You’re at a cocktail party enjoying a few drinks with your coworkers. It’s all fun and games until you find yourself stranded in a tiresome, not-so-interesting discussion. You’re at a loss for words—obviously feeling a little detached—but instead of awkwardly exiting the chat circle, subtly steer the conversation to a common point of interest. We know, it’s probably easier said than done—you don’t want to offend or come off as a little pretentious or snobby. But with these five super easy techniques, you’ll be smoothly (and respectfully) swaying your way in and out of the conversation without a hitch.
“Bathroom break anyone?”
A good way to change a conversation is to temporarily distance yourself from it. If you’re stuck at a bar with your mother-in-law and desperately trying to avoid the “baby” talk, excuse yourself for a minute or two. Let her know you need to use the bathroom, or take a breath of fresh air, or even touch up your makeup. Use any excuse that will physically remove you from the conversation, even if that means standing aimlessly in the restroom for three minutes. Once you’re done stalling, make your way back, and immediately ask her about something new. Your momentary absence delayed the conversation, allowing you to non-awkwardly engage in new conversation. Super easy, right?
“I love your home decor. How’d you become so good at it?”
Did you know that self-disclosure is so gratifying that it actually gives us a neurological buzz? Talking about yourself activates the same areas of the brain that eating delicious food or even having sex does. And because people love talking about themselves so much, you can easily that to your advantage! When you find yourself stuck in a prickly conversation, like having to answer a difficult question during an interview or having a colleague pry into something a little too personal, find a way to praise the person you’re talking to, and get them to explain their accomplishments. For instance, ask the interviewer how he or she was able to foster such a highly-praised work environment, or ask your colleague about the picture of them in Paris that they keep on their desk. The person you’re talking to will find your interest in them satisfying. And even if it doesn’t totally pivot the conversation, a little praise will nonetheless lighten the mood and distract from the tricky or awkward question at hand.
“Oh! Look at the cute puppy!”
When you’re at a loss for where to take the conversation, get a little help from your surroundings. Interrupt the conversation by pointing out something shocking or simply note-worthy in your surrounding environment, like the cute Australian shepherd strutting down the street or the thriving fiddle leaf fig tree in the corner. If there’s nothing around to bring attention to, try bringing new people into the conversation. The bigger the chat circle, the more varied the ideas, and the greater the chances are for a switch in conversation. So next time you’re stuck listening to Bill go on about the company’s latest IT updates, ask Sara and Thomas to chime in. This takes a little pressure off of you as far as keeping the conversation going, and sooner or later, the conversation will naturally shift to a new topic.
“Speaking of dogs, have you ever watched Marley & Me ?”
The most seamless way to change a conversation is by using word associations. Sick of talking about Pam’s dog’s eye infection? Start talking about Bodhi, that petfluencer you found on Instagram. Both conversations are linked to dogs, making the transition from one discussion to the next as smooth as butter. The moment you’ve regained control over the conversation, you’re free to steer it wherever you’d like. Just remember to be natural, patient, and respectful—don’t talk over them, don’t be pushy, and don’t make your disinterest obvious.