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Dear Life Kit: Should I tell my friend they talk too much?

Collage featuring a close-up image of an open mouth in black and white with colorful cut-outs of triangles emanating from it, symbolizing speech. The collage is surrounded by a frame of stamps, letters and envelopes symbolizing mail.
Photo Illustration by Becky Harlan/NPR
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When you feel frustrated with a friend, it's easy to keep it inside — mull it over, play it back, rage internally — until, eventually, those feelings affect your relationship. What if you could muster the courage to bring up the issue before your friendship sours?

Celeste Headlee is a journalist and the author of several books, including We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter. She answers your anonymous questions about having difficult conversations with people you love:

There are some people in my circles that talk way too much — mostly about themselves. I'd like to tell them the truth. What can I say? — Tuning out

It's going to be very difficult to give that feedback to them in a way that's going to change their behavior. It's much easier to get them to motivate themselves to change.

One of the ways to do that is by gently redirecting the conversation. When they begin to talk about themselves, you can say: "You know, I'm super interested. I know that you really like to talk about [insert topic here]. Can I tell you about [this other thing]?" Or "Can I tell you about what's happening to me?" Or "Is it OK for me to talk to you about my own family?"

After you've done this a few times, they will begin to realize that they're doing it, if they are at all aware, and they might motivate their own change. That's going to be way more effective than you telling them, "Hey, you talk way too much," which will probably make them defensive — and that rarely motivates change.

How do I stay friends with someone whose choices about COVID safety are very different than mine? My friend wants to visit and doesn't understand why I'm saying no. Can two people with such different views remain friends? — Opposite react

Yes. People with very very different views can remain friends. But only if those friends both respect each other's boundaries.

Now, if you're criticizing their personal decisions, like if you say, "How could you be comfortable with this? That's not what the evidence says," that's telling them that their decisions on COVID are just wrong. Period.

Instead, if you use language about your own choices, such as, 'I totally get that we have different levels of comfort, but this is what I'm comfortable with," they should respect those boundaries. If they don't respect your own personal boundaries and your own personal choices, that's what gets in the way of the friendship — not the difference in views.

My friend sent me a "We need to talk" text. Of course, it freaked me out. But when I tried to set up a time to talk, she left me waiting. Her approach caused me a ton of anxiety. Am I wrong to want an apology? — We DO need to talk

You are not wrong to want an apology. She owes you an apology. But you wanna couch your complaint in your own personal terms. Don't say something like, "Only a jerk would do this to somebody else." Instead, talk about how it made you feel: "This really upset me. In order for me to move forward, I need you to tell me that you're sorry so that I know that you recognize what you did wrong."

What gets in the way of the friendship is not necessarily a mistake. Of course you're gonna make mistakes. It's whether the person recognizes they've made a mistake, because that's what assures you — emotionally and cognitively — that they're at least going to try not to do it again.

When you make yourself vulnerable to someone through any kind of relationship, friendship or otherwise, you can get hurt. So these little checks and balances that we have are how we protect ourselves moving forward. And any friend should understand that.

So, just tell them directly, "This hurt me. Can you apologize?" And then see what happens.


Have a question you want to ask Dear Life Kit? Whether it's about family, friendship, work conflict or something else, share it here.

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Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Becky Harlan is a visual and engagement editor for NPR's Life Kit.
Bronson Arcuri is a video producer at NPR, where he directs the "Planet Money Shorts" video series and helps out with Tiny Desk Concerts from time to time. He also produced "Elise Tries" and "Ron's Office Hours" along with the "Junior Bugler" series, which he still insists was "pretty good for what it was."