How To Gracefully Change the Subject of a Conversation
Getting out of uncomfortable conversations is easier than you think.
In today's world, the conversation can change from pleasant to uncomfortable on a dime. Although there are people who thrive on debate, there are just as many who prefer not to engage in conversation about controversial or personal subjects outside of their closest confidantes. This might be especially true in business settings or social situations. Since opting out of such conversations can be tricky, we asked Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert and founder of the The Protocol School of Texas, for her best tips on how to gracefully change the subject of conversation.
Gottsman says one of the best ways to change the conversation is simply to acknowledge what the other person is saying before you move on to the next topic. For instance, one of your more traditional aunts is worried about the etiquette around throwing a wedding shower for your son's fiance. Gottsman suggests honestly acknowledging their perspective by saying something like, "I understand that you feel strongly about close family members not hosting a wedding shower for a loved one, however, Amanda is not from here and she doesn't know anyone. Her family and friends live in a different state and she is all alone except for us. Our family and friends want to honor our son's soon-to-be bride and their upcoming wedding and based on this circumstance, we are going to get together and host a gathering to welcome her." This ensures that the other party understands their viewpoint was heard and understood before you explain your position and leave the subject behind you.
Redirect the Conversation
According to Gottsman, redirection can be a powerful tool when you need to move away from awkward, uncomfortable conversations. In such cases, she suggests saying something like, "as far as I'm concerned, this topic is off the table and I am not engaging. I want to hear more about your new kitchen remodel. Have you started yet?" One of the keys here is finding another topic the other person will be excited to engage in. If you're in a group setting, the other people around are likely to be grateful for the redirection as well!
Sometimes it feels like the whole world wants to get in your business. If you're in a situation where someone is asking questions about a recent breakup or another personal matter, Gottsman advises saying, "I appreciate your concern but I would prefer to process this my own way in my own time. I'm not interested in discussing it." This will politely, but firmly, establish boundaries around what information you're willing to share or discuss.
Exit the Conversation
Some people just won't take a hint. In these cases, it's perfectly okay to politely end the conversation. "If someone constantly brings up a difficult conversation, which includes gossip, give them a chance by saying, You know I don't like talking about anyone who can't defend themselves," says Gottsman. If they persist after you've made it clear that the conversation is off-limits,"excuse yourself politely and find someone else who is more engaging without being annoying," suggests Gottsman.