Dear Helena,

I’m going to a friend’s annual holiday party this weekend. Every year, I get stuck in the corner talking to my friend’s cousin, a crashing bore. Listening to him makes my brain shut down. If you want to escape a tedious conversation, what is the most graceful way to do so?—Cornered

Dear Cornered,

It’s been said that everyone is interesting if you know how to ask the right questions. In my view, everyone is interesting for ten minutes. After that, sometimes you need an exit strategy. Try one of the following:

1. Fib: Explain that you need to refresh your martini or locate the bathroom. Stephen Elliott, a San Francisco writer and habitué of book and cocktail parties, recommends offering to get your companion a beverage, too, as a consolation prize for your departure. “Ninety percent of the time, they don’t want a drink. If they do, hold it out to them at arm’s length and quickly move on.” Or borrow the smokers’ excuse: “I need to pop outside for a cigarette.” You don’t have to smoke it.

2. Mirror: If the bore drones on about something only he is interested in, embark on a monologue of your own: “It’s so fascinating to hear about your Ayurvedic diet. Let me tell you about my gym routine.” If the bore is dull because he’s tongue-tied, let an awkward silence fall. Either way, eventually you’ll out-bore the bore, and he’ll think moving on was his own idea.

3. Match-make: When you put two bores together, you neutralize them, saving not only yourself but all the other guests from their company. So if there’s another bore nearby, beckon him over and say, “I want you to meet each other.” Then share a piece of information about each person, preferably flattering: “Sue is an authority on Javanese gamelan. Gareth is a skilled accordionist.” That way, you’ve jump-started the conversation, which will distract them as you make your getaway.

4. Pass: Buttonhole a friend, introduce the bore, then sidle off. This is not a very nice thing to do to someone you care about. But why should you baby-sit for the entire party? It’s time for someone else to take a turn.

Have a Table Manners question? Email Helena. Read more Table Manners.

See more articles