How To Deal With A “Debbie Downer” On The Run

Our etiquette expert shares how to turn a runner's negativity around.

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Etiquette expert Lizzie Post, great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post, knows a thing or two about the rules of the road—and the descendant of the famous decorum diva is a runner too! 

Q: How do I tell someone who strikes up a mid-race conversation that I would rather not chat?

Since the person talking to you in a race is likely a stranger, this creates the need to be polite but direct. When someone starts to chat, you can simple say, “I don’t wish to be rude, but I can’t talk while I race.” The likelihood that someone would argue with this—or even continue talking—is slim. She or he might still take offense, because, well…people some-times have a hard time taking rejection, no matter how nice you are about it. If someone scoffs or huffs, just keep running.

Q: How do you deal with a Debbie Downer in your running group?

Debbie Downers can really affect a running group, and here’s a case where I think doing nothing is not very effective. Debbie may leave the group if she starts being ignored, but it’s best to tackle the problem head on. I think of combating social problems like this in terms of levels.

Level 1: Be gently positive. If Debbie is starting to complain or talking about something negative, be the positive voice in the conversation: “I can imagine that’s hard, but at least it’s a gorgeous day and we’re here to run together!” You want to lightly validate her feelings and then redirect her toward the present moment.

Level 2: Communicate your needs. When Debbie starts up, be clear but keep the focus on you. “Debbie, I understand it’s tough some-standing up for what’s best for the group but encouraging her to lighten up.

Level 3: Get serious. If nothing seems to be changing, it’s time to talk seriously with Debbie. After a run, ask to speak with her for a moment. Find out what she’s getting out of the group runs. Explain to her that you understand the need to vent, but that this group is meant to motivate people, and you’ve noticed that her attitude is starting to affect everyone negatively. Let her know that you would love to continue to have her join the runs, but she needs to keep it positive if she’s going to continue to participate.