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The Boston Globe

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Miss Conduct

Advice on quieting a blowhard

What to do when one person dominates a conversation, plus money troubles between parents and their adult child.

Illustration by Lucy Truman

> When one person loudly and forcefully dominates a conversation, what can be said so that everyone can feel included and free to contribute their thoughts?

J.M. / Scotts Valley, California

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“Pizza guy’s here!”

No, seriously. Think about the worst blowhard you know. He wouldn’t keep holding forth if the pizza guy were there, would he? Of course not.

The next time Mrs. Forcible* works up a head of steam, remember that you can’t win at her game. Instead of arguing, use your body or voice to interrupt the action of the scene. If it’s a business meeting and you’re the boss, you can stand up and announce a quick bio-break. In a social situation, get up and suggest food or drink or going outside to watch the sunset. Movement is key.

Once her hold on the conversation is disrupted, take charge. Change the subject or start asking questions of the people who seemed to want to speak up earlier. If Mrs. F. is simply overenthusiastic, a distraction will be enough to bring her back down to earth for a while. If she is a bully, you will at least have broken her hold on the group and gathered them around you, and best of luck to you at that point.

*Nom de faux pas shamelessly stolen from writer Neil Gaiman.

 

> I won a college scholarship, and my parents said they would give me the money they saved when I graduated. I have, and my mother now says that they will give me the money when they see fit, for a major purchase like a condo. I asked whether I would also be gifted the four years’ growth, and whether I could now manage the money myself. My mother called me greedy. Maybe I am sensitive because I am trying to establish my independence.

A.E. / Brookline

You sound like a mature twentysomething to me, if perhaps an overly optimistic one. (You do realize that “growth” is far from the inevitable outcome of having invested money during the past four years, don’t you?) If you were my kid, I’d have turned my IRAs over to you on the spot. Your parents will be glad of your financial acumen in 30 years, believe me.

However, while your questions were logical, logic is not the only factor that comes into play where money is concerned. It sounds like your mother wants to feel as though the money is more of a gift than something rightfully yours. If I were sitting down with you right now, these are some of the questions I would ask: Do you have siblings? Do you live with your parents? Do you plan to live near them for the foreseeable future? How does your mother spend her time?

Then we would start getting into the real stuff about memories and fears and dreams and embarrassment and pride, and then, finally, I could give you advice. I can’t now, because I don’t know nearly enough about your situation, and also because you forgot to ask an actual question. But I know that whatever is going on with the money isn’t about the money. It’s only a prop, a MacGuffin, in a story between you and your parents. And you’re at the perfect age to start thinking critically about that story and what role you want to play in it. Good luck.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.NEED MISS CONDUCT’S HELP? Write to her at missconduct@globe.com. And read her blog at boston.com/missconduct.
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