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I ran into this issue multiple times and I don't know how to act. For context: communicating in groups does not come naturally to me, so I often rely on skills I learned over time and not everyone may relate to this.

When I have a conversation in a group and just elaborated on a topic (e.g. talked about how my vacation was), it sometimes happens that another person joins the conversation and asks about the same thing. Since the people who heard the initial story are there too, I don't want to tell the exact same story again, but I also don't want to be rude to the new person and ignore their question or answer too briefly.

What goes through my mind:

  • I taught myself to answer elaborately to questions, which is not natural for me. As a result these stories are usually very similar, and telling the same story twice means almost using exactly the same words twice. Doing so in a group minutes apart would be uncomfortable for me and I think awkward in general.
  • I have a hard time figuring out whether someone is genuinely interested or they remembered something about me that they use as a conversation starter. I think knowing this would help me knowing how to react (maybe simply say I just told the story, but I'll fill you in later?)

What I would like to achieve:

  • To show appreciation for the interest.
  • To make the new person feel welcome in the conversation.
  • To not hold people back to talk with me about the topic of interest again.

I wonder how other people deal with this situation and if there is any advice on how to achieve these goals and keep the conversation flowing naturally.

3 Answers 3

2

I ran into this situation many times during professional meetings, with people joining late, and asking for an update. And it helped me in more casual and friendly gatherings. In both case, the trick I use is to keep the talk balanced: enough for the newcomer to know, not too much to annoy the others.

What I usually do is to go for a digest: explain the main ideas I just talked about, don't dig any further into details, and leave the door open for more if needed, but later. Doing this, the newcomer feels welcome enough because you give them a partial answer, and the others don't have to listen twice to the same story.

About your holidays? "As I just said, we went there, spent time visiting this and this and doing that, great time. I'm not going to have them suffer my [ blah blah blah / whole story ] again...". This, of course, in a friendly funny way, with a smile. That's usually enough for both. And it never seemed to me that I missed the target as I never had negative feedback later...

Depending on your personality, the people involved and the topic, you just need to adjust the words and tone, but this is the main idea. This is just small talk, a starter, nothing to expand or worry too much about. Keep it simple and friendly, for the group and the newcomer, because you want to have it both ways.

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This is a case of a person putting you in a position where you must violate the Gricean maxim of quantity, which is the hypothesis that we cooperate with each other by saying neither more nor less than the information needed. You can't answer your new interlocutor with enough information without also giving your original conversation partners too much information.

The usual way to cope with having to violate a principle is to hedge it. This means explicitly acknowledging that you can't follow it. This is what people are doing when they say, "As I was just telling these guys,..." before repeating themselves.

The second aspect is to minimize the violation. In this case, that means just barely giving enough of an answer about your vacation to satisfy the asker that you're cooperating, while stopping far short of giving as much information as someone could desire.

Put these two together and you have a good strategy along these lines:

Arnold: How was your vacation?
Kevin: It was great! The best part was definitely [medium-length story].
Arnold: Sounds fantastic.
Bhatia: Hey, Arnold! Hey, Kevin! Welcome back! So — how was that vacation of yours?
Kevin: I was just telling Arnie about it. I really enjoyed it. Thanks for asking!

At this juncture, Bhatia generally realizes that you're not going to repeat the whole story and will probably decide to ask you some other time, if she's more interested than just politeness demands.

A small bonus is that if you stop yourself short of repeating a good story, Arnold in this situation may well say something like:

Arnold: Oh, yeah. You should tell her about the [medium-length story].

Or he may tell it himself. Either way, this is a good outcome since it licenses you to cooperate with all parties at the same time.

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Saying “oh you didn’t catch that? I probably bored everyone with all the details of my vacation or will if I do a replay. Laugh I’ll fill you in later. Smile. You didn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. You got your point across. Win win.

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