs. Just… he was apparently an NPC in an engineering-themed RPG.

        • OMG! I laughed so hard at this! Especially because I’ve been playing a computer RPG, lately, and yeah, if it’s not in the program, you can’t get the response. Just repetitions of the same old thing over and over until you give up and go away.

          Table-top RPGs with a real, live Game Master will never completely go away, because you just can’t beat the human element.

      • Oh, those.

        “I don’t know.”

        “Nope. Still don’t know.”

        “I have not gained any further knowledge in the past five minutes, especially because I am not at my desk or anywhere else with access to that information.”

        “And I still don’t have access to that information.”

        “Is this a prank, or something?”

        Not that I said those last things out loud to a customer, but, yeah.

        I love the etiquette answer: “I’m sorry I cannot accommodate your request. Goodbye.” If you’re feeling up to doing it later, “I”m sorry I cannot accommodate your request at this time. X time works for me. Goodbye.” If they keep asking, you “assume that they didn’t hear you,” and repeat yourself, louder. “I SAID, I’m sorry I cannot accommodate your request at this time. X time works for me. Goodbye!” Repeat as many times as they ask you, and eventually, they’ll give up. Especially if everyone is looking at them, wondering at the increasing volume. You don’t even have to put in any remark about them getting their hearing checked, because the fact that you are repeating a perfectly polite response just throws all the “scene” awkwardness right back on them. Just be sure to keep your tone and facial expression polite, perhaps adding some concern with each additional repetition.

        If you’re dealing with someone who does not take hints, do not drop hints. Be as blunt as you can, because that’s what they need and understand. If it truly is cluelessness, they won’t mind the bluntness (because it’s what they need and understand, and you’re not expecting them to pick up the nuanced social cues), and if they are NOT clueless, but just selfishly stubborn, they’ll be embarrassed by the scene, and selfishly avoid you, in future. Either way, you win.

        • Bucket said:

          Oh God, my office mate is like this. He also paces around our (tiny) office while staring into the middle distance (aka directly over my shoulder) when he’s stressed, which is all the time. If I can’t answer one of his questions he just starts EXPLAINING it to me. Because if there is a question he can’t figure out on his own then maybe if he tells me everything about it I will somehow piece his words together Sherlock Holmes-like and come up with a solution? Like, someday he’ll be all like “The code for this assignment is very strange, I cannot figure it out.” And I’ll be like, “AH, I GET IT NOW! Try using curly brackets.”

      • CoffeegirlKarin said:

        For the repeat question askers, I will answer in good faith maybe a maximum of two to three times, then I just shut up and let them keep asking. As some point they will ask “well, aren’t you going to answer”? And I answer that I have already answered their question twice (thrice) and ask them what they want to hear. Usually, this works pretty well, but I also have no problems with being blunt or perceived as rude (even at work).

        • Buni said:

          I work with kids, kings/queens of the repetitive question, and my go-to is “You already asked me that question, and I already answered it.” (in tones of varying firmness).

          When needed I add “What did I say the first time you asked?”, because making them parrot it back confirms they did in fact hear the answer, regardless of whether they liked it or not, and also they’re more likely to accept something they’ve heard their own voice say.

          • TheLadyK said:

            I am stealing “What did I say the first time you asked?” and tucking it away in my parenting skills box. Thank you!

    • Laura said:

      I think in this kind of case, your only option is to get really firm with them. I know when someone is clueless but friendly, it feels Very Mean to be blunt in a way that it doesn’t when the person is both clueless and rude or offensive in some way. It’s conditioned into us to reflect friendliness with friendliness.

      You can try something like: “Person, I can’t help you.” Then stop, stare at them blankly when they ask the same question with a tiny variation, and answer: “Person, I can’t help you.” Stop, stare at them blankly when the ask the same question with a different tiny variation. “Person, I can’t help you.”

      It’s crucial to use a bland, expressionless and monotone voice. It’s also crucial to repeat the wording the EXACT SAME every time.

      If somehow this person withstands more than three repetitions, then they’ve crossed the line from friendly-but-clueless right into rude. At that point, you can feel entirely free to say: “You need to leave me alone now so I can browse books.” At that point, you could use a tone of voice that is stern and firm, bordering on outright mean. A command (you need to leave me alone) can sometimes be more effective than a statement (I don’t want to talk to you”).

      • Commander Banana said:

        This is verbatim what I say to my brother when he launches into his “let me ask you a question that is really a monologue about a situation that I have asked about a thousand times” line of “questioning.”

    • Turtle Candle said:

      Honestly, I think this may be one of those situations where there IS no script that will work. If someone will keep asking in the face of “I can’t talk right now, I’m practicing. No really, not right now, I’m practicing” or “I don’t know. Like, no, really, I literally don’t know, I cannot help you,” then I’m not sure there are magic words that will make them knock it off. You can try the kind of brute force broken recording where you repeat the same thing over and over with no variation, but sometimes even that won’t work, and then, yeah, you’re pretty much down to weighing the pros and cons of ‘just stop talking and ignore them’ vs. ‘leave.’

      It drives me NUTS, but it’s not all that infrequent that there’s no solution but exit, stage left. Sometimes the problem isn’t that you’re being unclear in communicating the issue, it’s that they don’t like your communication and are choosing to ignore it.

      • Emma9 said:

        Not a questioning situation, but a chatty-coworker who always shows up at the worst times one, and (at least in my situation) seems to be cues-deafness rather than malice. I’m a pushover in general, but it came to a point when she was trying to tell me about some gruesome crime committed nearby.

        Her: Did you hear about X?
        Me: No, I don’t follow those kinds of stories much.
        Her: Well, what happened was he [details, too many details]
        Me: *wince* And stuff like that is why, I really don’t like hearing about it.
        Her: But they also found out that he –
        Me: Yeah, I would prefer not to hear more about this.
        Her: But the thing was –
        Me: Really, please stop talking to me about this.

        It’s about the bluntest I’ve ever been in such a situation, but the silver lining since then is I’ve frankly dropped any attempt at keeping up a social front with her, to the extent of zero eye contact, toneless uh-huhs, walking away when she’s still standing there in ‘We are conversing!’ pose – all of which would be too rude for me to contemplate in any other situation, but she doesn’t seem capable of noticing anything less than a verbal sledgehammer, so there hasn’t been any friction.

        • I have noticed that the TRULY clueless don’t take offense when you get blunt with them; and sometimes even thank you for the instruction (Social cue X = Y response? Filing that away for future use). The ones who take offense are the ones who knew they were wrong, in the first place, and are “offended” (selfishly angry) that you bluntly refused to accommodate them. They know exactly what they are doing wrong, and don’t care, because they think the world should kowtow to them, no matter what.

          I don’t mind clueless people with a good attitude, and will forgive and work with them. But I no longer have the patience to deal with “clueless” people.

        • Greg M. said:

          yeah I’ve basically learned that politeness is just a way to have your boundaries ignored. You’ve got to be blunt and direct and ruffle feathers to enforce boundaries.

    • The only thing I’ve found helpful in this sort of situation, where they follow me around, follows. I turn to them, put up my hand, palm toward them, and say “Stop. I can’t do this. You’ll have to find someone else.” Then I turn away and completely ignore them.

      I think it’s the hand.

    • My snippy answer when I wound up being the Unofficial (and Therefore Unpaid) Type I Diabetes Ambassador as well as Judaism Ambassador to my ex-in-laws and the questions went beyond those I was capable of and/or comfortable with answering: “Try Google.” It helped that I could pair the answer with my default RBF as well as RBV(oice), I’m sure, but maybe it’s ear-catching enough on its own that you’ll get the clueless questioners to stop cluelessly questioning about their issue.

      • RBF – Resting Bitch Face? RBV – Resting Bitch Voice?

        Man, I wish I had known about those things when I was a teenager! Would have saved me so much trouble.

    • Drew said:

      “I need a minute to finish this. Why don’t you go grab a coffee and I’ll meet you in the cafe shortly?”

      The nice thing about this is that “shortly” is completely undefined – and that if they’re in the cafe, you can sneak out through the main entrance and “forget” about them.

      • Ah, no. Please don’t do that. Promising one thing and doing another is not only rude, but it will also get you a very bad reputation, very quickly.

        If you are willing to do it later, set a time, and stick to it. If you are not willing to do it, at all, don’t lead them on. Say, “No, I won’t be helping you with that,” and move on.

        Much better to be seen as unhelpful than as an unreliable lying liar who lies lyingly.

        • Bex said:

          Agreed, and another disadvantage of being rude in this way is you train people to try even harder to corner you right now, because you are so “forgetful.”

          (Middle-school me made this mistake a lot while trying to avoid social invitations when she wanted to be alone reading books instead. Ended up with a bunch of “friends” who would keep calling to make sure I’d remembered to ask my parents’ permission to do the thing I didn’t want to do.)

    • Proffie Galore said:

      “Because surely I know and was only hiding the real answer.” This. Certain members of my family of origin (FOO; you know, the ones I didn’t choose) will not take “I don’t know” for an answer. If it doesn’t happen next week when I visit my FOO, I’ll be a son of a bunny.

      I’m thinking of saying, “Want me to make something up?”

      As a proffie, I’ve tried lots of ways to grab a break from questions from both students and chatty colleagues. Offering reasons, in my case, has simply prolonged the chat. Early this term I improvised a deflector shield: “Sorry, my brain is fried right now. [self-deprecating grimace] Could you send me an email?” Works like a charm and usually honest!

      • Something my father taught me. If you really don’t know, and they really do want the answer, they’ll be willing to look it up, although they may not know how. Experts don’t know everything. They know how to find the answers in their field of expertise.

        So, if the answer is “I don’t know,” you can say, “I don’t know that answer. Let’s look it up together, shall we?” (set a time, if timing is the issue) If they really do want the answer, they’ll be willing to do the leg-work, with your guidance. If they aren’t willing to look it up with your guidance, then they didn’t really want the answer, in the first place, and you can walk away with a smile.

        “Oh! Can’t you just look that up for me?”

        “But then how will you learn? Better that I teach you how to find this information, so that next time you have a question, you’ll know how to find it, for yourself.”

        “Uhhhh, never mind. I’m not that curious, after all.” vs. “Yeah! Then I can find this stuff out any time I want!”

      • Buni said:

        I’m thinking of saying, “Want me to make something up?”

        I… do actually use a variation of this quite frequently. The eleventy-ninth time a pupil asks me something I have no way of answering I say “[Child], I already told you I don’t know. But I like writing stories, would you like me to make something up?”. Usually that gets a laugh and they stop.

        I’ve done it more than once with adults…

      • yogibeaty said:

        “I don’t have any idea, but I’d be happy to make up some bullshite for you if you’d like. Or you could go Google it.”
        And then stop and stare at them.

  9. Erin said:

    I hope this is about curling!

    Also, like the captain, I rely heavily on pushing people to asynchronous communication when I feel like they are draining my time. That way, I feel a little less guilty and am not saying “no” outright, but I can also maintain slightly better control of my schedule, and decide when email replying is going to happen (decidedly not while I’m trying to pee!).

    Good Luck!

  10. Marna Nightingale said:

    I also was both a referee and a player in a sport at one time and honestly, blunt is best:

    “I’m just going to stop you there, sorry. When I’m reffing, I’m reffing. When I’m at practice, I’m playing. I don’t mind quick questions but I can’t break for discussions.”

    This defines for them what they’re doing wrong in a clear way that will probably sink in. They can email you, or catch you when you ARE reffing, or … read the damned rulebook.


    • “I’m just going to stop you there, sorry. When I’m reffing, I’m reffing. When I’m at practice, I’m playing. I don’t mind quick questions but I can’t break for discussions.”

      I love this. Thanks.

    • Thanksforallthefish said:

      I love this response! I’m in practice-mode right now so I won’t break for that is a really clear boundary to make. It doesn’t preclude future questions, merely defines more clearly when they can happen.

    • Turtle Candle said:

      Ooh, I like that. I’ve encountered this when I’ve been staffing/volunteering for a conference and then when I was meetups that were tangentially related to the conference topic but not directly associated with the conference. (So imagine that I am on staff for PetitFourCon, and I also attend unrelated local meetups for fancy dessert connoisseurs.) If someone comes up to me at a meetup with a long, involved question about a registration issue they’ve had for PetitFourCon, I’ve had moderately good luck with something like, “Hey, let me break in real quick. Can we put a pin in this and come back to it later? I’m happy to help, but right now I just want to participate in the meetup.”

      The key thing in my experience is to break in as soon as you feel you can–the first time they pause for breath, say. If you let them get the whole potentially lengthy question out, IME they kind of feel like “well but I’ve already asked so why not just answer?” Fast as possible is better.

      • Firecat said:

        I’m right there on this bench with you. I’m a (volunteer) staff member for Local Fan Convention. Because the convention is fairly large and successful, lots of people have Issues, and/or Feelings, and/or a Problem. They see me, and they want to talk about whatever it is (read: rant, whine, complain…sometimes they do have a genuine question). Even if the place we are has nothing to do with Convention, and i’m there to socialize, or shop, or whatever. And because of my position, it’s important for me to be seen as accessible, polite, etc. There have been times when I have actually avoided some events because I knew I just could. not. handle. it if someone buttonholed me about something about Convention. I will have to practice this phrasing, or something close, so it will be there when I need it.

    • ReanaZ said:

      I was going to suggest something similar. I’m an acrobat, and there’s a lot of free, open community jams and circus get-togethers and such. A lot of people teach because they love circus; they want to come jam because they want to play. They’re also kind lovely people who want to help, and it’s a very collaborative sport with lots of peer-to-peer teaching & learning. (jams are like 60% “Whoa, that was cool! Can you show me that???”) But it sometimes paints teachers into a corner of constantly giving advice and showing things when they just want to play, you know?

      What i’ve seen as effective for them is a cheerful “I’m not teaching today!” 95% of the time, that does it. It works well on the well-intentioned and friendly who would be happy to have your help but fully respect you might have other things you need to do, which is likely the bulk of people asking you.

      For the slightly-more-pushy “I’m just here to play today, catch me at (class) if you have lots of questions!” seems to work. But we don’t attract/keep around a lot of aggressive boundary pushers in my acro communities because it’s just straight up unsafe in a physically risky partnered practice, where you have to be very comfortable touching and being touched by people, and the communities i’ve been in tend to self-police this surprising well.

      • Proffie Galore said:

        OT: Commenters about this question include women in elite-level athletics, screen writing, academia, curling, roller derby, fan convention planning, and now acrobatics. We are having a prolonged discussion about a Thing that happens in bathrooms, libraries, sporting clubs, bookstores, and now circuses.

        Hot Damn.

    • Hooray for the polite spine of steel and clear-cut boundaries.

  11. emmych said:

    Tbh my favourite way to ditch people is “I don’t know, but might! Go ask them.” When that fails, the whole “sorry I am on my break and need to recharge, I’ll catch you later” as a STATEMENT, not a request (“I’ll catch you later?”) works wonders when combined with a smile, a nod, and a “see ya” before the other person can argue.

    And just, on that note of statements vs requests: as a person who used to have a great deal of difficulty asserting myself, the greatest tool I have discovered is that when you tell people how things are going to go when asserting a boundary, rather than asking if they are okay with your boundary, people tend to shut up and respect your no a lot more.

    • attica said:

      So true. Look at it like managing expectations, if ‘asserting a boundary’ seems too bold. People like to know what to expect. They like it even better than Getting Their Way. (I say this as a person who deals with the public.)

      I feel like I want to add something about the LW’s renown in their endeavor. I would be willing to bet that at least some of the question-asking is a form of hanger-on-ism. A way for the lesser lights in the building to rub elbows with an elite international competitor. A way to get some of the LW’s glitter on them. If that’s the case, maybe they don’t really need their questions answered as much as they need To Be Seen by the Great One.

      • Cosmoose said:

        Regarding renown and being a celebrity: do you know what celebrities have? Really strong boundaries. They have to, or they’d be flooded with fans day and night. The better ones have learned to be gracious and appreciative while still making sure that they can eventually get away. Mostly they do this by scheduling “fan time,” and then having an obvious end to that time. But to some extent, they do it by making themselves harder to find outside of that time. Such is the burden of fame.

        For all the good scripts and tips here, in the end, this is about establishing and enforcing boundaries, and the hard part is doing that in a way that allows one to feel okay for oneself in doing so. In the letter writer’s case, that will mean accepting that her position as an expert comes with the burden of attention, and especially accepting that it will be good and necessary for her to establish strong boundaries. She will need to become nearly as enthusiastic about protecting her own time as she is about her sport. After that, it’s all tactics, but adjusting from people-pleaser mode is no mean feat.

      • Kitty said:

        Yes I was getting that sense too, especially from the questioners who keep going with slight variations, that maybe more than getting a question answered, they just want to feel like they’re hanging out with LW because they admire her.

        • Proffie Galore said:

          Yep, with students, too, sometimes the question seems less important than the need for my attention to relieve their anxiety; replenish their narcissistic suppy; affirm that their nose is indeed brown.

  12. Halpful said:

    I’ve been working on this one for a while; I *have* gotten better at stopping things I don’t like, but… it still takes long enough for me to notice my feelings (and then fight past the freeze response) that they’ve escalated a *lot* by the time I can make things stop, and then I have to spend time (from a few hours to the rest of the day) on recovering, processing the feelings and pain management. 😦 Is there anything to speed that up besides practice, practice, practice?

    • Thanksforallthefish said:

      I am in a similar boat. But I can also be on the other side where I cluelessly follow people asking questions.

      I think the best way to assess in the moment would be giving yourself a moment with the second question….ie “that’s a good question, let me think a moment” then turn away from the person, even if you immediately know the answer, and force yourself to take stock of how “up to this” you are right now. I’ve found for myself when I budget 30 seconds to check in with myself I do a better job of keeping tabs on my emotional state and spoon budget.

      So maybe if you make a habit of the check in and observe how you feel about this second question you can recognize the warning signs sooner.

      • Halpful said:

        I like the “let me think a moment” 🙂

    • Halpful said:

      thinking about that some more… maybe it’s partly because I’m trying to fix things after they’ve already gone bad, instead of pre-emptively setting boundaries. it would be nice if I could remove my brain’s habit of dropping everything to find an answer to the asked question before thinking about whether it’s something I want to answer. hmm… maybe I could try and pause before answering *any* question, to rewrite that? it would annoy impatient people but, well, tough. my feelings matter too. 🙂
      Actually… I think the pause needs to be before *thinking* about the question, not before speaking. it’s the thinking that gets away from me. That might be hard to do, though, because thinking is so automatic. it might help to have a distraction thought, like counting to ten.

      • Thanksforallthefish said:

        I have executive dysfunction (recent discovery) and one issue I struggle with is checking in with myself midstream of any activity to see if I want to pause, or do something different.

        I am practicing this effort of the check-in around drinking because either I don’t drink or have one drink or fall down the hill of drinking into terrible hangover land. I’m realizing more and more if I just stop after each drink and force myself to ask myself what I want next, I do actually know what I want….usually it’s a glass of water.

        The same holds true for conversations…do I really want to keep talking about this person’s untreated infected wound at my birthday party? No? ok then!

  13. Greg M. said:

    I was a TA, I am a retail associate, I am a tech person. I feel you so much. I don’t have much to offer beyond solidarity. There’s already some great advice here. When you’re answering a question the second time from the same person then add “as I said” or something similar to highlight to them that they are repeating themselves.

    Unfortunately I sometimes have to be blunt. I’m an introvert and like to use my workbreaks to recharge between customers. Many coworkers can not take the hint of me only giving one word answers and not looking up from a computer screen. I really hate how it’s always the same questions too “how are you” is something I get asked like 40 times a shift. anyways I actually just outright said to a coworker “My entire job is talking to people, I’m on break from that job right now” had to repeat it twice before he got it.

    • Halpful said:

      I wish there was a way to communicate “I am not up for talking right now” without, like, *talking*. (a socially acceptable way, that is. people don’t like it when you use animal-body-language.)

      • Thanksforallthefish said:

        agreed.

      • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

        I don’t know whether http://stickmancommunications.co.uk has a card for your needs, but they have *a lot* of keycards for different situations, and the owner is open to suggestions. I don’t know whether showing someone a card saying ‘I am an introvert, I need to recharge’ would work, but it might be worth a try.

        • ashbet said:

          I’m generally very cheerful, approachable, chatty, and the kind of person people LOVE to interrupt to ask questions (which I honestly don’t mind, *most* of the time)…

          …but I have occasionally been known to write “NOT NOW” in Sharpie on a Post-It and stick it to my forehead 😉

          • I think this is brilliant, actually.

          • Turquoise Dragon said:

            When my desk faced out into the room, and I held many of the answers, I would occasionally stick a post-it to the back of my computer screen: “Can it wait until tomorrow?” and I would usually get interrupted far less for that day.\

        • Halpful said:

          so many feelings.

          like, some of the things NVoice has been harassing me about today are on those cards. I didn’t know or had forgotten some of them could just be an aspie thing (I was thinking in terms of OCPD and feeling like I need to fix or destroy those parts of me, or at least feel bad about them)
          and then there’s the pessimistic rant about how those cards Can’t Possibly Help.

          soooo many feelings. all the feelings.

        • MoominGirl said:

          Yes, they sell laminated cards that say

          “Sorry, I can’t cope with people right now. Don’t take this personally, but please go away.”
          http://stickmancommunications.co.uk/epages/747384.sf/en_GB/?ObjectPath=/Shops/747384/Products/CC033

          “I’m having a time out. Please leave me alone, I will join in again when I am able to do so.”
          http://stickmancommunications.co.uk/epages/747384.sf/en_GB/?ObjectPath=/Shops/747384/Products/CC109

          “I’m in too much pain to talk or listen. Please leave me alone.”
          http://stickmancommunications.co.uk/epages/747384.sf/en_GB/?ObjectPath=/Shops/747384/Products/CC052

          (I am not connected to Stickman Communication in any way apart from having bought some products from them and occasionally reading the owner’s blog about Disability issues.)

      • Greg M. said:

        I’ve fantasized about printing business cards with my half of the conversation on it and handing it out when people bug me.

        • Greg M. said:

          something like
          “I am fine? you?”
          “glad to hear it.”
          “yes this card is serious”
          “because everyone asks the same questions”
          “because I’m not break”

        • BarlowGirl said:

          There’s a picture floating around the internet of a guy with a printed paper on the back of his chair and headphones on that says “I’m on deadline, I’m fine, yes the weather is lovely” etc.

      • Kitty said:

        Yes! A way to assert a boundary without having to go through the dance of taking care of their feelings then still feeling anxious after that you’ve offended or hurt them.

        A convention I went to recently had a great scheme along these lines: you were given three pegs that could be attached to your lanyard, red meant ‘nobody talk to me’, green meant ‘yay I am up for everybody come talk to me’, and yellow meant ‘only people I already know come talk to me’. Wish this could be a thing in the rest of real life.

      • A sign? Something like a protest sign on a stick that you can lift up and wave, as needed?

        Heheh. I am now picturing me carrying around such a sign, all day. Looking back, there have been some specific days when it would have been totally worth it.

  14. CosetTheTable said:

    I’m a person from a small sport with several “branches”, and I’ve worn several hats, although not with as much skill as you. I’ve competed, I’ve coached, I’ve reffed, I’ve run tournaments, I led my college team.

    First off, congrats on making it to the level of international competition and –at roughly the same time– becoming a senior ref in your country, especially as a person-who-uses-female-pronouns!! I know in my sport that’s really hard, and I have to imagine it’s not easy in yours, either, so, good job you!!!

    In a small sport where people wear different hats, different people handle it differently. Some people are able to move quickly and easily between ref mode and competition mode. Some people really enjoy in depth discussions of rules in all modes. Some people are HEAVILY compartmentalized. It is okay to police your time. It is okay to not answer questions. I get that you want to be helpful, so a lot of the suggestions that have been made are on point— offer to discuss later, or redirect to a person (their coach!), or a resource (your sport probably has a messageboard or subreddit or facebook page that’s active!).

    If it helps, you can look at this as an extention of your reffing practice. Two of the parts of reffing that many women (in particular) have to work on are: 1) helpfulness and 2) situation control.

    Helpfulness: When you ref, you are not there to be the coach, the parent, the friend— even if you would otherwise be that person’s coach, parent, or friend. You are there to be an impartial arbiter. As such, being *too* helpful is often bad! If someone asks me to explain a call I’ve made, i can repeat, I can even sometimes give a little bit more info— but i shouldn’t explain so much that I’m effectively giving advice to one player and not the other!!! Women are often especially socially conditioned to always be helpful, so finding the right line when reffing can be hard. Same thing here— when you are in training or competition mode, giving too much of your time as any other role is actually not always helpful. It may be more appropriate for that person to talk to someone else (ie- THEIR coach), and it’s likely in the best interest of the sport that you are a really strong competitor, because it’s always most fun to practice with really good people.

    Situation Control: When reffing, you do what you can do to make a safe, calm, fair, etc experience for your competitors. This can depend quite a lot based on sport, but you are there to stop play if something dangerous happens (ie- a big spill). In an ideal world, you want to help de-escalate tension before a fight happens. You make sure everyone’s following the rules so that someone doesn’t have an unfair advantage. Again, the specifics are rather sport dependent. But what mostly isn’t is that you need to have a certain reffing persona– you may speak up, and have a more even tone than you would otherwise. You likely speak with more authority, even when you’re not actually sure. You likely have a more neutral facial expression (cringing when players do something terrible is not generally considered professional!). Women are often actually really good at this at baseline—– but sometimes there are people who treat femal refs poorly regardless of skill, so often women have to be even BETTER at this than their male peers. But you get to borrow this stuff in the rest of your life. These are useful skills! The people who want to take up your time when you are trying to train? You get to borrow your reffing demeanor. It’s not personal, it’s not a big deal, you’re just explaining how it’s going to happen.

    Also talk to your mentors. Find other women who have done both reffing and higher level competition. I have never ever been very good at either, but I have a short list of women I trust to give me advice on being the sort of person who does both and figures out how to do both well. They have had to figure out their boundaries. They have been in uncomfortable situations. They’ve likely watched you, and the same way they can give you reffing advice, they can also give you boundary advice. Most small sports have lots of people willing to be helpful. My experience is that that’s even more true for women giving advice to women who are looking to advance.

  15. Roman said:

    I referee rugby, and I know your pain, particularly at tournaments, particularly at sevens tournaments. At a sevens tourney referees are usually set in teams of four, so you referee one game, run the line for two games, and get one game off, all day long.

    Timing is very precise, so in my off games I have 19 minutes to get my kit off, get into the ice bath, get out of the ice bath, put on dry kit, shove food and drink into my face, refocus, and go for another three games.

    Players/coaches/others who decide they need to a) ask for clarification on laws – particularly in the “what if slightly different” vein or b) carry on a discussion about a decision I made three games ago, while I’m standing in my jocks in a wheelie bin full of icy water should thank their lucky starts I can’t shoot people into the sun with my mind yet.

    My go-to is to look at my watch and say “I only have seven minutes to be back on the field, I’m sorry, I really can’t answer your question, but our referee manager is lurking around, he’s wearing a dayglo vest, you might be able to get him to give you a better answer.”

    Tho I did get convicted at Kangaroo Court after one tourney for setting one particularly obnoxious coach on our poor and actually rather busy referee manager, it was still worth it.

  16. S said:

    LW, At the beginning of your letter you lay out quite a few pretty awesome qualifications for you being like, kinda a big deal in your sport. You’re a senior ref, you’re also an international competitor.

    I know that it’s not cool as a she person to be like “Hey, I’m kinda a big deal.” But from the sounds of it you ARE. You have a reputation, people want your opinion on things because of that reputation.

    It might be time to embrace a little bit of this sense of “I am a big deal” and use it your advantage. You’re training, you’re a ref, you don’t have time for every person and their petty BS. That’s not being snobby or above yourself, that’s just truth. There is a certain level that some people attain wherein they don’t have time to be everyone’s helper friend.

    I would suggest that you talk with the people who run your Club, and see about hosting a monthly or quarterly “information session.” Perhaps with just you, or other senior refs/experienced players at your club could do it together or alternate. That way, you can give people an opportunity to ask questions, maybe discuss a unique topic as a group. And if people approach you when you are practicing, you have a way to divert them without having to provide every club member a nearly infinite amount of your attention to be helpful. “Can’t talk right now, but we have an info session every third friday and I’m happy to take questions then.”

    Because you’re kind of a big deal!

    • zallie said:

      I was also going to suggest this! I teach knitting classes, and end up with a lot of “just one more question” students. I’ve had a lot of luck with smiling, and saying very encouragingly “that’s a great question! If you’re interested in a private class on that, the rate is X, or there’s another group class on [date].” I like this bc it reminds them that they are actually paying for my time (and therefore my time is valuable (according to capitalism)), and a lot of the time they do end up actually booking private classes!

      I think setting up a scheduled info session or scheduled office hours could work well for you – I agree you definitely have the expertise for it! I actually think, based on your letter, you could do a paid info class…with the caveat that I know nothing of sports and the culture might be totally wrong for this. The main reason I suggest paid is that people tend to take things more seriously if they have to pay for them, and it might reinforce that when you aren’t in class, you really aren’t there just to answer their questions! “Paid” can also mean sth like donate $1 to buy me a coffee, if you want to keep it at more of a symbolic level. (For context, I’m young, poor, and female and have had enough of providing free emotional labour for people who never reciprocate, which is how this situation reads to me. ymmv.)

      Regardless of money, your time is valuable, and it’s yours! Imo people who spend a lot of time helping need to have solid boundaries. Personally I’ve found a schedule to be really helpful. I set my schedule ahead of time, when I’m not under social pressure to accommodate everyone and everything. Then when the pressure hits and my boundaries start trying to dissipate, I have a solid thing I can point to and say “hey, past self has already figured out this boundary, I don’t need to rethink it, or justify it to myself or anyone else. I’ve already made this decision.” It doesn’t work perfectly, but I do find it helps.

  17. BigDogLittleCat said:

    LW, it sounds like people are asking you to make referee decisions in the abstract and putting you in the position of appearing to claim authority you don’t have. For example, when you’re getting grilled about the new dress code, as the questions get more specific, there has to reach a point where the written code isn’t that clear so you’d no longer be just telling people the rule, you’d be *interpreting* it, which is very different, and probably falls on the body in your sport that establishes and interprets rules and advises and directs referees

    Can you draw a line between simple, straight out of the rule book questions that are cut and dried, and hypothetical scenario questions that ask you to speculate about how a rule would be interpreted?

    “It hasn’t been decided” or “you’re asking for a level of detail that I am not in a position to answer.”

    That woman with the dress code sounds like she was asking permission, not just trying to learn. I’m afraid that one of your inquisitors will do something that gets them called out, and then they’ll cry “well, LW said!!!” as if your clubhouse conversation is a binding referee’s call.

    • CosetTheTable said:

      If the LW was writing about my sport, this wouldn’t be necessarily be true, so it may not be true about her sport either. In mine, a dress code change has a number of implications— is it actually safer? is it more expensive? is it really about tv ratings? How it will be implemented may or may not be clear, may be different from region to region, different at local and national events, and just because it’s the national and international body’s responsibility to provide guidance doesn’t mean that that guidance gets to everyone appropriately.

      Sometimes in my sport, finding out how a rule is likely to be applied at a non-local level can be hard for a mostly-local competitor. So in my experience, that kind of conversation absolutely could be about learning rather than permission! Honestly, in my sport, every single time a ref makes a call, there’s both subjective and objective aspects.

      Which is all to say—- There are some sports where there isn’t an easy line between basic rule book questions and complicated hypotheticals. And my assumption is that in any sport where a sometimes-ref is getting repeatedly cornered about rule questions when she’s trying to train, the rules of her sport are probably pretty complicated!!

      • BigDogLittleCat said:

        That’s to my point: when the rules are that complicated, it’s unfair to expect someone who refs *but is not reffing at that time* to essentially make a call, so the sometimes-ref is entitled to cut them off.
        If the rules are that subjective and LW says “yes, you can do [that],” then sooner or later clubhouse lady is going to do [that] in front of a ref with a different interpretation and get called on it, and CHL is going to whine that LW said it was ok.
        If the rules are that subjective, every answer would have to be qualified with “I think *I* would do [this] but I can’t say what other refs would do.”
        And when all s-ref wants to do is drink her tea, she’s not obligated to speculate about what she’d do in some hypothetical future game.

        If the inquisitor seems genuinely interested in learning, s-ref can arrange a time to discuss it with them.
        But someone who follows s-ref around the room “could I wear this or that” and keeps asking about a subject that s-ref has already said s-ref doesn’t know, like LW’s clubhouse lady, that person isn’t really interested in learning the nuances of the game, they want to figure out what specifically they can do and not be called on.

  18. GiantPanda said:

    Another arbiter here.
    LW, if somebody is asking too many hypothetical rules questions, a perfectly good answer is “I’ll decide that problem if it arises in a game.” Repeat like a broken record or stop talking to them (about their questions).

    You are not being rude, they are by badgering you!

    • Turtle Candle said:

      I like that a lot. I use that sometimes when I’m GMing a tabletop RPG game–when people are doing character creation they often have a lot of questions. A relatively easy one, like “would a high jump use a Strength + Athletics or Dexterity + Athletics roll?” or “does Falling Touch work on animals?” I’ll answer right away. But if it’s something very specific and potentially rules-lawyer-y, the kind that begins, “Let’s say I decide on Stargazer tribe and Philodox auspice and I have the gifts Scent of the Oathbreaker and Sense Balance, and my opponent is a Black Spiral Dancer Ragabash…” and on and on and on, I’m likely to cut them off and say, “I’d determine that on a case by case basis, based on the specifics of the situation and the roleplay.” And hold to that.

      • Cat Detective said:

        I usually just say, “Well does it fall in line with the Rule of Cool? Then sure, you can punch Strahd in his face.”

      • lowbudgetcyborg said:

        This particular example is really amusing to me because if any werewolf was likely to be a chronic over-thinker it would be a Stargazer Philodox.

        • Turtle Candle said:

          That choice may not have been totally coincidental, yes. 😉

  19. AsterRoc said:

    If someone asks me a question when I have limited time (even if that time limit is self imposed) or energy, I’ll say something like “I can give you five minutes now, so let’s see how far we can get in that time, and we can schedule another time if that’s not enough.” And then depending on the person, I start pointedly looking at the clock after four minutes, and at five or six I stand up and say “I’m afraid that’s all the time I have, can you email me to make another appointment / come back at [time]?” If I already know the person has a hard time with body language cues, then at four minutes I’ll instead say “We have one minute left,” and then do the same at five or six minutes. If someone approaches me while I’m getting lunch, I’ll keep walking and say “can we talk later, it’s my lunch time now.”

  20. Lurker in the light said:

    For the nitpicky questions, you might forestall some of them by asking “is this philosophical or were you actually thinking of doing X?” At that point, you can redirect the conversation to “yes, by all means X / No, for the love of puppies, never X” or “this isn’t a good time for that [discussion of theory].”

    For those who just won’t let “I don’t know” go, instruct them very directly. “Madam, who is your child’s coach?… Then you need to speak with her.”

  21. Anonyish said:

    Clearly people are interested in what you have to say, and you are interested in sharing this – just not when you need to be doing something else!

    Could your club maybe set up a “Meet the Ref” Q&A session that you could invite member/parents to attend, give a little introductory talk about what you do, and then run a (chaired!) Q&A session. So you create a space for their questions, but can then avoid them at other times. If you wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that kind of session, or as an addition, you could consider a website Q&A resource – people email a question to the club (not you personally), and the most appropriate referee/coach/employee answers it on the website and you build up a FAQ that everyone can see. You’d be able to say “Great question, can’t answer now, can you post it to the website and [the person who deals with juniors] will be able to answer it for everyone!” or “Great question! That came up last month on the website and is now on the FAQ, can you take a look there it’s much more detailed than I could give you now.”

  22. Anon for this said:

    So I don’t mean to derail, but if anyone has suggestions on how strike this balance with people *outside* the sporting community, I would really appreciate them.

    I am a rookie roller derby player… as in, I do contact work at league training, but I’m not yet cleared play public games. If I even so much as mention derby, I get invariably get questions on a) what my derby name is, b) injuries, c) hotpants and fishnets, or d) why I’m not at bouting level. I often feel like people want me to be whatever their stereotype of a roller derby player is, and they’re disappointed when I don’t live up to it. And I actually missed training one day because one guy was so keen to tell me in graphic detail about injuries I could sustain that it threw off my mental game.

    I want to be an ambassador for a wonderful sport that most people don’t know a lot about, and I don’t want to hide that I skate, but I haaaaate the questions I get. Any suggestions on handling them gracefully?

    • I’ve reading up on my local derby scene after I watched a Buzzfeed video on trying roller derby. I found that my local leagues have a LOT of info on their websites. Can you head folks off at the pass by getting some cards with the websites of your local teams or a particularly good sites even if they aren’t local? Then when your time/energy limit is reached, you can give them a card and say “I can’t answer/talk more right now but here’s some great places to learn more!”.

  23. Jack V said:

    It sounds like with friends you genuinely are happy to talk about this stuff, just not in the middle of practice. If so, I’d say something like, can you ask me later, I want to make the most of practice time. If actually you’d rather not talk about it at all, see below. That’s the sort of normal comment anyone might make about any conversation, and if they want to know, they hopefully *will* ask later, and if they just got absorbed in curiosity, it’s fine if they forget about it.

    If you don’t really want to get into it at all whether you’re in the middle of something or not, it’s ok to say no. I would usually give slightly more context, or some direction to what they should be doing instead of bothering you, like “it’s complicated, I don’t know enough to answer” or “I’m burned out on rules stuff from refereeing, I can’t talk about it all break as well” or “I don’t know, try asking Coach” or “I don’t know, try asking on the online rules forum” etc. You don’t have to help, just “i don’t want to talk” is equally polite, but I often find it easier to rebuff someone if I don’t feel bad about it, even if I shouldn’t have any reason to feel bad.

    The lady bothering you over lunch is another step beyond — you’ve already made it clear you don’t want to talk, but she’s badgering you anyway. She’s being rude, and your job is to avoid her rudeness as expediently as possible. Try, “I’m sorry, I really don’t know/can’t think about this” and if she persists, just go vacant and ignore her and answer with “I don’t know”. Try changing the subject, or saying “I need a break, can you please talk about something else”. If she persists more, try “please leave me alone”. That’s basic human interaction which works on *most* people. And if they push beyond, recognise it’s THEIR fault if your answers get loud and frightened or angry.

    • Jack V said:

      Further comments. As several people suggested, if you think it would be useful or you feel it’s your responsibility, think about what would work better, eg. having a question session *after* practice, either an informal “hey did you want to ask me something” with friends or if you’re helping run things, a “hey, lets talk about rule change x some people don’t seem to know”. Especially because some questions are just one person’s thing, but others *everyone* is probably confused by.

  24. ioethe said:

    Great question! I’ll be available to answer any questions from X time to Y time – please catch up with me then!

  25. Rhoda said:

    Does your sport have an official rulebook that is updated and posted on the web somewhere? That might be the quickest way to deal with the problem, just say “I have to rush off right now, but if you open the rules documents tab on the ourspecificsport.com website, it will tell you all you need to know. If the rules aren’t posted online, perhaps you can suggest that at the next annual meeting, or even scan them and post them yourself if the governing body will let you.
    At least they’re just asking questions! My better half is a cycling official and joined a national body of sports officials some years ago in order to go to a big conference that was held in our city of the time. He was horrified by some of the abuse that officials in some of the team sports such as hockey and baseball had to put up with.

  26. Lois said:

    I learned a great trick recently! I picked this up from observing some politician types at a networking event. Script:

    Person: blah blah blah
    Me: Excuse me.
    (I walk away)

    It works!!!!! I swear! You gotta walk purposefully in a clear direction, either to another room or to a different part of a reasonably crowded room. It has the double advantage of getting you out of a dull or annoying conversation AND it is a serious power move and makes you seem important. Sometimes it is worth observing what the powerful white dudes are up to and adopting the mannerisms that signal “I am busy and important” that come so naturally to those dudes.

  27. Commander Banana said:

    My brother definitely does this to me. I rarely speak to him for Reasons but when I do, he launches into an extended monologue that is just him asking what he should do about Very Specific Work Situation, me giving the same advice I always give him (go to a therapist, find a medication regimen that is effective, and work on managing his mental illness before trying to Fix All The Work Problems That Will Only Recur Because They Are Due To Your Unmanaged Mental Illness).

    Then he’ll launch into a question about what he should do about Slightly Different But Still Very Specific Work Situation. We don’t even work in the same industries, we never have, and even if we did my advice would still be the advice I gave above, which to my knowledge he hasn’t taken in the past decade in which his unmanaged mental illness has torpedoed every job opportunity.

    Now I just cut him off with “my advice isn’t going to change, sorry” and end the conversation. I’m not sure what answer he’s actually hoping I’ll give him because he keeps asking variations of the same question, but regardless of the specifics of Whatever Work Situation my advice is not changing.

  28. bopper said:

    This is a practice day, not a referee day so could you email me your questions?

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