How to Escape from an Awkward Conversation

Are you an awkward conversation magnet? Modern Manners Guy shares tips for escaping from and avoiding annoying conversations.

Richie Frieman
3-minute read


Maybe it’s the karma that comes along with being Modern Manners Guy, but I find myself in awkward situations on a pretty regular basis. Most of the time, these situations are in the form of a conversation with—as luck would have it—the most annoying person within 10 square miles of wherever I happen to be at a given moment. However, with all my years of being an awkward conversation magnet, I’ve built a healthy repertoire of clever ways to escape these conversations or to even avoid them before they become tragic. And by tragic, I mean anything longer than 30 seconds.

If you think I’m being rude for not wanting to discuss something awkward with a random coworker, oddball family member, or just the regular Joe standing in the check-out line, let me tell you that these conversations are always one sided.  It’s one thing if you like the person and are engaging in a two-way conversation, but it’s quite another if one person is venting something inappropriate and you can only respond with nods and the occasional “Mhm.”  

Strangers with a willingness for anyone to listen to their grievances weird me out the most. Why would you care about their annoying brother from Florida? Or why they don’t like country music? And even if you are really interested, why should you be their go-to person? They’re a stranger who doesn’t care about their own privacy, let alone invading yours. When you encounter a stranger (or even someone at work whom you don’t know very well) never respond or show interest in whatever they’re announcing out loud. Play on your phone, stare off into space, or act like you didn’t hear them at all. It will save you in the end. By not participating, you can’t be accused of being rude in the first place.

However, when you do know the person and find yourself stuck in their vortex of awkwardness, always have a proper escape route.  For example, telling someone, “Hey, I’m sorry but I’ve got to run to an appointment. Let’s catch up later,” and then leaving is perfectly fine. You smiled, said it politely, and have something else to do, which doesn’t involve hearing about their rash. Yuck! Or say that you have to make a phone call, then take out your phone, hold it in your hand (in the ready to dial position) and walk away, but say again, “Sorry but I have to make a call. We’ll catch up later, okay?” As well, if you are trapped in your cubicle or work space and some intruder won’t stop telling you about their pet rock collection, surreptitiously email a friend and tell them to call you, i.e. save you. Yeah, this is a little sneaky but again, you have to act fast to avoid this person camping out at your desk forever!

Here’s why it’s proper to use an out: The person talking to you does not care who they are talking to. This person is just looking for a warm body – any body – that will listen to them. And why do you have to humor them or stroke their ego, especially if it makes you uncomfortable? They didn’t even ask if you wanted to hear their story, did they? They didn’t even ask if you were free.  Remember, your time is valuable, and they don’t care how much of it they waste.   

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