Have you ever been stuck in a conversation that is being completely monopolised by the other person? A one-sided conversation you desperately want to finish?
Of course you have. We've all been there. It's a horrible situation, and makes you feel trapped and helpless.
You're collared with nowhere to run and they're pouring forth, with passion, about something that holds zero interest for you.
It feels like you'll be there until the cows come home. Or maybe even until the cows have been home a while and gone to bed. Perhaps even until the cows have gone home raised a family and their teenage offspring stumble home in the small hours from, well, wherever it is teenage cows go out on a night (presumably to drink copious amounts of milk until they collapse).
No one wants to feel trapped in a mind-numbing conversation for that long!
A Little Less Conversation
"A little less conversation, a little more action please" urged Elvis Presley and you need to take The King's advice.
You need to do something about it.
Feeling trapped in a conversation that is going nowhere means you must be proactive. It's not always easy to close a discussion but you need to bite the bullet.
So we're agreed the conversation needs to end but how can you do this successfully? And is it possible for you to do it without being rude?
Giving Off Signals
You've probably already given out various hints you'd like the conversation to end but nothing has done the trick.
- You've made the appropriate noises
- You've shuffled in your seat
- You've glanced at your watch
- You've nodded, sighed and looked behind you for the imaginary help that didn't arrive
Usually these actions alone will enable your escape but not this time! You've made all these moves and you're still stuck. The other person has either not clocked them, not understood them or studiously ignored them.
Look, forget about dropping any more hints. Let me tell you straight, hinting doesn't work. You need to be direct. And you need to be firm.
Use Their Name
You're going to have to interrupt the speaker and break into their flow. One of the best ways to do this is to say their name out loud.
Say their name firmly and in a slightly questioning way, as if you're about to ask them a very important and interesting question. Say it louder than you might normally say it, and with a slight inflection, (which will imply there's more to follow). Then wait for them to stop talking. Don't say anything else, just wait for them to stop.
The sweetest word in the English language is your own name. Think of when you hear your own name being called out - your attention switches immediately and you offer your ears.
If you've got kids then you'll know how effective this is with your honorary title 'Mum' or 'Dad'. Think of the many times have you been in a public arena, somewhere like the supermarket, playground or beach, and a plaintive young voice has called out 'Muuuuum!' or 'Daaaaaaad!'. I guarantee you turned with a reflex action to the source of that noise and offered your focus.
This simple, one-word approach offers a great chance of getting their attention, derailing their verbiage and creating a pause. It's because you've used their name and appear as if you've got something to tell them about themselves.
Take Control Of The Talk
What you say next will not be what they are expecting. When they pause (ah blessed relief!) take your chance as quickly as possible and inform them you are leaving the conversation.
After you say their name, you pounce on the gap that emerges and announce you're heading off.
"Paul (slight inflection and pause) . . . I need to visit the bathroom. It was lovely talking to you."
Smile, turn and leave. Done.
And notice the use of "was" subtly emphasising that this is now over.
But be warned, you have to dive right in when that pause occurs to capitalise on your gain, and that's not always easy.
Because you're a good conversationalist, and you're no doubt used to a mutually beneficial dialogue, with give and take from both parties, it might feel like you've generated an awkwardness in this conversation.
You have, and you've created it on purpose! You have had to conjure up a break in order to finish the conversation. You have interrupted the flow and what you're going to say next will have no relation to what they've just been saying. But trust me, that's fine, and more than that, it's necessary.
What Should You Say?
To help you be in control and not stumble it can be handy to have a bank of stock phrases for moments like this. I used a standard 'I need to visit the bathroom' line because with this excuse no-one can legitimately argue with your intention, and you can very easily insist you need to go by simply just going. (Crossing your legs and waddling away is optional but could help.)
If that line is too personal or would make you feel uncomfortable, then there are many more phrases you can employ. Choose what's most appropriate from these:
- It was nice chatting with you...
- It’s getting late...
- I should get going...
- Sorry, but I’m afraid I need to…
- I’m sorry to cut you off, but I need to go now...
These are fine as long as you then close, but too often they are ignored and steamrollered over.
In that case you need to step it up a notch, move it on again, or even start with one of these firmer endings:
- I'm going now. Thanks for chatting...
- Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I'll get back to you tomorrow...
- Your ideas are really promising. I'll call you when I've thought about them. Okay bye now, bye...
- This is too important to discuss here. I'll call you for a meeting...
- I'm going to stop you there. This has been useful. Let me consider what you've said...
- It's been a pleasure. I've really enjoyed talking to you...
Notice how the last one makes use of the past tense again. This is a subtle change that can have an impact without the other person realising. You've made the conversation history!
Bear in mind though, as I said earlier, once you've used one of these lines you then have to capitalise on your words.
End The Conversation
This is the part where you have to be strong. You need to follow through and end the discussion.
A conversation is a dialogue, words and ideas going back and forth between two people. If you leave the conversation then there will be only one person involved. The conversation has ended.
There is still a chance the other person may well continue talking. You don't have to feel that this involves you. It's not a conversation any more, what they are now doing is a monologue. Which means you have successfully left the conversation. Well done. You can leave them to continue their monologue.
Whatever you do don't hesitate! If you hesitate then the other person may drag you back into the conversation. It's easy to feel hesitant so you need to give yourself a strong reason to follow through and end it.
Remind yourself of what's at stake: your time! Time is the most precious resource you've got. Don't let others waste it for you (that's your own responsibility). By extracting yourself from the conversation you are claiming back ownership of your time.
Hanging On The Telephone
The examples we've used are mainly for conversations that take place face to face. But what about when you're stuck on the other end of the phone?
Telephone conversations are slightly different. Obviously you can't see each other. You can't see what the other person is doing and they can't see you either.
Having one of the five senses missing when you're engaged in dialogue is both an advantage and a disadvantage. One major pro is they can't see you rolling your eyes and miming blah blah blah, with your hand.
The disadvantage of course is they can't see any of the signals you're making to initiate the end.
So you need to be prepared to get straight to it.
Here are some lines you can use to quickly end a never-ending chat on the phone:
- "Ah, I've got another call coming in. Let's catch up later. Bye now."
- "Well, it looks like we've touched on everything we need to. I'm going to make my next call now."
- "My battery is about to die any second. I should go."
- "I've just looked at the clock. I need to get going."
- "Someone needs me. I'm going to have to go. Email me."
Have A Phrase At The Ready
Having a default line at hand helps because you always know what to say, there's no emotion involved and it's just one less decision to make.
On a daily basis I get a few sales calls I have no interest in. I need to take calls from numbers I don't know because new clients get in touch by phone all the time but the sales calls are easy to identify.
None of my family, friends or prospective clients ever open a conversation with:"Hey Iain this is mumble mumble from mumble company. How are you doing today?"
With the caller having identified for me that I definitely don't know them, I immediately trot out a polite but firm line that signals my intention to close the conversation before it starts.
"Thanks very much for calling me and I'm going to let you make your next call. Please take me off your database. Thanks, goodbye."
I say these words and if they say "Okay no problem" then all is good with the world and we end the call.
If on the other hand they continue talking, then I consider that to be very rude of them and, quite justifiably, I hang up.
Agreed, it's easy to be firm with someone you don't know. With someone you do know, it may feel harder but it is just as important to be firm and polite.
Create An Excuse
You can tell an out and out lie if you want.
"It's been fun catching up but I need to go now and feed the crocodiles. See you later. Bye. Bye bye. Byeeeeeee."
Well, maybe not about feeding crocodiles but don't feel compelled to share the genuine action you'll be engaged in next. You're under no obligation to do so. Instead, you could tell them that you've got a meeting coming up when you haven't. Or that you've got another call to make when you haven't.
A little white lie to get you out of the conversation and back into better use of your time is okay in my book. But that might not sit right with you. So then what?
You might be like the venerable George Washington and insist you cannot tell a lie. In that case, kudos to you for your upstanding character. My advice is only slightly different than before.
I want you to still be very specific and tell them you are going to leave the conversation but now, rather than telling porkies, you can instead be vague about the reason why.
"It's been fun catching up but I need to go now as my schedule is so busy. See you later. Bye. Bye bye. Byeeeeeee."
Who doesn't have a busy schedule? One slight difference in the wording yet now you have been able to maintain your 100% honest, truthful and sin-free lifestyle.
Won't I Seem Rude?
All of these methods of extricating yourself from a never ending conversation are politely affirmative. They are not rude.
The thing is though, too many of us worry we'll be seen as rude.
I'd suggest that's the wrong way of looking at the situation. The person speaking incessantly is in the wrong. They are definitely being rude by dominating your time. Especially if they outright ignore any of the hints you make at the beginning.
So don't worry about being thought of as rude. It's not you it's them. Happy with that?
"No, that's no good," I hear you say. "I'm still worried that they'll think I'm being rude?"
Well, look, there's no cast iron guarantee they won't view your farewell as rude. That's because the way anyone responds to anything is always out of your control. Plus, plenty of people seem very keen to be offended.
The important thing to remember here is that your time is being used in a way that you don't want it to be. You're being held hostage and if that's not the height of rudeness then I don't know what is!
If you value your time, then you are well within your rights to politely and firmly reclaim it.
Your Best Lines
Have you got a great 'get out of jail' line that you use to escape mind-numbing conversations? I'd love to hear it and learn how you make it work for you. Why not share it in the comments section below.
If you liked this blog post you'll love the brilliant ideas in Iain's online courses. By an amazing coincidence his Time Management course has just launched on Udemy. You can get it using this reduced price coupon and watch it any time, any place and at your own pace.