How To End a Conversation
by Brett & Kate McKay
Art of Manliness
several articles on the Art of Manliness covering the wonderful
art of conversation, from its dos
and donts, to how
to make small talk, to avoiding the dreaded plague of conversational
A comment each
of those posts invariably received was, “This is great. But, uh,
how do you end a conversation?”
I get it. Warm,
stimulating conversation can be one of the greatest satisfactions
in life. But, unfortunately not all conversations are created equal.
Some are more pain than pleasure. Maybe you strenuously avoid conversational
narcissism yourself, but you’re stuck talking to someone who’s a
master practitioner of the conversation-as-monologue method. Perhaps
you’re always getting caught by an annoying co-worker or neighbor
who bends your ear complaining about the new prices in the cafeteria
or waxes poetic on the joys of owning a Kia. It may not be that
you don’t like the person or enjoy his conversation, either. You
may go to a party or networking event hoping to meet a lot of different
folks but find yourself pinned down for a long time by one fellow.
He’s likable enough, but you spy people having a good time in other
parts of the house and wonder what you’re missing out on. Or you
may simply genuinely have something you need to do, and you just
don’t have time for the conversation at the moment, even though
you wish you did.
We would all
be well-served by striving to engage in more face-to-face conversations,
the time to listen to others, and doing our best to add to the
back and forth of our daily interactions. But there are times when
the conversation is truly going nowhere and/or we need to go somewhere.
So yes, the question naturally arises…how do you end a conversation
without making it overly awkward or offending the other person?
It isn’t easy.
Approaching someone might make you nervous but it consists entirely
of positive behaviors – coming over, smiling, starting some small
talk. Exiting a conversation, on the other hand, is made up of negative
behaviors – stopping talking, backing away. No matter how amiable
your intentions, the person can feel like you’re rejecting them.
This isn’t a big deal if you’re never going to see the person again,
but if you will, you don’t want things to be awkward (and you truly
don’t ever know for sure whether you’ll meet someone again, so why
burn any bridges?). And if the person is actually someone you do
want to see in the future, but you just don’t have the time to talk
to them at length at the moment, you want to solidify your connection
and leave things on a positive note.
magic formula for making an exit that guarantees the person won’t
take offense. But there are several things you can do to disengage
in the smoothest, most dignified way possible – minimizing the awkwardness,
sparing the person’s feelings as much as you can, and shoring up
your rapport with someone you want to re-connect with later.
may be combined or used separately depending on your situation.
Many apply both to face-to-face conversations and those conducted
over the phone.
Have a clear
purpose/agenda in mind. Whether you’re going to a party, a networking
event, or simply the bathroom, have an agenda in mind for what you
want to accomplish. Do you want to meet a lovely lady? Make a connection
with someone who can help you re-design your website? Empty your
throbbing bladder? Whenever you’re trapped in a conversation, you’re
torn between potentially hurting someone’s feelings by moving on
and wanting to do something else. Having a clear purpose in mind
for what you want to get done gives you the motivation to choose
the latter. It also gives you some easy-to-create exit lines, as
we’ll discuss below.
a lull in the conversation. “Well.” “Okay.” “Anyway.” “So.”
Such words emerge when a conversation has momentarily stalled. They’re
turning points where either a new topic can be introduced, or the
conversation may draw to a close. As such, they’re the perfect opportunity
to begin to disengage. The speaker will say “So,” with an upward
lilt in the voice, hopeful of the continuation of the conversation.
You answer with a tone of more downbeat finality, “So.” And
then you quickly transition into your exit line. “So, listen, it’s
been great catching up with you…”
conversation around to the reason you connected in the first place.
When possible, this makes for a smooth ending. Did the conversation
start by you asking someone for their recommendation for a class
to take? End with, “Well, I appreciate the tip. I’ll definitely
try to get into that class during enrollment.” Did it start by someone
asking you to take care of a problem at work? Close things out with,
“So I appreciate you bringing this to my attention. I’ll definitely
send Jim an email this afternoon to figure out what’s going on.”
Use an exit
line. This is where having an agenda as outlined above really
helps. When it comes to what kind of exit line to use, first, be
honest. Fabricating excuses is tempting, but it can come off as
dishonest in the moment and lead to more trouble later if the truth
gets out. Second, put the emphasis on what it is that you
need to accomplish. This makes your exit seem less like a judgment
of the other person – it’s not about them, there’s just something
you need to do. Here are some examples of exit lines (likely prefaced
by a, “Well…”):
- I need to
get a seat/use the bathroom before the movie starts.
- I have a
question I wanted to ask the speaker before he leaves.
- I’ve got
to get back to work. I’ve got a deadline I need to meet before
- I want to
make sure to say hello to everyone here.
- I made it
a goal to meet three new people tonight.
- I’ve got
to go inside and start getting dinner ready for the kiddos.
- I’m hoping
to see the Romantic art exhibit before it closes.
If you initiated
the conversation, but now want out, and there isn’t something you’re
hoping to do, try a line that brings closure to a conversation by
implying you’ve crossed something off your checklist (“just” is
your friend here):
- So, just
wanted to make sure everything was okay.
- Well, just
wanted to see how the new job was going.
If the other
person initiated the conversation, and did so to ask for help/advice,
conclude things by asking:
- Is there
anything else I can help you with?
- Is there
anything else you needed?
For a situation
where the above exit lines aren’t appropriate, simply wait for a
conversational turning point and say something like:
- Well, it
was great catching up with you.
it was fun to see you again.
Using the past
tense in such lines tells the other person that the conversation
has come to a close.
of all-purpose exit line is something like:
I don’t want to monopolize all your time.
- Well, I
don’t want to keep you from your work.
I’d only use
the above lines, however, when your conversation partner does indeed
look like they want out, or you simply can’t think of anything to
say. They can come off as a bit condescending – after all, if they
really minded you taking their time, aren’t they capable of saying
so themselves? You also run the risk of them jumping in with, “Oh
no, I don’t mind at all!” and the conversation continuing on. Finally,
generally when you hear such lines from someone, they clearly register
as a getaway attempt.
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© 2013 The Art of Manliness