How to respond to too much information

These days people seem to feel it is acceptable to give you every intimate detail of their lives, whether in person or via social media. But how should we respond? Natalie Reilly answers this and other curly quandaries in What your mother should have told you… and nobody else will.

Judging by social-networking sites, online media and the 24-hour news cycle, it seems as if we already live in a culture of too much information. There is even an acronym: TMI (as if you didn’t know). When it occurs through one – or all – of the above, it’s easy to turn a deaf ear or to de-friend on Facebook.

But what happens when someone spills their guts and there’s nowhere to run? If it’s an off-colour remark from a co-worker, for example, you are well within your rights to respond with a firm ‘That is too much information’ in order to shut them down. In my experience this usually works. Just don’t yell ‘TMI!’ – unless you’re younger than 15.

Similarly, if a taxi driver tells you about his wife’s incontinence or a fellow sports patron complains about the after-effects of a powerful curry, you can respond in the same way, adding ‘Thanks, mate’ for good measure.

It can become trickier if it’s your friend explaining how her birth plan went awry or your mother telling you too much about your father’s bedroom preferences. At this point, it’s no longer about a response but the setting of a boundary – and fairly quickly, too. I have ploughed through such inappropriateness with a yelp of disgust followed by a forceful ‘Woah!’

But if the person still won’t cease, you can quickly excuse yourself. If they ask where you’re going, tell the truth: after listening to their over-share you’re off to take a shower.

Natalie Reilly, What your mother should have told you… and nobody else will
Kindly published with the permission of Allen & Unwin
RRP: $17.99

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