Dear Harriette: I have a neighbor who is annoying, to say the least. She talks too much and is extremely loud and intrusive. I am a loner and rarely have company. She will ring my bell at all hours of the day and night and barge in because she wants somebody to talk to, or she wants a drink and is all out at her apartment. I don’t want to have to let her in, but she is insistent. Sometimes she will bang on the door until it disturbs the other neighbors if I don’t answer.
How can I get her to respect my boundaries? I don’t want to nix her completely, but she can’t just come over whenever she feels like it. — Intrusive Neighbor.
Dear Intrusive Neighbor: What an awkward situation! When people live near those who have no sense of boundaries, it can be extremely uncomfortable for them to create space around themselves. It is going to take you being uncomfortable for a bit in order to get comfortable for the long term.
The best thing you can do is to speak to her directly and tell her that she is disturbing your peace. Tell her that she can no longer visit you uninvited. If she tries to get around your decision, tell her you will no longer answer the door.
You must accept a reality: You do not need to answer your door just because someone knocks on it. You can simply not answer. As uncomfortable as that seems, you can do it. If your neighbor gets loud and surrounding neighbors get upset, one of them may chime in to ask this person to stop or go home. You can also speak to her through the door and let her know that it is not a good time for her to visit. If she gets completely out of control, you can call the police, though I would leave police involvement to the most extreme of circumstances. You can report a noise violation by calling 311.
Dear Harriette: My in-laws are extremely judgmental. I get nervous sometimes because they will say anything, including talking about people when they are in the room. We had a family dinner recently, and many people were there. One of my cousins is extremely overweight. You guessed it. My mother-in-law lit into her when she went to get some dessert.
I know it would be smart for my cousin to skip dessert, but it was not my mother-in-law’s place to reprimand her. She felt differently. When I tried to change the subject, she went in on her even more, harping about how she is killing herself. Whether her words are true or not, they were grossly inappropriate at this meal in front of a bunch of people. How can I get her to stop? Or should I just stop inviting her places? — Need a Muzzle.
Dear Need a Muzzle: It is hard to change behavior, especially in a mature adult. But what you can do is decide what you are willing to accept or not. Talk to your spouse about the behavior of their parents and ask for support. Whatever you do will require a united front from both of you. You may want to talk to your in-laws together and let them know how hurtful your mother-in-law’s comments were to your cousin.
But more effective may be to talk to them and let them know that if they cannot curb their disrespectful comments, you will have to curb their visits. You will probably need to limit the occasions that you get together with them to times when there are few people present and when you are willing to speak up and ask them to stop when they cross the line.
Dear Harriette: My son is a young adult looking for a job. He just finished college and hasn’t found anything yet. When I talk to him, I notice that he has adopted some poor speech habits — from school, I guess. He constantly says “like” in almost every sentence. I know that many young people do that, but I find it annoying. I wonder if this is distracting in his job interviews. How can I help my son to clean up his speech? — Lazy Language.
Dear Lazy Language: Many people clutter their language these days with “like,” “you know,” “um,” “I mean” and other variations on such things. These are common habits, and, yes, they are definitely noticeable in interviews as well as in general speech.
An exercise that I teach my clients who are learning how to speak publicly is to pay attention to their speaking and to notice when the habit pops up. I suggest that you buddy up with someone and make it fun — so that it isn’t embarrassing. Every time the perpetrator or the buddy notices it, they tap their nose to note that it happened. It’s good to laugh, but also note the frequency. Notice what it feels like right before you say the thing. Then, invite yourself not to say it as soon as the feeling begins. Instead of saying the word or phrase, take a breath.Further, become an expert at telling your own story and at owning the information needed for the interview you are in. When you are grounded in the knowledge of the subject at hand and have control of your breath, you have a much better chance of articulating your thoughts powerfully, clearly and without cluttered language.
Dear Harriette: I live in the city but near an empty lot. Whenever the weather changes, mice come into my apartment. It is so annoying. I do not leave food out. My house is clean, but like clockwork, they get in somehow. I feel confident that they will be coming again soon, as the seasons have already begun to change. My kids have invited friends to sleep over, and I’m worried that a mouse might show itself in the night. Should I cancel the play date? — Mouse House.
Dear Mouse House: You may want to hire an exterminator to come in, assess your rodent problem and help you set up a system for catching them. Do that first, so that you can get a handle on how to catch the mice. These animals are smart and do adapt to the situation, so having professional help is a wise way to rid yourself of them.
As far as the sleepover goes, go ahead and make the arrangements. Be sure that no poison or traps are accessible to the children. Make sure they do not leave any food out. If a mouse appears, it will run away immediately, so they cannot be hurt by it. Just be sure that the children are nowhere near poison.
Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to email@example.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.