Ditching an Annoying Guest

Dear Helena,

I host an annual event: A parade passes by my apartment and friends gather to watch the festivities. Last year a regular guest (my neighbor) asked if she could bring a friend. This friend happens to be loud, obnoxious, and does not mix well with others. Last year I reluctantly told my neighbor she could bring her friend, and now she’s asked if she can invite her again this year.

Saying no could even be a little awkward if my neighbor chooses not to come and instead watches the parade from her apartment with her annoying friend—with all of us right upstairs. How do I tactfully say no? Should I say no? —Hostess Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Dear Hostess Between a Rock and a Hard Place,

When a guest asks to bring someone else, it’s OK to refuse if the occasion is a dinner party or other intimate event. You can simply claim not to have enough chairs, wineglasses, or steaks. But if you’re inviting more than a dozen people over and one of them asks to bring someone, lack of space is not a good excuse. A party of more than 12 is like a crowded subway car: There’s always room for one more.

Plus, as you’ve pointed out, this guest attended the party last year, so excluding her will smack of personal insult. Invite the annoying friend along, but follow these steps to minimize her negative impact:

Play hot potato. Introduce the annoying person to one of your friends and drift away so they can talk for a few minutes. Your friend will probably attempt to ditch her. If your friend gets trapped, swoop in and introduce the woman to another guest, allowing the first victim to escape. Don’t feel guilty about forcing the annoying person on your friends, any more than you would feel guilty about asking them to set out chips and dip: Either way, it’s fine to ask your guests to contribute five minutes of their party time.

Acknowledge intent, not content. According to Dr. Rick Brinkman, coauthor of Dealing with People You Can’t Stand, when someone says something really annoying, instead of getting caught up in reacting to her words, you should acknowledge her positive intention. (It doesn’t matter whether the intention is positive or not, just act like you think it is.) For instance, if someone goes on a disagreeable political rant, you say: “I appreciate that you have a lot of passion on this subject.” If the annoying person is the passive-aggressive type and notes that you look tired, say: “It’s nice of you to care about my health and well-being.” Since the person is probably used to irritating people, a compliment will surprise and momentarily silence her. Then you can seize the chance to change the subject, says Brinkman. Or foist her on someone else.

Pair them off. It might seem counterintuitive, but the best way to neutralize an annoying guest is to invite another one. Then they can hang out together. One of your friends’ friends might do, or perhaps a co-worker. Kimberly Alyn, coauthor of How to Deal with Annoying People, says if you introduce one “extroverted, obnoxious person” to another, “They will get involved in comparing stories.” They might also get involved in an argument, or bore each other senseless, but who cares? All that matters is that no one else has to talk to them. Besides, you don’t want an annoying guest to enjoy herself too much—otherwise she’ll want to come round again.

CHOW’s Table Manners column appears every Wednesday. Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena.