How to Handle Nagging Part One: Extended Family and Social Events

How to Handle Nagging Part One: Extended Family and Social Events

I remember growing up and being real conscious of my looks– just like everyone else was in their teens. Eventually I came to terms with the face that stared back at me in the mirror, probably thanks to anime. For me, it was a proud moment… that was short-lived because my Mom just couldn’t get past it.

She did not mince her words, “Look at your face! You need to see a doctor! Nothing’s working!”

So we booked an appointment to the dermatologist, and he recommend I be put on a new drug that was making waves at the time: Accutane. Before taking it, I had to sign a release and waiver. I read through the possible side effects: chapped lips, depression and suicide, X% chance of death…

Risk death for a clear face? No way!

“You’re signing this! It’ll be worth it.”

Thanks, Mom.

Navigating the naggings from family members can be a real tricky thing. When you’re living with them, you’ll probably want to minimize your interactions if possible. But how about the big family events when you’re surrounded by people who you don’t see on a regular basis?

What do you with that aunt who can’t stop talking about your dating life or your uncle who won’t stop joking about your weight?

Luckily, handling extended family is much easier. It’ll take a few extra steps, but it’s not too far removed from the concept of ignoring them.

First, let’s break down the factors that make family communication “work”. Family members, especially when they’re older than you, would really “appreciate it” if:

  1. You listen to what they say.
  2. You do what they say.

Ideally, they’d want you to follow through on both points. But with extended family you only see once or twice a year, we’re only really concerned about the first one. After all, they’re not going to really see if you kept your word or not… until next year. We’ll worry about that later!

Next, you have to be aware of the context and how it plays into your actions. Because this is one of a few limited chances to interact with you, they’re going to make a point to talk to you. Avoiding them outright and trying to hide are only going to increase their determination to seek you out.

Now does that mean you have to bend to every word they say? Not at all!

This is where you get to implement what’s universally despised by everyone: small talk attitude.

The reason why small talk sucks? No one gives a shit. Everyone’s detached. They can be pleasant enough, but nothing said has any real weight or impact.

This is where the tables are turned. You’re going to use this cordial indifference as your weapon. To take a line from Verbal Self-Defense, you’re going to go into “computer mode”. You can’t get heated or upset about it. You’re wasting your time if you think, “Oh, well I’m going to let him/her have it!”

Why? Well, whenever someone has that need of “I just got to get this off my chest”, it’s one of the most selfish things done in communication. It’s not about you, it’s about what they think they have to say. It’s the anti-thesis of what all communication should really be about: connection.

Again, you’re not really letting them give you commands to obey, you’re just going through the motions so they think they are. And for a lot of folks, that’s going to be enough.

“Oh yeah, you’re right Aunt DeeDee, I should find someone to settle down with soon. And you’re totally on point Uncle Jeff, I must’ve packed on some extra pounds from all this pie (I never eat).”

That’s not real talk. That’s not really listening. But the appearance satisfies that familial need for you to listen to what they say.

Try it out!

Let’s be clear, this isn’t going to work for everybody. Some people are especially stubborn. The strategy I pointed out above probably isn’t going to work when you’re living with the person. In a future post, I’ll cover exit strategies and advanced conflict management.


Mom, in case you’re reading this, you know you’re my hero. I just needed to pull a memory that demonstrated my point, and it was either this one or the time you made sure I wasn’t an interpreter.

For everyone else, maybe you’d like to work on your social skills with a speech coaching session?

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