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Engage Others with Civility and Tact

"Exiting Conversations Gracefully"


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		  "Exiting Conversations Gracefully"  

  A subscriber asked, “I'm always looking for the best way to gracefully get out of a conversation I want to end (without seeming abrupt or hurting anyones' feelings). Maybe some strategies would be of interest to your readers as well?” This subscriber is correct. In fact, I have had many students and clients tell me that they hesitate to enter into certain conversations because they fear they'll be unable to exit them tactfully.     

The feeling of being trapped in a conversation one wants to leave is a widespread problem. So, below are a number of tested strategies that usually work well for your graceful exits:     

1. “Plus-arrow-plus” sequence. A positive comment or compliment, then an indicator that you are departing, then another positive comment, as in Plus: “You brought up some fascinating ideas, Fred.” Arrow: “Unfortunately, I have to leave for an appointment.” Plus: “I hope to see you again soon.” Insert plus-arrow-plus during a brief pause in the talking. If no pause appears, gently interrupt.     

2. The simplest way is just to politely excuse yourself. You don't need to give a reason. “Please excuse me. I'll have to leave now.” Almost no one will ask you for the “good reason” you are leaving. If you feel you must create one, simply head in the direction of the rest room.     

3. When at networking meetings, mixers, receptions, and the like, you may wish to indicate in advance that you can talk only briefly. For example, at a mixer you might say, “I am new to this group, so I am trying to meet as many people as I can during this time.” You can also ask the other person(s) to introduce you to others so that you can move on after a get-acquainted chat of a few minutes.     

4. I have known some people who carry a beeper or cellphone device they can self-activate . Hearing the buzz, they step away to take the call, then offer a statement of departure: “Excuse me, I have something I must attend to.” Although this is an admittedly gimmicky strategy, users claim it works without ruffling the feelings of those persons they are leaving. (Unless they're found out, of course.)     

5. If you are talking to one person and don't want to leave him or her stranded, you can walk them over and introduce them to others. Then, when the conversation is engaged, you can politely excuse yourself.     

6. If the person you are talking to is toxic, drunk, or on a rant with obscenity, bigotry, or other tasteless matters, you can, during a pause, clearly indicate that “Our conversation is now over” and walk away. You need not be concerned about hurting the feelings of someone who is spewing hateful or ugly talk     

7. How about when you are talking with VIPs? Clearly, status matters, and usually the person with higher status has the power to indicate how long the conversation will continue. For example, one's boss, a visiting dignitary, or important customer. If they choose to continue the conversation with you, you'll have to weigh the consequences of departing earlier than they wish you to. Exceptions would be some kind of emergency.     

8. Finally, seek to avoid conversations with people you know or observe to be dominating, argumentative, or otherwise difficult. If they descend upon you or entrap you, you can say, “Sorry, I can't talk now” and head off in the direction of the restrooms.    


Loren Ekroth ©2012, All rights reserved.

Loren Ekroth, Ph.D. is a specialist in human communication and a national expert on conversation for business and social life.

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