Because slowly backing away is not an option.

Updated January 17, 2020
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Even the loveliest chat can turn sour if it goes on a hair too long. Here are six ways to graciously navigate the close of a conversation without hurting any feelings or ruffling any feathers.

1. Give yourself an out.

It’s easier to end a conversation if are able to physically remove yourself from it. If you’re at a party, you can say something like, “I’m going to refresh my drink. May I get you anything?” Chances are, your conversational partner will decline your offer, and you’re on your merry way. Alternately, if you’re on the way out of the party, you can say something like, “I’ve got to get home to take the dog out, but it’s been so nice catching up.” By offering up an (honest—this is key!) excuse for your exit, you’re taking responsibility for the reason the conversation is ending, and your conversation partner won’t take your departure personally.

2. Give the other person an out.

This should be reserved for conversations with a host, guest of honor, or the bride and groom, as anyone else may feel like you’re shifting responsibility for the interaction’s end onto them. Something like this generally works well: “I know there are lots of other people who want to say hello/I know you’re ready to hit the dance floor, but I just wanted to say thank you/best wishes/congratulations.” It is a considerate way to express your appreciation and well wishes, as it opens the door for the host/guest of honor/newlyweds to continue their necessary rounds guilt-free.

3. Invite other people to join in.

Introducing your conversation partner to someone else gives you an opportunity to excuse yourself, without leaving him or her standing alone. Ideally, the scenario will play out like this, “Have you met John? He went to Ole Miss too, and I think you were both in Oxford around the same time. Y’all should swap stories!” You can also ask them to introduce you to someone: “I’ve heard such amazing things about Laurie’s new business. I’d love to ask him a few questions about it, if you’re up for making the introduction.”

4. Close the loop.

Bring the conversation back to what you were first talking about. For example, if the chat began with a realization that you both recently attended the same wedding, you can say something like, “What a small world that you know Mary Eliza too! I can’t wait to tell her I met you.” This gently, but firmly indicates that the conversation is over and gives you an opportunity to tie up loose ends.

5. Reference future plans.

If you and your conversation partner run in similar circles, either through work or socially, acknowledging a future event you’ll both be attending is another easy out: “Will you be at church on Sunday? We can chat about the baby shower then.” Alternately, if you’d like to continue the conversation more immediately and won’t be at any of the same events for the foreseeable future, you can ask for the other person’s phone number or business card.

6. Say something kind.

Finally, even if the discussion has made you bored, exhausted, or so desperate for an exit that you’ve considered lighting your hair on fire, you still want to leave the other person with a positive impression of you. Find something in the conversation that you appreciated, and express that as you end the chat: “I loved hearing about your trip to San Antonio, Sarah. I’ll have to keep your recommendations in mind next time I go.” Or something like, “Thank you for the smart advice on what to give my mother-in-law for her birthday! That will make shopping for her so much easier.” A little gratitude and a sincere compliment go a long way.

WATCH: 5 Things Polite People Always Say

If these phrases don't make regular appearances in your vocabulary, it's high time you considered using them.