National Etiquette Week is almost over! Pretty soon we can go back to our regularly scheduled rude, offensive behavior.
I am kidding – of course. I believe that the bulk of the world has the best intentions when it comes to being polite. But even the best intentions get off course now and again. What happens when someone IS being rude, but they truly have no idea of their transgression? We’ve all encountered loud cell-phone-talkers, tactless-joke-tellers, inappropriate-question-askers, and over-stayers. The conversation-monopolizer falls in with this group, too. So nice, but so long winded! Below is a question recently asked of me; and I thought it would be rude not to share it with you.
I play tennis with a lovely woman, and while I wouldn’t call us best friends, we certainly are happy acquaintances. I really do enjoy her company. The only problem is that I can never extricate myself from her – on or off the court. At the end of our matches, she tends to monopolize conversation to the point that I cannot even insert a polite, “Gotta run.” When I see her out and about, like at our neighborhood gatherings, the gym, school functions, she will not leave me alone! Even when I clearly appear occupied (reading my Kindle, listening to my iPod, etc); she bombards me and does not stop talking. It’s gotten to the point that I try to avoid her, which makes me feel awful because I actually do like her – I just don’t like so much of her. How to I break away without breaking a friendship?
Sincerely, Tennis Turmoil
Dear Tennis Turmoil:
I applaud you for being kind enough to realize that this woman clearly means no harm, and because of that, you want to avoid causing her any unnecessary hurt. And good for you for trying to use subtle physical cues to give her the sign that you are not in the small talk mood. But subtly is not working here. By trying to avoid her, you are only creating a situation that will end poorly for both of you. I am guessing she has no idea that she monopolizes the conversation; and if you simply try the duck-and-dash method, you will not only damage her ego, but your seemingly favorable relationship as well.
Honesty (as usual) is the best policy. In my book, The Fine Art of Small Talk, I dedicate an entire chapter to this very topic. Here are a few one-liners to help you achieve a grand slam without once having to use your backhand.
- “So good to see you! I only have small window of time to get this workout in, so I am going to keep reading/listening to my iPod/pole jumping.”
- “What a great match. I’m heading out, but I look forward to next week’s tourney.”
- “I am going to circulate and meet some of the new neighbors – I’ll see you back at the buffet in a bit.”
- “I need to catch up with Jared’s professor, so please excuse me while I search him out.”
The key is to be authentic, do what you say you are going to do, and do not make false excuses. When it comes to conversational clout, the ball will be in your court.