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I'm here on behalf of my neighbor, who we'll call Betty. She is a 40 year old woman and she has some issues dealing with one of her neighbors, also a woman, but who is 20 years old. Let's call her Ally. Ally doesn't live next door (or even a couple of houses away), but she routinely walks her dog around the neighborhood.

During these walks, Ally will stop and talk to Betty if she's is outside. Betty doesn't enjoy them because they're long (minimum 30 minutes, but it can go on for a couple of hours) and the topics discussed don't interest her. Ally will talk about everything and anything, like movies, tv shows, slime, schoolwork, dogs,... topics Betty finds child-like and doesn't relate to (she also finds the neighbor to be immature). Betty finds those conversations difficult and stressful. This has been going on for about a year, maybe getting progressively worse.

Betty hasn't found a way to stop or avoid those conversations. Ally seems to not be able to pick up standard social cues that indicates it's time to stop the conversation and go their separate ways. For example, Betty is in her front yard, Ally comes and talk to her. Betty stops what she's doing to talk with her, and after a while tries to put a stop to it by saying "ok, I've got to get going now" and walking away down the street, like she needs to go somewhere. Instead of going her own way, Ally follows her and continues to talk.

How can Betty elegantly show that she wants to stop the conversation and be left alone ? She wouldn't mind having short conversations, like 5 minutes (she doesn't want to be rude).

Some edits for additional clarity:

Betty has tried to make excuses to exit politely with limited success. While Betty has found some success with exiting politely, Ally then seeks out Betty's children to satisfy Ally's need to conversate and thus causing this interpersonal problem to affect not only Betty, but her children.

Betty does enjoy lengthy conversations with other neighbors, and Ally is surely be aware of that fact through observation (other neighbors who share interests of Betty are often around during Ally's arrival).

Much energy has been put into an avoidance tactic (not leaving the house when Ally is spotted, exiting politely, etc), and it has become very uncomfortable even leaving the house at times.

Ally is not an especially perceptive person.

  • From your edits and a comment you posted, it seems Ally is also a problem when in a group of people, not just one on one interactions. How exactly is Ally an issue here ? Does she monopolize the conversation ? Doesn't she allow others to speak ? And how does she "seek out your children" ? – MlleMei Aug 5 at 10:08
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I was taught this as part of my training to be at a conference on behalf of the conference organizers. Talking to people is part of the job, and in fact standing at a booth for people to come and talk to you is often part of the job. And you get people who love to talk and will not take hints. The vital step is to stop hinting and clearly communicate that you have finished talking now.

The absolutely most polite way to end a conversation is to say what you would say if the other person ended it. One of these:

It's been lovely chatting with you

I've enjoyed catching up on your news

Thanks for stopping by

Try not to stick a "well," or an "anyway," at the start of those sentences. These may require a little practice aloud. Ideally, the person would react to this by carrying on with their walk. If they don't, just wait several beats. Long enough for them to realize it is their turn to talk. Society's script positively demands certain rote responses to these phrases:

I enjoyed it too

Thanks, this was really nice

Lovely talking to you too

However, Ally may not know the script and may continue to stand there silently or may start up again on the same conversation. In that case, it is fine to say something like

See you tomorrow!

See you next time!

Have a great day!

Enjoy the rest of your walk (We used to say "Enjoy the rest of [conference name]!"

And then, if Ally doesn't move off, turn and walk into the house. (An advantage Betty has over booth staff, being able to physically escape.) It is not necessary to say "I have to go into the house now" much less any kind of detail about why you need to go. Do not walk down the sidewalk or anywhere else that the person could follow you. Just go into the house and close the door. It is also fine to come back out again just a few minutes later. Betty does not owe Ally the illusion that they own Betty's front yard.

Smile the whole time. The conversation has been pleasant and the parting is pleasant. You can do this at any time during the conversation - it's best not to wait until you're too exasperated to do it nicely.

I know that people who haven't tried this don't believe that it can work or that it can be seen as polite, but it absolutely can and does. People who have been talking my ear off about something completely off topic will end the conversation and leave, thanking me for a lovely chat or telling me it was great to meet me or whatever, when I use these phrases. I believe if you stopped and asked them a minute later who ended the conversation, they honestly wouldn't know. It's a friendly and polite way to limit overchattiness and it really works without hurting people.

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    Note that often Betty is not the only person who is affected- Betty may escape into the house but other family members or well-enjoyed neighbors are still present thus keeping Ally entertained. Your feedback does seem appropriate, though, when it is just Betty and Ally. Maybe I need to separate these two closely related concerns? – james Aug 2 at 18:12
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    If Betty going inside would leave one or more of her family outside as conversation targets, she can call to them "John! Can you come inside with me please?" as she heads in. As for still other neighbours, they will have to fend for themselves but may take Betty's behaviour as an example of how to do it. – Kate Gregory Aug 2 at 18:14
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    @KateGregory The way I read binnyb's comment is that they fear other "conversation targets" will keep Ally entertained, and thus keep her around, preventing Betty from going outside after entering the house to escape the conversation. I could be wrong though. – marcelm Aug 4 at 19:20
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    I don't understand, if Betty doesn't enjoy these conversations, why suggest lying about that? Wouldn't saying "Sorry, I'm not really interested in these topics" be better? Otherwise, why wouldn't Ally take these phrases as invitations to go more frequently to chat? I mean, if it was lovely, they should do it some more, right? – JoL Aug 5 at 6:20
  • @JoL is spot on, Betty doesn't enjoy chatting and she doesn't want to see Ally again tomorrow. She should not suggest these things to Ally. If Ally is unable to currently pick up on Betty's cues, whether that is because she has a developmental/neuro-divergent reason or she's just inconsiderate, this advice doesn't seem likely to help. – Spagirl Aug 5 at 10:35
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Since Ally is walking her dog, Betty might simply excuse herself to go into the house until Ally has moved on. As long as she doesn't do it right away, perhaps giving the conversation five to ten minutes at a time, that will show Ally that she is a friendly person, but it will put an end to the conversation without hurt feelings.

It would probably not be a good idea to give a reason for leaving, since if you do it once you will feel obliged to give a reason each time, and you either run out of excuses or make it obvious that it is an excuse instead of a reason.

If Ally is a particularly perceptive person, she may realize that Betty is deliberately ending the conversation. At this point she will either make her own assumptions about why Betty is doing it, or she will ask.

As long as Betty is friendly and engaged, perhaps remembering some details of previous conversations with Ally, this should prevent Ally from thinking that Betty is unfriendly or doesn't like her. Whatever explanation she comes up with should be harmless.

If she asks, Betty could simply tell her that she is a person who enjoys short conversations, but anything longer is exhausting for her because she is a contemplative person. Hopefully, Ally will be understanding, but if she isn't, Betty doesn't owe her any more of an explanation than that.

  • The OP says 'Ally seems to not be able to pick up standard social cues that indicates it's time to stop the conversation and go their separate ways.' so it seems unlikely that Ally will be perceptive enough to notice, Betty is trying to end the conversation, particularly since Betty has already tried 'walking away down the street, like she needs to go somewhere', and all that happens is ' Instead of going her own way, Ally follows her and continues to talk.' – Spagirl Aug 5 at 10:41
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As someone who also doesn't understand when people aren't upfront, I would just be honest and say something along the lines of:

Sorry, I'm not really interested in these topics.

You may want to change the wording to soften the blow, but keep the honesty. She can also explain that she has stuff to focus on and can't be chatting for so long. Saying one's needs is OK!

The longer Betty isn't honest with Ally, the more hurt Ally is going to be later on, I would think.

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