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A 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 started by “Jane” about a year ago. I joined a few months after it started, and was told I could invite others to join as it wasn’t well attended. I invited several friends when it was my turn to host. Now the book club consists mainly of my friends and Jane.

Jane dominates the conversations. After each comment from someone else, Jane tells a story about herself. We need to hear about her entire schedule and long list of books when we make plans for the next meeting. We try to politely redirect the conversation when she hijacks it, but the tug of war with words is tiring. 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.

Is there also a way to (successfully) tell someone in a friendly way that he or she should let others speak? It would be rude to start a new book club without her, but is that what we should do? Do you have any other suggestions to make this book club sustainable?

Hurts my ears: Very practical suggestion: we called it ‘The Circle Way’. Each time a different person is appointed leader; someone else is the timer. In the beginning, go around the circle and each person has two minutes to check in about his or her life. Or whatever they choose, or they can choose to succeed. Then another round lasts four to five minutes per person, where the speaker chooses something that really stood out to them in the book and tells why.

Finally, after everyone has had a turn (and someone can always pass), it’s ‘Open Season’, where everyone can participate. During that last time, it would be easier to redirect Jane – by noticing something she said and commenting on it. The leader is different every time, but everyone gets a turn in every role. People will get used to someone else taking the lead, making referrals, etc. I hope this works.

Hurts my ears: It seems like the first step is to figure out if you like this book club with Jane. If so, you can try to find a way to make it work, such as talking to Jane about how you feel (not how others feel).

If you are not enjoying this time with Jane, it is completely acceptable to stop attending and start another book club with others. I’ve been in a book club for twenty years and there may be times when someone talks more, but it’s usually because he or she is going through something. However, that is not constant or tiring, as it sounds with Jane.

Hurts my ears: The book club I belong to – founded in 1991 – had a similar problem, although it was more messy conversations and sidebars that left everyone frustrated. A few of us went to a website with tips for running book clubs and adopted a more formal structure to our conversations for a while.

It was difficult for those of us who found this “solution” to raise our problems, but we found a way to diplomatically say that we needed some restraint and a majority of members were willing to take the advice of a neutral party to follow. We have somewhat moved away from this formal structure, but we do point it out when things get out of hand.

Hurts my ears: Use a talking stick passed around the room. Since Jane is the one who founded the group, you’ll probably need someone to introduce this new way of meeting. I would talk about it with others first, so that everyone, or most of them, agree to the new rules.

Hurts my ears: I have been this person, and I probably still am sometimes. I thought I was connecting by saying, “I’ve had the same situation!” If the reason the other person shared their story is to connect, then sharing my story has connected us even more. Now I’m learning to be better, but only because someone was kind enough to say it very clearly to me.

I can’t speak for her, but when I was Jane, I appreciated it when someone said, “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 telling your own story, could you try something like, “That must have been painful,” or, “What a difficult situation,” and then just let the other person respond?”

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