Ask Kat: Handling Pushy People
Hi Kat, This summer, I've been taking a writing workshop class while on summer break from college. It's a lot of fun and the people are great, but there's a girl in the class who's ...let's just say needy and desperate. She's a well-meaning, sweet person, but she is just outrageously neurotic, and worries about every little thing, and she kind of drives us all a little nuts with her constant self-doubt.Anyway, before I knew her well, I agreed to help her out with a design project—she needed promotional postcards—which ended up being an excruciating process, but even worse, now she won't leave me alone. I had volunteered to do this for her just as a favor because I know she struggles with money, and I thought it'd be a good deed on my part, but I think she vastly misinterpreted it as a gesture of "I want to be BFFs." Because throughout the process she kept calling me not only to panic about every pixel of the project, but to talk endlessly about *everything*, and now she's started emailing me to schedule time so that we can edit our work together, because wouldn't it be just AWESOME to be able to help each other out? (I can't emphasize enough that listening to her talk in class for 20 minutes a week is well past my breaking point.)
So... how do I shake this girl?!?! The problem is that I'll inevitably see her frequently. I wish I could have some sort of "oh, I don't socialize outside of my social circle and I'm really busy" excuse, but she knows that I've become very close with other people I've met in this workshop. (Although they think she's nuts too.) I feel bad that she's clearly lonely and just wants someone to talk to, but I really don't have the time, energy, or patience to take one for the team. I don't know how long I can keep saying "I'll check my schedule." Any advice?
As in, that's my advice: the word, "No." Learn it, love it, and familiarize yourself with saying it when applicable instead of pussyfooting around with offers to check your schedule and the face-saving, "oh, I would if I could" excuses. A polite, direct "No, thank you" is something you must master in order to survive in the modern world—and that goes double for sympathetic people-pleasers like yourself, who end up overextended, exhausted, and constantly roped into unwanted responsibilities just 'cause they can't say the N-word.
Which is not to say that this girl isn't pathetic—because she is, and it's sad, and the world would be a much nicer place if pathetic, lonely people were all fabulous and easy to like. But her lonelyperson status entitles her to sympathy and a certain amount of kindness, not an unlimited free pass to force herself on you. The fact that she's a sad pushy person doesn't change the fact that she's still a pushy person, and one you don't want to spend time with.
So, practice your nos, grit your teeth, and respond to her next request with something like, "I appreciate the invitation, but I'm afraid that this wouldn't be the best way for me to use the limited time I have to prepare my piece." Or say you prefer to work independently. Or say that you don't think the pairing would be productive. The important thing is that whatever you say, you'll be framing it in professional terms, which a) gives her less reason to take it personally, and b) relegates the relationship back to the sphere it belongs in.
And yes, okay, you'll probably feel like a big meanie for... oh, say, five whole minutes. But if you approach this like the professional acquaintanceship it is (at least on your end), then that automatically sets a boundary—the boundary being, "I prefer to keep our relationship limited to our contact in class"—and then all you have to do is consistently enforce it. And the best part: after that first time, you won't feel like big meanie anymore, because that boundary becomes your new normal.
And there you have it: number one, boundary-setting, number two, remembering that "I don't want to" is all the reason you need to say no.
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Related post: How to Say No