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How to End a Conversation Gracefully (Without Awkwardness!)

Struggling with awkward goodbyes? This Blinkist guide offers practical tips and tricks for ending conversations gracefully in any situation.
by Chris Allmer | Jun 19 2024
How to End a Conversation (without the Awkwardness)

Ending conversations can feel like navigating a social minefield. Should you be blunt? Make an excuse? Or just disappear into thin air? (We don’t recommend that last one.) 

It’s awkward, it’s uncomfortable, and if a recent Harvard study is to be believed, it’s something we’re all pretty bad at. Researchers found that conversations almost never end when either person actually wants them to!

But don’t worry, this guide is your toolkit for mastering the art of the graceful exit. We’ll dive into the fascinating reasons why ending conversations is so tricky, explore expert-backed tips for making a smooth getaway in any situation, and even share some strategies for keeping the conversation flowing when you do want it to continue. 

And all our tips will include recommendations from Blinkist, the only book summary app you need. Blinkist provides the key ideas of a book in just a few minutes, allowing you to learn the essentials and move on to the next book.

Why Ending Conversations is Surprisingly Tricky (and Why We’re So Bad at It)

Turns out, there’s a science to this awkwardness. Remember that Harvard study we mentioned? It shed light on the “coordination problem” we face when trying to end a conversation. 

Essentially, we’re all playing a guessing game, trying to figure out when the other person wants to wrap things up without actually asking them directly. Why? Because, well, that would be rude!

The Fear of Rudeness

  • We don’t want to offend or seem disinterested by cutting someone off.
  • We worry about disrupting the social flow or leaving a negative impression.
  • We might even overestimate how much the other person is enjoying the conversation (more on that later).

The book Crucial Conversations dives deeper into this topic and explores the challenges of communicating about sensitive topics. In this case, even ending a mundane chat can feel like a crucial conversation when you’re worried about hurting someone’s feelings.

The Mismatch of Expectations

  • The Harvard study found that we’re often terrible at knowing when our conversation partner wants to end things.
  • We might assume they’re as eager to continue as we are, leading to one-sided conversations that drag on.
  • Or we might misread their signals entirely, ending the conversation prematurely when they were just getting warmed up.

The result? Conversations that end too soon, conversations that go on too long, and a whole lot of awkwardness in between.

Want to learn more about the subtle art of communication? Then better check out the Blinkist summary of How to Talk to Anyone for some expert advice.


How to End a Conversation (without making it awkward)

Ready to break free from those never-ending chats? Here’s your arsenal of expert-approved techniques for ending conversations smoothly, whether you’re with friends, family, colleagues, or strangers:

1. Classic

Sometimes, the simplest approach is the most effective. A friendly “It was great talking to you, but I’ve gotta run to [insert a valid reason: a meeting, appointment, errand, etc.]” is a classic for a reason.

And to keep the door open for future interactions, add a warm “Let’s catch up again soon!”

2. Subtle

Nonverbal cues can speak volumes. Start by subtly angling your body towards the exit or breaking eye contact.

You can also glance at your watch (or phone, if appropriate) to indicate that you’re aware of the time.

In What Every BODY is Saying, you’ll learn how subtle shifts in posture and eye contact can communicate your intentions without saying a word.

3. Honest

When in doubt, honesty is often your best bet. If you’re short on time, simply say so. “I’m on a tight schedule today, but I really enjoyed our chat.” Most people will understand and respect your need to move on.

4. Humor

Humor can be a great way to diffuse any awkwardness. Try a lighthearted “Well, I’ll let you get back to it” (especially if you suspect they were checking their phone) or a playful “Gotta run! My dog is expecting me for our afternoon tea.”

Just make sure your humor aligns with the tone of the conversation and your relationship with the person.

If you’re looking to up your humor game, check out the Blinkist summary of Humor, Seriously:

5. Gratitude

Even if you’re counting down the seconds until you can escape, always express your appreciation for the conversation. A simple “Thanks for chatting, it was lovely catching up with you” goes a long way in leaving a positive impression.

These are just a few examples, and the best approach will always depend on the specific situation and your relationship with the other person. The key is to be polite, genuine, and respectful.

Want to discover more strategies for navigating social interactions with finesse? Check out the Blinkist summary of How to Win Friends and Influence People.

The Flip Side: How to Continue a Conversation (When You Actually Want To)

Now, let’s not forget that not all conversations are a race to the finish line. Sometimes, you’re genuinely enjoying the chat and want to keep it going! 

But how do you prevent awkward silences or avoid monopolizing the conversation? Here are a few tried-and-true strategies:

1. Ask Open-Ended Questions:

Avoid questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Instead, ask questions that invite the other person to share more about themselves, their opinions, or their experiences.

Think: “What are your thoughts on…?” or “Tell me more about...”

2. Find Common Ground:

Listen actively for clues about the other person’s interests. Did they mention a favorite book, movie, or hobby?

Once you find a shared interest, dive deeper! Ask follow-up questions or share your own experiences related to the topic.

3. Share (Interesting) Anecdotes:

A well-placed story can inject life into a conversation. Just make sure it’s relevant to the current topic and not a 10-minute monologue about your cat’s latest antics.

The book Captivate by Vanessa Van Edwards offers a wealth of insights into how to make yourself more interesting and engaging in conversations.

4. Be Present and Engaged:

Put away your phone, make eye contact, and actively listen to what the other person is saying.

People can sense when you’re truly interested, and it makes them more likely to open up and share.

5. Don’t Be Afraid of Silence:

A few seconds of silence can be perfectly natural in a conversation. Don’t feel the need to fill every gap with chatter.

Sometimes, a pause gives both of you a chance to think and gather your thoughts before continuing the discussion.

If you’re looking for more tips on how to be a better conversationalist, the Blinkist summary of The Charisma Myth can help you unlock your inner charm.

Remember that Harvard study we mentioned earlier? It turns out, you’re not alone in not always knowing how to end a conversation smoothly. But as we’ve explored, there are strategies we can use to navigate this common social challenge.

By practicing the tips we’ve shared, you can transform those awkward goodbyes into confident farewells. Remember:

  1. Be honest (but polite): A simple, “It was great chatting, but I have to run,” can work wonders.
  2. Read the room: Pay attention to nonverbal cues and adjust your approach accordingly.
  3. Don’t be afraid to exit: Your time and energy are valuable, and it’s okay to prioritize them.

And if you’re hungry for more knowledge on the art of communication, why not try a little something different? Instead of slogging through a whole book on the topic, try a Blinkist summary. 

You’ll get the key takeaways of more than 7,500 titles in just a few minutes, leaving you more time to practice your newfound conversation-ending skills!

So, it was great chatting, but I have to run, don’t forget to click here:

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FAQs: Common Questions About How to End a Conversation

Q: How can I end a conversation via text?

A: Ending a text conversation gracefully can be simple. You might say, “Gotta run, talk later!” or “Heading into a meeting, catch you later!” Using an emoji can also help soften your exit while keeping the tone friendly.

Q: What are some effective ways to start a conversation?

A: Initiating a conversation doesn’t have to be intimidating. You can break the ice by asking an open-ended question, observing your surroundings, or offering a sincere compliment. For more insights, check out this Blinkist article: How to start a conversation

Q: How can I improve my social skills to become better at conversations?

Improving your social skills is an exciting journey that involves key practices like active listening to show you care, asking meaningful questions and genuinely showing interest in the person you’re speaking to.

Gain real-world advice on making strong first impressions and building rapport with the Blinkist article: How to Improve Social Skills.

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