Dear Annie: One of my elderly relatives is a real sweetheart, but she also is quite a talker. Our phone conversations go on and on — for 45 minutes or longer. I do not want to hurt her feelings, but her conversational skills far exceed my listening skills. The only way I can get a word in is to interrupt her from time to time. How can I diplomatically shorten those interminable phone conversations? I recently had the same problem with our new plumber. He is really a nice guy and a good plumber, but he continues talking long after his plumbing job is done.
I guess that my being a bit introverted makes me less tolerant of extroverts who like to hear themselves talk. I did not mean to make this letter sound hostile, because I do genuinely like my elderly relative and my plumber. — Enough Said
Dear Enough Said: With folks who take every conversation into overtime, the best defense is a good offense. Start the call by saying, “I only have 15 minutes (or however long) to talk.” Your relative will have been given fair warning, and even if you still have to interrupt her midsentence, you won’t feel as self-conscious or bad about doing so, having already established the expectation. This approach could also work for the plumber. Let him know you have things to do right after the appointment. If he turns on the chatter faucet anyway, don’t be afraid to jump in and say, “You know I always enjoy talking to you, but I just really need to take care of some things. Thanks for coming by. I’ll show you out.” And don’t worry too much that you’ll hurt anyone’s feelings. I get the impression from your letter that you’re an especially courteous person, and it seems in your nature to go to lengths not to offend.
Dear Annie: I read your column every day, and I’m always amazed by the unusual dilemmas people write to you about. Now I am hoping you have an answer for me. Anyway, we have a dear friend we’ve known for many years, and she has a problem with dogs of all sizes. She is extremely afraid of them and reacts in an almost childlike manner towards them. It seems to stem from her childhood in Sicily. One time, when she was 5 years old and walking in her neighborhood, a large dog barked at her and charged the fence around its house. It must have scared the bejesus out of her.
We recently got a puppy, and she doesn’t want to be around the puppy. She even cringes at photos of the puppy. Is there anything that can be done to help her without losing her friendship? — Dog Lover
Dear Dog Lover: You have to take puppy steps with your friend. Each time she comes over to your house, make sure your puppy’s just had a nice long walk, and put your puppy on a leash. Ask your pooch to go into a sitting position so that she can pet the puppy calmly. The first time, she may pet your puppy only once or not at all. But if she sees — through repeated exposure — that your dog is not the dog that terrified her when she was 5, she may be able to reprogram her fear. If she really can’t even try and be around a small puppy, she should seek professional help.
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