Recently I noticed a friend of mine putting sunscreen with a low sun protection factor (SPF) on her kids. When I asked her why, she said that she wanted her kids to get a “nice summertime tan.” I thought this was a bit shortsighted, but when I mentioned it to my brother-in-law, who is a doctor, and he explained how dangerous it was, I got really worried. I called my friend and told her what I had just learned about the clear link between sun exposure in children and skin cancer (Gd forbid), but she just brushed it off. How can I get the point across to her that a summertime tan is not worth the risk of a fatal disease?
Signed, Skin Saver
Dear Skin Saver,
Sometimes, although we have knowledge and facts on our side, we can’t influence others to consider our advice. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we should stop trying – especially in situations like this where the stakes could be very high. But it does mean that we need to tread lightly and be extremely tactful in our approach. If we come off as too imposing or intrusive, our good intentions could backfire, causing our friend to resent and reject anything we say.
The discussion you already had, that a “summertime tan” is not worth the risk, was a good start. But you probably should not continue to belabor the point by lecturing her over and over again. Instead, help expose the facts through different methods: give her an article on the subject; arrange for someone who had a personal experience with the negative effects of sun exposure to speak with her directly; refer her to news stories about the latest discoveries on the dangers of sun exposure; etc.
But remember, as frustrating as it may be, making valid points does not guarantee that she will change her behavior immediately – or even at all. Give her time to digest the information and continue to approach the subject sensitively, because ultimately, the decision to change will have to be hers.
Very often, while on the phone, the person who I’m speaking with starts to have short conversations with people in her home, usually her children. I am not talking about answering a question or two, here and there, which is bound to happen with kids in the house. I am referring to drawn out conversations, which get to the point where I sometimes say, “Why don’t I speak to you later?” But this doesn’t work, because either the person is so involved in her second conversation that she doesn’t hear me, or I get a “one minute” and am expected to hold on. This is not just from one person. I have experienced this with at least four people. It happens at different times throughout the day, not only at the hectic times such as the homework-dinner-bedtime craziness (at which time I generally refrain from calling, anyway). I would feel awkward asking the person not to have a second conversation while we are on the phone. How can I better handle these situations in a polite manner?
Dear Incessantly Interrupted,
The standards of telephone etiquette vary widely from one person to another. Like you, I believe that when you are having a conversation with someone, you have a right to his/her undivided attention. I don’t think that it is unreasonable at all to ask that interruptions be limited to a few seconds or request that the person call you back when they are not as busy. But obviously, not everyone follows these standards and so sometimes, in order to get the courtesy we feel we deserve, we must take matters into our own hands.
As always, politeness is paramount. Do not wait until you are completely exasperated, because your frustration will come through and you will end up sounding rude. As soon as you detect the beginnings of a drawn out interruption, politely say, “I’ll let you go,” which courteously makes it clear that the reason for ending the conversation is the interruption.
If the other person says, “One minute,” or doesn’t hear you over the new conversation they started, reiterate unequivocally that you will speak to them later. Don’t wait for permission by asking, “Why don’t I call you back?” You be the judge of whether you wish to continue the conversation.
There is also another point to consider. Your letter mentions that you’ve experienced this problem with at least four people. It may be worthwhile to examine whether there is some common factor you can identify which brings all of these people to become distracted in your conversations. Is the conversation dragging or one sided when interruptions happen?
Whatever the cause, don’t allow differences in standards of phone etiquette to interfere with true friendships. If after trying to work around the problem with your closest friends, you find the problem still persists, there is nothing wrong with politely expressing how it makes you feel when they become distracted for prolonged periods during telephone conversations with you. Don’t judge their actions, just state how it affects you. Your real friends will understand and make an effort to be sensitive to this point.