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.