Sunday, January 3, 2010

Negotiating your way toward silence

Conversations use something called adjacency pairs, like Q&A or utterance & acknowledgement. For example:

Q: What color is the moon?
A: Grey.

Utterance & acknowledgement
U: I have two mommies.
A: That's unusual.

Because of this structure, it is often hard to end a conversation. It takes some negotiating. In English, there are several ways to do this.

The best is probably to make up an excuse about why you need to exit the dialogue. If you're on the phone, you could say, "I need to go eat some Cheerios," or some other daily task. In person, this is hard to do unless you need to physically leave the conversational space.

A semi-conclusive statement often helps. Something like "well, that's that" works, although it feels a bit insincere. Hedges, meaningless words like "well," and "hmm," also signal the end of your interest in the dialogue.

My personal favorite is, "Well, it was good catching up with you!" "Catching up" is a phrase you use when you see someone you haven't seen for awhile and learn about what they've been doing. To make it extra conclusive, it's good to add some insincere intentions for the future, like, "Maybe I'll catch ya at Whitey's Saloon this weekend!"

How do you like to end conversations?

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