When your friends' eyes are more glazed than a box of chocolate donuts, or the tension in the room is nearly suffocating or you simply want to bounce the conversation ball around a bit, it's time to change the topic. Although topic changing is a normal part of every lively conversation, there's a wrong way and a right way to do it. Do it tactfully, and not only will you enrich the conversation for others, you'll also be one step closer to conversation mastery.
Listen well. Focus on the conversation to determine the most appropriate time to redirect. The last thing you want to do is change the topic at the peak of its course or steal momentum the speaker is trying to build. Also take note of mutual interests. These can help you later when it's time to make a segue.
Disarm with a smile. A wise nanny once sang that a "spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down." This is also true for conversationalists unwilling to go with the flow of a new topic -- when there really needs to be one. Flash a grin before transitioning and keep the tone light and positive, helping put all at ease.
Make a bridge. Politicians do it and you can too, says Tracey Bennett, author and self-proclaimed "queen of conversation." Next time someone asks you an inappropriate question, or one that makes you uncomfortable, give a brief answer and make a bridge to a new topic. For example, if Pat asks Suzie when she and Mike are planning to have children, Suzie can answer with "maybe someday" and then change the subject to a discussion of Pat's children.
Create a distraction. Take a cue from former FBI agent Joe Navarro, who reports in "Real Simple" that he used bathroom breaks to change the subject from an uncomfortable line of questioning. Next time you find changing the topic tricky, simply excuse yourself, then come back a few minutes later with a new question for your fellow conversationalist. Navarro points out that this technique is "much easier and less awkward" than others.
Ask a related question. Perhaps the easiest and most common way to change the topic, asking a question usually does the trick. Look for a connection between the current conversation and the one you would like to have and simply ask a question toward that end.
- Try using complimentary speech when redirecting with a question. Asking someone how she came to know so much about a topic makes her feel good about herself while encouraging her to talk about something else -- with luck, something more interesting than the topic at hand.
- When you find yourself in a heated conversation, a direct approach is often the best way to change topics. State that you feel the discussion is past the point of profitability and ask to talk about something else or ask if you can take up the topic at a later time when parties are less frustrated.
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