34

I not infrequently find myself in a conversation with someone who I may like, but that enjoys (too much) having a willing listener. The normal gambits to close a conversation fail--the other party might launch into a long anecdote, or simply ignore the conversational cues indicating that you'd like to exit.

I don't want to be rude, don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, and don't want to end the relationship, but DO want to move on from that conversation. And, I'm really bad at this.

What are some strategies that I can use to let the other party know that I would like to end that particular conversation?

  • 6
    Can you add a little more context? For example, is this when you bump into the person on the street, or at a party with many other people, or when they call you to chat on the phone, or ... ? Your locale may also be relevant. – Kate Gregory Jul 29 '17 at 18:09
  • 1
    Do you only want to end the conversation, or end the session altogether? If it is the latter, you can dismiss it generally by "I really need to go now". – Vylix Jul 30 '17 at 4:31
  • 4
    Is this person simply talkative, or actually a bit desperate - I know both types, and would use different 'tactics' – marcellothearcane Jul 30 '17 at 10:39
  • An important part to know is, is this the only way the person seems to be socially blind? or do they ignore all other hints/queues? – WendyG Dec 13 '18 at 11:51
20

My general approach is to say "it's been really great talking to you" or "catching up" or "hearing all about this". I do NOT then add ", but I have to go now." I just say that part and pause. Most of the time, the other person stops - after all, you've just indicated that the topic has successfully completed. Sometimes, they change the subject. Many times, they say "wow is it 8:30 already I can't believe we talked so long! I'd better go!"

If they just keep right on steamrollering - "yeah, it's great, you know another thing that happened at the grocery stores that really steamed me was - " you can say "I would love to hear that story another time." Again, don't say "but I have to go." If you're conversing in person, you can simply walk away from the conversation at this point. "Great seeing you!" and off you go -- to your car, out of the office, to the kitchen or bathroom of the party you're both at, to the other side of the dance floor, whatever.

If you're on the phone, or talking in person in a situation where you can't leave (you live with them, for example, or you're waiting for a bus or your turn somewhere) then it's harder if they don't pick up that you're done, because you can't just walk away. In person, you can say "I have to do this" and wave your phone, then deal with some email or whatever. On the phone, you can interrupt them "hang on a sec" and then after a pause say "oh man, I'm going to have to go. Talk soon!" Neither of these involves lying though they are deceptive.

If you can't or won't leave, then you need to change the subject. So you can again give a positive summary: "It's been great hearing all about your trip" or "I'm really impressed with how you're holding up under all that stress and effort" in a tone that would normally lead to "but I have to go now" and instead hold a significant pause and then say something that starts a new topic. If you're willing to hear more from them on another subject, ask them a question like "what are you going to do to relax when it's all done?" or "how is [someone else you both know] doing?". If you really feel that it's your turn to talk, try "Did I tell you about my trip this summer?" or "my big fight with the water company?" or "my plans to redo my backyard?". Or "can I ask for some advice on [my vacation plans, my Christmas shopping, living room furniture]?"

If you can't or won't leave, don't want them to talk about something else, and don't want to talk about anything yourself, you're in a very hard position. You will simply have to tell them what you would rather do than listen to them any more. You can again start with how great it's been to chat, and then pause and without saying BUT, add "If you'll excuse me, I must/have to/need to sit with my thoughts for a little while" or "finish reading this" or "catch up with something I had planned to do while waiting here" (this last one works best with complete strangers eg while on a bus ride or at a doctor's office, and not at parties or family dinners.)

  • 2
    Personally, I don't see how response but I have to go is rude, can you explan why no say but I have to go? – Mauricio Arias Olave Aug 2 '17 at 19:33
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    @MauricioAriasOlave It's not rude, that's not why I say not to do it. It's something that can be argued with. "I have to go." "No, wait, I wanted to ask you - " etc. If you don't say it, it can't be argued with. In fact when you don't say it (and this is a bit of a trick) the other person will often say it for you! – Kate Gregory Aug 2 '17 at 20:27
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    For yet another take on the phone trick, you could use an IFTTT applet that robocalls you when you press a button. ifttt.com/applets/… – Matthew Brown Aug 7 '17 at 16:12
4

The answer so far are already great; they have the same common tactic: interruption.

If you only need to end this particular conversation, interrupt them. You can say you need to go to restroom, or you can excuse yourself into checking your phone.

The most common excuse I use is checking the time to make sure I don't miss the next appointment, or to make sure I don't stay too late at night. I usually do this by looking at my Whatsapp for 10 seconds or briefly on my phone clock.

When interrupted, people will be forced to wait. This may cause them to forget which part they are on (effectively allowing you to avoid that part), and allow you to attempt to redirect the conversation as you wish.

After coming back from the restroom; "Say, did you hear about X yesterday?"

If they insist on telling their story, try to ask them to wait after you finished with yours, or point out that they have taken long time enough and it's your turn to share.

Anyway, the guide actually stops after the interruption. What happens next depends on your finesse in conversation. Have fun hijacking the conversation!

4
+50

In similar situations with a co-worker friend, I found it helpful to:

1) Acknowledge the other person’s desire to share: “Wow. That sounds tough/funny/frustrating.”

2) Where appropriate, I add: “I wish I could be of more help.”

3) Indicate my desire to move on just from that conversation, not all conversations: “But I’m just not the best person to talk to about that.”

4) If it seems necessary, or to avoid being abrupt, I sometimes add a reason why I’m not the best person to talk to about that: “It’s a painful topic for me/I don’t know anything about cats/I don’t know much about the consumer complaint process/I try not to get involved with people like the ones you’re describing/I’m the kind of person who doesn’t let those things bother me.”

You can change around the words to fit what’s comfortable for you, but I think the important part is to express that you can’t help, or even constructively listen, on that topic. (“I’m just not the best person to talk to about that.”)

I had to use variations of this formula to get this colleague to curtail her long monologues about her dying mother, her problems with her car lease and conflicts with her desk-mate. To be honest, I sometimes had to repeat the central idea: “I’m not the best person to talk to about that.” But it worked. Once I gave, and sometimes explained, my parameters, she moved on and I didn’t have to end our friendly relationship or conversations about other things.

2

Are you a quiet person? Most people keep on blabbering about whatever subject was out of hand because they can't tolerate silence. Only when people are emotionally vested in the subject do they resent having the topic changed. Feel free to interrupt, "Cool! Hey, did you hear what happened yesterday?". As the one who is bored by the current conversation, it is your responsibility to bring up a different topic.

Now, if what you want is silence, say "Hey buddy, the evening is great but usually I'm meditating at this time of the day, do you mind if I find a corner to zone out for a couple of minutes?". An then go off to be alone.

1

If the person is needy for conversation and I have the time, I have tended to give them a lot of opportunity to talk! Condition: they ought not to touch upon sensitive topics nor preach at me. If they did so I have tended to endure it for the time being but will not encourage them next time.

If I really need to go I will say so; as in

this is a fascinating conversation but I need to reach the post office before 8PM to send an urgent parcel

OR

it's been so nice talking to you but I need to run now, because I can't drive home on the State Highway after dark.

It is important to be both sincere and convincing, and it helps to suggest

maybe we could continue this conversation some other time.

1

There are probably hundreds of dishonest ways to cut someone short - pretend you need to make a call or go to the bathroom, for example - but these aren't interpersonal skills. As you say, you want to retain any relationship you have with the person, but just cut their needy conversation short.

Conversations in a one-to-one situation are very different to those in a group. If you go to lunch with one good friend you are normally able to have a much deeper conversation than if you are in a group of three or more. Group conversations are more like "banter" - an exchange of brief remarks rather than a detailed flow.

It sounds like your problem is as much to do with the situation that you are finding yourself in as it is to do with the person in question. Could you do something to change that?

For example, if you are in or around a group of friends and this person singles you out, can you bring someone else into the conversation? Perhaps say "can I introduce you to...." and get a three-way conversation going. The other party won't be able to talk for long about themselves. If they try, they'll just get spoken over. Long soliloquies just don't fit in a group conversation.

If you are deliberately meeting up with this person in one-to-one situations, first of all, why?? Okay, so you do "like" this person, but it sounds like they are singling you out to be their sounding board. Try arranging to bring another friend in on the arrangement, at least once to see if it makes a difference. Hopefully, you'll see another, lighter side to the person; but if they still try to dominate the conversation by talking about themselves, this should tell you that they may always be like this, in any situation.

Some people just don't cope very well in group situations and always seek out one-to-one friendships. They either don't have, or never learned, the skill of knowing when to stop talking. Putting someone like that into a group situation may help them because they could learn the missing skills.

  • 2
    I very much appreciate your explicitly addressing the issue of honesty in addressing situations like this. Most of the responses so far have outlined clever little deceptions to get one out of the situation. But for me (the original poster of the question), I would like to learn to draw limits with others that is both kind and honest. Some people have the gift for saying blunt truths in a matter-of-fact way that doesn't trigger hurt or misunderstanding. I don't have that gift (although I would develop it if I could) – Curt Dec 19 '18 at 20:22
1

While they clearly can't handle abruptly ending the conversation, even after a long talk, giving them advance notice and taking some time can make it easier.

I find it effective to tell people like this that you will be ending the conversation before you actually end it. Early on you can say, "I enjoy speaking to you, but do not have much time." After they speak a little more you can tell them, "I can speak for another few minutes, and then I will go." Then a few minutes later thank them and terminate the conversation.

0

Be Blunt.

You, as a presumably well-adjusted social human, wish to be polite, or at least not rude. The problem is that you and your companion have different ideas as to what constitutes rudeness. The other person clearly has no idea what a bore and a tax and a chore he is, and keeps levying this tax on your time, your will, your very life-force. You can feel it start to drain away every time he walks up, or swivels about with that conversational look in his eye. You have a serious concern, it is legitimate, and you have a right to defend your boundaries.

Keep in mind that this person is needy, and will not be long deterred or injured by any blunt approach you might take. Things will even out. You need to have "the moment", and probably a couple of times. This person with no sense of boundary will still respond to what always work -- animal conditioning through pain.

"Hey Jack -- just a moment here, but let me stop you. I care about you, and I'm happy to hang out, but right now I'm not really hanging out. I'll tell you the truth -- this story you're telling right now? It doesn't really interest me. I understand that it interests you, and that's fine. But I really don't want to hear about it. Does that make sense?"

You have limited options. Your preferred options have been shown ineffective, not because you were wrong, but because this bucket-head can't take a hint. Cant take a steaming heap of hints, sounds like. So throw an elbow or two, just between friends. It will all be fine later. Meanwhile, you'll preserve your sanity for some time. And who knows?

It just might sink in after a couple of these gentle, respectful, but blunt confrontations.

I have used this tactic, as a last resort, a couple of times. Sometimes it works.

-1
  1. Managing the problem on your own
    1. Building a system that imposes limits
      1. Channel of communication
        1. email - I used the following method when group discussion didn't work well at work, because a few people talked 90% of the time, while others couldn't express their views: the topic was discussed in email. This allowed everyone to talk, and we had the option to read the excessively long emails less thoroughly. - Maybe you could cancel some of the conversations, but instead write an email and ask the needy person to reply.
        2. phone - Talking on the phone may also help: you can call the needy person 15 minutes before you arrive somewhere. You could make clear in the begginning how much time you had so it will not be a surprise or painful when it gets to an end. You can always promise to call again, and as you want to maintain the relationship you will want to call anyway.
      2. Timed events - You could set time limits when you meet personally, too. For example if you meet in a cafe you can schedule your other friend to arrive 30 minutes later and expect you to walk away with them.
      3. Don't even start the conversation if the ending looks difficult, wait for the good occasion to talk.
      4. Include the needy person in a group - by Astralbee https://interpersonal.stackexchange.com/a/20375/23222
      5. Tell them what you must do and just do that - by Kate Gregory https://interpersonal.stackexchange.com/a/1056/23222
    2. Use communication tricks - others have described many
      1. Pre warn and end later - by simyou https://interpersonal.stackexchange.com/a/20389/23222
      2. Special ending sentences - by English Student https://interpersonal.stackexchange.com/a/1166/23222, Duopixel https://interpersonal.stackexchange.com/a/1053/23222 and Kate Gregory https://interpersonal.stackexchange.com/a/1056/23222
      3. Walk away - by Kate Gregory https://interpersonal.stackexchange.com/a/1056/23222
      4. Acknowledge the topic, but tell you are not the one to talk about that topic - by Mergie https://interpersonal.stackexchange.com/a/20411/23222
      5. Interrupt and change subject - by Vylix https://interpersonal.stackexchange.com/a/1068/23222, Kate Gregory https://interpersonal.stackexchange.com/a/1056/23222 and Duopixel https://interpersonal.stackexchange.com/a/1053/23222
  2. Involving the needy person - Usually the two of you talk about their problems. You could start the next discussion asking them to solve yours together, namely that you want to keep the relationship with them, but you simply don't as much time as they need. They may understand and may suggest something both of you like.

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