There are 3 reasons you might stay in a conversation that you want to leave:
You’re too polite – Many of us feel like it’s rude to leave someone alone after talking to them for a few minutes. It isn’t. People have things to do, and talking is just talking. As long as you excuse yourself politely, your exit will be comfortable.
You’re afraid or lazy – Being in a conversation can be comforting and you might stick it out just because it’s easier than heading out on your own into the ‘unknown’. This isn’t true and you might be selling your time short if you settle.
You don’t know what else to do – Similar to the previous, this is counting on your lack of imagination. There is always something else to do and someone else to talk to. Grab a drink or hit the toilet and then find a friend or another contact.
There are plenty of situations that call for different kinds of exits. The only real rule I can think of is to stay polite. No matter where you are or who you’re talking to, maintaining a civil attitude goes a long way – even when you’re talking with a complete bastard.
At times it can be somewhat enjoyable giving someone the short end and letting them know how little you think of them. However, this is never productive or beneficial. You might just cause more trouble than it’s worth.
These first few examples can be used for brief encounters; those light conversations when you’ve made a drinking pal or just exchanged contacts for a possible project.
Excuse yourself - A simple “Excuse me” will suffice. There is usually no need for explanation. Don’t feel compelled to justify your exit, it’s no big deal. “I have to talk to so-and-so”.
Leave an impression - Particularly in business related encounters, it helps to leave the conversation with something promising. Exchanging details and leaving by saying something like, “I’ll get in contact with you tomorrow about this and that”. Don’t just say, “We’ll talk” or “Let’s work on something”. Make a commitment to get something together. Shake hands and be on your way.
But, you don’t want to see them again – The above example is counting on you actually wanting to talk with this person again. If that isn’t the case, you still may not want to be vague about getting in contact. Don’t say you want to work on something if it isn’t true. Give them some details on how to find your work, a website for example, and tell them they can see what you’re working on there. This way they can gauge their own worth to your work and get in contact with you with some ideas.
Introduce a colleague - “I have to introduce you to so and so”, works well. Introduce a third party and make sure to include a piece of information about either person. This should get another conversation going where you can slide off and make your exit.
It ain’t all business!
I want to get right to the point with this one. Here’s the situation: you’ve got yourself in a conversation with someone who isn’t giving you much value. They’re going on some rant about something you have very little interest in and isn’t trying to engage in a real conversation. What do you do?
Being polite and excusing yourself is still an option. But there are situation when this isn’t enough. You’re sitting at a party, shindig or what have you and you’re essentially watching someone talk while you would rather just get up and do something, anything else.
Toilet and drink break – The easiest and most understandable. Skull the rest of your drink and get up. If you smoke, start rolling. If you’re smart, you’ll pick the option that can’t possibly include this other person – for instance they’re not a smoker.
Again, an introduction – As stated before, bringing a third party into the equation can work. Make mental notes of people who have similar interests with the person you’re talking to and grab them when they are near. “Hey Mike, Jodie here just came from the snow. Didn’t you have a board you want to sell?” Step away….
My friend’s in trouble – Take a quick glance towards someone you know and tell your conversationalist you have to help them. “I’m sorry, Mike’s had too much; I must go” or “Excuse me, but do you know when someone is in a bad conversation and they give a signal? Yeah, Mike just gave me the signal; I’ve got to help him”.
Speaking of signals
You can usually tell if a friend is in a bad conversation, but it’s handy to do the signal thing. Before you head into a party or gathering, think up something you’ll each do if you want to get out of a conversation. A hand signal or a series or coughs etc.
This is very useful for people who have trouble getting out of bad conversations and will need someone’s help. If you’re the person to help them out, come in and just excuse them. Grab them by the arm and pull them away. The other person will assume it’s important and not question it.
Alternatively, you can come in with ‘big news’ or something you just have to tell your friend. It will no doubt supersede the existing conversation and possibly leave the other person no choice but to leave themselves. It’s a little anti-social, but works.
The fun way
Just because you’re in a bad conversation doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with it. There are a bunch of games you can play to entertain yourself. I’ll mention two that have different goals.
The first is to try and confuse the person into wanting to exit the conversation. You can achieve this by bringing the topic of conversation to something off topic, only constantly. Interrupt with strange anecdotes and respond incorrectly and indirectly to questions. Have your own conversation without considering what the other person is saying. Start your own rant.
The proper way
If you’re in a bad conversation, the actual proper and social thing to do is take charge. The funny thing is this is I see this done rarely. What you want to do is not succumb to someone’s poor choice of conversation or lack there of, and rather gain control over the topic and how things run.
For instance, someone is ranting on about BMXs and it’s the only thing they seem to be able to talk about. The tournaments they’ve been in, how good they are and the latest gear they’ve bought. NO-ONE in the room wants to talk about bikes.
Your job should be to join his conversation and drive it to something people actually want to talk about. There are two basic ways to do this.
Interrupt - Begin talking, either to them or the other person [possibly your friend] about something completely different. Be confident and, most of all, direct. Ask a question that will change the topic instantly and will get someone else talking.
Transition - Respond to something that this person has said and then direct the conversation elsewhere. “Is BMXing expensive?” “Oh really? I’ve been trying to save up for a holiday to Uruguay…” Yay! Holiday stories!
Generally, bad conversations result from someone not participating. There’s one passive listener who is allowing someone else to go on and on. If you ask questions and engage in conversation, all should work out.
You can do what you like in conversation. Not many people are that fragile that you wanting to leave is going to break them. If you want to talk about something else, do so. If you just want to talk to someone else, go do it.
But, be nice.