Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Real Talk With Rachel: Cutting Out the Cutting Remarks

by Rachel Kurzius

Hoping that everyone stayed safe during the wrath of Sandy! Now, on to the advice...

Dear Rachel,

I’m the kind of guy who tries my best to get along with everyone. There is someone in my study group who just gets on my nerves, though. He makes these wise-aleck remarks to just about everyone. You can’t say one thing without him getting on your case. Sometimes the jokes are funny, but just as much, they are unnecessary, or they really sting. I am worried that if I confront him, I will seem like someone who can’t take a joke. But I think he is really starting to affect the way the group interacts. 

By the way, our professor picks the groups, so I didn’t choose for him to be in my group, but he’ll be in it all year long.

Studying Comebacks

Dear Studying Comebacks,

With all of the quandaries that arise from study groups and group projects, you’d think that teachers might throw in the towel on multi-person activities. Because let’s face it -- the group generally spends more time dealing with existential crises than it does with the course work. But perhaps teachers already know this, and consider it an important introduction to the world of group dynamics.

In the end, you’ll probably find learning how to deal with the careful alchemy of group dynamics is a more important skill than most course work. After you graduate, you’ll continue to work in groups with housemates, co-workers, volunteer groups and more. Each time, a new cocktail of personalities and goals will require different things of you. I’ve found that one thing remains constant -- working well in a group takes thoughtfulness and consideration, and often people aren’t thoughtful or considerate.

I bet you think I’m skirting your question, or at the very least romanticizing your predicament. I’m not. I’ve worked with some misanthropes in my time, people who really knew how to suck the positive energy out of a room. It’s agonizing.

Here’s the number one thing I have learned: Don’t take it personally. You say that this guy’s whole shpiel is to deploy zingers. That means he’s not zeroing in on you as some special victim. He’s more of an equal opportunity wise guy. Keep reminding yourself of that. Now, some things will roll off your back easier than others, which is only natural.

If he says something that really stings, say something. You don’t have to pull this guy aside and make a big deal out of it. A quick “Ouch” or “Was that necessary?” ought to do the trick. He might have another retort waiting. Don’t rise to the bait. Remember: you’re not trying to beat him at his own game. You don’t even like his game. You’re trying to show him that his game can be silly and hurtful.

Feel free to deploy the “Was that necessary?” if you think he’s out of line with another member of your study group. (Try to avoid the “Ouch” line, though -- it might actually exacerbate someone else’s  embarrassment or egg on Mr. Wise Guy further). But it really sounds like this smart aleck just wants attention and camaraderie. Show him that he’ll get it by actively participating in the study group, not by tearing down its other members.


Rachel Kurzius revels in giving advice, and has provided counsel both as a columnist and a friend. She lives in Washington DC, where she works as a news producer. Real Talk with Rachel is published on All Life is Local and the Cleveland Park Listserv,, on Wednesdays. Need advice? You can write to Rachel via or by sending an email to advice @

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