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Easy ways to exit awkward situations

  • Story Highlights
  • Know these ways of gracefully escaping sticky social situations
  • Cut telemarketer off with "I'm not interested" and say no more
  • When spousal tempers flare, try calling a time-out
  • When caught by question, say: A more interesting question is ...
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Real Simple

(Real Simple) -- Here are some tips on how to gracefully and painlessly remove yourself from sticky social situations.

Escape a dull conversation at a party

"Politeness requires seven or eight minutes" of conversation, says Letitia Baldrige, a former social secretary to Jacqueline Kennedy and the author of "Taste: Acquiring What Money Can't Buy." After that, you can say good-bye to the bore.

At a cocktail party (assuming you haven't made the mistake of sitting down with the person), it's fine to excuse yourself to get a drink or food, help the hostess, or make a phone call. (If you did sit down, employ the same tactics. It's just a little more awkward having to get up.) To avoid an embarrassing getaway "gotcha," be sure to follow through on your excuse -- that is, get the drink, help the hostess, make a call.

Another tried-and-true tactic? Introduce the bore to someone else, excuse yourself, and scram. This way, you avoid leaving the bore stranded, and he becomes someone else's problem. Who knows? They may hit if off. Real Simple: Guilt-free strategies for saying no

Escape a telemarketer

A polite "Thanks, I'm not interested" is your best response to unwanted calls.

"The caller will probably come back with a benefit statement or a probing question" -- such as Are you aware this will cut your insurance bill in half? -- says Kimberly King, president of InterWeave Corporation, a customer-service consulting firm in Tampa. Again, thank the person and hang up. Don't let her rattle on, which is a waste of your time and hers.

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And never explain or volunteer anything. Telemarketers work from a script with responses to common customer objections (called "soft no's" in the industry). Saying another family member needs to make the decision will only lead to more questions: What time will he be in? Can I call back then?

Finally, ask to be taken off the calling list, and wait for the telemarketer to do it before you hang up. That extra minute is worth it.

Escape a stumper

How do you say "I don't know" without sounding, well, dumb? Especially in a nerve-racking setting, like a job interview? Be direct, says Sue Shellenbarger, a career-advice columnist at the Wall Street Journal: Just say, "That's a great question. I'd like to think about it and get back to you."

If you don't have a good answer because you haven't been doing your job well, apologize and specify when you'll get back on the query; then be sure to do so or you'll lose credibility.

If putting off the question isn't an option (you're a keynote speaker at an event; you're being interviewed on TV), employ the Ted Kennedy strategy, says Anne Fisher, who writes Ask Annie, a career-advice column for "Say, 'That's a good question, but an even more interesting question is....'" Then talk about what you do know. "It's worked for Kennedy," says Fisher. "He's been elected eight times."

How to escape a spat with your significant other

He started it. Well, maybe you did. Either way, you don't want to talk about it anymore. Do you have to finish what you began? No, says David Ransburg, a therapist at the Family Institute at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois. In fact, you shouldn't continue until you're calm.

"When we're in a 'flooded' emotional state, access to the part of the brain where logical thinking resides is inhibited, and IQ drops noticeably -- perhaps by as much as 15 points," says Ransburg. "This is when we say things we wish we could take back." So call a time-out. Typically, your logic will return in about 20 minutes, at which point you can resume the discussion in a productive way.

If you can't call a time-out mid-spat, practice with tiny disagreements, suggests Ransburg, when you're both less likely to take things personally: "Knowing you can -- and should -- do this will make it easier when you really need to take the kettle off the stove." Real Simple: How to disagree agreeably

How to escape a story repeater

Your father-in-law is telling you that story about foiling the pickpocket in Moscow -- for the fifth time. Do you let him know you've heard it before and can tell it better than he does?

"If the story is longer than a minute and the two of you are alone, do interrupt to tell him that you've heard -- and enjoyed -- that story once before," says Margaret Shepherd, a coauthor of "The Art of Civilized Conversation."

Try: "You had everyone in stitches when you told that story last Christmas." No need to add that you've heard the story for the last four Christmases. "Segue to a related topic," suggests Shepherd, and if possible, draw in another person to freshen up the conversation.

With older people whose memory may be slipping or when you're in a group, though, it can be cruel to interrupt, says author Letitia Baldrige: "Patiently listen and wait for a chance to change the subject. If they're thrilled to be telling the story, dismissing them too suddenly is like smooshing an ant." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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