A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. That’s why there are so few good conversations: due to scarcity, two intelligent talkers seldom meet.
Our conversation influences a lot of the things around us – the type of friends we have, our jobs, the way people respond to us… and ultimately it affects who we are as people. Some of us have small talk down to a fine art, some can talk under water … others find conversation a little more challenging and there is nothing more awkward than being stuck in a conversation you don’t want to have! When things start going awry when talking to my partner one or other of us will go “We’re not talking about this!” and the conversation changes, like a switch. But sometimes we find ourselves in a situation (for example at work), where we can’t say that because people may go there anyway. This week I talk about some tactical ways you can take control of your conversation and subtly change the topic if need be.
Invite other people into the conversation
A skillful way to dodge a sticky conversation is to invite other people in by asking for their opinion – this will take the focus off you. You can also be subtle by speaking a little louder so others can over hear you and jump in regardless of the invitation. If you can’t take it off topic, someone else is bound to eventually! As soon as it starts veering off topic, the person that originally started the conversation may leave or zone out, try to ensure it stays on the new topic but also try to include the original person by asking their thoughts as well – this assists in not making you appear disinterested in talking to them directly.
Link the conversation back
If the conversation is heading towards a topic you don’t know much about or something that is making you feel uncomfortable you can acknowledge where that person is going and steer it back to a previous conversation you had. For example: “I love chocolate, but when I lost all my weight recently I just found it gave me so much confidence”.
Sometimes it can be as simple as picking up on a single word the person has used and using active listening you can subtly change the topic. For example, someone starts talking about their dream car and they say it’s red and if they give one more detail you’ll be asleep – you could say: “Well, they say red goes faster! Actually, I had these sneakers a couple of years ago that had red on them, and I could have sworn they helped me run faster!” Run! RUN!!!
Politicians are really good at this one. When someone asks a question, they instantly start talking about whatever they want to lead the conversation in that direction – regardless of if it has any relevance to the topic or not. A more subtle way to deflect a conversation is to vaguely state your opinion (so you’ve semi-satisfied the person), and then lead the conversation in a different direction by talking about something positive to do with the same topic or something very closely linked to the topic “A great example of this was when the same situation happened at Stanford University and the way they handled it!”
Start a conversation
Starting a conversation can be awkward, depending on the context of our situation. While looking on the internet to gather research for my article, I found these fantastic cards! They sound like a really great way to assist your dinner party or next function into a whole new level of interesting conversation and laughter.
Not so subtle ways to change the conversation
Flattery will get you … somewhere
Complimenting people will generally change the mood in sticky situations however, it may not be very subtle if the conversation is getting a little rough and you say “I really like your tie”. It can help them forget an issue that had them up in arms a few moments ago or soften them towards you – but also prepare for rejection. Some people are just hard to please, no matter what you see. Others may just see through this tactic! A more subtle way of using the flattery tactic to change the topic is to ask the person how they found out so much about the topic at hand – hopefully it leads them to talk about a fond memory or experience and abandon the current awkward conversation!
Sometimes it’s easier just to get out of the situation all together. Come back to it at a later time. The easiest way to do this may be to excuse yourself whether it be short term (for example going to the bathroom to regroup) or long-term (for example feeling sick and going home to reassess your thoughts). The trick is to change the topic upon your return – so while you take a moment to recharge, think of a positive direction you can take the conversation. The problem with excusing yourself is that is can make you appear guilty or vulnerable.
Use the art of small talk
If you are skilled in the art of small talk – better than being able to subtly change the topic – why not just start a new conversation all together? Some ideas include:
* Talking about something you have in common (even if it’s the place where you are at the moment)
* Comment on a topic of general interest (the Royal baby appears to be a hit at the moment!)
* Ask an open-ended question
* Ask a follow up question or offer your own response to your question leading off topic
* Inspire them to share their thoughts or their story
* Share lessons that you have learned
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