ESL speaking: How to End a Conversation

What should you do to get away from someone if you're in a hurry or you're not enjoying the conversation?

How to Politely End a Conversation

I’m frequently asked about how to bring a conversation to a polite and friendly close. Like you, no one wants to be perceived as rude or hurtful.



When we want the conversation to end, we also want the other person to think the conversation was enjoyable. If we’re engaged in a conversation and I need the conversation to end, I don’t want you to think that you’re a bore or that you’re an undesirable conversation partner.

Some researchers refer to this as conversational “face saving.” And in order to do that effectively we follow specific conversation-ending strategies to smoothly close the conversation.

How Not to End a Conversation

Just the other day I was talking on the phone with Get It Done Guy, Stever Robbins. I was absorbed in our conversation when I suddenly I realized I was late for my next appointment. I very abruptly said, “Stever, I’ve got to go.” And he paused for a second, and said, “Yeah, me too.” Then we quickly hung up.

Afterward, I felt bad about the abrupt close. I hadn’t properly followed conversation ending strategies. I think I might have offended him. When people have done the same thing to me, it just didn’t feel right. (Stever, if you’re listening, I really am sorry. I know I should have been more polite.)

Quick and Dirty Tips for Ending a Conversation

People who study conversation endings tell us that proper endings include a few exchanges--not just one quick one--like what happened with Stever. In fact, an exceedingly polite conversation ending can go on for a few minutes and usually includes a few different strategies.

Again, there are several specific rituals involved or politeness approaches that help us to positively end a conversation. In today’s article we’ll talk about three of the most common approaches: the positive comment, the summary/plan, and the excuse.

Tip #1: The Positive Comment

The first strategy, the positive comment, is the most frequently used conversation ending strategy. It is exactly what it sounds like: a positive comment and it’s almost a direct negation that your conversation partner is boring or annoying.

Include the name of the person in your closing to make it just a little more personal.
For example, at the end of my conversation with Stever, I could have said, “Hey Stever, I’m glad we talked, you gave me some interesting ideas to think about.” If you’re in a networking situation, and you have just met someone for the first time, you could say something like, “Mignon, it was really great to meet you in person.” Notice how in each of these, I included the name of the person. That makes it just a little more personal and helps to signal that the end has come. My favorite all purpose positive comment phrase is, “Hey, Bob, I really enjoyed our conversation.”

Of course, it’s important that you are sincere when you communicate your positive comment. We all know instinctively when someone isn’t being genuine. You need to say the comment in a way that people will believe you and of course the best way to do that is to find something positive that you can honestly comment on.

Tip #2: The Summary/Plan

The next strategy is the summary or a summary/plan. What’s that? The idea is to review the main ideas you just discussed. That way you’re indicating the conversation was successful and complete. Sometimes people combine the summary with the plan. It goes something like this…“So thanks for clarifying the terms of the contract.” (That’s the summary part.) “I’ll review the contract again tonight, and let you know my decision.” (That’s the plan). When you move the conversation to summary, or summary and plan, people perceive that to be a signal that the conversation has come to a close.

Tip #3: The Excuse

Some people choose the excuse strategy. (And as a side note, some cultures, rely on excuses more heavily than others. In fact, when I was learning Spanish in Panama, I found it interesting, that an entire chapter of our book was dedicated to excuses and excuse making. But that’s a different episode.)



The idea behind the excuse approach is, again, to indicate that you need to end the conversation. Not because your conversation partner is boring or annoying, but because other things or people are demanding your attention. For example, you could say, “I need to get back to work; I’ve got a pressing deadline.” Or “This is my first time here, and I would like to say hello to a few other people.” Notice with each of these examples, you give the excuse and a reason. That’s where I went wrong with Stever, I just gave one half of the excuse; I never gave him the reason. It would have been more polite to say,, “Hey Stever, thanks for sharing some great ideas with me. I need to run, because I just noticed I am late for my next appointment.”

So there you have it, three effective strategies for bringing a conversation to a polite and friendly close: The positive comment, the summary/plan, and the excuse. If you’d like to learn more strategies and read some research done on conversation closings be sure to click the link in the administrative section.

Also, I have one quick post script for this article. My sister, Maria, reads every episode and gives me her feedback before I record. Just after she reviewed this episode we were talking on the phone. At the end of our conversation, she started giggling a little bit and then said in an exaggerated voice, “Well, Lisa, it was great to talk with you. I need to run because I need to get to the supermarket before it closes.” I can always count on her to make me smile! Thanks Sis!

2 comments:

  1. This is an interesting resource as it addresses many such tactics. Not only how to end a conversation, but how start one in the first place, how to digress and return to the main, how to recapture the floor and so on: 46 such tactics in all. Catalyst: A Conversation Taskbook for English Language Learners has an automatic topic generating routine built-in and the topics always resonate with students because it's student-centred: all about them. The main point about Catalyst is not that topic creation and topic substance are automatic or appealing however. Rather generated conversation is used as a means to the acquisition of a whole variety of essential communication tactics. Catalysthas review built around principles of "space repetition" and has instructor-, peer- and self- assessment protocols integrated as well. With all that going on there's not a lot of prep to do. Teachers can focus on facilitating the lesson, not the lesson plan.

    Catalystis the first ever interactive, "multi-touch" ESL textbook and has just been published for iPad. You can find out more by visiting http://www.speekeezy.ca/ or you can just download the free sample on iTunes here:https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/catalyst-esl-taskbook/id564638682?mt=11. This is clearly what Apple had in mind when they released iBooks Authour in January 2012.

    Catalyst is also available in traditional paper.

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  2. Thanks for sharing information it is very useful for study

    ielts speaking subject

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