Dear Richard Madeley: One of my friends won’t shut up about herself

Person sat in-between two women, bored by their conversation
Our group of old friends meets once a week over lunch – but lately, none of us can get a word in - Ron Number

Dear Richard

I have a few old friends (we are all in our 80s) who like to meet once a week over lunch. We choose somewhere local and the group ranges from two to five people.

We are all very friendly and there is no animosity as we are all very fond of each other. The problem is one of the group who, after a short discussion of how we all are, starts talking about her family (she has over 30 grand- and great-grandchildren). She then goes on at length about their problems and the rest of us cannot get a word in.

I am beginning to dread these meetings, and have spoken to the other girls but cannot find a way of solving this dilemma. She constantly repeats the same details every week and I fear the group will start to decline. She has a husband who is a lovely man so she’s not lonely like the rest of us. Starting a group without her would seem like a dreadful backhanded thing to do – but letting the group wither away to just one old lady talking to herself would be a crying shame too. Can you advise us?

— Brenda, via email

Dear Brenda

Well, this is a delicate one. Actually, more of a thorny one. I don’t envy you attempting to pick your way through this particular behavioural briar patch.

If you confront this woman directly she’ll probably react with either angst or anger. If not, your group will probably implode under this deluge of weekly woe.

I’ve thought hard about this, Brenda, and I suggest a ploy to subtly alter the rules of engagement at these gatherings. Speak privately to the others and agree between you to present this woman with what amounts to a carefully staged fait accompli.

One of you – perhaps yourself, Brenda – should suggest that you all have, say, 10 minutes each to review and report your family news, purely to allow everyone a fair crack of the whip. Say that some of you sometimes leave these gatherings a little frustrated that they haven’t had a chance to share their thoughts.

Unless you introduce a basic structure to your meetings, she will simply continue to dominate and define them.

Good luck!