5 Ways to (Subtly) Change the Topic of Conversation
What’s worse? Being (a) trapped in an elevator, (b) stuck on a train, or (c) stranded in a tiresome—or contentious—cocktail-party discussion? If you answered (c), read below. Five savvy experts, including a former FBI special agent and a bar manager, divulge their finest conversational exit strategies.
3. Enlist Help
Sometimes when I’m working at the bar, a patron gets too close to a topic that I don’t want to talk about. So I immediately
draw other customers into the discussion, hoping to steer it in a different direction. Just the other day, someone asked me
what part of town I live in. I answered her vaguely, but then she wanted to know my specific street, which made me feel uncomfortable.
So I launched into a story about an incident that recently happened in my neighborhood. While doing so, I raised my voice
and started to make eye contact with others around me. Soon they were all listening and jumping in with their own similar
stories, and I was off the hook.
Jeffrey Morgenthaler is a bar manager at Clyde Common, a restaurant in Portland, Oregon.
4. Play Word Association
The most discreet way to intro--duce a different topic? Link it with something that was previously said, even if the new subject
is connected by only the smallest detail or key word. If I’m with a guy who’s bragging about his new car, for instance, I
will chime in and say, “I love fast cars, too, but I’m actually more of a running gal.” From there I can talk about the great
workout I had that morning or the road race I’m running this weekend.
Catherine Blyth, a British writer, is the author of The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure ($22.50, amazon.com).
In media training, I teach executives how to take control of a question-and-answer session. I’ve found that the best method
is to use a conversation technique called “the bridge,” which is a phrase that helps you segue into the subject you want to
talk about. One of my favorites:“What’s important to remember is…” Let’s take one example. Say a job recruiter asks for your
thoughts on a recent scandal at your alma mater. First vocalize your opinion, even if it’s just to say, “I think the whole
thing is reprehensible.” Then, to direct the talk away from the sticky matter, go right into the bridge. “But what’s important
to remember is that the university is one of the great research institutions in our country, and I’m very proud to have gone
Carmine Gallo is a communications coach in Pleasanton, California, and the author of several books, including Fire Them Up! ($22, amazon.com)