An underrated hurdle to the small talk struggle is not how to keep the conversation alive, but how to gracefully let it die. Maybe the other person brought up the 2016 election. Or the podcast they’re thinking about starting. Or their divorce. No matter what, you’re desperately searching for an exit sign so you can move on and talk to someone else, anyone else.
Whether someone is oblivious to how much they’re monopolizing your time, or the conversation has natural petered out and needs to be put out of its misery, we often need to find a way to escape conversations without being rude. Especially when the other person means well, you want to spare their feelings and find a way out that doesn’t leave them feeling slighted. Here are some tactful ways to signal that a conversation has reached its natural conclusion without offending the other person.
How to end a conversation gracefully
Before you resort to faking a family emergency, try out some more subtle conversational maneuvers.
- Start planning next time you’ll see them. This is a clear sign that while you hope to see them again, this current conversation has run its course. Say something like, “It was so great talking with you, I have to leave now, but we should we should grab a coffee soon!” The obvious risk here is if you don’t actually want to see this person again, you maybe shouldn’t propose plans to meet up with them.
- Ask to connect on social media. Asking for contact information is another clear cue that an interaction has reached its end. Similar to the above, you can simultaneously end a conversation while signaling to the other person that you want to reconnect in the future.
- Shift responsibility onto the other person. Try to make it look like you’d love to keep talking, but you’re honoring their time. For instance, you could say “I know you have to talk to so many people here,” or “Well, I’ll let you get back to what you were doing…” Make sure to make your exit swift, before they have the chance to insist you two keep chatting.
- Find a sacrifice. One way to escape a chatty person is to find someone to take your place. Introduce the person to someone you know walking by, and then leave them to it. Even if you stick around physically, you’ll be able to take a step back while your friend handles the brunt of the conversational duties.
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If the subtleties don’t work…
Sometimes you’re stuck with someone who is more awkward or annoying than you are tactful. In this case, it’s time to pull out all the stops.
- Fake a bathroom emergency. It’s not enough to say you need to use the restroom, because the other person could tag along to continue the conversation into the stalls. Instead, you need to sell the story that whatever you’re about to do in the restroom, you need to be alone. It’s an emergency.
- Lie (within reason). I hate lying, but I hate confrontation much more. This is when you fake a text that your kid is sick or that your family needs you urgently. Faking a family emergency often feels too extreme for me, so I like to go with the much vaguer, “My roommate needs me.” If you don’t have a roommate, “partner” or “friend” works just fine.
- Make them want to leave the conversation. Flip the script and make it so that the other person will be trying to escape you. Start talking about how flat you think the Earth is, or how crazy it is that some people actually believe birds are real. Do whatever it takes.
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