Conversation Techniques

By Dr. Robert Wallace

January 13, 2021 5 min read

DR. WALLACE: I read somewhere that you should never use the word "you" when you are upset with someone. For example, my many friends and I have recently debated the phrase, "You should mind your business," and we all seem to agree this is not the best way to say what we may wish to convey, since this particular phrase comes off a bit harsh and condescending.

Is there a better way to tell someone to keep her nose out of my darn business? And by the way, I'm asking for a friend and not for myself! Since I'm the bold and curious type, I thought I would take it upon myself to ask you on behalf of our whole group.

If I like your answer, I promise to share it with my entire circle of girlfriends! We gals like to receive some advice sometimes. But we're also known for thinking we know better than some advice columnists do on certain topics from time to time. Are you up for our challenge? — Asking for a Friend, via email

ASKING FOR A FRIEND: I hope your "friend" is not asking on account of your own behavior! But in any case, I agree that statements that are personally accusatory and directed specifically at an individual or his or her character are usually not well received.

It's sometimes softer and better to begin this type of delicate conversation with, "When your conversation involves my personal life ... I feel" type of a reply. This way, the focus is on the conversation, not the individual. Put another way, your critique is aimed at the subject matter of the conversation, not the individual saying it. Be direct and specific about the subject matter. Nothing is worse than criticism or a complaint that is hidden or watered down so much that it may even appear passive-aggressive. How to best accomplish this? Add some sugar — a compliment or nice comment added into the mix. An example would be, "I truly appreciate that you care so much for me to offer advice, but at times I feel ... ," and go on from there. This way, you've shown appreciation for the friendship, but you still get to directly make your point. The overall goal is to soften and better frame the context of your criticism but to deliver it directly nonetheless.

For friends that are not quite as close, a better way to tell someone to butt out would be to say: "Thanks for your interesting opinion, but I feel a bit upset even discussing this topic because I am a very private person in some areas of my life. I trust you can understand." Look the person in the eyes, and deliver a nice, sincere smile that is not too big or too small. Then immediately shift the conversation to a topic that person enjoys or knows a lot about. For example: "By the way, I love your new shoes! Where did you find them?" This type of shift tells the person she is still valuable to you and therefore hopefully won't feel threatened by your request to stop prying into certain topics.

I hope your group might find these examples enlightening and perhaps useful.


DR. WALLACE: My two best friends think that a hickey (a love bite!) is a positive status symbol. I don't think this is right at all. In fact, I find them repulsive since they look so ugly.

I've never had a hickey or given a hickey to anyone. So, what's the big deal, and why do teens seem to focus so much on these gross things? They look terrible and ugly to me. — Grossed Out, via email

GROSSED OUT: A hickey is caused by broken blood vessels when one person is sucking the neck, arm or thigh skin of another. Some teens may feel these bruises are desirable because they indicate they've had romantic interludes with others. That's why they are buying into the idea of them as status symbols.

However, I'm with you. I don't find them attractive at all. A bruise is a bruise, no matter how it was caused. A black eye is another frequent type of bruise, but not many people would volunteer to receive a black eye. And for what it's worth, you can tell your friends that hickeys were first researched in the animal kingdom, not on humans.

I think you're in good company neither to give nor receive a hickey. When the time is right for you and the right person is involved, I believe you will enjoy a nice kiss on the lips much more, and that is something indeed worth waiting for.

Dr. Robert Wallace welcomes questions from readers. Although he is unable to reply to all of them individually, he will answer as many as possible in this column. Email him at [email protected] To find out more about Dr. Robert Wallace and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Photo credit: MabelAmber at Pixabay

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