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Robert in Toronto

Forgot to add that the Dalai Lama would never ever use such language as the man is simply functionally retarded. He has nothing to say, no place to go, therefor nothing to tax his patience or tolerance to the limit.

Robert in Toronto

It is funny to me (white male 52) that I never use such language with one exception. My ex-wife, ex-MIL, & any woman who starts into passive aggressive loose-loose choice proposals gets an immediate FO. I explain to any audience exactly what they are doing. I will not tolerate that type of behavior at all. (Which explains why I will remain single)

J Ronson

Re the DL question - as someone who has Lived for years in Dharamsala - I can tell you the Dalai Lama would never tell anyone to fuck off. He would have his nephew/secretary do it for him so as to preserve his public image. Same for any other negative behavior - his toadies will engage for him and take the heat. These people by the way show alot of the above behaviors.


Hi Bob,

Must of us look for empathy. Your conversation with the stressed woman is a clear example of this. She's frustrated, impatient, confused. She's looking for someone who understands her situation (and maybe can offer a solution) and you happen to wrote a book about it ;).

With that said, you can always say something like: I can see that you feel --insert emotion here-- about it. But I'm busy at the moment. Are you willing to postpone this meeting/conversation for -- tomorrow maybe? --

Marshal Rosenberg has a "formula" for this type of conversation (which involves more than what I said). You might want to read his book on non violent communication.


Love your posts and follow your work religiously.

I would like to suggest an alternative to the word, FUCK-off. As you may know, FUCK is an acronym for Forcible Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (rape, essentially)and as a female, I do find this type of speech pretty offensive and I imagine, if others stopped to recognize its violent verbal impact, would, too. Anyway, how about using something more innocuous such as "bug-off"? Thanks for considering my viewpoint.


While I don't disagree with your point on #5, I believe there is a psychological condition that precludes people from picking up very subtle social or facial cues. Since these people can't read the cues, they don't know that the conversation is supposed to end. I think this is discussed in Goleman's "Emotional Intelligence". I would guess that there are more of these types in higher academia and in very technical fields.

When dealing with these people don't get mad, just understand that they don't read you the way you intend and probably don't mean any disrespect. If you tell them that you need to go they usually understand.


"People who I have never met, but insist that their questions or concerns are so important..."

Wanting to be helpful to other people is a normal, virtuous feeling. It is admirable to put oneself in a position of being able to help others. However, those who do so need to keep one very important thing in the back of your mind all the time: YOU DON'T OWE THESE PEOPLE ANYTHING.

When someone makes unreasonable demands on your time, of course it's wise to try, at least in the first round, to politely deflect or defer their requests. However, if they continue to aggressively insist that they expect you to help them or you're somehow in the wrong for not doing so, then for your own mental health and sanity, I think you need to tell them firmly and explicitly that although you would like to help them, whether to do so is a choice, not an obligation.

If they respond apologetically at that point, then help them as your time permits. If they continue to bluster and demand, then put them on the ignore list without guilt or regret.

"In my old age, I seem to be using passive aggressive methods more..."

I used to totally despise passive aggressive methods of responding to people and thought they were rather hypocritical. "If you have a problem with me, then put it out in the open so we can work it out," was my attitude.

However, as I've aged that attitude has mellowed somewhat. I'm still not terribly enamored of people who use passive aggressive techniques to avoid conflict, but I've come to believe that there are circumstances when it is reasonable.

One of these is when the target of the passive aggression is just a jerk who isn't worth getting worked up or creating a public scene about.

The other is when the situation is likely to blow over in time, and the other guy just hasn't figured that out yet, so you're just quietly waiting for it to become moot.

Joe Marchese

Shocked... shocked... that no one took advantage of the blog title and responded: "gunga la gunga", Bill Murray's inane but priceless line from Caddyshack. Big hitter, the Lama.


This is a very hard post because what you're really asking is how do you coach better behavior from your colleagues. What seems common to me in all the symptoms is a lack of respect for others, which is most likely rooted in their own insecurities. I think you've got your next book - how do you promote a culture of mutual respect, adult behavior and empathy?
As for the DL, despite reading several of his books, his role in real world politics, policy and statesmanship didn't really sink in until I saw a Rose interview several years ago. Since Charlie's archives are online you watch it yourself. Managing his relationship with China for example is this problem write orders of magnitude larger with stakes that affect millions. Worth your time. I'll also mention that much of the recent interplay been neuroscience and the spiritual community on the value of meditation is the result of an outreach by the DL he started decades ago. Finally, to continue running off, his "Universe in a Single Atom" is a rather good science history book that indirectly illustrates some of these points.


A wonderful post. I suspect some of the people I deal with who need things ASAP, deliberately trying to make me jump to do their bidding as an ego boost or are trying to sneak their work on to my desk by claiming they are overwhelmed. Thank you Mr. Sutton.

Vivek Patwardhan

Great post indeed.
Just in case anyone takes your suggestion that it could make a great title for a book seriously, let me draw your attention that Dalai Lama is a highly revered person and such a title would offend a very large number of people, particularly in the East.

Actually, even the title of your post!


Great post! I find the "ASAP/?!?!?!?!" stuff in email really annoying and I usually ignore it. If feeling enlightened I will walk over to the person and intro a comment with a joke about the "!?!?!?!?" or simply ask why they do that and express my thoughts that it makes them come across as desperate and immature.
As for the non-stop-talkers, I usually find this happens in meetings so I like to institute policies like the "tangent" or "sold" signs that I will hold up. when asked WTF that is, I explain it to the group as an effective meeting tool where anyone can use these signals when folks are veering off into tangents or when they've sold the idea and keep talking.

James Birchall

I think the Dalai Lama just has infinite patience. I've seen him simply give an answer and wait for the other person to leave to consider what he's said, not replying to questions that they ask and smiling the whole time so that they know that he cares.

Alternatively, I've seen him simply listen to someone else who hadn't been heard yet and direct his words to them.

Both are pretty good tactics if you have his level of self-discipline.

Great article, BTW.


I have a co-worker who is very much a #2. I am all for people being assertive (guilty as charged) and I love when I am given a deadline; however words like ASAP or URGENT are not clear deadlines, they are annoying ways of saying "drop everything and help me!" in the case of my co-worker she is particularly unresponsive and drops the ball often so when as a sign of my annoyance I leave her emails as last on my list of priorities. I know this is immature on my part, but I hate how when SHE needs something its urgent, but when I need something, I have to email multiple times.


I loved the post and the title conjured up some amusing images while I waited for the page to load...
Here are my thoughts on the 5 points:
I tend to tackle number 5 with an indirect approach. In this situation, I will stay totally focused on the speaker while slowly standing up and moving towards the door. Once in the hall, I'll announce where I'm headed and close the conversation. If I don't have anything urgent to do at that moment, I'll take the opportunity to follow up on something I've been putting off.
For numbers 1 & 2, the easy answer is to ignore them, but I think your approach with the attorney is the way to go. If they're open to listening, you're helping them out. By doing so, you're also buying back future time/sanity. If they're not open, you may not have to deal with them at all...
People who pull a number 4 are the ones I'm most likely to get overly assertive with and would recommend that others do the same.
As for number 3, I can't offer much help there as I toil in relative (total?) obscurity, so people who don't know me tend to leave me alone. In fact, maybe I am number 3 personified. :)
-Chris Oestereich

I have been having an ongoing conversation with a friend about dealing with requests from strangers. We both run somewhat popular open-source libraries, so we have to deal with a steady stream of requests for help and bug reports. We both welcome this, it's great to have a community around your work, but as we're doing this as volunteers we only have a limited amount of time to spend on the project and sometimes we get requests that would take a long time to fulfill.

The best method I've found of dealing with this is 'reciprocity'. If someone sends me a hard-to-decipher or too-brief bug report, then I'll ask them to send me more details, run a test case, or some other relatively trivial task that will help me make progress, before I burn a lot of time investigating. If they get back to me, then I will make their bug a top priority, because they've demonstrated they're willing to work on the problem too. If not, I don't feel bad about moving on to other issues.

I've found that this principle works well as a general filter to weed out 'unreasonable' people, that tiny minority who don't value your time. Just ask for something relatively minor in return, and most people will actually feel better about the exchange becoming more equal. In contrast those who feel entitled to your help will either ignore you or act affronted.

This is an excellent post. Thank you for sharing it. I am lately particularly distressed by two people at work, both of whom:

1) Will not accept any form of "no," however politely delivered, as an answer, and then (as my boss's boss pointed out today) "stamp their feet and throw toys on the floor like babies" and
2) Use veiled threats thinking they will "inspire" people to work harder, faster, etc. Today, these veiled threats took the form of "Well, if your team (of two) can't finish this brand new stuff in time, maybe we'll have to go with an external vendor." That's just one example, but you get the idea. In addition, one of them...

3) Turns EVERYTHING into a "lesson" and speaks to highly experienced, wonderful adults as children and makes sure some form of blame is assigned. After an email exchange or meeting in which resolution and compromise have been achieved (good things!) there is a follow on like "In the future, let's make sure to be thoughtful about using plain English right from the start. It will help us get more meaningful comments back from users (right guys?), instead of the less actionable "I don't know what that is." So remember this!"

I'd love to read any content on dealing with any of the above, which are subtle but tricky, and leave so many people angry but not sure of how to respond appropriately without escalating.

Jo Linder-Crow, PhD

Nice post. One good thing, I suppose, is that you're not the Dalai Lama (neither am I) so you have a little more leeway. Couldn't agree more about #4. I had heart surgery last August, and it does clarify things a bit.

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