I volunteer for a few organizations and spend time helping out wherever I can. At a recent event, one of my fellow volunteers was talking about one of the other people working with us. She was relaying a story about how hurt she felt when she was trying to make small talk with this other person and the person turned around and said, in an aggravated tone, “Please stop talking to me. I don’t need any more friends.”
The person telling me the story was saying that she felt taken aback. She wasn’t actually trying to make friends, just small-talk. As I was listening to the story I could relate to both people. Sometimes I feel as though I am being rude – when I am on a plane, for example. I talk and speak for a living so when I travel, I like to just read my book and rest. When someone tries to engage in small talk with me, I don’t really want to engage. Or when someone comes into my office to talk with me about their weekend or social event, and I am trying to work, I find it hard to be distracted. I need to focus on what I am doing and talk with them later.
Having boundaries is perfectly natural and acceptable: We don’t want to be friends with everyone. We can’t always be up for an engaging conversation at any time. Some people are actually drained by too much socializing and interaction. The very process of talking and engaging pulls their energy, and at times they can find that there just isn’t any energy left to spare!
So what can we do when we want to have our boundaries in place, but we don’t want to lash out or speak rudely to another person? Here are some things to think about and try this week when you feel your boundaries are being crossed:
(1) Everyone is different. The pushy, talkative person could be someone who is lonely and in need of a friend. Before you get angry, realize that in most cases the person doesn’t mean any harm. Before you say anything, conjure up an image of compassion for that person.
(2) Think about how you’d like to be known. Yes, you can get people to steer clear of you but do you want to alienate people in the process? Count to ten. Breathe deeply before you speak. Then, speak carefully – “I appreciate your enthusiasm and ideas. I’m just very tired and want to focus on (fill in the blanks). Do you mind if we don’t talk right now?”
(3) As my mom used to always say, you do get more flies with honey than with vinegar. Watch the words you use when you are responding to someone. Don’t call a person “rude” or “stupid” or “annoying.” Remember they have hearts and feelings, too. Don’t allow your words to leave a bitter taste in your mouth. “I realize you have some interesting things to say, I’m just not much of a talker. I’ll respect your need to talk if you respect my need not to do so.”
(4) If the person asks you to a party, or an event, or seems to want to be your friend and you are not interested, you don’t have to tell them you don’t need any more friends. Just politely decline the invitation and say you are too busy (if you have that many friends already, you probably are too busy). If you decline enough times, they will eventually stop asking.
It can be difficult when someone else wants something from you that you just don’t want to, or cannot, give. Be clear about your boundaries and nicely, but firmly, respond in a way that allows the other person to keep their dignity.