Dear Annie: I need to vent here. I have a group of girlfriends, and there is one, “Melanie,” who dominates the conversation. Melanie’s voice is louder than mine so if I am telling a story or asking a question, she will just blare out whatever is on her mind. Another annoying habit: Even if someone is talking directly to Melanie, she often starts turning her head away from that person and trying to listen to the other girls’ conversations. Last night was the final straw. I am finding myself not wanting to participate in lunches or dinners out when she is there. How do I tell her to “shut up”? A few of the other girls feel the same as I do.
— Timid Voice
Dear Timid Voice: The thing about loud people is that they usually don’t realize they’re being loud. Sure, they might know that they have a tendency to be loud, as some friends and family have likely pointed this out to them over the years. But in the actual moment when they are raising their voices 10 decibels above the rest, they lack self-awareness.
All that is to say, Timid Voice, that it’s time to speak up. If you’re sharing a story and Melanie starts in, take a deep breath, smile and say: “Hold that thought, Melanie. As I was saying...” Repeatedly and kindly bringing Melanie’s attention to the fact that she’s interrupting should — hopefully — quell the behavior, in time. If not, a candid conversation should do the trick: Ask if she realizes that sometimes she interrupts you, and that it makes you feel less heard. Any friend worth having would make an effort to dial it down after that.
Dear Annie: Please remind people to choose their words carefully with someone who grieves. What you think they need to hear may be what you needed when grieving. Saying, “I’m sorry for your loss” may seem inadequate, but it is OK. You don’t know what they need, or want. I had two different pastors say things with no malicious intent that I found difficult. Everyone’s grief is on a different timeline. Telling someone they “need to pull up their big boy or girl pants” may wound, giving them the added burden of forgiving you.
If they ask for something, please consider it, even if you say no. If you say no, do it gently, or maybe ask someone else to help. One pastor hesitated about my request for small meals. When I called her to say it was OK if she didn’t, she said: “Good. That’s really a matter of self-care.” When she experienced loss, she had a loving husband and family around her. I do not.
And please, if you cannot cope with someone’s display of emotion, don’t say, “Get a hold of yourself.” Again, a simple, “I am so sorry for your sorrow” will suffice.
I will forgive, and prayerfully forget. We all must when words hurt that were not meant to do so, but I hope your readers will be a bit more aware of what I’m writing about. Thank you.
— 20 Days Into Grief
Dear 20 Days: I am so, so sorry for your loss. Your letter might lessen the suffering of at least one person by teaching others how best to be compassionate. Thanks for your honesty.