How to deal with a hinter.
February 7, 2009 6:24 PM   Subscribe

I would like to discourage an acquaintance from engaging in an annoying conversational habit.

The disclaimer: I understand that being direct is the best course of action in most cases but in this situation, it is my expressed intent to amuse myself and rankle someone else. I am aware of the inherent pettiness and promise not to use any ideas given here during vulnerable moments; my only intent is to get ideas for humourusly navigating the ultra (ULTRA) banal.

I know someone who "baits" instead of simply relating anecdotes. This occurs in any and every conceivable situation, regardless of its importance. The set-up always frames the issue in an intriguing light (e.g. "I thought of a great idea for breakfast." or, more shamelessly: "So-and-so and I met under quite remarkable circumstances."). Then, the unbearable silence begins.

Note that I am obliged to have periodic encounters with this person and they ought to be civil; I am not concerned with how they regard me but I cannot be overtly rude. I no longer wish to follow-up with "Oh, what is it?" or its equivalent and my overall aim is to learn to anticipate these forced interactions with levity and amusement instead of bitterness.

Hive, please unleash your creativity! What are some fun and funny tactics to deal with and dodge dangling hints?
posted by cranberrymonger to Human Relations (45 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Oh I would LOVE to hear about that sometime...

Best results if used without breaking stride and while walking away.
posted by Mr. Anthropomorphism at 6:28 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Say nothing.
posted by box at 6:29 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Or, y'know, play along. Give the baby its bottle.
posted by box at 6:30 PM on February 7, 2009

It's passive aggressive, but you could always say something like "Oh, that reminds me, I meant to tell you about MY idea for breakfast: cupcakes!" or "You know who met under remarkable circumstances? Ike and Tina Turner."
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:32 PM on February 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

I know someone like this, and I usually respond with, if given your example "Wow, cool." or "Neat." It kind of kills it right there, usually, and isn't even really rude. Makes it tough to continue the baiting bullshit, though.
posted by tristeza at 6:34 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Immediately start telling your own story. (e.g. "Oh yeah? Well, me and Jill met in a weird way too. I was walking down the street...") Nothing stymies an attention whore more than brazen narcissism.
posted by nasreddin at 6:34 PM on February 7, 2009 [5 favorites]

Kind of what Meg_Murry said, but I'd beat them to the punch and hijack the anecdote.

"I thought of a great idea for breakfast."

"Wow, I did too! This morning I..."

Granted, you have to have one at the ready of be a good BS'er. The longer you can go the better, especially if you can completely change the subject and make them forget their original story.
posted by Mr. Anthropomorphism at 6:37 PM on February 7, 2009

say something negative about the baited subject:

"I thought of a great idea for breakfast."
I hate breakfast

"So-and-so and I met under quite remarkable circumstances."
oh, is there anything duller than meeting people?

use their bait to start your own story:

"So-and-so and I met under quite remarkable circumstances."
did I ever tell you about the time I met David Bowie? I was walking down the street...

use their bait topic as an excuse to leave:

"I thought of a great idea for breakfast."
Breakfast! damn I forgot to buy cereal - sorry gotta run!, bye!

Apparently I like playing these sorts of games.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 6:39 PM on February 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

Just answer with a question:

"Does it involve cranberries? Because I love cranberries."
"Was one of you wearing a rubber mask?"
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:46 PM on February 7, 2009 [5 favorites]

I would like to discourage an acquaintance from engaging in an annoying conversational habit.

No, you want to fuck around with another person and mock them for amusement, but don't have the guts to just do it, but instead would like to keep it just passive-aggressive enough to either confuse them, 'cause them stress or be able to deny that you're being a jackass.

Don't be that person. Try to make the world a little better.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:49 PM on February 7, 2009 [34 favorites]

Go for the Boring Baroque response.

"I had a great idea for breakfast!"
"That reminds me of a daydream I used to have about toast. Well, it wasn't really toast. It was actually crackers shaped to look like toast. I think I used to daydream about bread products a lot because my great-aunt Matilda used to bake bread for us. Matilda was lots of fun-- she didn't eat breakfast, of course, but she taught me how to make salad dressing. Once I made that salad dressing for a friend in high school -- grade 10, I think, because I was taking a break from studying biology, or maybe that was when I went to the library. . . "

"I met Sam under quite remarkable circumstances."
"I also know someone named Sam. We met in calculus class, and . . . "

Try to make your stories as dull as possible.
posted by jeather at 6:52 PM on February 7, 2009 [5 favorites]

My solution would be to fill in the hole with the most ridiculous thing that comes to mind. If they say "I thought of a great idea for breakfast...", you say "a triple-decker chili and chutney fried egg sandwich? I had one of those once. It was like having a baby..." and continue rambling until you've effectively swept the dusty recesses of your mind clear of whatever garbage you can find and dumped it on them.

Or, alternatively (as numberscore suggests above), say "Hmm" and counter with your own conversation-bait. "Hmm. I had an interesting conversation with so-and-so this morning...". Now, since you've spoken most recently, the onus is on them to swallow your bait and start your conversation instead. If necessary stretch it. "I had an interesting conversation with so-and-so about breakfasts... he never eats X. But you know why that is, right?"

Of course, these kind of things depend on how rude you feel like being. If you're in the mood, you can always just give them a look like they've said the stupidest/most disgusting/sexiest (choose one) thing ever and leave it at that, for maximum confusion.

"I hate breakfast" is a great comeback to pretty much anything.
posted by '' at 6:55 PM on February 7, 2009

My preferred responses to this: "Hmm," "Ah" or "I see." Or if I'm feeling slightly more obliging: "Oh yeah?" And then keep typing. If they continue talking, your only response should then be a glazed "Ah," after the pause that indicates they've finished their anecdote and want a response, as you busily continue doing what it was you were already doing.

Alternately, don't say anything, keep reading what's in front of you, and when they try to fish for a response, go "Say what?" and then explain that you were reading and really didn't hear them, because sometimes when you're reading really intently, your brain just tunes out sounds around you. (This actually does happen to me.) They likely won't repeat it.
posted by limeonaire at 7:02 PM on February 7, 2009

"I thought of a great idea for breakfast."

response: "cool story, bro"

"So-and-so and I met under quite remarkable circumstances."

response: "cool story, bro"

Being dismissive is fun, but there's no scene change immediately afterward like there is on TV, so prepare yourself to be thought of as 'that dismissive dick' and awkward silences. I've also been toying with "I don't like pokemon" as another catch-all dismissive response to any statement. What you're trying to communicate is that you're not even paying close enough attention to them to realize they're not talking about pokemon. Have fun.
posted by knowles at 7:07 PM on February 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

I knew a guy who say "I like stories," in a really sarcastic way whenever someone told a boring story or he wanted to deflate them before they even got started.
posted by jeffamaphone at 7:09 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, if you're already in a common space when they come in and try to start this (waiting for your burrito to microwave, making coffee, in the hallway walking back to your desk, etc.) and don't want to surrender your ground, the quizzical head-tilt-and-squint, plus, if you're feeling really obliging, a nonverbal, closed-mouth "Hmmm," can work wonders.
posted by limeonaire at 7:09 PM on February 7, 2009

Generally speaking I agree with Brandon. When I can't help myself, my response is just to stare.
posted by jessamyn at 7:15 PM on February 7, 2009

Another useful shut-down response is "Good."
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:25 PM on February 7, 2009

I also agree with Brandon; there are plenty of good suggestions here as to how to be a dick towards this person if that's what you want, but if you don't want to be rude, your choices are to take the bait ("oh really, what's that?") or to ignore it. Since the other people present won't be in on a conspiracy not to take the bait, you might as well chip in quickly with a "please tell me" so there isn't an awkward silence to deal with.
posted by nowonmai at 7:33 PM on February 7, 2009

The problem here is going to be that, by taking a statement and running with it in your own direction, or by pretending you haven't heard, you're going to get read as rude and/or self-interested and just as bad yourself. You're going to need to make *some* response that can understandably be read as appropriate.

What if you were to just respond to the supplied statement as if it's the whole story? "Awesome!" "Those are the best kind of meetings," or whatever. Do it with a genuine happy-for-you smile (or sympathetic frown or whatever, as appropriate), then return to what you were doing looking oblivious to the fact that there might have been anything more to come. They might question how it is you're getting away with this, and rethink their approach to starting stories. The hard part would be not sounding sarcastic, since you're shutting down the conversation even as you speak ostensibly positive words -- hence the needing to assure both genuineness and also having something to busy yourself with right after you speak.

Possibly cultivating some real, genuine feeling towards her could help you here -- though might also make you not want to follow through with the original plan at all. ;)
posted by springbound at 7:42 PM on February 7, 2009 [6 favorites]

I usually just say "Oh. Cool." and then get on with my day.

It's the same way I deal with most of the random things my nephew pops out with.
posted by tkolar at 7:46 PM on February 7, 2009

Consider that the person who is doing this isn't doing it to be annoying, or to be an "attention whore," but perhaps as a means of being polite, checking to see if you're listening or busy, et cetera. Giving you an out.

So if you don't want to listen, take the out. "Hey, can I catch up with you later? I need to... " fill in the blank.

Or, you could do the decent thing and be straight with the person. "You can go ahead and tell me whatever it is that's on your mind."

There are legitimate reasons why someone would do this, but there really isn't a legitimate reason to be a dick about it. I'm with Brandon. Don't make the world a more miserable place to be.
posted by trunk muffins at 7:46 PM on February 7, 2009 [10 favorites]

There is a person at my work place who does this. Since I couldn't care less about his breakfast or how he met someone I have begun to comment to any non-work-related (and some work-related) examples of this bait-y behavior by saying "I'm sure you have that well in hand and need no help."
posted by jet_silver at 8:04 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

What would happen if you just sat there with an expectant look on your face? Not being rude, but sitting there with a look that says, "Yes? And?"

And if they follow up with, "Don't you want to hear my great idea for breakfast?" you can say, "I thought you were about to tell me your great idea ... and then you just stopped talking!"

The idea behind my suggestion is that you can discourage the behavior by subtly making it uncomfortable for THEM to engage in it. Toying with them and dropping witty little quips will not necessarily discourage the habit; they may not "get" the intent behind your words.

But if you respond with silence --- with an expectant look on your face --- you can plausibly claim you were just waiting for the "great idea" or the "rest of the story about how I met Bob," without them being able to accuse you of being rude.

Make it a little uncomfortable for them, and you will train them not to do it. This is a perfectly humane way to break the person of the habit.
posted by jayder at 8:14 PM on February 7, 2009 [17 favorites]

Baiter: I thought of a great idea for breakfast.

You: I had to skip breakfast, bad case of priapism this morning. Ouch!

Baiter: So-and-so and I met under quite remarkable circumstances.

You: I once dated a woman I met in the waiting room of a St. Elsewhere before my colonoscopy. Ouch!
posted by McGuillicuddy at 8:46 PM on February 7, 2009

Well, I don't know how fun it is, but is is civil - and that's just to treat her in the same respectful way you would anyone else who you couldn't, or didn't want to speak with anymore. Don't try to 'appear' anything - busy, bemused, whatever. In short, don't do fake civility. Don't do fake anything, in fact.

If you really would prefer to speak to someone else - say Ginger over there, smile, and say: that's lovely Maryanne, and I see Ginger over there, and would like to have a word with her. Or if you really have something to do, say: It is wonderful how people can meet in the most unexpected ways. (because you know, it really is) If you'll pardon me, I would like to/need to/whatever refill my drink/finish this project, etc. The point I'm trying to make is that I think civility isn't so much about the language, or the length of the conversation, the tactic, whatever, but the intent. So be sincerely civil and get on with your life.

It might be my shortcoming, but I don't know anyone- *anyone* - who's been able to pull off ways to shut someone down that they described as fun or funny for them - that didn't slide smack into insincere dickiness. I think it's because usually the person doing it has to manage several verbal and non verbal social "tells" over a period of time, from the moment you see them, to the moment the interaction ends. This includes eye contact, tone of voice, language, posture, etc. In your case because you're trying to tamp down your irritation and replace it with a sensation that you will describe as fun, possibly at her expense, without her trying to realize it, all while possibly other people might realize it, and apparently you don't want to appear a dick in from of her or them, but instead, civil.

All that usually makes people kind of stiff and scripted. And that's no fun at all.
posted by anitanita at 9:55 PM on February 7, 2009 [4 favorites]

It's an annoying habit for sure but often the people who do this sort of thing picked it up from a parent. They think it's a normal part of conversation and even though it reveals an uncomfortable level of self absorption and a weakness in their conversation skills, it doesn't denote anything else more horrible. You might get your jollies for a moment but you'll probably end up looking like kind of a jerk.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:46 PM on February 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Are you so sure that they are deliberately baiting you into the conversation? Perhaps they are attempting to gauge if you are interested. Rather than focussing on their conversational-isms maybe you could genuinely ask yourself if you care about the topic they are bring up. If you are interested then it's sincere of you to ask them more about it.
posted by quadog at 11:03 PM on February 7, 2009

banal : lacking originality, freshness, or novelty :

I don't think that either of the items that you are describing could be classified as this. It sounds like this person is conversing about things that they may actually find interesting. If you don't, that is fine, but don't assume that this person isn't trying to open up and engage you. Otherwise, they might not leave the opening for you to question about it.
posted by slavlin at 11:38 PM on February 7, 2009

It's been interesting to read everyone's thoughts and helpful suggestions. Thank-you for weighing in!

I couldn't help but notice that many people disagreed with the morality of this question and it seems I've ventured further into 'being a dick' territory than anyone should. I honestly do appreciate the perspective and will try to keep the urge to toy at bay and the sarcasm to myself.
posted by cranberrymonger at 11:55 PM on February 7, 2009

"I thought of a great idea for breakfast."
[monotone robot voice] You thought of a great idea for breakfast.

"Want to know what it is?"
[monotone robot voice] I want to know what it is.

posted by ctmf at 12:03 AM on February 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

My mother does this exact thing. I've struggled in a similar way to figure out how to stop her from doing it without being rude to, well, my mother, yet still make her realise that what she's doing is irritating. I don't know in what precise context your acquaintance usually employs this tactic, but in my mom's case she's usually looking to get an answer to a question, or advice on what to do in a certain situation.

In that context, I usually just don't respond immediately. Like others have mentioned, I'll say "hmm", or do the raised-eyebrow-with-head-nod that acknowledges the fact that the statement was made and that I'm not ignoring her, but doesn't offer an opening for her to continue. She wants it to be read as a question, but it's a statement, and if she has some kind of follow-up comment or an additional attempt to engage, I'll usually ask her if she's asking a question. (Sometimes, if I'm in a cranky mood, I'll point out that if she wants to ask me something, she needs to actually ask. Hey, I'm only human.) I too find this passive-aggressive approach irritating, and I've tried to use this to demonstrate to her that I'm happy to answer a question or offer advice, as long as she actually asks, and doesn't try to backdoor me into helping her out without actually making the request.

If you just want to annoy or embarrass the person, you've got a raft of good suggestions above (the Boring Baroque, or what I think of as the "Grandpa Simpson", can be great fun). If you want to get them to stop doing what they're doing, either generally or just with you, showing them that you won't engage unless they're straightforward about what they're looking for from you might be helpful. It's not quite as fun or funny as messing with them, but if you do need to preserve some kind of relationship with them, it might be the best approach you can take without enabling them.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 12:34 AM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

The best answer I've ever come up with to that type of baloney is: "huh." After that, change the subject.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:51 AM on February 8, 2009

We all do it occasionally, especially if it's something really juicy, but some people have it as their main method of relating anecdotes, or communicating at all. I for the people I know it's due to poor social skills, where they think breaking the story up like that makes it into a real conversation as opposed to "Iwenttothestoreandtherewasadogthereanditwaswhite". It's a way of stretching out what is essentially a fairly small anecdote, but sometimes it's all they've got.

I use the refusal to engage mentioned above. Just waiting for the next sentance. Which never comes...
Eventually I end up giving in as little as possible, with "go on?", "aaaaaaaaaand?" or "is there more to the story?". Still and all, sometimes it's very appropriate to lead up to an anecdote this way, and then I respond as normal with "no shit? spill!" or other enthusiastic stuff.
posted by Iteki at 3:11 AM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just remembered something my nieces do:

"You're a breakfast."
"You're a meeting."
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:46 AM on February 8, 2009

"You're a breakfast."
"You're a meeting."

I do that too, it works great for most situations.
posted by hapticactionnetwork at 10:20 AM on February 8, 2009

I had this called to my attention and was thankful for it. Bad habit I couldn't believe I had picked up and then lost all awareness of. Please don't ignore it, she is going to pin the problem on you and not her communication (my mom's rule of you lose the right to complain if you don't try to improve the situation :) ).

Pick any of the above methods that keep from encouraging her fishing-for-interest technique.
posted by variella at 10:58 AM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Maybe you could bring up the baiting behavior directly in a comedic light. You've got to be able to work "Go away! 'batin'!" in there, somehow...
posted by losvedir at 10:59 AM on February 8, 2009

The most perfectly dickish line I ever conceived (didn't use, still wish I had), was:
"Does your mother know?!"

Might be a great line to use if you happen to be trying to help a friend cease this pattern of conversation.
posted by Goofyy at 12:38 PM on February 8, 2009

I know someone who "baits" instead of simply relating anecdotes. This occurs in any and every conceivable situation, regardless of its importance. The set-up always frames the issue in an intriguing light (e.g. "I thought of a great idea for breakfast." or, more shamelessly: "So-and-so and I met under quite remarkable circumstances."). Then, the unbearable silence begins.

Say, while smiling, "WHAT? Just say it straight out!!"

This isn't a big enough deal to make a big deal out of. Much less to launch a whole strategic campaign against, or have a Serious Conversation about, or secretly seethe on your weekends about. Just call the person out on it. Make it a joke and point it out when they do it and laugh.

Unless there's something else going on here, and you have some other unspoken reason to dislike this person. In which case - WHAT?? Just say it straight out!!
posted by granted at 4:01 PM on February 8, 2009

XKCD has it.
posted by PueExMachina at 5:49 PM on February 8, 2009

How about yawning or sighing deeply followed by opening your eyes as big as possible and staring at the person and with a deadpan face, "You were saying?" And no matter what they say follow it with, "I love that story" a la Pee Wee's Big Adventure.
posted by wherever, whatever at 8:36 PM on February 8, 2009

I agree with trunk muffins. I do this kind of thing too, and when I do it it's because I'm not completely sure whether the listener wants to hear my story or whether they have time. I'm not actively trying to be annoying, I'm trying to be polite - and I'm sorry if it does come across as annoying. (It's possible that your hinter, like me, is a shy person who's used to not being the dominant person in a conversation and getting cut off mid-story, so they have developed this as something of a preventive measure.)

It's the verbal equivalent of [more inside], and I'm giving you the option to click it or skip it.

If you're interested, a nod/eye contact/interested "yeah?" will usually suffice, but if you're not, I usually take a "oh, hmm" or a change in subject as "no" without much offense.

I know it's fun to provide witty retorts, but if this really gets to you, saying something like "you know, next time you can just tell me the story without waiting for my permission" is lighthearted but gets the point across.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:37 AM on February 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I knew I stole that pokemon line from somewhere.
posted by knowles at 12:20 AM on February 10, 2009

I know I'm late, but, I agree with granted. You can be straight. You don't have to be a dick. If you want to be a dick there are loads of ways you can do it even to people who aren't hinters. But if you seriously want to keep a friendship/friendly-acquaintanceship with this person and not be constantly annoyed, tell them. If you can't tell them straight out (I wouldn't be able to), this is what you can do (and it's what I've done):

Hinter: "I saw the weirdest thing on my way to work."
Me: [Allows pause.] [Smiling, friendly, but quizzical, as if I'm confused or something isn't right.] "So ... are you going to tell me what it was?"
Hinter: "Oh! Yeah. So while I was driving...." (At this point, Hinter might still think it's cute.)

Next day:
Hinter: "That reminds me of something funny that happened at the grocery store last week."
Me: [Allows pause.] [Smiling, friendly, but friendly-exasperated.] "You're doing that thing again! Please, just tell me what it was!"
Hinter: [Nervous laugh.] "Oh sorry, I guess that can get annoying, anyway, what happened was...."

Next week, if it happens again:
Hinter: "My father taught me that lesson in a very interesting way when I was a child."
Me: [Allows pause.] [Smiling less, less friendly, rolling eyes, and impatient, now that I've already established my feelings on this matter.] "Seriously. You're still doing the hinting thing? You need to spit it out already."

Depending on how dire the situation is, you might go on and say, since the stage has been well-set, "This guessing game is tiresome. If you have a story that you're going to tell, it's best to just tell it. It's a bit irritating otherwise."

This might even help the person develop some self-esteem, if it's an issue of the person genuinely not knowing if you're interested and is waiting to find out. (Moreso than shutting them down, anyway.) Or it might help them be less annoying, if they're just plain annoying. At least, with YOU. Which is all that matters to you.

But if their stories are just stupid and you dislike the person, then whatever, be a dick and ruin the relationship. :)

It works over IM, too. (Sigh.)
posted by iguanapolitico at 1:12 PM on February 21, 2009

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