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It’s not that hard and usually people don’t mind
a changing the subject. You might be doing everyone a favor. To begin this tactful conversation maneuver, make sure you’re listening closely. That is an inherent advantage introverts share: introverts are better listeners!
Life is too short for boring conversations. My brain actually hurts when people talk too much about anything, but really bad when in cases of conversational narcissism.
First, listen for your cue to segue (pronounced “seg way”).
A segue is an uninterrupted transition — meaning you do not want to give anyone a chance to deflect, interrupt, or take control of your important change of direction.
A successful conversation segue has three parts:
1. Acknowledge that you understand what they’re talking about. For example in a conversation where someone is complaining, “Wow, I can see you’re really frustrated about that situation.”
2. Connect their key word to your key word, even if you’re using a different meaning for that same word.
This is when you bring up “that situation” with a different slant. For example, if someone is complaining about a colleague, we’ll call her Helga. You can say something like, “Yes, and I appreciate how Helga is so resourceful at finding amazing photos for our presentation slides.”
Switch to something positive about the person, or ask a question on a topic that is related to the current conversation, but more interesting to you.
3. Invite them to participate in your topic by asking a question. (Avoid “yes/no” questions.)
Successful segues may require some creativity. With practice, you can effortlessly switch from one topic to another, totally unrelated topic. Part of this skill is pretending like your particular way of connecting these unrelated dots is the most natural thought sequence ever.
Examples of Artfully Changing the Subject
I get that you’re bummed about the rain today, Gina. Speaking of rain, I love to watch movies on rainy nights. Can you believe how much rain we’re getting these days? Last night I watched “Office Space” again. Did you ever see it?
(The use of your conversation partner’s name, always shows that you value the person and building relationships! That means, however, you have to remember their name.)
Wow, that’s amazing how you were able to scale that, John. Your talk about scaling reminds me that Ruben just bought a piano for his studio. What kind of music do you like?
When you NEVER want to answer the question
If your reason for changing the subject is to avoid answering the question, the process is similar, except in this case the 3rd step changes: 1) Acknowledge, 2) Key word, 3) Deflect with neutral statement.
That’s an interesting question, Jan, about my divorce settlement. Divorce is never a fun process, and the settlement is just part of it.
Now you have 2 options:
Option 1: Time to move on. Great talking to you, Jan. I need to talk to Tom about something he called me about yesterday. See ya!
Option 2: New topic. So, Jan, what’s new with you?
If you’re not quick on the draw, the other person may ask you the same question again, perhaps using different words. In that case, simply rinse and repeat the deflection.
That’s an interesting question, Jan, about my divorce settlement. Divorce is never a fun process, and the settlement is just part of it. By the way, have I told you about my new condo? (new exercise coach?, new hobby?, new trip I’m planning?)
Changing the subject tactfully is usually pretty simple if you’re committed and creative. If you get annoyed, inhale and exhale deeply. That frees your brain to be creative.
The case of nonstop talkers
The exceptional case is in a conversation with a nonstop talker. These communicators effortlessly segue their own conversations without needing to take in oxygen. If you’re listening to a chatterer, you’ll probably want to gracefully segue to speak with someone else (what I call a Conversation Exit Plan). This is a situation where it is fine to interrupt. In fact, with a nonstop talker, interrupting is the only way out.
Life is too short for boring conversations. Be the person who asks the questions.