Michelle Buteau Helps You Navigate Cringey Conversations with Your Boss

Our Modern Manners columnist settles disputes with neighbors, friends and co-workers

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Michelle Buteau is a mother, wife, dog mama, actor, writer, comedian, and TV host. Her book of autobiographical essays, Survival of the Thickest, will soon be a Netflix series. She also cohosts the popular podcast Adulting on the Exactly Right network. With all this life experience, we trust Michelle's ability to navigate a number of social quandaries. Here's her advice to our readers in the March 2023 issue of Real Simple.

Stay On Your Side

SUSAN: My next-door neighbor makes a habit of parking in front of my house and doesn’t move her car for days on end. A few years ago, I wrote a note letting her know that the front of my house is not her designated spot. I recently found out that my town has an ordinance against leaving cars on the street for more than 72 hours. I made a copy of it and sent it to her. Nothing gets through to her. What should I do?

MICHELLE: Ugh, Susan. I’m so sorry this is happening to you. Maybe try talking to her face-to-face. If that doesn’t work, then you’ve done everything possible. And that’s when you call 311 or your town’s parking authorities. You get an official person to come to your neighbor’s house, knock on the door, and tell her she cannot park there anymore. I don’t know what kind of ordinance you guys have, but she needs to be ticketed. No more notes. No more Mrs. Polite Lady Neighbor! You can’t be gentle anymore. You’ve been straightforward, and she’s ignoring you, which is disrespectful. Your house is not a parking lot. I feel for you, I really do. Fight fire with fire, then plan yourself a spa day for being your own shero!

Adopt; Don't Shop

ANNA: I’ve been involved in the rescue and fostering of shelter animals for years. All my friends know this. How am I supposed to respond when they proudly show me an animal they purchased from a breeder? I think they assume that because I’m an animal lover, I will love their pricey designer pet. I usually say something nice, but I get a strong sense they want me to make a big fuss, which is hard to do when I’m crying inside.

MICHELLE: Anna, thank you so much for rescuing shelter animals. That is truly amazing. You are a walking angel on earth. I love my dogs so much, and they were both adopted. I didn’t grow up with dogs, and if I’m being honest, I didn’t even know the difference between adopting and shopping for a pet until I had a friend break it down for me, and I’m so glad they did. I think it’s totally OK to have that somewhat awkward conversation. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it—in a non-judgmental way. 

Tell your friends something along the lines of “While I’m happy that you want to extend your family, I personally don’t believe in the way you’re doing it. And here’s why.” You can let them know that, with a shelter dog, they’ll be saving a life and fighting puppy mills, and that they could get a dog who’s even healthier than one from a breeder. This would be a really good conversation. It could be eye-opening. Most people don’t know why adopting is better than shopping unless someone tells them. And I don’t know if you want to be, but I think you could be that person.

Too Close for Comfort

CHRISTINE: I love introducing my friends to one another at parties. The problem is this: I have two friends who always feel the need to immediately friend the people they meet on Facebook. I appreciate the concept of networking, but this makes me feel like they’re crossing boundaries, and I can’t think of a nice way to broach the subject with them. I’m not good at beating around the bush; I’m definitely the Queen of Bluntness. I love these people, and I don’t want to hurt their feelings, but I also don’t want to be uncomfortable because of their behavior. Please help!

MICHELLE: OK, Christine. The good news: You are popular and dynamic and people want to hang out with you. The bad news: You are popular and dynamic and people want to hang out with you. All hail the Queen of Bluntness! Come through with some laws of the land! Reach into your emotional arsenal and have a chat with your friends. Be short, kinda sweet, and definitely to the point: “Look, I love bringing you into my circles—you’re a lot of fun. But I am not comfy-cozy with you needing to stay in touch with everyone I introduce you to. At the next event, can we just keep it light and tight and right?” Serve a little sugar with that medicine. Good luck! 

Awkward Office Conversations

SARAH: My manager makes anti-vax comments and says climate change is a fad. I disagree with him, but I never know how to respond, because he’s my boss. How should I handle it?

MICHELLE: Oh, Sarah, I am so sorry you have to go through this. You are not alone. This is really tough, especially given that this person is your boss! Here are some options I hope help. 

Deflection: You can say something like “I just saw this movie, and I thought it was too long, but it was still pretty great.” Or “Did you know that the length of your forearm is how big your foot is?” Often I’ll sound like the little kid in Jerry Maguire, but it works! 

Shut it down politely: Say, “Well, I guess we can agree to disagree,” or “I’ve heard you should never talk about religion or politics at work, so if you don’t mind, I’ll just do my job.” 

Have it out: No one wants to go to work and feel like they’re on a solo debate team, but if he’s constantly bringing these things up, I would present him with some facts and dispute his theories. 

I don’t know how long you’ll be at this job, or how important your relationship with your boss is, but in these trying times, just saying what you need to say might be the best thing to do. 

Have your own social dilemma for Michelle to solve? Tell us about it at modernmanners@realsimple.com.

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