How do I prevent someone telling the same story again without being rude?

I once had a neighbour, a lovely elderly lady who was very communicative. The first time we talked she told me a story about her life as a young girl and how she met her husband. It was a wartime story, very interesting, and I listened with undivided attention. The problem was, she repeated the same story each time we talked. Stir the conversation into a different direction proved to be impossible. I also tried expanding her subject, asking questions related of the era of her story, but she had no interest in those, only the specific events relating to her. We somehow always returned to her subject. The lady wanted to tell that story, and not any other.

Some of my coworkers display similar behaviour - they recite stories, usually featuring them in some funny or stressful situation again and again.

Are they aware they had told this story already? In some cases they must be, for example when their audience recounts the elements of the story with them (' I rememer that one! Then you told the guitarist - ') but still, it won't stop the flow of the memories.

Reminding them outright that you already heard the story might stop it for that specific instance, but good chances are that the story will resurface in another week or two.

Is there a way to prevent this behaviour? Should it be prevented at all, or it's simply the way some people chose to communicate and those stories are integral part of them and an interruption would make them sad or frustrated? Would it better to tell them in case they're not aware, as in some cases coworkers tend to comment behind their backs in the cafeteria ('That bore Polonius was at it again, telling us that dusty anecdote about his meeting with Fortinbras, no one cares that they'd met in 1602.')

  • That story defines her and she is not letting it go. Is it a long story?
    – paparazzo
    Dec 28 '17 at 14:31
  • @Paparazzi not necessarily. But even a short (2-5 min) story I've heard for the upteenth time makes me to look for escape routes. I am willing to suffer through it if it's important for the person and there is no other solution, but if someone could give insight into the problem and a possible solution I'd like to hear it.
    – user1617
    Dec 28 '17 at 14:37
  • 1
    I did give you some insight. Good luck.
    – paparazzo
    Dec 28 '17 at 14:41
  • 1
    @Paparazzi length or size for me is not a decisive factor and i was already aware that those stories are integral parts of the person, but thanks anyway for your effort.
    – user1617
    Dec 28 '17 at 15:20

My initial instinct when confronted with an IPS problem is to consider why the person does what they do.

In this case my instinct is that people who are retelling a story are attempting to relive an event that made them feel happy about the person they were and hold onto that that is the person they still are.

You'll hear the elderly talk about their youth but nothing from the past twenty years or someone who is lonely might recount stories of the party they last went to, someone who is out of work might talk about what they did for work before.

That doesn't mean the repetition doesn't get tiring for you, however. The solution sounds like things you've already tried - attempt to change the subject - but perhaps bearing in mind why the person might want to tell the story. If you can find a topic which helps the story-teller fulfill their original aim but without recounting that particular story that should satisfy both of you.

Despite this, everyone is different, perhaps some people only want to tell that story for some reason, for example if they're going deaf then being the one talking makes it easier to negate the effects deafness would have on the conversation. You will have to assess each conversation individually.