Finishing the conversation. How exactly?
December 15, 2016 12:23 AM   Subscribe

How does one 'end' a conversation in a casual setting?

I've never really been that great at communicating, but I think I have become better through time and exposure. I can talk to people for a while. But inevitably either they or I need to leave and then it all breaks down. I'm not good at exiting gracefully. Either it all stops very bluntly or my poor attempts at banter drag it out unnecessarily long. I have no idea how to casually close the conversation.
posted by downtohisturtles to Human Relations (19 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Have a collection of standard exit phrases on standby.

"Lovely to catch up. I've got to go now, but I'll see you later."

"Anyway, great to see you, I'd better head."

"Wish I could stay and chat but I've got to run, let's catch up soon."

A big, genuine smile will also do a lot to lift any awkwardness that may arise.
posted by Ziggy500 at 12:36 AM on December 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

"I'll let you go."

This sounds polite because it implies an apology for keeping the other person from their busy life.
posted by Samarium at 1:27 AM on December 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

"Hey, I'd better get going. It was good to see you! Take care."
posted by Hermione Granger at 4:32 AM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I stand up and say "OK, awesome!" in a sort of final tone of voice.
posted by escabeche at 4:33 AM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

A pretty good formula goes like this:
[State need to leave] [State pleasure at having had the conversation] [Farewell salutation]

So, for example:
"I've got to head out. So nice to see you! Take care!"
"I'd better head home. Lovely talking to you! Drive safe!"
"I'm going to head over to the drinks table. Great to meet you! Bye!"
"Oh, I think Bob needs me over there. Great to run into you! See you soon!"
"I'd better let you go. So good to see you. Good luck with the concert!"

Among friends or in small towns, this can often be abbreviated to "Anyway, nice seeing you!" and a big smile.

Don't fall into the amateur mistake of promising something at the end -- people often do this to avoid a feeling of guilt for leaving the conversation. This is how you get the insincere stuff appended to the end of the conversation, like: "Let's get coffee sometime!" "Let's hang out!" "I'll definitely make it to your 5-hour long charity meditation session next week!" Only promise something or offer to hang out if you really actually wish to do so -- and if you do, then you should offer to exchange numbers and/or make a calendar appointment right that second. If the other person don't want to, that's fine -- let them get in touch with you in that case rather than pressing the issue.
posted by ourobouros at 4:44 AM on December 15, 2016 [11 favorites]

Wear a watch. At any point you can look down and say "oh crap! This has been so much fun that I lost track of time, but I have to be [somewhere]. See you soon!"
posted by nicwolff at 4:58 AM on December 15, 2016

At work: "Well, I'd better go look busy so I don't get fired."

At work when someone is at your desk chatting and won't leave: "Hey, I need to walk over to the coffee machine and refill. Want to come with me?" Then once at the coffee machine, chat a few more minutes and then say "Well, I'd better get back to my desk, I have a ton of work to do. I'll see you at (next thing)."

With relatives you like and don't see often: "I hate to leave, but I'm so glad I got to see you!" (warm hug)

With relatives you see regularly: "Tell Aunt Pat I said hello, so glad things are going well with junior's back teeth!"

With acquaintances: "Hey it was great to see you, and I don't want to hold you up. Have a great day!"

If you promised to do something during the conversation: "Hey, I'll send you that link/book/priceless wartime letter/fart cushion. Let me know what you think, great to see you!"

Sometimes I use a little body language by checking my watch or looking at my phone or doing something else to suggest a move towards leaving and a lessening in focus on the conversation. Actually doing things on the phone would be rude, glancing at the screen presumably to check time time is okay I think.
posted by bunderful at 5:13 AM on December 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm pretty sucky at this stuff but can offer that in person there are little physical cues that a conversation is ending, like picking up your keys or grabbing your coat, while still continuing the conversation. That gives it a bit to resolve itself without calling a ton of attention to it, and if it doesn't have that denouement it's abrupt and weird.

On the phone people will say, 'Ok. Well. Thanks everyone!' or do a bullet point wrap up followed by 'Anything else?' and then 'Ok. Well. Thanks everyone!' and then everyone byes and thanks.

I asked on Ask about how to handle this a while ago because I was so terrible at it on the phone. I am incrementally better now.

Also cooler with just living with being awkward and fuck it.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:13 AM on December 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Something to remember which I sometimes forget: The other person's self-esteem and the happiness of their day does not hinge on you staying in a conversation with them forever. It's okay to talk briefly and move on.
posted by bunderful at 5:16 AM on December 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

There are also pre-conversation enders. These kind of invite the other person to wrap it up without you doing all the work:

"Well it was very nice to run into you"

"I'm so glad we got to chat today"

"Well, you look like you're on your way somewhere."

"I've got to get out of this soaking-wet clown suit."
posted by bunderful at 5:19 AM on December 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

For me, it depends on how familiar I am with the other person.

For someone I don't know well (or at all), I usually say something like "It was great to chat with you; I'll let you get back to your [shopping / business / walk / etc.] Take care!"

If it's a friend who understands my sense of humor, I might just say "OK, that's enough, I'm going away now! Stay in touch." (I often end phone conversations with my daughter with "I'm going away now!" or "I have to do a thing!" She still puts up with me.)

Bonus answer: My favorite fictional chat-ender is in the movie This is Spinal Tap, when the manager for Duke Fame is extricating them from an awkward hotel hallway chat with the Spinal Tap guys: "Yeah, listen, we'd love to stand around and chat, but we've gotta... sit down in the lobby and wait for the limo."
posted by The Deej at 5:32 AM on December 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I love ourobouros' formula!

Although I know it's just a turn of phrase, "I'll let you go" has always rubbed me the wrong way. I totally understand self-deprecation, but I value my connections with other people, and when somebody uses "I'll let you go", there's an implication that I'm the one ending the conversation, not them.
posted by redsparkler at 7:45 AM on December 15, 2016 [8 favorites]

If you're in a social situation, like a party, where you're mingling and aren't necessarily saying a final "good bye" you can always bow out by indicating another thing you're going to do. "I'm going to get a refill on this drink. Talk to you in a bit!" "Oo, I'm going to check out those cookies." "Oh, there's Joe, I've been trying to catch him." "I promised Jane I'd keep an eye on the ice situation." etc.
posted by LKWorking at 8:13 AM on December 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Following up on ourobouros's formula, "Okay," and "alright," said in the right tone often work in lieu of stating your need to leave. They cue that the conversation is ending, and that way you can say you enjoyed the conversation without seeming abrupt.
posted by little onion at 9:46 AM on December 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Lately I find myself using, "Thank you so much for your help, I appreciate it. See you/talk to you soon/next Monday."
posted by bendy at 4:06 PM on December 15, 2016

"Are you done?"

i'll see myself out...
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 6:38 PM on December 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Seriously though, this kind of thing doesn't work with a long-winded or needy person or compulsive talker

Sometimes I use a little body language by checking my watch or looking at my phone or doing something else to suggest a move towards leaving and a lessening in focus on the conversation.

I think the explicit but polite comment is best. If you really can't pull away, the other person isn't looking for cues and thus won't be likely to follow them.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 6:41 PM on December 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

PeeWee Herman says "Let me let you let me go."
posted by Brittanie at 9:38 AM on December 16, 2016

Well, it was nice running into you/this was nice/that was fun, but I've got to get going.
posted by atinna at 4:03 PM on December 16, 2016

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