Pronoun Game: "Using pronouns in dialogue to force other characters to ask for an explanation or conceal info." source

The story:

Every day I go to lunch with two of my colleagues (we are in our 20s). I have never worked directly with any of the two, as we work in different departments. One of them is a rather talkative person (let's call him Bob), which in general is fine with me if he would not always play the pronoun game.

An example from yesterdays lunch: Bob said something along the lines of "I can't believe how they could mess this up so badly". As I don't want to encourage this and my other colleague was busy eating, nobody asked for clarification, which leads to him repeating the sentence another two times (getting louder each time), after which he just started telling the story on his mind, without being asked to.

Sometimes he approaches me (in our lunch break) and starts to tell me about what he has been doing the day (i don't care at all) and keeps talking forever.

I have already tried to keep my answers along the lines of "ok", "mh", "yeah" and so on or not answering at all to try and stop him from talking, which does not work. It seems that Bob often times does not grasp what others try to tell him subtly.

Another thing that really bothers me is that he gets really loud when someone disagrees with him (which does happen often, as he does not seem to give much thought to what he says). It's really making me uncomfortable when others turn their heads in our direction to see whos nearly screaming.

As I enjoy lunch with the other colleague, just not going to lunch with them would not be my favorite option.

  • 1
    @FabianWüthrich If you have an answer, please post it below. Thanks. Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 13:21
  • 2
    Have you picked up any signs that the co-worker that you like is also bothered by this?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 14:50
  • 1
    So the problem seems to be that you wish this colleague would stop having social conversation with you at all? Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 15:21
  • 1
    Does the talk happen when you are eating? If yes, will simply "No talking while eating" work for you?
    – Vylix
    Commented Aug 30, 2017 at 15:45
  • @RobertCartaino I don't think that my comment was enough for a whole answer. That's why I just wrote this as a comment. Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 6:43

4 Answers 4


Since I do not know how your other co-worker reacts, a first step might be to ask them if they have any problems with Bob's behaviour. To do this in a subtle way, you could start a conversation like:

Hey, I would like your opinion on something. I recently noticed that I find Bob's ways of conversation annoying, and I am planning on addressing this fact with him. Or do you think that would be an overreaction?

Make it so that the conversation is about the fact that you want to address Bob. No gossip about how annoying Bob is, focus on you and what you are planning to do. Your co-worker can probably give the best feedback, because he is also present during lunches with Bob.

Disclaimer: Do not expect that you can entirely change Bob's behaviour to fit your own wishes entirely. If you are going to confront Bob about this, be prepared to adapt your expectations as well. Be prepared to find a middle ground! If you are not, and just want Bob to not talk to you, there is no other way to achieve this than being blunt, and saying this directly to Bob. This will not be good for your relationship with him!

As you said, Bob doesn't take subtle hints. You tried, so the best way is to just start a direct conversation about it. You could either do this on occasion (e.g. when Bob tries to start another conversation using a pronoun game), but my first preference is always to just take the Bob aside. Make sure it is just the two of you. You don't want to confront Bob with a whole horde of disagreement. Maybe you can book a meeting room, or go for a lunch walk, so if Bob raises his voice in disagreement, it is not heard by everyone. From what I gather from your question, Bob raising his voice is almost a certainty, so be prepared to handle it. Then mention what you mentioned in your question, but bring it gently.

You're a good guy Bob, but I really want to discuss something with you. I would like you to hear me out, and think with me on how we can improve this situation. Thing is, I really don't mind lunching with you and (other co-worker goes here), but ... There are a few things about your behaviour at lunch time that bother me.

You could explain your opinion on the pronoun game, how you would really like Bob to either come straight to the point or say nothing at all, ask him if he ever noticed that he gets louder when talking, and especially when someone disagrees with him. Also explain to him that loud disagreement in a workspace is not really a professional behaviour, and that is makes you feel bad as well, you don't like being shouted at. And if it's (as Vylix mentioned) a case of you simply wanting to lunch in total silence, you might just say to Bob that you prefer to eat your lunches in silence. Be an example, do not sound accusatory and at all times be clear that this is as much a problem for you as it is for Bob. If Bob raises his voice because he disagrees with you, keep a gentle and calm tone yourself.

Be sure to ask Bob his opinion. Bob might offer an explanation for his behaviour. Maybe Bob is talking a lot, and trying a lot of different topics, just so he can find something that you both can talk about? Sounds to me Bob is trying very hard to be sociable, and your 'subtle' responses of mm, yeah, and uhuh might make him try even harder. Maybe you could initiate a conversation more often, so it starts with a topic that you like talking about with Bob? Maybe Bob has other problems, that make he has trouble processing social cues?

If Bob and you can come to some sort of agreement, then take the occasional approach when his behaviour is running out of hand at that moment. Make sure you are direct, gentle and most of all: Do not embarrass Bob! This means keeping the reminders between the two of you, so make sure that no co-workers that have no business knowing can hear you reminding Bob that his voice is to loud, or that he is talking to empty air again because you and other co-worker are not interested in the conversation. And always follow up in the last situation by steering the conversation to a topic that is interesting.

  • This is a good answer, but I think it's important to point out that for many Bobs in the world (but not all, and possibly not even the majority), some of the suggestions in this answer that focus the most on trying to preserve/placate Bob's emotional state and not hurt his feelings would be the most bothersome/negative part of the whole interaction. Sometimes Bobs need the same emotional padding/massaging that much interpersonal skills among normal people entail, but some Bobs just find it distasteful/unpleasant. Sadly it's non-trivial to identify which type of Bob you're dealing with.
    – mtraceur
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 9:54
  • I would be cautious about labels such as "annoying". Specifically how does one stop being "annoying"? Perhaps list specific behaviors such as talking loudly and taking up most of the 'air time'. It's relatively simple to figure out how to stop talking loudly and to allow others equal 'air time' (a chance to talk). Commented Jan 6, 2018 at 3:19

Here's the thing ... Bob is not subtle. He doesn't do subtle. You can work with this.

If he starts complaining interminably about how Kevin messed up Project Q, tell him so. "Bob, enough with Project Q already, I'm tired of hearing about that. Seriously. How bout them [local sports team]?"

If he starts getting loud, tell him so. "Ey Bob, tone it down a bit. Folks are staring at you."

Y'know, you might also consider inviting colleague out without Bob...

  • 3
    +1 There are many "Bobs" in the world for whom this is the correct answer. Most "normal people" reflexively reject answers like this because they don't get it that some people actually want to be talked to like this. Most interpersonal skills are tuned for dealing with other "normal people", and are often emotionally grating to and counter-productive in dealing with those types of "Bob's". The challenge is how to identify whether or not your "Bob" is this type of "Bob", and this answer could be improved by focusing on how to diagnose and calibrate to different "Bob" subtypes.
    – mtraceur
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 9:48
  • as one of theses "bobs" myself the best way to find out is to make one of the comments once, and see how it goes. Start with "please enough about project x today hey Bob" watch and re consider. and re the pronoun game "Bob just tell us or shut up"
    – WendyG
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 13:22

I've been following a YouTube channel called "Charisma on Command", they made a video I think is relevant to this question, namely a video titled "stand up for yourself without being a jerk". It's a very interesting video on conflict management, with a real life example.

The video gives steps to manage conflicts. I will repeat them, in increasing order of gravity:

  1. Assume that the grouchy person is not actually grouchy, but just excited or clumsy. If you tense up, this increases the chances that the conversation will go down an aggressive path.

Ignoring Bob is fringe rudeness, but it might do here, as Bob could just be trying to start a conversation

  1. If the conversation keeps going in the wrong direction, respond in a (polite) way that hints that you are uncomfortable with the way the conversation is headed.

If Bob doesn't stop talking, there is a chance that he A) doesn't understand nobody cares, or B) does kind of "get" that he is annoying, but he "really wants" to tell his story because then people may actually listen to him. It's possible that Bob merely wants to talk about stuff, so you could try a non-sequitur that sends him down a different conversation branch. Alternatively, it's also okay to say "yes, we heard you the first time Bob", which at the very least makes it clear that you heard, and hints that you do not care.

  1. Call the person out for repeatedly leading the conversation the wrong way.

Now Bob is really telling his story, presumably loudly. He is doing so despite your hints that you didn't care. You need to call Bob on it. Since you are likely in a group setting, you will have to be careful how you do this, because it may break some group dynamics. Chances are, Bob is annoying other people too, so a blunt intervention might do. Since you have time, you might want polling people about how they feel about Bob. This should help you gain their support once you intervene. Alternatively, if you think calling him annoying can be too abrupt, you can try cracking a joke at Bob's expense, especially a non-offensive joke, like "Oh, Bob, you really got a lot to say. I'm really glad you joined us for lunch." Chances are Bob will understand he is being annoying after you do that.

  1. Politely leave (or ask him to leave). All your attempts at healing the conversation have failed. There is little hope that things will get better if you pursue the conversation.

While you explicitly stated that you did not want to leave your other colleagues, I think it is sometimes important to "act what you feel". If you leave out of annoyance, your other colleagues will likely notice. They may even follow you (i.e. if they are annoyed as well). Leaving the conversation may impress on Bob that he is being annoying.

From the way you describe Bob, it seems that you sympathize with his disability to read social situations. Great! It should help you keep collected, which should help you call him out in a polite, non-emotionally contrived manner.

Since Bob is a person you see often (I presume), you can repeat this process and try different ways of "telling him" what is wrong. If he is as blatantly grouchy as you say, other people will likely be willing to back you up. You will get even more support from your colleagues if you remain calm and polite, while Bob becomes increasingly unbearable. Group interventions are more impactful and have greater chances of making people realize that they are behaving incorrectly. (That would be the 5th step for you)

Lastly, this is work, and anything that prevents you from feeling comfortable at work (or around work) should be noted as being an impediment to your job. Consider informing your superiors about the situation. Hopefully, your superiors will have better resources in terms of workplace relationship management.


Good for you for asking, but are you judging him, or just confronted?

If someone in my workplace cafeteria played that game, I'd assume they had some interesting points to make, just like anyone else, except that they bring things up in a different way. There is a lot of diversity in the world and that is not something to fight against, so to speak.

I might consider it a challenge, to assume he's no different than me except in habits and methods, and then to learn how to have a conversation with him.

I'd try asking Bob questions, about his work, his interests. I think something like, "where did you hear that", or "why do you think that", or "how common do you think that is" or anything that asks him to think a little about what he or she is saying.

About the yelling, I'd consider it a challenge, depending on what my career and life goals were, to see if I could be honest with him, or rational, in order to minimise it. "You're really getting worked up about this, Bob. Politicans drive me nuts too but I try not to let that make me drive all my friends nuts."

At some point, it's his issue, and it's probably best to just be quiet and let the issue be his.

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