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You Asked: How Do I Politely Tell Someone to Leave Me Alone?

DearSugar --

I'm a university student majoring in Computer Science (I just returned to school after a break). I work hard, generally enjoy my classes, and overall feel positive about my classes and choice of major. A girl (let's call her Amy) who is in two of my three classes this semester has sort of latched on to me, sitting next to me in class, chatting, even suggested studying together at times. While normally I would welcome a friendly face, Amy is incredibly negative.

Sure, she's very smiley and friendly and giggly about it, but she talks incessantly about how much harder CompSci is going to get (apparently she has friends who are higher level CompSci majors) and how terrible it's going to get, ánd how you have to be a math "genius" to get anything, and how she's thinking of switching to a different major because "I just can't see myself sitting in front of a computer for HOURS a day."

She can even be a bit passive-aggressive about it, saying things like: "I mean, you have to be super dedicated and not have a life to do well. You're dedicated, so you might be okay" (did she just tell me I have no life?) or "I guess if you're fine with sitting in front of a computer for, like, 50 hours a week..." I'm not so insecure that comments like this from someone who really doesn't know me will put me off of my chosen major. However, it is really irritating and discouraging to hear this litany of moans and doom-and-gloom day after day.

I don't particularly like Amy to start with, but this negativity is quite draining. I can't figure out a polite way to somehow get rid of her, though (I would say "to get her to stop with the negativity," but I get the feeling that's just an ingrained character trait that will flow out of her regardless). What would you suggest as a polite and kind way to dislodge this intensely negative person? -- CompSci Sarah

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Dear CompSci Sarah --

I can completely understand that after returning to school and making that kind of emotional and professional investment again, the last thing you need is a steady diet of negative or insensitive remarks when you're in class. Since the two of you are not friends, there's nothing really to discuss or work out between you, which means I'd recommend taking the easiest route possible for you.

Try not to sit near an open seat, so she won't have the option to join you. Or, enter class later than you usually do and sit a good distance from her seat. If she does find an empty seat and begins her habitual routine, I'd suggest telling her that you've become quite busy and need to focus more. Something like, I'm sorry, I hate to interrupt, but I'm having a hard time concentrating lately. I just need some quiet time to pull my thoughts together. If she keeps talking, move seats. You can repeat that you're trying to find good strategies that work for you in class, and talking has become too distracting.

If she asks again about studying together, you simply say no thank you. If she pushes, you can say that you prefer to study alone or in larger groups, as study pairs usually turn out pretty undisciplined for you. Should she continue to seek out your company and use that time to complain, you'll need to tell her directly that you need to limit your time talking together. At that point, you've already told her more than is required for the circumstances or relationship.

As long as you're respectful, there's no need to worry excessively about nice. Having preferences and needs, and finding a way to assert or protect them, isn't mean, rude or unkind. There are a few classic books that provide practical advice around sticking up for yourself comfortably while showing respect to yourself and others. Many us don't quite know how to be polite but powerful, and none of us likes to trip our own guilt wire. Still, we need these skills!

The first book to check out is Too Nice For Your Own Good and the second is The Power of Positive Confrontation. I hope you'll soon get a little more peace in class, CompSci Sarah. And I think it's very impressive that you took a break but returned to school. Good luck to you.

Ladies, anyone else have a tip or two for handling situations like these?

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