Etiquette expert Catherine Newman on how to handle a friend who dominates every conversation.
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Q. About once a month, I go out to dinner with my group of girlfriends. No matter the topic, one member of our party always interrupts and dominates the conversation, talking about only herself and her family. We have heard the same stories on numerous occasions. How can we politely let this person know that we would like her to be quiet from time to time?

Name withheld by request

A. My husband, Michael, and I used to have a friend who droned on so incessantly that, on one occasion, Michael popped in earplugs and glazed over—with orange foam cylinders sticking visibly out of his ears—while she was talking. And, no, she didn’t notice.

The thing is, certain people go on and on because there’s something they need from others: attention or validation, esteem or support. The irony is that her incessant yakking, which exasperates all of you, is not going to meet those needs.

Your friend would feel better about herself if she learned to listen, respond, and become a valued member of your group. So muster your tenderest feelings about her—remember why you became friends with her in the first place—and try to understand her state of mind. Then take that understanding and gently encourage her to learn better habits. Perhaps she simply doesn’t know how to hold back in a conversation, and you and your friends can show her how. For example, the group might start every dinner by checking in around the table so that everybody gets a turn to speak about whatever is most pressing from the past month.

Later in the evening, if your friend resumes her habit of interrupting the discussion, you can kindly point that out to her: “Can you hold that thought? Elizabeth was still talking.” Ultimately you’ll be doing her a favor by modeling positive engagement and leading her out of the bog of self-centeredness.

—Catherine Newman