Five minutes into a four-hour flight to Florida, I found out I was seated next to a Trump supporter. I knew this because as soon as we were seated, she launched into a political tirade. I tried to manoeuvre my way out of the conversation, realising that a debate with her would have no winners. She continued to talk, even after I put headphones in and watched an entire movie.
Sometimes, you just don’t feel like talking; other times, your conversation partner is incredibly annoying. If you’ve ever found yourself in a conversation you desperately wanted to end, here’s how to extricate yourself.
Keep your answers short
If you’re stuck in a conversation you can’t get out of but want to avoid a tense interaction, try to make it clear you’re not interested.
“The best advice is to engage for a short moment, so not as to appear rude, but keep your answers short,” William Hanson, a British etiquette coach, said in an email. “You can also tag on ‘Anyway, I hope you have a good flight’ at the end of one of your responses, which, said with a nice smile, should do the trick.”
In any other social setting, “Great to see you” and “I’ll let you go” can get you out of a terrible conversation without making it awkward.
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Bring in reinforcements
If you’re caught in an endless chat about Game of Thrones without ever having seen the show, enlist reinforcements; find someone around you and ask them about their theory on Daenerys, and as soon as they engage, make your exit. If you’re on a flight, you don’t have the option of walking away, but looping in another seat neighbour just relieve you of some of the burden.
What happens if your conversation partner isn’t getting the hint? According to Hanson, you can try to be a little more obvious by setting up actual physical barriers to your conversation, like putting on headphones, reading a book, or pretending to be engaged in a text. Here’s what author Kio Stark, who specialises in interactions among strangers, suggested on Ted.com:
If you want to make an exit, you can use your body as a signal. Beginning in small increments, you can step or lean outside that interaction zone. Losing eye contact is a signal — but a more obvious and intentional one. Unconsciously, you might get a little jittery, and that’s a signal too. Once you do signal, you hope your partner is getting the message and will either end the interaction or be prepared when you do.
So take little steps, like staring at your watch or phone, to wrap up the conversation. They’ll (hopefully) pick up on these cues and end the chat.
Let’s say your talkative neighbour still isn’t getting the hint. It’s time to make it clear you don’t want to engage with a simple response: “It’s been nice chatting, but I just don’t feel like talking.”
Similarly, here’s how the Cut approaches an exit in a party setting or social gathering:
Look the friend/stranger/relative/ex-lover right in the eye and say: “Great talking to you. I’ll see you soon.” You can just do that. Just imagine how Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would leave a family he just saved from an earthquake. A firm but platonic hug. Strong eye contact. A tender but final good-bye. And just like that, he’s gone.
And if they’re still trying to chat, forget all niceties and be direct as possible and say “I don’t want to talk.” It’s how I avoided a four-hour conversation about politics on a flight; you’re also making it clear it isn’t personal, though it probably is.
Lie your way out
When you’re non-confrontational, lying is easier than being honest that you’re really fucking annoyed. If you’re stuck in a conversation with no physical way out, just lie. Maybe you just had your wisdom teeth pulled out or you have the measles. Is it ethical? Probably not. But no one wants to talk to a contagious person.