5 (Polite!) Ways to Get a Loved One to Mind Their Own Business
Because “Mind your own beeswax” expired when you were 12.
I think if you’re partners, in love or in business, it’s kind of important to speak using partner terms. That starts with “we.” “We both want a good outcome. We both have ideas about what will work.” Then it’s easier to transition to “Would it be better if one of us led the way?” (If the person is more of an interloper than a partner, you can always say, “That’s an interesting idea. Thanks. But I’ve got this covered.”) Really listening to your partner, though, means that you deliberately run the risk of having your mind changed: You might realize that you’re the one who should butt out.
Alan Alda is an award-winning actor, director, and screenwriter and the author of If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? He lives in New York City.
When we ask someone to butt out, we’re putting up a spiritual wall. There’s something you don’t trust that person to be a part of—there’s a disconnect. Before you say, “Butt out,” consider what’s happening with you: Ask yourself what it is about the input that makes you uncomfortable. When you ask for space from someone you love dearly, like your mom or best friend, knowing why helps you communicate it in a healthier way. Maybe she wasn’t able to show up for you in a way that you needed in the past. If that’s the case, then don’t tell her to butt out with criticism or shame. Just be real: “I know you care and want to help. That means a lot to me. Right now I need you to just listen and be there without advice unless I ask for it.”
Avoid arguing about who did what. Be specific about your request and say, for example, “Mom, from now on, can you please not comment on my clothes in front of other people?” If she says, “But when do I ever do that?” don’t take the bait: “I can give you examples, but the point is, from now on…” You are laying a foundation so the next time you can say, “This is what I’m talking about, Mom.” It may take a few rounds, but it’s an investment in a relationship that’s important. And remember: The other person is (probably) not trying to drive you crazy. Have compassion.
Rick Hanson, PhD, is a psychologist and senior fellow at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley.
I use an unsolicited-advice formula I call CHARM: Compliment, Honesty, Action, Redirect, Mannerly. Compliment the person or say something nice to soften the reaction (she is trying to help you, after all). Be honest and tell her in a kind yet direct way that you don’t need her input. State the action that is the next step so it’s clear you don’t need advice. Redirect the conversation. And always use your manners! End on a positive note. So if, for example, your sister Sarah is trying to give you relationship advice that you didn’t ask for, you could say: “Sarah, I truly value your opinion; however, at the moment, I need this to remain between Jack and me. If I need your advice, I’ll be sure to ask. Let’s talk about our beach plans instead, but I do thank you for caring.”
Myka Meier is the founder and director of The Beaumont Etiquette School in New York City.
Many years ago, I learned that Neil, the Prince of Middle School, had a crush on me. Me! With my big hair, gangly limbs, and love for purple plastic glasses. Alas, my mom found out. “We should take something over to his house and meet his parents,” she said. I begged her to butt out. I pleaded when she pulled the extra mac and cheese out of the oven. I cried when she picked up the landline to dial Neil’s parents. It nearly got physical when she ushered me into the car to drive to Neil’s house. His parents greeted us and invited us in for dinner. I was mortified. But as I stepped through the front door with my shoulders hunched, I noticed something: Neil had the exact same embarrassed look of horror on his face that I did. This was just as painful for him! We got through dinner, and Neil and I talked that night—and many nights after. We’ve now been dear friends for a long time. When loved ones insert themselves into our business, there’s a natural instinct to get defensive. But sometimes they’re pushing us to be braver. So, in gratitude to my overly involved mother and on behalf of my friendship with Neil, I offer the anti-advice: Don’t be so quick to ask someone to butt out. You never know what could come of meddling.
Kay Oyegun is a writer for NBC’s This Is Us. She lives in Los Angeles.