“Umm, ja… Okay, bye” says your colleague. And there you are, standing like someone just left you hanging with an incomplete high five. They’ve awkwardly jumped ship on a conversation that you thought was important. Some people just don’t get it.

So how do you get out of a conversation without seeming rude, awkward or like you really couldn’t give a hoot what the other person is saying? Well, to start with, it depends on…

The Situation

How you end a conversation depends on the kind of conversation you’re having.

If it’s with a friend, you might end with a simple, “Listen dude, I’ve got to go. Catch you later.” But that probably won’t fly with your boss. And the same goes for, say, someone you just met on the Gautrain this morning.

3 Basic Tips

It’s always a little awkward cutting a conversation short… especially when it’s with someone you don’t know well. Luckily, there are a few basics you can use. Take a look at communication specialist Lisa Marshall’s 3 simple tips for example:

1. The positive comment

This one’s straightforward – you say something nice. For instance, you could wait for a gap in conversation and say something like, “It was so great chatting with you.” Or if you’re at a networking session, you could go with, “I’m so glad we got a chance to meet in person – you gave me some great ideas.” If you’re sincere, it’ll help you end off on a friendly note.

2. The summary / plan

The idea here is to summarise what you’ve just spoken about and relay the plans going forward – suggesting that the purpose of your conversation has been fulfilled. For instance, you could say, “Thanks for clarifying your requirements. I’ll go through it in detail this afternoon and send you a quote in the morning.”

3. The excuse

You can also explain your reason for needing to leave or come up with an excuse. You could be running off to a meeting, for instance. Or maybe there’s an appointment you need to get to. You might even feel the need to come up with an excuse – the basis on which many ‘fake call’ apps are based.

The Science

You don’t always need to stick to one conversation-ending strategy – most people probably use a combination. Social scientists even recommend it. Psychologists in the USA have created the perfect scientific formula for ending social encounters:

  1. Content Summary Statement
  2. Justification
  3. Positive Affect Statement
  4. Continuity
  5. Well-Wishing

In other words, you could say something like, "Thanks, Janine. I think we covered the basics of the upcoming project [Content Summary Statement], but I have to run – I have a doctor’s appointment in 20 minutes [Justification]. I really enjoyed meeting with you [Positive Affect Statement]. Should we do it again in two weeks’ time [Continuity]? Enjoy the rest of your day [Well-Wishing]."

As awkward as it can be, the conversation cut-off gets easier with practice. And, of course, arming yourself with the best strategies helps too. As long as you are genuine and respectful, we reckon you won’t have any trouble.