A few weeks ago, before the weather turned cold, I decided to go for a walk in one of my favourite parks. It was a beautiful, lazy, Sunday afternoon. There are always enough people around that I feel secure in walking alone. But not so many that it becomes crowded or overwhelming.
The first half of the walk was lovely. I meandered along the path, taking in the landscape and stopping to take photos as the fancy seized me. One of my favourite places along the trail is a look off at the top of a hill. The entire city is laid out below you and I wanted to take a photo from there.
But someone ahead of me was already walking up the hill. Indecision struck me. Follow them up, or keep going? I decided to walk up the hill too. That was a mistake. No sooner had I arrived at the top, than the stranger pulled out his phone and asked if I’d take a photo of him and his dog. I obliged. This then lead into a 20 minute, one-sided, conversation about photography as I struggled to politely disengage. I’ve made up a list of tips so I can avoid similar situations in the future.
1. Wait for a lull.
If you’re paying attention, it’s easy to detect filler words like “so, umm, like, etc”. As soon as you notice these and the conversation slows, that’s your chance. You can interject with something like “It’s been great meeting you/catching up but I have to head out now.”
2. Be honest.
It’s completely acceptable to make an excuse for leaving. But ensure you’re being honest with the other person. You can create problems with your friends/family/coworkers if they discover the excuse you made wasn’t true.
3. End on a positive note.
I’ve been in conversations where the other person walks away without any kind of parting comment. That makes me feel awful. It also makes me less likely to talk with that person in the future. It’s good to end a conversation with appreciation (even if you don’t necessarily feel that way). At the very least, thank them for their time.
4. Short and sweet.
Sometimes it’s best to be direct. Avoid long and rambling explanations or apologies. Be succinct and firm. Ensure your tone of voice goes down, instead of up. It creates more finality and doesn’t sound like you’re unsure. Thank them for their time, express that you enjoyed talking with them, then use your exit line. Here are a few examples:
I need to head to the washroom.
I need to get back to work.
I want to say hello to a few more people.
I need to head back and start making dinner.
I have to run a few more errands.
I need to get back home.
I have an appointment coming up.
Once you’ve ended the conversation, walk away with purpose. Sometimes I feel a bit guilty. But I like to remind myself that my time is precious. I wouldn’t let someone steal my money, so why would I allow them to steal my time?
These tips are meant to help you leave a “normal” conversation. But if you experience street harassment, including “forced conversations”, you may need a different approach. A couple of helpful links can be found here and here.
Do you have any other tips for ending a conversation tactfully?