What do you do when the conversation partner gets too personal?

OK, I’m not talking about a conversation partner asking for a date, or your phone number, or do you sleep in the nude, or anything like that. I mean, what do you do when your conversation partner comes in all misty eyed, like the tears are about to fall any second, and she starts telling you that she knows her boyfriend is cheating on her, and her friends tell her she should break up with him, but she really loves him, and what should she do?

Well, I DID face this situation with a conversation partner. As you may know, at DePaul’s Writing Center we meet for conversation with English language learners as a way to give them the opportunity to practice their English skills.  I guess I could have made up some excuse about not being able to talk about personal things, or something like that, but I decided to let her talk about her situation, taking care not to make any declarative or personal opinion statements of my own. I guess it was the possibility of tears that  led me to decide to proceed, while treading carefully.

I encouraged her to talk about her concerns and their history together, and I really did try to talk about love and the obstacles we all must learn to surmount. The question I knew would come, eventually did: “Do you think I should break up with him?

I told her that no one could answer that question but her, and she needed to get away and think about the value of the relationship to her, and how much she was willing to pay emotionally in order to keep it going. So I guess you could say I gave her an assignment.

I would love to hear what you think of the situation and my spur-of-the-moment decision. I think she made an appointment with me for next week on the way out!

Join the discussion One Comment

  • It sounds like you just fell back on minimalist tutoring techniques. You let her have ownership. Nice. That is a scary situation though. I’ve had writers cry on me. I’ve never really thought of myself as an exceptionally warm or conciliatory person, so when this happens, it’s really intimidating. Usually it’s stress from an assignment, so I try to tell her I’ve been there, and I understand. Thanks though, for this is a great tip on how to offer help when tutorials get emotional.