changing the subject

keeping your privacy in the aftermath of a suicide attempt

said to :

I’m visibly disabled as the result of a suicide attempt. Do you have any advice on how to respond when people ask what happened?

I think it’d be uncomfortable to tell casual acquaintances or strangers etc that I attempted suicide, but I don’t really know what else to say other than a flat-out lie.

(It was an overdose, so saying the cause without mentioning suicide would also make people uncomfortable and they might think less of me)

realsocialskills said:

I think there are three basic approaches that allow you to keep your privacy without lying:

  • Tell a partial truth
  • Use humor to deflect the question
  • Say that you don’t like to talk about it

Telling a partial truth works by saying something that is true or true-ish, doesn’t cause their mind to jump to suicide, and (ideally) doesn’t invite further questioning. Some possible phrases along these lines:

  • “It’s an old injury”.
  • “I’m used to it.“

If you want to use humor to deflect it, one way to do it is to tell an absurdly obvious lie, eg:

  • “I lost a fight with a penguin”.
  • “You know how they say not to look directly at the sun? They’re right.”
  • “Alien abduction.“

Absurdly obvious lies mean (and are at least sometimes understood to mean) “I don’t want to talk about this, and I’m giving you a way to drop the subject without having to state explicitly that you asked an inappropriately personal question.” There’s an affective piece of how to pull this off that I’m not sure how to describe. It requires a certain tone of voice and body language.

You can also say explicitly that you don’t like to talk about it.

  • Bodies are personal and you have no obligation to answer questions about yours
  • If you say that you don’t like to talk about it, it’s best to follow that up with an immediate subject change
  • (If you follow it with a pause, some people will reflexively try to fill the pause by asking why you don’t like to talk about it)
  • It might work best to keep your tone polite and friendly at first, and then get more firm if they push the issue

eg:

  • Them: So, how did your face get to be like that?
  • You: I don’t really like to talk about that. How about that local sports team we both like? Can you believe they lost to that team we all hate?

Other things that mean “I don’t want to talk about it”:

  • “That’s a long story.” (plus immediate subject change)
  • “That’s kind of private.” (plus immediate subject change)

None of these are foolproof, but they all work at least some of the time.

tl;dr If you don’t want to talk about something, telling a boring truth, an absurd obvious lie, or saying you don’t want to talk about it are all sometimes effective methods.

Small talk when you don’t want to reveal your stigmatized job

Anonymous asked:

I’m a sex worker but I don’t feel like that’s always an appropriate honest answer when someone asks me what I do. What should I say instead?

realsocialskills said:

I’m not sure of anything specific to sex work since I don’t have any direct experience and I’ve never discussed this with someone who does. I’m hoping people who’ve done sex work will weigh in.

I do have some general thoughts on deflecting unwanted questions in social settings: People don’t like to be bored. If you make something you don’t want to talk about sound boring, people tend to make it easy to change the subject.

I think there are a few basic reasons people ask about jobs in social settings:

  • They’re making polite small talk
  • They want to get to know you better and are trying to identify a conversation topic of mutual interest
  • They’re asking you about yourself in hopes that it will give them an opportunity to talk about themself
  • They are trying to figure out your social status
  • They are using the gathering to network, and they’re trying to figure out if you’re in a related field

All of these reasons are amenable to redirection through boredom, along these lines:

  • Say something that’s true, but sounds boring
  • Along the lines of “I run a small business from home”.
  • Possibly with a couple of boring details that will discourage further questions, for fear of having to listen to a verbose explanation of something dull.
  • Change the subject to something that they are likely to find more interesting.
  • One thing that tends to work well is to ask them what they do
  • Once the conversation has shifted away from your job, find a point of mutual interest and discuss that.

eg: 

  • Them: So, what do you do?
  • You: I run a small business from home. The taxes are so complicated these days. I’ve had to spend so much time this week pouring over the tax code. You wouldn’t believe some of the categories.
  • You: Yourself? What do you do?
  • Them: I’m a cabbage farmer.
  • You: What got you into cabbage farming?
  • Them: I grew up on a family tobacco farm, and we’ve had to find new crops.
  • You: A lot of things have changed in the past few years.

People don’t like to be bored. If they think your job is boring and that a more interesting conversation is available, they will probably not be too inquisitive about your job.

Do any sex workers or former sex workers want to weigh in? How do you handle questions about your job when you don’t feel that the whole truth would be contextually appropriate? 

tl;dr Making things you don’t want to talk about sound boring is a fairly effective way to prevent people from asking unwanted questions.

deflecting fight-pickers at christmas

Anonymous said to :

My mother sometimes likes to pick fights at family gatherings, especially meals. She brings up controversial political opinions/things she knows many of us are uncomfortable with (she is fairly ableist, homophobic etc). I will be staying with my parents for Christmas. Do you have any advice on how to deal with this? I have tried just saying ‘I don’t want to argue about this now.’ or leaving the table when I got too uncomfortable but was called rude for doing so.


realsocialskills said:


It might be ok if people call you rude. Sometimes there’s no way to effectively assert boundaries without anyone objecting. Sometimes there’s no way to insist that people stop saying mean things without being somewhat rude. Sometimes putting up with being called rude is more tolerable than putting up with obnoxious and offensive conversation. I don’t know if that’s the kind of situation you’re in, but the possibility is worth considering. 


I don’t know who said it first, but I think the most important principle is: You don’t have to attend every argument that you are invited to. The fact that your mother insists on saying offensive things and trying to pick fights doesn’t mean that you have to argue with her about them. You get to decide what you do and don’t want to talk about.


(Especially given that it’s an established rule of polite behavior that at this kind of gathering, one should not talk about controversial topics that are liable to result in unpleasant arguing. But that would be true even if you were not at the kind of gathering where that’s a rule - you don’t have to argue with people who say offensive things unless you want to.)


That said, you might get better results from changing the subject than from leaving or saying that you don’t want to talk about a given topic. (Or you might not. It really depends on your family.)


Changing the subject can be better because:

  • If you just say you don’t want to talk about the controversial thing, it can give a new hook for arguing.
  • Then it can turn into an argument about why you’re too PC to listen to the ~obviously-true~ bigoted opinions 
  • Or how you’re rude, or censoring, or ~causing tension~ (the tension is already there; caused by the people who insist on picking fights about offensive things. It’s not your fault. But it will sometimes be convenient to blame you.)
  • If you introduce a new topic immediately, there’s something to talk about that isn’t a fight
  • That can sometimes make the path of least resistance talking about the new thing rather than fighting about the old thing

Changing the subject to something your mother consistently wants to talk about that isn’t offensive:

  • Your mother: These people I’m arbitrarily bigoted against are terrible! My tax dollars shouldn’t be going for this. Why can’t people be decent like they used to be?
  • You: How are things at work? How are things going with your new client?

Changing the subject to something that other people present want to talk about:

  • Your mother: These people I’m arbitrarily bigoted against are terrible! My tax dollars shouldn’t be paying for this. Why can’t people be decent like they used to be?
  • You: Hey, did anyone see the sportsball game last night? How amazing was the ball thrown by that sportsball player on the team that half of you root for and the rest of you hate?

Changing the subject to something a particular person present is likely to want to talk about:

  • This can work well because it shifts the center of attention to someone else, and most people like attention
  • If you’re aggressively paying attention to someone who is interested in talking about something non-offensive, it’s much harder for someone to interject with something offensive, or to call you rude

Eg:


  • Mom: People I’m arbitrarily bigoted against are ruining everything. My tax dollars shouldn’t be paying for that! People used to be decent. 
  • You: David, how are you liking the exciting new thing you just purchased? I’m thinking about upgrading mine, do you think now is a good time?


Sometimes it works better if you explicitly say that you don’t want to talk about the thing while you change the subject:

  • Your mother: These people I’m arbitrarily bigoted against are terrible! My tax dollars shouldn’t be paying for this. Why can’t people be decent like they used to be?
  • You: Mom, let’s not talk about politics. It’s Christmas. Your tree is absolutely gorgeous, where did you find those new ornaments?

tl;dr Some people like to pick fights by saying offensive things. You don’t have to argue with them if you don’t want to. One way of deflecting the fight is to change the subject. (That doesn’t always work.) Scroll up for more details and scripts.