How to handle conversation interruptions graciously?
November 24, 2006 12:00 PM   Subscribe

In a meet-and-greet setting, when talking to someone and someone else comes by and interrupts, what's the gracious way of dealing with it?

I've been caught in this situation one too many times and usually end up stopping what I'm saying to person A to acknowledge person B, who has interrupted, then try to refocus on person A, but by that time, they have moved on, probably with the impression I've blown them off. And by that time person B has moved on too. Any tips?
posted by perpetualstroll to Human Relations (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can't stand this, firstly. I try to say to person b that I want to talk to them, but I want to finish talking to person a first. If they don't know each other, introduce them. Other than that, depending on the situation you could tell them a joke or make a face, and go back to talking to person a.
posted by chupwalla at 12:07 PM on November 24, 2006

Anybody who's ever been in a pediatrician's or an orthodontist's office* will get this one:
"[Susan], I'd like you to meet my friend Goofus."
*For those whose Highlights subscription has lapsed, a recent panel.
posted by rob511 at 12:15 PM on November 24, 2006

"Oh, hi John! Mary and I were just talking about that one time I did _______, have I ever told you about that?"

That way you draw the interrupter into the conversation that you were having without blowing anyone off.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 12:31 PM on November 24, 2006

If you're Jack Black you say "Whoa, dude! What are you doing? You just cut me off" and then you complain to Howard Stern about it.

From Page Six: "JACK Black says Jeremy Piven is holding a six-year grudge against him because he beat the "Entourage" star for the role of the record-store geek in "High Fidelity." Black told Howard Stern on Sirius that as he talked to a director at a recent premiere, Piven "stepped in and all of a sudden he was talking to the director and I was standing there facing the back of his head. I was like, 'Whoa, dude! What are you doing? You just cut me off' . . . He turned around and there was this strange, awkward tension." Could he take Piven in a fight? "I don't know, apparently he's a yoga master," Black quipped. A Piven rep insisted, "He loves Jack Black." "
posted by Jupiter Jones at 1:25 PM on November 24, 2006

BuddhaInABucket hit the nail on the head. Incoporate the new person into the existing conversation in some fashion. You might try asking the newcomer a question that invloves the person you were previously speaking to. For example, "Hi, New Person! Old Person, did you know that you and New Person share the same bland hobby?"

Or some such thing.
posted by JohannStrauss at 3:14 PM on November 24, 2006

I really dislike this too, and am always tempted (or just tend) to blow off Captain Rudeness and stick with the person I was talking to before: "Hi, Jackass! Yes! Good to see you! Let's catch up later!" and lead person A in a different direction. But then, you want to be polite to everyone. Weirdo.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 3:34 PM on November 24, 2006

Expanding on what's already been said, we actually purposely do something very similar this during formal sorority recruitment, and it works out really well.

Sister A walks up to Sister B and PNM C, who are talking. Sister B then says something to the effect of, "Hi Sister A! This is PNM C. We were just talking about (whatever). " Then you have a three way conversation before Sister B gets up to go do the same thing to another pair.

It seems a little awkward of a transition to be like, "HI FRIEND! Let's talk about your shared hobby!!" But it's usually a pretty smooth transition without seeming like you're trying really hard to including the person who dropped in.
posted by Amanda B at 3:35 PM on November 24, 2006

I'm not sure what a "meet and greet" is. At professional networking events, I usually say, "I'm sorry, I need to continue this conversation, can I catch up with you in a bit."

Unless it's important. Then I talk to the person I've been talking with, and say, "I'm sorry, will you excuse me for a minute. I need to take care of this, but I'll be right back."
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:45 PM on November 24, 2006

From my reading you want to exclude the interruptor, not include them. If I'm reading that wrong, ignore most of this.

Sounds like you're talking about two things: 1) how to keep the first person from wandering away, and 2) how to get rid of the interloper without pissing anyone off.

I have a few different things I use to keep people from derailing a casual conversation depending on circumstances.

One is to have something in both hands, that way when I go to shake hands with the interloper, I can hand whatever is in my right hand to the person I want to keep taking to. It's a small imposition, but people don't notice those, and it keeps them around and obligated to you. And you can use reaching back for your drink/bag/whatever as a gesture to exclude the new person from the conversation.

Another option is, when introducing the interloper, to put your hands lightly on the shoulder/upper arm of the person you want to keep talking to. Though you're not actually holding them there, they'll have a hard time leaving and know that there's something you left unsaid. This very much depends on the situation.

The last is roughly what croutonsupafreak said. "[person's name] and I are in the middle of something right now, but I'll catch up with you when I'm free." Mention the other person's name up front, and that you're in the middle of something so they'll know it would be rude to flee.

Make sure you keep most of your eye contact on the person you want to keep in the conversation. This will help indicate to the new person that they're not wanted.

Or, if you want to be a dick, say to the new person: "Hi Bob, pleased to meet you. Say, could you get me another one of these?" and hand him your glass, and ask the first person if they need a refill.

And, though no one has said it I will: If people are regularly fleeing you at the first chance, there is probably a reason. You might want to work on your conversation and/or presentation.
posted by Ookseer at 12:34 AM on November 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

This is my pet hate.. too often I am the Person A (because I make a point of never doing it to anyone else) and I consider it the height of rudeness to have someone take away a conversation partner.

I am with croutonsupafreak: unless Person B can seamlessly join the conversation tell them that you will catch up with them in a bit.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 5:05 AM on November 25, 2006

I was going to suggest what Ookseer said about gently placing your hand on the shoulder of Person A (who you are trying to dissuade from thinking they're being brushed off).

Again, I'm sure it depends on the situation, but hopefully the majority of people don't find this small degree of physical contact invasive. I actually take notice of little gestures like this in social situations and find it agreeable.
posted by wolfsleepy at 7:39 AM on November 25, 2006

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