This post is an excerpt from Conversation Mastery: Conversation Topics, Techniques, Tips & Tricks to Make Conversation Easy.
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Anyone who’s ever been to a party, work event or social function – which is to say, pretty much everyone – has probably found themselves wondering how to end a conversation without coming off as rude, offensive or abrasive.
I have to confess that I used to be one of the worst offenders here – getting out of conversations was never my strong suit.
In the past I frequently found myself at the whim of (apparently more zealous) conversation partners, desperately looking for a way to escape the dialogue without making them feel like their time or attention was unwanted.
Fortunately, after a lot of trial and error (along with the consumption of umpteen personal development books), I eventually learned how to end a conversation in a way that left both my conversation partner and myself feeling good about the interaction – without forcing either of us to carry on any longer than we had to.
Below you’ll find a few of the most effective and practical strategies I’ve found for escaping an unwanted conversation.
How to End a Conversation
10 Ways to Wrap Up Like a Gentleman
1. The Direct Approach
One of the most effective strategies for ending a conversation is also one of the most direct – and the most versatile.
You can use this technique in virtually any situation, whether you’re at a party, a professional function or any other place where you might find yourself engaged in conversation.
When you’re ready to extricate yourself from the encounter, wait for your next opportunity to speak, then simply say, “Well, it was great chatting with you.”
Ninety-nine times out of 100, your use of the word “was” will be enough of a cue for your conversation partner to understand that the conversation’s over. They’ll reciprocate with something like “Yeah, you too,” at which point you’re both free to move along.
Taking the Initiative
While this technique is effective, it can also be intimidating. After all, if ending conversations were always that easy, you probably wouldn’t be reading this.
But, one of the principles that’s key to knowing how to start good small talk is also important to keep in mind when ending it: most people are happy – relieved, even – when someone else takes the initiative.
Being direct and saying “it was nice talking to you” may feel abrupt, but chances are good that if you think it’s time for the conversation to end, the other person thinks so too.
And since a lot of people struggle with conversation skills, they’ll likely be relieved that you stepped up and ended for both of you.
Of course, sometimes the reason you’re trying to end a conversation isn’t because it’s reached it’s natural conclusion, but because you don’t actually see any natural end in sight. Fortunately, the next few strategies will help you manufacture a reason to cut the convo off.
2. Harness the Power of “Because”
Being direct may be an effective way to end a conversation.
But if you’re the only member of said conversation whose enthusiasm for it has waned, you might offend the person you’re speaking with if you end it abruptly, particularly if you’re struggling to get a word in edgewise, and you have to cut them off in order to do so.
This is where an excuse can come in handy.
While your conversation partner would be (justifiably) insulted if you just straight-up walked away, they’ll be placated if you offer a reason why you need to leave the conversation – as long as you phrase it properly.
The key is to use one of the most powerful words in the English language for getting people to do stuff: “because.”
Any Reason Will Do
In a classic research study published by Harvard psychology professor Ellen Langer back in the ‘70s, study subjects were much more likely to let someone cut in line in front of them to make a photocopy if they used the word “because” to describe why they needed to do it.
Amazingly, this worked even when the reason given was as lame and uninspiring as “because I need to make copies.”
“The researchers hypothesize that people go on ‘automatic’ behavior or ‘mindlessness’ as a form of a heuristic, or short-cut. And hearing the word ‘because’ followed by a reason (no matter how lame the reason is), causes us to comply,” as behavioral psychologist Susan Weinschenk summarized in Psychology Today.
You can use the same psychological effect to extricate yourself from a conversation without offending the person you are (or rather, were) talking to.
Try saying something like, “Well I better go to the bathroom because I drank way too much coffee earlier” or “I have to go check in with my (boss/colleague/friend/girlfriend/third-cousin’s dentist, etc.) because I told them I’d call.”
No matter how lame the excuse may seem to you (your third-cousin’s dentist—really?), using the word “because” will make it seem legitimate in your conversation partner’s mind.
3. Remember the Classics
Now that you know how to end a conversation without arousing suspicion (or resentment), let’s look at a few ways you can fill in the blank when you say “I need to leave because…”
A tried and true conversation stopper, it’s always acceptable to excuse yourself from the conversation in order to use the men’s room.
You can interject at almost any point and say, “Would you excuse me, because I have to run to the bathroom” and no one will hold it against you.
Of course, if you’re going to use this excuse make sure you actually do head to the bathroom rather than to another conversation – getting caught using an excuse will definitely negate its effectiveness.
The Bar Calls
According to Morag Barrett, author of Cultivate: The Power of Winning Relationships, another classic way to escape is to do so in pursuit of booze.
If you’re stuck in a conversation you just can’t seem to get out of, you could take a few bigger gulps while you listen to your convo partner’s prattle.
When it’s your turn to speak next, say, “Well it looks like I need to head to the bar (or fridge, or keg, if you’re at a house party) because my cup is empty.”
Going for a refill is a perfectly acceptable reason to exit the conversation, but if you really want to leave them thinking you’re a true gentleman, make sure to ask one more quick question as you make your leave: “Can I get you anything?”
Ninety-nine times out of 100, the answer will be, “No thanks,” which means you’ll not only be free and clear, but you’ll have left them feeling good about your manners.
And in those rare one-percent occasions when they take you up on the offer, all you have to do is grab them a drink, deliver it back to them and say, “Here ya go, it was great chatting with you” to make sure you don’t get roped back in.
In that instance you’ll seem even more gentlemanly for actually following through on your offer, and all you had to do was grab a quick drink – a small price to pay for both extrication from a bad convo, and the appreciation of the person you’re escaping.
4. Give Them an Excuse
If for some reason you can’t come up with an excuse that seems natural, try flipping it around and making it seem like your conversation partner is the one who has to excuse themselves for something more pressing.
How? By saying “I’ll let you…”
Using the word “let” implies that you humbly believe your conversation partner is spending time with you even though they have something more pressing they could or should be doing.
It’s a subtle way to imply reverence and appreciation for that person while also creating an opportunity to end the conversation.
One of the best parts of this strategy is that the options for what you’ll “let” your conversation partner get back to are almost endless:
“Thanks for the chat, I’ll let you get back to mingling.”
“Anyway, I’ll let you get another drink. Nice talking with you.”
“Well, I’ll let you go. Thanks for the chat.”
“I should let you say hi to (so and so). Talk to you later.”
5. Pawn Your Convo Partner Off on Someone Else
This is a classic passing the buck strategy that lets your chatty conversation partner keep on talking—just not to you.
When you’re in a room full of people having smaller micro conversations, like at a networking event or party, and you find yourself trapped in a conversation you’d like to get out of, keep your eyes open for someone in the vicinity who you know.
When this new person is nearby, look for an opportunity to get them involved in the conversation.
If you don’t know whether the acquaintance you’ve spotted has met your conversation partner, this could be as simple as saying, “Hey Mike, do you know (conversation partner)?”
Another strategy is to consult Mike on whatever you and your conversation partner are discussing: “Hey Mike, we were just discussing X. What’s your take on…?”
Once you bring Mike into the fold and get him engaged with your conversation partner, you’ll have the opportunity to either offer an excuse (as noted above) or, if they’re really engaged, simply slink away without offending either of them.
6. Get Yourself Pawned Off on Someone Else
If you don’t know anyone in the immediate vicinity who you can rope into your conversation, try the next best thing: get your conversation partner to do it for you.
This maneuver is admittedly a little trickier, but if done right it can have the same effect as the one above:
You can get a third person involved in the conversation, which makes it easier to find a moment to excuse yourself and let the other two continue on talking.
One way to do this is to ask your conversation partner about what connection they have to the party or event you’re attending.
If they say something like, “I’m an old friend of Rick’s from high school” you can respond with something like, “Oh I don’t know many of Rick’s high school friends, I’d love to meet them. Are there more of you here?”
Doing You Both a Favor
Nine times out of ten, this will prompt your convo partner to start looking around for fellow members of his tribe to introduce you to – and get you out from under his clutches.
(Of course, if he doesn’t get the hint, you can always seal the deal by straight out asking, “Would you mind introducing me to a few?”)
If the gambit doesn’t work and your conversation partner doesn’t know a single person at the party they could introduce you to, you’ll have at least created more leeway for yourself to use the strategy above.
You could say, “Oh, you don’t know (insert any of your friends here)? You should definitely meet them, let’s go find them.”
In many ways this is actually preferable, because you won’t just be selfishly slinking out of a conversation, you’ll be legitimately doing the person a favor by introducing them to some new people they might not have otherwise had a chance to meet.
7. Take it Online
One effective way to soften the blow of ending the conversation is to imply that while you may be done talking today, you’re not done interacting with that person forever.
Asking if your conversation partner is on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram implies that you’re going to look up their profile and connect with them later, which will both signal that the conversation is over and that you want to maintain contact in the future.
As with other excuses, this works best when you follow through and actually send them a friend request later.
The downside of this to you is essentially nil, since you can always hide posts from that person if you don’t actually want to interact with them, but the upside is that you not only get yourself out of the conversation, you also expand your online social circle.
8. Use Body Language to Suggest It’s Time to Go
In another post I provided some body language tips for men who want to communicate confidently without saying a word, but your body can do more than help you amplify your message – it can also help you end the conversation entirely.
Using a few nonverbal cues to imply that the conversation is over can help cement any verbal strategy you employ.
A few classics include things like standing up (if you were conversing while sitting), or turning towards the direction of the door, the bar, the bathroom or anywhere else that would necessitate going alone.
9. Summarize and Skedaddle
Just as you might end an essay by summarizing the previous points made, you can conclude a conversation by doing the same.
Summarizing what you’ve just talked about shows your conversation partner you’ve been listening and appreciated what they have to say, while also implying that it’s time to wrap things up.
This tactic works best as a transition, which allows you to one of the conversation-enders noted above.
For instance, if you’ve been talking about the news you can say something, “Yeah there’s definitely a lot going on in the world – we live in interesting times. Well, I’ll let you get back to…”
If your conversation partner has been talking about themselves you could say, “Sounds like you’re definitely keeping busy. You’ll have to excuse me for a moment because I…”
Offering a sentence that summarizes what they’ve been saying will help soften the blow as you extricate yourself from the situation.
10. Express Gratitude to End Strong
Falling somewhere between The Direct Approach and Remember the Classics on the “how to end a conversation” bluntness scale, one last tip for extricating yourself from a convo is to simply say “thank you.”
Wait for your next turn to speak (but ideally before the next awkward silence arises) and say something as straightforward as, “Well, thanks for the chat.”
The positivity will make your conversation partner feel flattered and leave them with a good impression, while clearly signalling that the interaction is over.
Most of the time, they’ll simply respond with some version of “You’re welcome” and let you get on your merry way.
But if for some reason they don’t seem to be getting the hint, you can always use the same transitioning tactic I suggested for Summarize and Skedaddle, where you use the “thank you” before pivoting into an excuse:
“Well, thanks for the chat, but I better get going because I…”
Remember that more often than not, if you’re ready to end a conversation, chances are your conversation partner is too, meaning that in most cases you’ll likely find little resistance when using any of the above strategies.
But if you happen to find yourself talking (or more accurately, nodding politely) with someone who just won’t stop squawking, you can use these techniques to extricate yourself without burning any bridges or bruising any egos.
Thanks for reading, and good luck! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get going because…
Well, you get it.
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2 thoughts on “How to End a Conversation Smoothly and Effectively”
Great article Dave. I like how your advice focuses on really practical things that I can actully apply, instead of things that sound good in theory but don’t make sense in real life.
Thanks Craig! Really glad to hear you got something from this piece. I definitely try to make all of my advice as practical and useable as possible, so I very much appreciate the kind words!