Have you ever found yourself mid-conversation with someone and suddenly started feeling super awkward?
Perhaps you were talking to someone and they asked you a question that was a bit too personal. You didn’t want to answer, and you didn’t know what to say to change the subject. You weren’t sure if doing so would make you seem rude.
You’re probably familiar with this one, too: You’re talking to someone new—or worse, your crush—and the conversation runs completely dry. The silence makes you feel so uncomfortable, and you wish you knew how to quickly shift topics and keep the conversation flowing.
And have you ever had a conversation with someone who won’t stop talking? They could be talking about a topic that you have no interest in or know nothing about. You end up just sitting there idly, trying desperately to come up with a way to redirect the conversation and talk about a topic that’s relatable to you.
If any of these scenarios resonate with you, then keep reading. We’re going to share with you 9 ways to effectively segway an uncomfortable conversation by changing the topic.
First, we’ll give you 7 tips on moving from one topic to another in a more polite and subtle way, and then we’ll give you 2 tips to change topics in a more abrupt and direct way for those super stubborn cases!
- Subtly changing the subject in a conversation
- Abruptly changing the subject in a conversation
- Common questions
If you want to redirect a conversation smoothly and gracefully, then being subtle in how you change topics is important.
When you are subtle about changing the subject in a conversation, you don’t need to worry about coming across as rude because the change won’t be drastic or obvious. Here are 7 tips for how to subtly change the subject in a conversation:
If someone is talking about a topic that either makes you feel uncomfortable, that you are not that interested in, or that you don’t know much about, you can change the subject through association.
Association happens naturally as a conversation flows from one topic to the next, but if you want to be intentional about it, you need to listen carefully to what the other person is saying. If you listen carefully, you will be able to identify some part of the conversation that you can use to branch off into another topic.
Here is an example of how to use association:
Say your dad is talking to you about his friend’s new car and you’re not really that interested in cars. You could use association and ask your dad about how his friend is doing instead. You and your dad were talking specifically about his friend’s car, but because he mentioned his friend, you were able to associate with that part of the conversation and shifted the topic to talking more specifically about his friend.
It sometimes happens that people are too curious for their own good. They may have good intentions in asking personal questions, but sometimes they overstep the boundaries, and their questions can spark an argument.
The way to change the subject in a conversation where you get asked very sensitive questions, is by turning things around and asking the other person a question back. This strategy helps you not only evade the question, but also shift the conversation in another direction, and save yourself an argument.
For example, the next time aunt Caroline says, “Now when are you and Sam going to stop traveling? Don’t you think it’s time you got settled already?” You could say, “Hey aunt Carole, didn’t you promise you would come visit us in Europe? We’re still waiting on that!”
When the conversation dries up, or you don’t know what to say anymore, you can try bringing up something that you were talking about earlier.
If you can think of a relevant question to ask someone about an earlier conversation that you didn’t ask at the time, this is an easy way to keep the conversation going when it has lost its flow, or can even be a way to interrupt the flow and change the topic.
For example, let’s say that earlier in a conversation, you had discussed someone’s work situation, specifically how things had been going at their job. You could use a transition phrase to go back to this topic and say something like, “Before I forget, I wanted to ask you how you got into marketing? My younger brother is currently studying towards a marketing degree and I’d love to give him some tips from someone in the industry.”
If you were using this strategy to change the subject, then you could start like this instead, “Hey, sorry to change the topic, but I just thought of something I wanted to ask you earlier but forgot to…” and then continue as with the example above.
Creating a distraction lets you skillfully steer the conversation in another direction. The person you’re talking to won’t even have a chance to notice that you’ve changed topics.
There are two ways to create distraction. You can either give someone a compliment, or physically leave the conversation.
Say that your friend has been talking endlessly about her children, you could pay her a compliment and say, “You’re such a good mom, Ben and Sarah are so lucky to have you.” Then you can swiftly change the subject by asking a question, like, “Hey, the Easter break is coming up soon, what are your plans?”
You could give a compliment on something tangible, like what the other person is wearing, how they look, or an accessory they have with them. Again, you want to give a compliment, then add a question or comment to change the topic. Here’s an example: “Is that a new phone cover I see? I love it! I really need a new one, too. Where did you get it?”
Another tip that works when changing the subject has failed is to physically leave the conversation.
Simply excuse yourself to go to the restroom, or to go and order a drink if you’re out. By the time you get back, the other person will probably have forgotten what you were talking about, or got distracted by something else.
You can even make a comment about the restrooms, or about the bar when you get back to add another distraction. For example, you might say, “The restrooms here are so clean, and they had this calming music playing in the background! Weird, but pretty cool!”
If the conversation has run dry and you’re not sure what to talk about next, or if you just want to change topics, try tuning into your surroundings. Making comments about what you see can spark a whole new conversation.
If you are taking a walk with a friend and you’ve caught up on all that’s been happening in one another’s lives the past week and the conversation dies out, look around you. What do you see?
Point out or comment on something you can see. Maybe you see some really old, dilapidated building that you have never noticed before, you could say something like, “Hey, have you ever noticed that old, broken down building before? It looks kinda haunted, don’t you think?”
Now you have started a whole new conversation on a novel topic about haunted buildings!
This piece of advice works best if the person you’re having a conversation with is talking “at” you, in other words, they are doing most of the talking and you can’t get a word in edgeways.
Sometimes people who tend to talk a lot feel that they need to explain themselves explicitly for others to understand them properly. So, what can work in these situations is to acknowledge what they have said and to summarize it in your own words to show you have understood them, then to add in your own thoughts, and redirect the conversation from there.
For example, say your friend started telling you all about yoga—how it is so amazing and how everyone should try it. She has been rattling off about the benefits of yoga for what feels like hours, making the same point over again in different ways.
Here’s what to do. First, politely interrupt her by saying, “Wait, so what you’re saying is that the benefits of yoga far exceed those of any other kind of fitness training?” Then immediately give your input. You could say something like, “Well, I think that resistance training is better, besides, while I appreciate the benefits of yoga, I much prefer weight-lifting.” Then, if you want to redirect the conversation, you can ask a question about something related, like, “What other exercise class would you take, if not yoga?”
If you have tried to change the subject in a casual way, but it hasn’t worked, then you may have to go for a more drastic approach.
To quickly put an end to a conversation that makes you feel awkward or uncomfortable, try to be more abrupt in the way you redirect the conversation.
Here are 2 tips for how to abruptly change the subject in a conversation:
If you find yourself in a situation where the other person is refusing to let you change the subject, try setting a boundary. This will quickly and effectively let the other person know where you stand and allow the conversation to move in a different direction.
There are three parts to setting a boundary:
- Identify the boundary.
- Say what you need.
- Explain the consequences of crossing the boundary for the other person.
Here’s an example of how you could set a boundary if a family member is pressing you for details about when you’re going to settle down:
- I’m not willing to discuss this topic with you.
- I would like to talk about some other exciting things that are happening in my life, like work and my travels.
- If you keep pushing me for answers about when I’m going to settle down, I will end the conversation then and there and speak to somebody else.
Some conversations call for you to be more direct in changing the subject, for example, when there has been a long silence or when someone has said something especially rude.
If you have been having a conversation with someone and there is a long silence, it can feel awkward. But silences are normal in conversations—we don’t even really notice them when we’re talking to people we know very well. When we’re with new people, or when we’re on a date, they just feel more awkward because we tend to put more pressure on ourselves in these scenarios.
One way to break through the awkwardness is with a bold and funny comment, followed by a question. You could say, “Don’t you love long silences?” This might make them laugh and create a level of comfort because you are bringing attention to the fact that you’re both probably feeling a little awkward, but you’re being light-hearted about it. Then you could introduce a topic you haven’t spoken about before, for example, “Hey, we haven’t talked about sports before, what sports are you into?”
You can also use bold and direct statements to change the conversation when someone has just made a rude comment.
You could use these phrases to signal your annoyance and your intent to change the topic in an obvious way: “Okay, then…” “Moving on swiftly…” “Right, anyway…”
Typical conversations evolve, and topics naturally change as the conversation progresses, so it is not rude if you redirect the conversation a bit earlier. As long as you’re hearing the other person out and acknowledging what they have to say before changing the topic, it is not rude to change topics.
To keep the conversation flowing over text, treat it like you would a real-life conversation. Ask the other person questions, and expand on your own responses so that the other person can ask you follow-up questions too.
Think about an idea for a date, for example, the movies. Then, ask the other person a question related to this. You could say something like, “Hey, I just saw the trailer of the new Spiderman movie, it looks really cool! Do you like superhero movies?”
Depending on how the other person responds, you can use this as a way to ask them out. If they told you they love superhero movies, ask them to go and see the movie with you. If they told you they hate superhero movies, ask what genre of movies they like and see if there is a movie showing in this genre that you could invite them to go and see with you.
First, ask your friend why they are telling you this information. This will put them on the spot and get them to think about what they’re doing. Then you can set a boundary with your friend. Let them know that you don’t want to be a part of any gossip.