Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: How do I politely handle a Stage 5 Office Clinger? I really like her, but her hour-long, end-of-day swing-bys are cutting into my work productivity. Using the phone, restroom, and concentrating on my screen do not deter her.
Stage 5 Office Cling-ee
“I’d love to talk, but I have a lot to do before I go. Thanks for understanding.”
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And if she ignores this request: “I mean it — not now” and turn back to your work.
Any reason you aren’t doing this?
Re: Cling-ee: I wasn’t the letter-writer, but a lot of people don’t speak up out of fear of looking “rude.” It takes a lot to get over that fear and to just put oneself first.
You mean to just put one’s work first, which one is paid to do. Call it the courage of one’s contract.
In general when confronted with an over-talker — at work, in the neighborhood, etc. — you need to internalize a belief the over-talker is the rude one for cornering you, and that reclaiming your time is fair game. “[Hands up in a ‘halt’ gesture.] I have to stop you there. So sorry. Another time?” Smile. Withdraw.
And: Is being perceived as brusque really such an unthinkable fate?
Dear Carolyn: A friend repeatedly sends me long emails about how her mom continually degrades her and drives her to hit herself and fall into mood swings. She sends me articles on symptoms of depression and asks me for advice. I suggested she seek advice from a health professional, as had been stated in the article she sent, but she got angry at me and accused me of not paying attention to her situation.
I have run out of things to say to her. Every time I suggest therapy, she says she knows everything she needs to know. Help.
You’ve already told her — rightly — so that’s not the issue here.
Now the issue is backing up your advice, because your friend doesn’t want to get help, she just wants the warm, reassuring presence of her friend, and who can blame her? Therapy is difficult and scary and solitary, where having friends tell you how worried they are about you is so validating and it’s right there on her phone.
Once you understand that, then you can also see that all the attention you give her allows her to postpone a true reckoning with her mental health. Every listening session helps her avoid treatment.
So from now on:
She: Sends long email and asks you for advice.
You: “I am not qualified to help you. Please talk to a therapist.”
She: Gets angry. “You’re not paying attention to my situation!!”
You: “I am paying attention, and I know I’m in over my head. Would you like my help in finding a doctor or therapist?”
She: “I already know what I need to know.”
You: “OK then. You’re still upset and seeking my advice though, so it does appear otherwise.”
She: Some other expression of disapproval.
You: “I’m sorry to hear that. When you’re ready to make an appointment, let me know how I can help.”
End of discussion on this topic. Converse as usual otherwise. For both of your sakes, I hope she comes around soon.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at washingtonpost.com.