Denver Bar Association
May 2008
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"Did You Really Just Say That?": Tips on getting out of a bad conversation

by Christine Nierenz


We’ve all been there — trapped in a conversation where the other person simply will NOT STOP TALKING and you lost interest in the subject about eight minutes ago. Finding a way to gracefully and tactfully exit a conversation is a learned skill, so here are some helpful tactics for you to incorporate into your social skills repertoire:

The Human Sacrifice — In this maneuver, scan the crowd for someone you know (but do it subtly; it’s not recommended to do a physical 360 degree turn). Upon spotting a friend (or "sacrifice"), immediately turn to that person, and introduce him or her to the conversation by stating that your friend is interested in the subject at hand. For example:

THE TALKER: "And if you compare the gross weight load of the beams used in the Eiffel tower to the lead content in the rails used in the U.S. railroad system, you’ll find that…"

YOU: "Oh, there’s my friend Wilson. Wilson, you must come meet this person." (turning to The Talker). "Wilson has been a longtime aficionado in metal issues; he’ll be fascinated by your experiences in the area."

WILSON: "Uhhhh."

THE TALKER: "Have you heard what they’re developing in Bolivia for use in steel projects?"

The Tried and True Emergency Phone Call — With cell phones, this tactic is easier than ever, particularly with the widespread use of vibration alerts and Bluetooth. Note that due to the popularity of this tactic, family emergencies are a tip-off and overused, so some creativity is now necessary. Simply begin a conversation along the lines of, "What, my car’s been booted?" or "The dog threw up WHAT?" As to the latter, dog vomit is usually a conversation killer, and The Talker probably will not inquire further.

Fake Losing a Contact — To pull this off, it’s best to crawl around on the floor looking for the contact. This method has an added bonus in that unwitting people surround you and will often join in the search, giving The Talker new targets for his lecture. Upon "finding" your contact, you have unspoken permission to run to the nearest restroom.

The Undiagnosed Mental Disorder — This is not for the shy or sensitive types, and requires a minimal level of acting skills. During the conversation, simply break into bizarre behavior — yelling obscenities, scratching your armpits and dancing like a chimp, breaking into a celebrity personality, embracing The Talker and calling him or her "Mommy" while crying, etc. Once people stop talking and take notice of your odd behavior, act embarrassed, cover your mouth, and say something along the lines of, "Goodness! My psychiatrist informed me to call immediately the next time this happened so it could be diagnosed! I must go!" Usually most people will be sympathetic, and will clear the way as you rush out of the room. However, the downside to this method is that you must leave immediately, and you likely will be permanently stigmatized.

The Fake Medical Emergency (or Medication Side Effect) — This is rather self-explanatory, and can be used multiple times in the same night. This could take the form of a coughing fit, a fake fainting, chest pains, passing gas (in which case you should IMMEDIATELY excuse yourself), leg shaking, parched throat, etc. However, you should be prepared for people immediately tending to you, so plan on making a miraculous recovery. Or, upon recovery, you can mention that it is a side effect of medication you are taking, and is only temporary. This method is effective because most people won’t ask about the underlying medical cause.

The Personal Sacrifice — This should be used only in extreme circumstances when the above tactics have not worked (including the Fake Medical Emergency). You’ll need to plan in advance for this — in essence, have a "Plan B." Start by obtaining either a glass of red wine, or a particularly messy food item. When you’re ready to leave the conversation, simply begin an "unavoidable" juggling of your food, preferably spilling food on yourself, although spilling food on the The Talker also is acceptable — but remember to apologize profusely. This will give you another opportunity to run to the restroom (or to make amends with your host if it got on the carpet). It is not advised to spill food or wine on The Talker if you are of the same sex and would meet again in the restroom during the cleanup process.

Take note which of these tactics seems more effective than others, particularly in a variety of settings. For example, the Fake Medical Emergency could be problematic at a gathering populated by doctors or nurses, and you run the risk of someone attempting to use shock paddles on you, which would result in an actual, legitimate medical emergency. Also, spend a few minutes before the social event visualizing execution of various options. You’ll want to know the physical layout of the event – standing, seated, outdoors, indoors, carpet or hardwood floors, escape routes, etc. With some practice, you too can master these methods, and avoid miserable conversations with ease.

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