Book club member hijacks every conversation. Hax readers give advice.

We asked readers to channel their inner Carolyn Hax and answer this question. Some of the best responses are below.

Dear Carolyn: I am in a book club that was started up by “Jane” about a year ago. I joined a couple of months after it started, and I was told I could invite others to join because it wasn’t well attended. I invited several friends when it was my turn to host. Now the book club consists mostly of my friends plus Jane.

Jane dominates the conversations. After every comment by another, Jane tells a story relating to herself. We have to hear about her entire schedule and a long list of books when we plan for the next meeting. We politely try to redirect the conversation when she hijacks it, but the tug of war with words is tiresome. I think this is why so many of the original members dropped out. Some members are considering quitting and/or starting a new book club without Jane.

Alternatively, is there any way to (successfully) tell somebody in a friendly way that they need to let others speak? It would be unkind to start a new book club without her, but is that what we need to do? Do you have any other suggestions to make this book club tenable?

Hurts My Ears: Very practical suggestion: We called it “The Circle Way.” A different person is designated leader each time; someone else is the timer. At the beginning, go around the circle and each person has two minutes to “check in” about their life. Or whatever they choose, or they can choose to pass. Then another go-round is four to five minutes per person, where the speaker chooses something that really stood out for them in the book and talks about why.

Finally, after everyone has had their turn (and a person can always pass), it is “Open Season,” where all can chime in. During that final time, it would be easier to redirect Jane — noting something she said and commenting. The leader is different each time, but everyone has their turn at every role. People will get used to someone else taking the lead, redirecting, etc. Hope this works.

Hurts My Ears: It seems like the first step is figuring out if you enjoy this book club with Jane. If you do, then you can try to figure out a way to make it work, such as talking to Jane about how you feel (not how others feel).

If you don’t enjoy this time with Jane, then it’s perfectly acceptable to stop attending and start a different book club with others. I’ve been in a book club 20 years and there may be one time a person talks more, but it’s usually because they are going through something. However, that’s not constant or exhausting, as it sounds with Jane.

Hurts My Ears: The book club I’m a member of — launched in 1991 — had a similar problem, though it was more messy conversations and sidebars that left everyone frustrated. A couple of us went to a website that had tips for running book clubs and adopted a more formal structure to our conversations for a while.

It was awkward for those of us who found this “fix” to bring up our issues, but we found a way to diplomatically say we needed some reining in and a majority of members were up for following a neutral party’s advice. We’ve backed away from this formal structure some, but do point to it when things get off track.

Hurts My Ears: Use a talking stick that gets passed around the room. Since Jane is the one who started the group, you probably need someone to suggest this new way of conducting the meetings. I would talk to others about it first so that everyone, or most, will agree to the new rules.

Hurts My Ears: I have been this person, and I probably still am at times. I thought I was connecting by saying, “I’ve had that same situation!” In my mind, if the reason the other person shared their story is to connect, then sharing my story connected us even more. Now I am learning to be better, but only because someone was kind enough to say it to me extremely clearly.

I can’t speak for her, but when I was Jane, I appreciated someone saying: “You know how you respond to people’s stories with a similar story of your own? I know you mean well, but it comes across as hijacking the conversation. Next time, instead of sharing your own story, could you try something like, ‘That must have been painful,’ or, ‘What a tough situation,’ and then just leave it to the other person to respond?”

Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s installment here. New questions are typically posted on Thursdays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.

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