How to Smoothly Change the
Subject of Conversation

Woman on a Phone

Every conversation reaches a point when it’s time to change the subject.  There could be disagreement on the horizon, a moment of boredom, or an uncomfortable pause signaling a need for revival.

A smooth change of subject takes skill.  But it becomes an art when you've changed the topic of conversation and no one knows you did it intentionally.

A Master of Conversation

Going into a conversation without giving a thought to how you might change a topic is the most polite and unpretentious way to be.  A good conversationalist listens to get a feeling for what another person is interested in at that moment.  This show of interest and an open mind is always a great start to a positive interaction.

Of course, you have topics you want to discuss as well.  Putting your listening skills to work will help you find the right moment to pivot to your chosen subject of interest.

Other qualities of a good conversationalist include:

  • Genuine interest and curiosity about other people.
  • Ability to discuss many subjects and the desire to learn from others.
  • Aware that there are some subjects that are off limits.
  • Sensitive to the signals that indicate a conversation needs to leave the point at hand.
  • Willing to take the leap and kindly move away from the current subject.

While the above qualities play a significant role in effective conversation skills, it is important to remember that the foundation for all of them is your ability to listen.

Time to Change the Subject

You’ve been attentive and listened to your conversation partner.  And you can tell that it’s time to redirect the current topic you’re discussing.

A smooth transition depends on the specific situation you find yourself in, but using these etiquette tips will be helpful.

  • When a person asks a silly question, rather than laugh or try to answer it, change the focus to the person talking.
    “Oh Sally, with so little time here, I want to hear about your grandson.  Didn’t you tell me that he is a sophomore?”

  • When the topic turns heated and you know there’s nowhere for it to go,
    1) let the person finish what he’s saying, then
    2) find an area of agreement before moving to a different subject.
    “I agree with what you said in that these times are bringing on so very much angst.  It might seem odd to mention here, but something I find interesting is… “

  • When you have to respond to a question but want to move on, it works to do it quickly but agreeably.  The brain likes to hear agreeable words.  Try to avoid beginning any sentence with “No.”
    “Annie, definitely, ‘Yes!’ to that!  But what do you think about…. “

  • When the subject needs an immediate change, but you are in an awkward moment, excuse yourself with a promise to return.
    “John, wow, I didn’t realize you felt so strongly about this.  But right now I’d love another drink, what are you having?”

  • When you think it’s time to let the other person know that you are going to change the subject, be positive and smile.  Keep your eye contact warm and direct.
    “I’m going to change our subject here.  Let’s talk about something cool like the Marvel movie!”

Being etiquette-ful means that you know your boundaries and view conversations as integral to good relationships.  Leading with a light touch in changing the subject will be appreciated, especially if your conversation partner views you as a sound listener and someone he would like to engage often.

Have you put any of the above tips into practice?  Share your results here.



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