How To End A Conversation
Some people have questions about good ways to end to a conversation. In my experience this is a pretty straightforward topic, and once someone has an idea of what to do, it's easy for them to successfully put the concepts into practice. This article may also have the side effect of illustrating various ways that someone might to be trying to end a conversation with you, so you'll know if it's time to politely let them go.
There are a couple of main reasons someone may want to finish a conversation:
- They have to get back to what they were doing - working, running errands, mingling with other guests, etc.
- The conversation is starting to wind down and they want to neatly wrap it up.
- They're just not in a chatty mood, and want to keep things short.
- The person they're talking to isn't doing it for them and they want an exit strategy.
The way someone may need to finish the conversation also depends a bit on the context. For example:
- Running into someone in the supply room at work
- Chatting with someone at a party or networking event
- Talking to someone on the phone
- Bumping into someone on the street or at the grocery store
- Sitting with someone on the bus or subway
And how they end the conversation may depend on the context and how the two people know each other:
- If you already know them a quick, "I gotta run. I'll catch you later" will be fine in most situations.
- If you've just met them in a more social setting, something like, "It was good meeting you" will do the trick. If you hit if off you may also want to take the time to exchange contact info, or add each other on social media.
- If you've just met someone in a more work or networking-oriented environment you may want to exchange business cards, or figure out other things, like if you plan on following up with them about a business opportunity.
When you start talking to someone, it's good to go in with an idea of how long they can chat for
A general principle first. You can make ending many of your conversations a lot simpler if you go into them with an understanding of approximately how long you can talk for. For example:
- If you run into someone while they're doing errands they're generally going to want to get back to what they were doing after a few minutes or so.
- If you're talking to someone at work while you're both grabbing a coffee they'll need to get back to their desk after around five minutes.
- If you're calling someone to quickly set up plans, assume they have something they need to get back to after a few minutes.
- If you're chatting to someone at a party, where it's expected that people will mingle and not spend all night with the first person they talk to, they may want to move on after about five to ten minutes.
- If you end up sitting next to someone on the bus they may not want to feel they have to chat to you the entire time. After a few minutes they may want to sit quietly, or get back to their book or podcast.
Naturally none of these time guidelines are set in stone. It's more that if someone is happy to talk and the conversation does end up going longer, that's great, but if not, you'll have a sense of when you'll need to finish. Knowing this will allow you to smoothly wind things down when the time comes. The alternative is when you run into someone and feel you just have to keep the conversation going as long as you can, and then you get caught off guard when they seemingly end it out of nowhere.
It's okay to end a conversation quickly and cleanly
Sometimes people feel that they have to give a big formal goodbye every time they stop talking to someone. Most of the time this isn't called for, and you can finish the conversation a lot more quickly and casually. Dragging things out too much can actually make it feel more awkward.
Some ways to end a conversation
Below are several different ways you can end a conversation. They're for when you're talking to someone in real time, but some could work through text. It's not every possible method, but should give you enough options to choose from. From here on out this article has a lot of examples in it, I'll refer you to the site's quick disclaimer on them.
Just wrap things up without any window dressing
It's often fine to just say you've got to go without any explanation, especially if you know the person already. They'll understand you've got things you need to do and won't be offended.
- "I gotta run, good talking to you."
- (Talking on the phone) "Well I'm gonna go. I'll talk to you later."
- "Alright" (To agree with what they just said) "Anyway, take it easy man." (As you're heading off)
"Anyway, I'll let you get back to it..."
You can end the conversation this way if you've been talking to someone who was in the middle of something.
- "Anyway, it was good seeing you. I'll let you get back to your shopping."
- "Anyway, I'll talk to you more later. I'll let you get back to your work."
You can also make up something for them to get back to. Like if you're talking to someone on the phone on a Sunday evening, and need to get going you could say, "Well I'll let you get back to getting ready for work tomorrow" or, "I'm sure you want to relax a bit before you go to sleep. I'll let you go."
Use a reason for why you have to leave the conversation
People often use this one at parties, bars, or networking events, where there are a ton of built-in reasons for having to excuse yourself. Ending a conversation this way doesn't have to be a white lie either. You may actually have something else you have to attend to:
Day to day
- "It was good running into you. I gotta finish this shopping before I pick up my kids."
- "Sorry I can't talk longer. I'm actually on my way to meet my friend for coffee."
- "Let's talk more at lunch. I gotta finish up this presentation before 11:00."
At parties / bars / networking events
- "I've got to go find my friends."
- "I'm going to go grab another drink."
- "If you'll excuse me, I just saw someone I've been meaning to catch up with."
- "I just have to head to the bathroom. I'll run into you later maybe."
- "I just got here. I'm going to look around a bit more."
Use signals that show you're ready to end the conversation
While still being friendly and polite you can start adjusting your body language and your actions to indicate to the other person that it's time for them to wrap up the discussion, or that you're about to end it soon yourself.
- Standing up if you've been sitting down
- Starting to move toward the door, or in the general direction you were originally heading
- Starting to give quicker, shorter responses - "Yep, yep, yep. Totally. Anyway, I should get going..."
- Looking more frequently at the thing you need to get back to, e.g., your computer, the direction you were walking, the photocopier you needed to use before you started chatting to a co-worker
- If the conversation still hasn't wound down, actually getting back to the thing you needed to do, e.g., starting to photocopy documents, resuming your shopping, typing at your computer at the same time you're talking
Make a statement to summarize and wrap up the conversation, then say you've got to go
This is a good way to transition from the conversation to its conclusion. You comment on a recent statement, or generally sum up the discussion, before you start to close it down.
- "Yeah, that movie's going to be wicked. I'm really looking forward to it. Anyway, I should get going..."
- "Wow, a lot's been happening in our families, huh? We'll have to catch up about it more soon. I just noticed my friends have arrived. I'm going to say 'hi' to them."
Introduce them to someone else, or bring them along as you join another conversation
This is a party tactic. If you join another discussion then the conversation you were having with the original person kind of unofficially dissolves. If you do the introduction move, be subtle and genuine about pulling it off. If you do things in a fake, insincere way they'll often be able to tell you're blowing them off by trying to foist them on someone else.
Get back to your book/music/phone/video game
If you're talking to someone on a bus, subway, or plane you may not feel like speaking the entire time you're forced to sit near each other. In these cases it's always handy to have something else you can turn your attention to. To end the conversation you could formally say, "Well, I'm just gonna get back to my book now" or you could wait for a pause, not make any effort to fill it, and then start doing something else. They should figure out your intentions. On a train or plane you can always pretend to take a nap as well.
With some group discussions you can just leave without saying much of anything
Sometimes you can exit a group conversation without having to formally bow out or say your goodbyes. If you're at a party and you've joined a group of people who are standing around and talking, and after a few minutes you decide you want to keep circulating, you can often just walk away. It's understood that people are going to drop in and out. You don't need to walk away completely silently, you can quietly indicate you're leaving with a quick little nod/wave gesture. You can do the same kind of thing at work too. If a bunch of colleagues are sitting around at lunch, you can join them for a bit, then just get up when you have to get to something else.
Those hard-to-read niceties that people sometimes use as they're wrapping up a conversation
One thing that confuses a lot of people is when they're talking to someone and as they're leaving that person says something like, "We'll talk soon", or "I'll get back to you about it later", "Or let's hang out and catch up more." Sometimes they literally mean these things, and sometimes they're just saying them as niceties. It's not necessarily that they dislike you and are being deceptive to try and escape. More that they just want to end the conversation in a friendly way, and feel bringing up the possibility of future plans is a way to do that.
I don't think there's any particular way to decipher what someone's intentions are here. It's more something where once you've known someone a while you get a feel for what their style is, and whether they tend to actually mean it when they say these things. Also, if someone ends a conversation by saying, "Let's have coffee soon", and you're interested, but you're not sure if they really meant it, it usually doesn't do any harm to follow up later and try and get a better sense of where they stand.
When you get trapped with someone uninteresting who won't give you an easy way out of talking to them
Most of the time if you find yourself speaking to someone who's boring you, you can politely use one of the approaches listed above. Sometimes it's not that easy though. The worst-case scenario is when you're with someone who can seemingly talk at you forever, isn't being sensitive to your time or your non-verbal indications of needing to go, and who can smoothly transition from one topic to the next, so you don't have a natural break where you can cut in and say you have to run. Sometimes you can force such a silence by giving clipped, unengaged responses when it's your turn to talk. However, if someone is really monologuing at you they'll just see that as you listening and encouraging them to keep talking.
With these people you need to be more forceful in interrupting them so you can announce you have to get going. If you can, wait for a pause in their story or explanation, then jump on your chance. Like I said, this moment may not always come, and sometimes you'll have to straight out cut them off in the middle of speaking. They may get a bit offended, but you don't have anything to feel bad about. They forced your hand through their own mistake of droning on too much. On rare occasions you'll come across people who are especially oblivious and will keep talking even if you interrupt and say you have to leave. In those cases you may have to literally walk away.
If you're stuck in a dull conversation, the alternative might be to take charge and try to make it more interesting. With boring conversations a dynamic can occur where one person is talking too much, and the other unintentionally slips into the role of a passive, helpless listener who is just waiting for their opportunity to flee. If they shake themselves out of that mindset, take the reins, and try to change the subject to one where the discussion can be more a mutual back-and-forth, the interaction might be salvageable.