12 Tips for How To End a Conversation Instead of Dying a Thousand Deaths in Moments of Awkward Silence

Photo: Getty Images/The Good Brigade
Some people are just natural conversationalists. They effortlessly sail through social interactions with ease, barely pausing to consider what topic may come next. For the rest of us, starting and ending conversations with people we don’t know well can take a little more effort. Worries of awkwardness play into these scenarios, too—especially regarding knowing how to end a conversation and not get stuck in a dead-end chat.

“Being comfortable with ending conversations can help maintain a rapport in a relationship,” says Travis Westbrook, PhD, psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “If we have a lot of discomfort with ending conversations, we may get frustrated or overly short with others, or avoid certain people altogether as a means of preventing getting pulled into a conversation.”

“If we have a lot of discomfort with ending conversations, we may…avoid certain people altogether as a means of preventing getting pulled into a conversation.” —Travis Westbrook, PhD

Furthermore, feeling comfortable in knowing that you’ll be able to end a conversation when it’s time “puts you in control of your interactions with others, which can certainly allay the fears of unpredictable social situations for someone with social anxiety,” says Uma Naidoo, MD, psychiatrist and the author of This is Your Brain on Food

Experts In This Article
  • Uma Naidoo, MD, Harvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef, and nutritional biologist

With that mind, Dr. Westbrook suggests trying to get out of your head, and not read too far into the other person's thoughts (which you can't know anyway), and simply try to be present when you're having conversations. “Sometimes we avoid wrapping up conversations due to worries about hurting the other person’s feelings,” he says. “It’s important to not feel overly responsible for others’ feelings or see them as fragile and unable to cope with having a conversation come to a close.”  Furthermore, if you feel you don't want to be part of the conversation anymore, that's your best indicator that it's a good time to end it. “You don’t necessarily need an excuse to wrap up a conversation,” Dr. Westbrook adds.

As far as how, exactly, to end the conversation, though, you might benefit from some tips. Being prepared with a few go-to conversation-enders can help lower your risk of being left stuck in a conversation you wished ended ages ago.

Not sure how to end a conversation once and for all? Here are 12 simple tips.

1. Have an “out” ahead of time.

Excusing yourself to use the bathroom is an easy conversation-ender, given that it's so plausible and also most places have a bathroom nearby. “This is often something for which, with normal social graces, no one would question or follow you,” Dr. Naidoo says. Another option, per Dr. Westbrook, if you don’t actually need to go or don’t feel like fibbing: “I’m going to step away for a moment, but it was great talking with you.”

2. Put the exit on the other person.

This can be as simple as saying something like, “I know you want to catch up with other people, but it was great talking to you” or “I’ll let you mingle, but I really enjoyed our chat.” “This emphasizes your respect for the other person’s time and gracefully ends the conversation with a compliment, which makes the recipient feel good, too,” Dr. Naidoo says.

3. Say that you’ll catch up again soon.

That is, if you actually want to catch up. You can try, “I’m going to say hello to a few other people, but I’ll see you at the gathering next week,” or something similar. “It lets the person know that you look forward to talking more in the future,” Dr. Westbrook says.

4. Invite other people to join you.

Whether you feel badly leaving the other person alone or just want to make a smooth exit, try roping someone else into your chat. A simple, “have you met X?” can bring them into the fold. Then, stick around for a moment and excuse yourself, Dr. Naidoo suggests.

5. Excuse yourself to answer a text.

Sure, this may be stretching the truth a little (that is, if you don't have a text to answer), but in all the time you've talked, you probably did get a text. You can just say a simple, “Excuse me, I need to respond to this” while looking at your phone. Then smile and walk away. “Letting the other person know that you have multiple demands on your time sets a clear, respectful expectation that the conversation may not last very long,” Dr. Naidoo says.

6. Wrap things up with a nice comment.

It’s okay to make it clear that you’re done chatting, but you can smooth things over with a compliment. Example: “I really enjoyed catching up. I hope you have a nice rest of your night.” Dr. Naidoo says this approach “compliments the person, respectfully signals that you are putting an end to the conversation, and leaves with a positive wish.”

7. Check in with the host.

It’s only polite to say “hi” to the host and see if they need anything. A simple, “I just realized I haven’t said ‘hi’ to X yet—please excuse me” should work. “Acknowledging that there are other people with whom you need to interact in a setting sets a clear expectation of non-exclusivity during conversation,” Dr. Naidoo says.

8. Let them get back to what they were doing.

If you happen to chat with someone while you’re out somewhere, like a store, use that information to create a graceful exit. Say, “It was great to see you! I’ll leave you to your grocery shopping now” to end things. “This communicates your respect for the other person’s time,” Dr. Naidoo says.

9. Try this easy phrase.

Have someone on the phone who won’t stop talking? Try, “Well, I’ll let you go now.” It suggests that you know that they’re busy and you don’t want to suck up their time.

10. Take advantage of a lull in the conversation.

Conversational lulls happen during every chat. When the chatter dies down, just say, “It was great talking! Hopefully we’ll catch up again soon.”

11. Claim your battery is low.

Yes, it’s a total stretch but sometimes you need to reach for it when you’ve got to wrap up a phone call ASAP. “Sometimes, a white lie does the trick—especially if any of the above don’t work,” Dr. Naidoo says.

12. Ask ‘permission’ to wrap things up.

Sure, you don’t need it, but Dr. Westbrook says this move can get your point across in a nice way. Try, “Mind if I step away for a moment? I’m hoping to catch X before she leaves.”

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