I’ve spoken a lot about conversations, including a series of podcasts about how to start a conversation, how to continue a conversation, and how to politely end a conversation. But what if you aren’t enjoying the way the conversation is going and you want to change it? That’s today’s topic.
Of course, I’m assuming you want to be polite. You could be rude and just say, “I’m not really interested in this topic. Let’s talk about something I like!” That actually might quickly end the conversation, which might be OK with you. But if it’s someone you need to associate with, it might also end your hopes of a good relationship in the future.
So it’s best to find polite ways to change the subject. Your relationship with the person will affect which approach you choose. But always do so with a positive attitude. It can even be funny!
I once read a Huffington Post article about How to Change a Conversation with One Simple Word. That word was “anyhoo.” Try it. Say it with expression, sort of drawn out, with a smile or funny expression. People get the point and may laugh along. Then be ready with another smile and a pleasant topic to segue into.
Another technique is to find a key point that the person mentions, which can lead into a different conversation. For instance, if the person keeps talking about her cat, and you’re allergic so it’s not something you can relate to, listen for words that can lead to something else. For instance, if the person shares how nimble her cat is, say, “Oh, yes, certain animals have really interesting traits! I enjoy animals, too. In fact, I have a membership to the zoo. When was the last time you were at our zoo?” and lead the conversation to a broader discussion of animals. Then perhaps you can lead it to other points of interest in your city, if that aligns with both of your interests. You can also use a word that he or she mentions and then leads to something else. “Oh! Speaking of which…” or “That reminds me! I’ve been meaning to tell you…”
If nothing in the conversation gives you a useful springboard, you could try, “I just thought of something. Before I forget…” This is similar to the last suggestion, but doesn’t have to be directly related. Or you can redirect back to an earlier topic in the conversation. When there’s a pause, try, “I was intrigued by what you said earlier about _____. Can you tell me more?” That still makes the person feel really good and sticks to a topic you both like. A similar approach is to flatter and then switch to a different subject. This works well in more professional or serious conversations, too. “You make a good point about the national debt. How do you feel about campaign funding?” Switch to a topic you know more about and interests you.
Sometimes drawing someone else into the conversation helps. Start speaking a little louder and making eye contact with someone else nearby. If you’re standing, turn your body out a bit to indicate that you are opening the conversation to others. When that person shows interest, ask his opinion. Alternatively, once that person is interested, then wait for a pause and direct a different question entirely to that person, changing the subject.
If you’re standing, turn your body out a bit to indicate that you are opening the conversation to others.
Or, again when there’s a pause, you can try complimenting the person suddenly—“I love your necklace. It’s so unusual. I bet there’s a story behind that.” Or mention something in your immediate surroundings. If all else fails, excuse yourself briefly. Former CIA agent Joe Navarro said that when he was undercover and people would start asking him questions that might blow his cover, he’d excuse himself to the restroom and come back starting a completely different conversation. Or you can offer to go to the bar or buffet to get refills. Or say you just remembered you had to make a really important phone call and step away. Just don’t say, “So! Where were we?” when you get back! Start afresh.
Finally, you could try, “Not to change the subject or anything…” then change the subject! Most people will laugh along with you and recognize what you’re doing.
Obviously, your familiarity with your conversation partner, or the setting of the conversation, will dictate which approach works best. But start practicing so you’ll be comfortable enough to use the techniques in more formal situations. Soon you’ll be a pro at having interesting conversations everyone enjoys.
This is Lisa B. Marshall, changing organizations, changing lives, and changing the world through better communication. If you’d like to learn more about leadership, influence, and communication, I invite you to read my bestselling books, Smart Talk and Ace Your Interview and listen to my other podcast, Smart Talk. As always, your success is my business.