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This happens to me a lot at work. I'm in a conversation with a coworker and I can't tell the difference between a pause/change topics and when the conversation is over. I'll frequently start walking away only to have my coworker keep going with a related but different topic - I clearly misread the situation and didn't notice that the conversation was not, in fact, over. I catch myself and come back to keep talking, but it's awkward to have to do that.

On the flip side, there are times when the conversation is clearly over but I don't know how to end it. These end up with me and my coworker sort of staring at each other for a bit and an awkward "well, I'll go do xyz"

It's not REALLY that bad, but it is awkward.

So, how can I non-awkwardly inquire or figure out that the conversation is actually done, and how do I leave politely and, again, not awkwardly, when it is over?

  • Do you have any specific examples? Typically in the workplace you get into a conversation because you're looking for a specific answer, or because you want someone to do something "Hey Bob, do you know where we keep the red staplers?" The conversation ends when Bob tells you where the staplers are. – pip install frisbee Jan 30 at 16:54
  • Yes. It's sort of along the lines of "hey Bob, about that schedule, can we move X and Y to Z?" it involves Bob looking at the schedule, talking about options for the room and equipment etc, and once that's done I think we're done but Bob wants to talk a bit about avoiding having to move things around next time sort of thing. So my direct question is answered but there is more to say, and I think that once we pause we are done but Bob isn't quite done with me – awkwardGuest Jan 30 at 17:49
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Introduction

Situations like that happen quite often, to me and I notice them with others too. If you overhear other people talking, you could notice that also.
Your counterpart might feel the same and could be glad if you resolve the situation.
Then there are people who tend to over-discuss things if you don't stop them.
Check out what others do, you gain some interesting insight and perhaps also you get helpful tactics for your next discussion.
Always remember: Probably they are not playing with you on purpose - they simply are this way.

Tips to quit

It is a good idea to leave with a small phrase that tells your colleague you got what they said and the conversation is done.
This doesn't only help you to make clear it's over for you, but also your colleague who now knows they should not explain something again. Just walking away would be strange. So use something like

  • Thanks.
  • Ok that helped me.
  • Well then I'll do that.
  • Great to know that, thank you.
  • ...

In your example there may be no need to discuss about "why do something" if it's necessary to do.
Then you should be a little more direct and tell Bob (in a friendly way) you're not doing that for fun but there is reason XY and probably it will not be the last time you must move something.

I also experienced the other way, I explain to someone and they are waiting for more if there isn't more. If it doesn't help to repeat myself (be annoying) I have to close that with something like

  • Ok before we think about other solutions, try the discussed one.
  • Tell me if it worked.
  • If you run into problems, feel free to ask me again.
| improve this answer | |
  • If I just came to this cold, I'd say this looks like a great answer. But I have the same problem as the OP. I do what you've suggested already. And yet, this sort of thing still keeps happening to me. I'm less concerned about meetings like the one I had today with a junior who feels like he can't talk to me most of the time, son once he had me on the phone, just me and him, had a dozen questions for me. But on other calls, it feels like we're done, so I tell them to tell me if it works, and they keep going on the same thing, so I try another close, and another and it just keeps going. – Ed Grimm Feb 1 at 1:21
  • Do you have any suggestions for when this fails? Or should that go under another question? – Ed Grimm Feb 1 at 1:21
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    @EdGrimm As humans with unknown reactions and behaviors are involved, as well as situations are very different too, there can't be any guarantee for something to work or nobody can foresee under which conditions it fails. There is no general solution to this problem, just ideas what to try and to adapt. – puck Feb 1 at 15:41

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