Pachter's Pointers:
Business Etiquette Tips & Career Suggestions


4 Polite Ways To Avoid Unwanted Conversations

In a seminar, a young man asked how he should have responded to his manager, who inquired about his break-up with his fiancée. He felt very awkward discussing the details of his relationship with his boss. 

The man brought up a communication concern that often arises: How do you avoid talking about something that you don’t want to discuss?

The first thing to remember is that you don’t have to answer every question asked of you. I am not telling you to be rude; I am suggesting that you politely extricate yourself from the discussion.

Here are some of your options:

Leave the group. Give some reason for leaving. For example, “Oh, I just remembered that I have a phone call coming in to my office in a few minutes. I’ll catch up with you later.”

Change the subject. Ignore the question and start talking about something else. You could say something like, “That reminds me, I wanted to talk to you about…”

Be polite and powerful. You could say, assertively, “I am uncomfortable discussing this. Thanks for your concern.”

Simply state the facts. In the above situation, the young man had brought his fiancée to company functions, so people naturally asked about her. He needed to say something. He could answer the question directly, but avoid all the details, and not get into the gloom and doom of it. For example, “I am no longer engaged to Anna. I’m okay. I believe things work out for the best.”

Additional information on making conversation can be found in my book The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success. 

Pachter & Associates provides seminars and coaching on communication, business writing, presentation skills, professional presence, and etiquette. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at or 856.751.6141. 


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