A group of people, who have known each other for a very long time, meets again. Among them are Alice and Mallory (not real names).

She has been gone for quite a while and just came back. Now she has a lot of new stories to tell, and we are eager to listen to her.

She is an attention-seeker and dislikes Alice. Furthermore, she is very sensitive.

Now, everyone is present and Alice starts to tell us about her experiences during her time away. The rest of us met more regularly, living in the same city, so there is currently no news to share.

Mallory doesn't appear to be too interested, judging from body language (she sits close to me, in my line of sight). I am however, and listen to Alice. After a short while, Mallory simply starts talking to me (directly, and just to me). She speaks in a loud voice, telling me the same old stories she already told me a thousand times, laughing and also grabbing my attention by physical means (poking, pushing). All this, while Alice is still speaking and I'm obviously listening to her. The others ignore what is going on, Alice included. Since Mallory is so sensitive, she is rarely criticised for her behaviour, in order to avoid her throwing a temper tantrum.


I want Mallory to stop, without interrupting Alice. So I'm looking for a discreet way of making it clear to someone, that you want them to stop talking to you. So making a scene is not a possibility.

How do I handle this situation without grabbing the attention myself?

Additional information

  1. We are talking about adults here (including Mallory).

  2. Regarding Mallory's motivation: There is no special interest in me (especially no romantic one) and she did/does that on several other occasions involving other people.

  3. Removing / not inviting Mallory or hoping for her to just stay away, if she is not interested, is not an option. There is no possibility to physically get rid of Mallory (e. g. leaving together with Alice).

Mallory is an extreme case for sure, however I also welcome answers, that are more broad in their approach - how to handle someone, who tries to drive your attention away from someone else for no good reason. And it is about the situation itself, not about what to say to Mallory afterwards to make her stop that behaviour in the future.

  • she sits close to me Is it just next to you or not (in my line of sight) ?
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 7:42
  • @OldPadawan hard to describe the unusual seating arrangement. Not directly in front of me, but it would have needed some effort from me to not notice Mallory's facial expression and body language (e. g. noticeably not paying attention to Alice). Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 9:42

8 Answers 8


I've had this happen and it's very difficult. I would try less direct first and then escalate as necessary.

  • First use your body language to show where your attention is and isn't. Look at Alice and keep Mallory out of your line of vision -- even peripheral if you can. If she pokes you, gently brush her away without looking.
  • If she continues more than twice after that or escalates, look at her very briefly and show the quiet sign. She probably will ignore it since she's deliberately trying to pull attention away from Alice and even your quiet sign is attention.
  • If she continues after that, say "sorry, Alice." Then look directly at Mallory and say "I'm trying to hear Alice. Hang on."
  • Worst case scenario, say "sorry" to Alice and look at Mallory and say "I really want to hear this, can you please stop?"
  • 3
    +1 Great approach with escalation. For the second point, in addition to making a quiet sign, you could also gesture to Alice, kind of like a quiet and point gesture to emphasize you want to here Mallory over her.
    – cheshire
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 20:50
  • 2
    I tend to agree, except that "she did/does that on several other occasions involving other people" in which case, I think it's time to add a fifth bullet: "Mallory, you do this a lot, and it's extremely rude. Please stop interrupting other people." (And if that doesn't work, you and Alice go elsewhere.)
    – WGroleau
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 21:32
  • 5
    Can I suggest in step 3 you do not say 'Sorry, Alice.' and instead quietly address Mallory instead without breaking Alices thought. This seems a more gradual escalation through the 4 suggestions to me (Body, Eye Contact, Verbal, Explicit) and also provides one last opportunity for Mallory to STFU before you interrupt Alice and bring the whole groups' focus onto her. Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 0:11
  • 2
    @RyanfaeScotland - I actually like the "Sorry, Alice...." It calls attention to the fact that Alice is the person being slighted here. It also points out that Mallory is making OP look like they are being rude to Alice, and sets the stage for more direct methods. My assumption is that Alice is already aware that Mallory is attempting to have a side conversation, so a quick "sorry" doesn't really break that up more than Mallory's behavior, and it also communicates to Alice that OP is not an indifferent active participant in this behavior. Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 22:50
  • I'm easily irritated and very direct, so maybe I'm not the authority on this, though. Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 22:51

I want Mallory to stop, without interrupting Alice.

Alice has already been interrupted, because:

Mallory simply starts talking to me (directly, and just to me). She speaks in a loud voice, telling me the same old stories she already told me a thousand times

There is no reason to be respectful to someone who is being rude on purpose. Therefore, you need to split the people present into categories. People you care about, and people you don't care about. Mallory belongs in the second category, therefore you are free to say whatever you want to her as long as you achieve your purpose, which is to shut her up. If you show restraint and don't send her back home crying, that's you being extra nice. You don't have to. It's up to you.

This situation is similar to when I'm discussing business on the phone, and someone walks into the room and interrupts. In this case, I will stare pointedly into the interrupter's eyes, while politely talking into the phone:

"I'm sorry, someone is making noise, so I missed what you said. Just wait a sec, they're leaving."

Then I turn around. It is important to make the interrupting person feel that they're unwelcome, that they don't matter, because that serves the purpose of making them go away.

We are talking about adults here (including Mallory).

No, not everyone is an adult. Mallory is behaving like a spoiled brat. Treat her as such. It is important to be fair.


All I can think of is the 'Shush' gesture possibly accompanied by grabbing and returning to her the prodding limb. That would be the least obtrusive way to stop this in someone who can and will take a hint. Best avoid looking at her directly while you do this, stressing the 'stop this' message.

But seeing the self-centred behaviour this probably is not enough. Next would be to step back out of her reach and go to a position in the group where she cannot reach you. You may have to do this more than once to show an action like this will not work (on you). She may go for a next 'victim' if you do this.

Finally you can try and talk to the other group members and see if they are aware of her intrusive behaviour and motivated to help.

  • This is probably what I'd do/suggest, but because Mallory is so sensitive it's hard to see what her reaction might be... A complex situation for sure! Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 20:31

Doing what you describe is really rude. When doing this, I see her seeking for support and an accomplice. She doesn't want to walk down the path alone. In case someone complains, she might just say : Wait, Anne was talking to me!

If this happens once, nothing you can say really right away maybe. But then, I would show her that I can't agree with what she does, can't support her behaviour, and can't be her excuse.

  • I would not answer when she starts talking.
  • I would make sure she understands what I mean and wave her a gentle ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • I would make a gesture showing that I'm listening to Alice right now.
  • I would wait until just the two of us can hear, and talk to her:

Excuse me Mallory, but I wanted to let you know something that bothered me. I really felt bad earlier when Alice was telling us a story. It made me very uncomfortable when you interrupted her by talking to me, because she may think I couldn't care less about what she was saying.

I neither want to be rude to you nor her. I would really appreciate that you don't put me in such a situation, and being seen as rude. Thanks for your understanding.

I don't like being hostage to someone else's attitude. Now, after telling her, she knows that she needs to choose another victim for her crime, but it won't be me...

  • 1
    I've fixed your shruggy's broken arm. ;)
    – NVZ
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 15:57
  • 3
    @NVZ : thanks, feels much better now! a couple of weeks of cast and it'll be gone... please don't be my Gilderoy Lockhart :)
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 16:03
  • @NVZ *looks at edits* so that's how you do it! Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 20:33

Another possible answer that may reduce the chance of conflict is to quietly physically acknowledge Mallorys attempts to talk with you in a comforting way while clearly maintaining your focus on Alice. This could mean:

  • Holding her hand that she poked you with
  • Placing your hand on her shoulder and leaving it there for a while
  • A gentle shove and then shush sign (while smiling) after a particularly loud laugh

These options do a few things: They let Mallory know that you are clearly aware of what she is trying to tell you. Her voice being raised, and physical intrusions on you are likely a symptom of wanting to make sure you are listening to her. Doing this essentially tells her that you have heard her, but firmly shows that would like to listen to Alice. It is subtle and does not disrupt the group. It is more likely to discourage any further interruption because unlike telling her to stop, these actions do not give any opportunity for her to respond.

Essentially this is a way to treat Mallory as more of a friend than the nuisance she is acting like while quickly and quietly dealing with the situation, and making it easier to do so in the future. People can respond quite badly when their wrongdoings are made public and it seems she has already thrown "temper tantrums" in situations like this before.

If you like you could bring it up with Mallory in private later on where she can respond much more rationally than if it were in the heat of the moment and may even have a slightly better chance of reconsidering her behavior.

  • 1
    My favourite non confrontation approach from all the answers, especially the third point. I'm curious, what would be your next steps if the "smile" leads to more intensive behaviour, if she basically ignores the shush sign and focuses on the smile?
    – Albin
    Commented May 27, 2021 at 18:37
  • @Albin Personally, I'd repeat one of those bullet points a little more firmly and without the smile
    – Jesse
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 6:49

I have two suggestions, neither of which require telling Mallory to put a cork in it.

1) The ultimate nonverbal expression of unwillingness to hear someone is to turn your back on them. If you are situated in a way that lets you rotate your whole person, torso and legs, 90 degrees away from Mallory, you should do that. Listen to Alice without actually looking at her. By not looking at Alice, you'll relieve Mallory of the feeling that she's lost a competition, and you'll also keep Mallory out of your peripheral vision.

Enhancement to #1: If you and your friends are normally physically affectionate and relaxed about body contact, you could even lean back, onto Mallory, which will satisfy her apparent urge to "own" you in some sense, occupy her attention, and possibly shut her up. If you could also close your eyes, it would appear to be a complete victory for Mallory, and you could still listen to Alice. You wouldn't have to remain in that pose too long. You'd have broken Mallory's impulse-driven onslaught and thrown her a bone to assuage her need for attention.


2) Turn to face Mallory. Lean toward her, optionally placing a hand on her shoulder, if that's the kind of thing you would normally do with her, and whisper that you don't feel too good (which is true, if you're sufficiently irritated that you're on the verge of yelling), and ask her if she'll get you a glass of water, or whatever's on offer. She will feel important and comply. When she returns with a beverage, having been made aware that you're not at your best, she might refrain from launching into a new monologue. Implement #1 at this time, enhanced version if possible, to improve the odds of her remaining silent.


I usually ignore the second person, and listen to the first. Keep talking to Alice, ignore Mallory for now, except for a quick glance to show you heard her.

If I then don't want to talk to Alice, I'll leave that conversation. Sometimes, I'll wait for a break, then turn back to Mallory and say "what was it you were saying?" Alice will probably get the hint that you're talking to her now.

You might have to interrupt Alice, if you want to leave without waiting for her to stop. Say "excuse me, I want to talk to Mallory about something". I've done this many times, and I've never seen anyone get visibly upset about it.

If you're quick and brief, you won't grab the focus in the conversation. You won't have to even verbally acknowledge it. I advocate non-verbal communication on this site because it's very important.

Source: I grew up with this, my family & friends constantly do this. I'll get two or three people talking at once. (I do it too, lol)


Adding to the other answers that deal with how to try and overcome Mallice's distractive behaviour by addressing her in one way or another:

If you totally don't want to try and put her in her place due to her sensitivity, you can grab your drink, get up, briefly move away (depending on where you are meeting you may simply give the impression you're gonna grab something- maybe your phone you left in another room, are going to the toilet or whatsoever). When you come back just pull up another chair and position yourself on the other side of Alice.

This means you have a short break from Alice's story, but then made it much more difficult for Malice to distract you.

It avoids the confrontation with Malice at this occasion and often works with people that are only rarely making such problems (or typically not in your friend circle). With Malice being part of your friend circle, I'd consider it a short-term solution. You need to work on her behaviour in the long term - and with "you" I mean your group of friends.

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