Dear Debra: Conversation Spoiler

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dear-debraDear Debra,

I have a cousin here in town with whom I’ve always been close. We talk every week or so and see one another not infrequently. She has a habit that is all of a sudden bothering me more and more.

Whenever we talk, she interrupts me in the middle of what I am sharing. And it’s not just interrupting, but she sidetracks my train of thought by asking questions that take the conversation in a totally different direction. I imagine this is her way of expressing interest, but it drives me up a wall.

I used to do something similar in conversations and have worked hard to break what I now realize is an annoying and unintentionally rude habit. I find that I don’t call her as often, but that doesn’t seem fair. I do miss being with her. Is it wrong to expect her to break this habit just because I did?

— Sidetracked

Dear Sidetracked,

talkingConversation spoilers — interrupters, echoers, sidetracks, eye-wanderers — can indeed make a speaker feel unheard. Having reformed the interrupting habit, you could be hyperaware and thus less tolerant. So extra points to you for realizing this and wanting to stay close to your cousin.

I agree, avoiding her is not the answer. Start gently. The next time she begins with the hijacking questions, say something along the lines of, “Great question, Cousin, but that’s not where the story is going. Hang on and I’ll get there!” Keep your tone light and loving and pick up where you left off. If — OK, when — she does it again, repeat the above or take it to the next level of assertion, such as, “Cousin, I know you want to know what happened to me, but when you interrupt me and ask questions, I lose my train of thought.” Again keep your tone light and loving.

Be sure Cousin gets plenty of talking time as well and be sure you actively listen. Hopefully she won’t get huffy and insulted by your gentle correcting. If she does, you just might have to put up with this tick of hers. But take heart, with you having planted the seed, she may grow more self-aware, as you did, and begin to interrupt less.


Dear Debra,

Another High Holiday has come and gone and with it a lot of entertaining; I am ready to call it quits. We had 30 people for dinner over the holidays. No one offered to bring serving dishes to the table or to the kitchen after our meal; no one offered to help me clear. I’m not expecting my guests to wash dishes, but a few offers of help would have been great. I know some families hire someone to serve and clean, but that’s just not our style or budget. What can I do to be sure this doesn’t happen again?

— Big Tzimmes

Dear Tzimmes,

While it’s always lovely to have our guests pitch in, guests are, by definition, people you invite over to visit and/or dine with you and receive your hospitality. Some people like their guests to help; others don’t want anyone in their kitchens. Since you seem to be in the first camp, at least when it comes to big dinners, have a game plan ready.

When your guests accept your invitation and ask if they can bring anything, let them know that instead of bringing food or wine, you’d really appreciate their help serving the chicken soup or kugel. Assign another guest or two to help you clear. It sounds like you had no family around the table because they would be the natural ones to help clear, scrape dishes, ready dessert for serving, etc. Enlist your husband as well and have him tell some of his buddies to lend a hand where you might need it.

People aren’t mind readers, so if you want a bit of pitching in, you’re going to have to pitch it to your guests to lend a hand.

Other ideas — you can change things around and make it casual and use paper plates for some or all of the meal. And don’t write off hiring help. You don’t have to get all fancy and expensive. Maybe there’s a neighbor high school student who would love making a few extra dollars to help you clean up after your guests have gone home, well fed and appreciative.

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