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DEAR HARRIETTE: The other day, I brought my friend to a dinner party as my plus-one. By the end of the night, she was telling the host (who had cooked the food) how she could improve on a few of her recipes. I’ve watched my friend be overly critical before. She’s done this to my family members in the past, but they understand that that’s just her personality. I don’t understand why she feels the need to give people such strong unsolicited feedback or advice. I know she thinks she’s being helpful, but it always just comes across as rude. Do you think this is something I should talk to her about? She’s been like this for years, and I’m not even sure that she’s fully aware she’s doing it. — Negative Feedback
DEAR NEGATIVE FEEDBACK: Are you saying that you have never addressed this with your friend before? If that is the case, you are part of the problem. She desperately needs feedback so that she can see her behavior reflected back to her. If she has been overstepping boundaries for years — unchecked — it’s no wonder she doesn’t realize how her words impact others.
I am not saying her behavior is your responsibility, but as her friend, you absolutely should let her know when she is crossing the line with you, with your family and now with this party host.
If this will be the first time for you to address this topic seriously, start with that. Lay it out for her, including that you have cringed at her behavior for years but not called her on it this directly before. Give her a few examples of what disturbs you about her criticism. Do not overwhelm her with every situation, though. Tell her that for her own good, she needs to say less and listen more. Use the most recent incident to point out that you do not feel comfortable bringing her around your friends and colleagues because you expect that she will insult them. Allow her space to take this all in. She may be blind to her offensive behavior.
You may need to pause your relationship with her as she processes all that you have shared. When she is ready to reengage, she will let you know.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a certain relative who berates me every time I do not do what she asks. She apologizes again and again, but I don’t forgive her. I cannot continue to let her disrespect me and belittle me whenever she wants to. I won’t be her personal punching bag. The best apology is changed behavior, and obviously she’s not willing to change. Should I cut her off for good? — Done With My Relative
DEAR DONE WITH MY RELATIVE: You may not need to cut her off for good, but you may decide to cut her off for now. Talk to her one more time so that there is no confusion or misunderstanding about what you are doing. Tell her that you are exhausted by her constant pleas for forgiveness that seem empty because they are not backed up by any type of behavioral change. Point out that you have had more than enough of her lashing out at you followed by hollow apologies.