Regardless of the topic or participants, awkward conversations generally have one thing in common: at least one of the parties involved can’t wait for them to end. There are effective ways to end them and not-so-effective ways, both of which are pointed out in a statistical study conducted by a San Jose State University graduate student.
The study looked at 145 participants using 350 different methods for ending awkward conversations, or conversations where one party is ready to run yet the other just keeps on talking. It then charted the conversation-ending tactics based on how effective and socially acceptable they were.
About the Strategies
Let’s start with the socially acceptable and effective ways to end an awkward conversation, listed from most to least effective.
- Getting help from a third party: Getting another person to bail you out
- Closing statements: “It was great talking to you!”
- Excuses: “I really have to go to the bathroom.”
- Turning the table: “I’m sure you must be moving along.”
- Polite hinting: “I really should be moving along.”
The study also noted one socially acceptable strategy that rarely works: changing the subject. Even if changing the subject technically ends the conversation on a specific topic, it also runs the risk of starting a whole new one.
Socially unacceptable behaviors may be gauche, but they can still work to get you out of an awkward conversation. Two tactics made the effective list.
- Rudeness: “Will you stop talking already? Goodbye!”
- Vanishing: Hightailing it out of there when the person turns his or her head
Rudeness was ranked as more effective than vanishing, perhaps because rudeness makes it clear the conversation is over. Vanishing still leaves a chance the conversation can be restarted if the other person happens to find you again.
The study found two other tactics to be socially unacceptable and ineffective.
- Restlessness: Fidgeting, checking your pockets, looking around the room
- Non-responsiveness: Staring blankly into space
If the awkward conversation is taking place with someone who simply won’t stop talking, it’s easy to see why these two methods would fail. The person would be so busy talking that they may not even notice if you’re incredibly restless or staring blankly into space.
Meaningful conversations, on the other hand, are those you don’t want to stop. And you can have plenty of them with the meaningful market research results and statistics from mTAB.