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Idealog—in the ideas business

How To: Shut down a dinner party bore

Business consultant Lance Wiggs has suffered his way through more snoozeworthy dinner party conversations than you could shake a breadstick at. Stopping the insanity can be done- but sometimes you have to just suck it up and take one for the team.

To shut down your bore, you’ll need to follow a three-step process to attract, hold and transfer the conversation. For those we know well and those who can take a bit of robust humour, this can be executed in a sentence, such as, “Enough about the economy, what do we think about the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?”.

Where a more delicate hand is required, slow the process down. First, take control of the conversation by asking questions. We don’t want to let the bore get away with long-form answers, so ask ones that only require ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers, and interrupt with more questions if he starts going again.

Start the questions with the topic at hand, and once you have control, switch the topic of the questions to something – and someone – else. Pick something the bore cares little about, and direct your questions to someone else.

For the really tough customers who see through this ploy, or who have an endless stream of topics upon which they are able to opine, your job is to take one for the team. Again, start by asking questions, and then slowly move the topic into more arcane aspects.

Go narrow and deep into a topic area youknow the bore knows a lot about, and then switch it to personal advice. As you do this, physically move so that you dominate the space in front of the bore, giving the others in the group a chance to escape. Ideally, someone else will return the favour to you after you’ve learnt all about mortgage-backed securities for the ensuing 20 minutes.

When confronted with a true master, none of these techniques will really work for more than a few minutes, and the bore will find them fun to circumvent. We live in New Zealand, and as a blunt people, the simple answer is to just tell the bore to shut up, then change the conversation. The rest of the group may tell you that your instincts were incorrect, and or the bore may simply acknowledge it’s time to move on.

Either way as any experienced bore will tell you, it’s really more polite to let them know exactly when they are losing their audience.

Lance Wiggs is a consultant, investor, and co-founder of Pacific Fibre. Idealog hopes he is going to solve all of the world’s problems. No pressure, Lance, no pressure.

Originally published in Idealog #38, page 46

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Comments

Lance, my Mother sat through just such a dinner party with a neighbour who talked about himself all evening (she couldn't move as the seating was fixed) and at the end she turned to the man and said
“You've had the pleasure of my company for 2 hours and have failed to find out what an interesting person I am…” And then she went on and told him all about herself. Before walking off and leaving him!


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