Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Neighborhood Group Gets Gossipy

DEAR HARRIETTE: I moved to a new neighborhood a few months ago, and I am getting to know some of the people who live nearby. I learned that there is a women’s group that gets together once a month for drinks or dinner. In theory, it’s really nice. The thing is, I don’t like a couple of the women. They are very catty and sit in the corner and talk about people -- or worse, they talk about people out in the open -- when the people in question are not there. How can I befriend some of the other women without condoning that behavior? I don’t want to be a bystander and allow that kind of talk to go on in my presence. -- Fitting In, Scarsdale, New York

DEAR FITTING IN: Chances are, you cannot change the behavior of an established group. You can choose which women you like and want to get to know. You can either invite them to spend time with you separately or align yourself with them when you are at the group gatherings. When you notice that the gossipy women are revving up, if you are sitting near them you can quietly ask them to tone it down, saying it bothers you when people talk about other people. Or you can leave.

If you decide you want to remain part of the group, you may try to become part of the leadership, if such a role exists, so that you can then work with the group to implement boundaries around gossip and name-calling. You have to decide if this is a fight you want to wage.

Read more in: Friends & Neighbors | Etiquette & Ethics

Fitness Friend Both Motivates and Bothers

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have an exercise buddy who is great for keeping me motivated to get up and work out, but she is pretty brash. She curses a lot and always finds fault with people. I don’t like that part at all. I like to start my day peacefully. I’m not sure what to do. On one hand, I have been losing weight and doing well with my workouts, which has never happened before. The downside is that I have to listen to her nonstop banter. Do you think it’s worth it? -- Too Much Negativity, Austin, Texas

DEAR TOO MUCH NEGATIVITY: I understand the value of having a buddy to keep you motivated in your workout routine. You have made great strides, which is to be commended. But your state of mind is equally important for your overall well-being.

For the long haul, you should think about how you want to organize your fitness routine. Begin to wean yourself off a daily grind with this woman. You can tell her you want to spend some days in silence during your workout, so you want to go it alone sometimes. You have the full authority to manage your life, including your fitness profile. It may be difficult for you to distance yourself from her at first, but you can do it.

You can also tell her it is hard for you to listen to her judge people and speak negatively all the time. Describe how you like to start your day. You may be able to inspire her to consider another way of looking at the world.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)

Read more in: Friends & Neighbors | Health & Safety | Etiquette & Ethics