What to Read Next

Ways to (Subtly) Change the Topic of Conversation

Real Simple Magazine
At Home
June 13, 2012

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.
By Michelle Crouch

1. Make a Pit Stop

Back when I worked as an undercover officer for the FBI, if someone started asking me a lot of questions, I had to throw him off so he wouldn't figure out who I was. I would excuse myself, head to the restroom, and remain there for a few minutes. When I returned, I would immediately ask him about something new. It's much easier and less awkward to change the subject after you've taken a short break than to stop a conversation midstream. I still do this when I want to switch topics if I'm stuck next to someone on an airplane or at a social event.

Joe Navarro, a former FBI special agent, is the author of What Every Body Is Saying ($20, amazon.com). He lives in Tampa.

Also See: 10 Money Conversations Everyone Should Have

2. Use Flattery
Complimenting people works, especially in prickly situations. Why? It helps them forget the issue that had them up in arms just minutes ago. Plus, people tend to listen more closely to words of praise, which can put them in a different frame of mind. Try this the next time you want to distract someone: Ask her how she learned so much about the particular topic at hand. If she's touched by your interest, she may recall a related fond memory or experience and subsequently abandon the argument and tone down her rhetoric in the process.

Cynthia W. Lett, based in Washington, D.C., is the author of That's So Annoying: An Etiquette Expert on the World's Most Irritating Habits and What to Do About Them ($15, amazon.com).

Also See: 18 Common Phrases to Avoid in Conversation

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.

Also See: Etiquette Questions, Answered

Click here for two more topic-shifting tips from Real Simple

You Might Also Like:
What to Say in Awkward Social Situations

How to Beat Social Anxiety

The 10 Big Rules of Small Talk

Leif Parsons
Leif Parsons

Stop Paying Too Much For Your Prescriptions.

Drug prices vary wildly between pharmacies. GoodRx finds the lowest prices and discounts. Compare prices, print free coupons & save up to 80%.

What Are The Pros & Cons Of A Reverse Mortgage?

More Americans are accessing their home equity to support their retirement years. Speak with a professional and see what you may qualify for today.

Ever Googled Someone? Do A "Deep Search" Instead

Entering a Name and State on this site could reveal info you thought wasn't available. Have you searched yourself or someone you know yet?

Read This Before You Buy Medigap Plan F

Medicare Supplement Plan F is the most popular plan option, but there's another Medigap option you should consider.

Starwood Credit Card

Earn 25,000 Bonus Starpoints®! Use toward Award Nights or Flights.

Is your insurance comp Laughing Behind Your Back?

New Studies Show that if you drive less than 55 miles a day you can save a ton on auto insurance.

$200 Tactical Flashlight Surplus Dumped

Highly anticipated LumiTact G700 Tactical Flashlight Overrun - Now available to civilian population

Best Balance Transfer Credit Cards of 2016

Banks are offering 0% APR for up to 15 months right now. Don't pay interest on your purchases and transfer a balance today. Apply securely here.

How Older Men Tighten Their Skin

Men, reduce the look of wrinkles, sagging skin and fine lines with this affordable and effective skin tightening treatment without leaving your home.

Banks Are Worried Homeowners Will Do This.

Homeowners are surprised and furious. If you owe less than $625,000 on your home, you better read this.

Time is Running Out

Just 7 days remain to enter for a shot at $5,000 A Week “Forever.”

Insane Navy Seal Flashlight, should it be banned?

The Military has recently released technology that is now available to the public. Get yours before they run out - Limited Supply!

Toddler tantrum email series for moms

We get it. We’ve been there. Sign up for our email track for advice on how to handle different situations that may arise with your little one.

“It works. Officers were at my home in minutes."

Built by the leading engineers in the country with revolutionary wireless technology... Engineered to make your home feel like a fortress...