Beware: There are small talk criminals lurking everywhere. The coffee shop, your kids’ school, the gym, the office, the dinner party. These brazen bullies strike quickly and without warning – and they don’t care who they hurt. My ongoing series, “Talk Tyrants,” serves two purposes: it equips you to artfully escape the attack of such a villainous creature and it guarantees that you will never fall into a life of small talk crime. Here we go:
The Monopolizer is stealthy character, even managing to hide under cover as a shy introvert before striking. The Monopolizer commits his crime quickly and in full view, leaving victims too stunned to react with anything other than slack-jaw.
How to Spot The Monopolizer:
- Enters any group conversation with little regard to what the topic is and who is currently speaking. The Monopolizer typically uses self-disclosure to secure the spotlight: (the group is talking about building houses in Haiti) “We just redid our kitchen!”
- Believe they are keeping the conversation ball rolling, when in fact they are really just a ball-hog: (without ever taking a breath): “. . . The contractor was a nightmare, and then my bamboo floor order was held up and I can’t decide if I should keep the juicer on the counter, or in the pantry, and speaking of countertops we went with marble…”
- Once The Monopolizer is basking in the glow of his self-created spotlight, he refuses to move, never lobbing the conversation to anyone else: “After the kitchen is done, we are focusing on the mud room because, let me tell you, mud rooms are the trend right now.”
How to Deal with The Monopolizer:
- Surrender and listen – consider it a gift to The Monopolizer and your good deed for the day (or year, depending on the length and dullness of The Monopolizer’s story): “Hmmm mmm. Interesting. Marble, you say?”
- Bravely attempt a subject change or pull out a prepared and practiced question in hopes that The Monopolizer will get distracted and stop: “Kitchens always make me think of dinner – we just ate at that new restaurant on Vine.”
- If you are alone with The Monopolizer, throw the white flag, indicating time constraints: “Sounds like an amazing renovation. Before we get to the details on your kitchen drawer pulls, I must warn you that I have five minutes before I promised to help Judy with the cupcakes.”
- If you are in a group of three or more, act as host and make the interception. Once The Monopolizer’s five minutes have passed (this sounds short on paper, but it is very very very long in real life conversation), segue: “Paul, your projects sound fabulous. Jan, what is happening at your house these days?”
Remember that you are probably not going to change The Monopolizer, but with a little panache, you may be able to slow the conversation criminal down and include others in the conversation by asking a direct question. And even if there isn’t a Monopolizer in the group, remember to always pass the ball. That’s the only way to really score when it comes to the The Fine Art of Small Talk.