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Talk, talk, talk: How to escape a dull chat

We’ve all been there — cornered at a party, in the grocery store or while on a simple neighborhood stroll, ensnared in an interminable conversation, our Niceness stymieing the vehement desire to cut off the talker and cut out.

BILL WARD
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Modified: August 7, 2012 at 3:45 pm •  Published: August 7, 2012
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photo - T.J. Akerson, bartender at Mission American Kitchen in Minneapolis, Minnesota, delivers an omelet and salad lunch to a customer at his bar, a bit of alone time for a diner in a busy world. (Tom Wallace/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT)
T.J. Akerson, bartender at Mission American Kitchen in Minneapolis, Minnesota, delivers an omelet and salad lunch to a customer at his bar, a bit of alone time for a diner in a busy world. (Tom Wallace/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT)

We’ve all been there — cornered at a party, in the grocery store or while on a simple neighborhood stroll, ensnared in an interminable conversation, our Niceness stymieing the vehement desire to cut off the talker and cut out.

But not all of us have experienced “the Johnson goodbye.” Since Tom Stangl married into the Johnson family decades ago, he has learned to chuckle at the clan’s perennial penchant for an adieu ritual that is extremely kind and incredibly slow, bidding godspeed with no speed whatsoever.

“I’ve seen them introduce new subjects all the way to the curb. One time, one of them followed my son to his car and then got in the car with him and stayed 30 minutes. And my son actually had to go somewhere.”

Because family members are so fond of one another, and the practice is so well established, “it’s fun to watch,” Stangl said. But getting buttonholed by a boor or a bore, an egotist or a polemicist, can be quite the challenge.

True experts — a politician, a psychologist and a bartender — use proven exit strategies. It should be little surprise that a favored tactic among these seasoned veterans of dealing with gabby gasbags involves modern technology.

“The cellphone is kind of a get-you-out-of-anything excuse,” said T.J. Akerson, bartender at Mission American Kitchen in Minneapolis. He said customers “will look at their phone and that will give them an excuse. ‘I’ve got to call this person.’”

Cutting someone off is probably suited only for one-way, soapbox situations, psychologist Mindy Mitnick said. “When you want to have a conversation but the other person wants to have a monologue,” she said, “you’re going to get out of that situation sooner.”

More genteel options abound. When running into someone, “you can say, ‘I’d love to catch up with you more, but right now I have to fill-in-the-blank, pick up my child,’” said Mitnick, who works at the Uptown Mental Health Center. She added, “if you’re an honest person, you follow up. But some people, when they say, ‘It’s so great to see you, let’s do lunch,’ what it really means is ‘I can’t stand to talk to you for one more second.’”

A similar tactic can work at a neighborhood or other social gathering. “It’s always acceptable to say, ‘It’s so good to see you. I just want to make sure I catch up with Jack over there.’ There’s nothing wrong with saying you want to see so-and-so.”

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